The discovery of genetically modified (GM) spring wheat plants growing in Alberta is disappointing and damaging to Canadian farmers. And so is the reaction by Cereals Canada — an industry-dominated group that falsely claims to represent farmers.
An article published in 2014 quotes Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl saying, “Cereals Canada’s support for GM wheat is consistent with the policy of its member associations, which includes the Grain Growers, miller’s association and life science companies.”
Following a GM wheat contamination incident in Oregon in 2014, Cereals Canada also signed on to a statement in support of further investment in, and commercialization of genetically modified wheat. Cereals Canada supported an irresponsible policy then, and it hasn’t learned anything from Canada losing important markets now.
Escapes of genetically engineered plants and resulting market disruptions were predicted by the National Farmers Union 15 years ago and were a major reason for our opposition. Japan, which was the highest-priced market when the Canadian Wheat Board was marketing Canadian wheat, has stopped all shipments.
In June 2003 an NFU media release highlighted the unacceptable risks of GM wheat, calling it BSE for Grain Farmers:
“Canadian cattle producers are experiencing the devastating consequences of border closures and market losses that have resulted from BSE. At the same time, however, the Canadian government is considering the approval of the grain system equivalent of BSE: genetically modified wheat.”
Rather than recognize that its blind support of GM wheat has helped create today’s problem, Cereals Canada and its members were quick to revert to the “it’s all safe” biotech industry mantra.
And therein lies one of the central problems with Cereals Canada — on this issue, and many others, some of its board members are in a conflict of interest. For a so-called life science company, passing up an opportunity to sell more chemicals or seed would contradict its company’s interests.
There is no question that the policies of Cereals Canada members such as the Western Canadian Wheat Growers and Grain Growers of Canada helped provide Monsanto and the government the cover they needed to seed experimental plots of GM wheat at secret and undisclosed locations 15 years ago, over the strongest objections.
And Cereals Canada has worked against the interests of farmers on other issues, as well. By continually undermining the Canadian Grain Commission, and calling for U.S. grain to freely enter Canada and be commingled with Canadian grain, Cereals Canada promotes other irresponsible policies.
Cereals Canada has recently embarked on a plan to merge with/take over the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi). The farmer checkoff money that helps support Cigi makes Cigi a target that is just too good to pass up.
However, with the mission statement, “to be the trusted independent source for milling, quality and end-use functionality expertise for millers and end-users of Canadian grain to increase market opportunities and end-user success,” Cigi does incredibly important work on behalf of Canadian farmers and it would be extremely damaging to have Cigi taking the same irresponsible policy positions.
Given its track record, Cereals Canada has no right to a merger or takeover of the Cigi.
Stewart Wells was president of the National Farmers Union from 2001 to 2009.