Genetically modified wheat found in Alberta
June 15, 2018
By Stephanie Gordon
Unregulated genetically modified (GM) and herbicide-resistant wheat has been found growing near an isolated access road in southern Alberta, according to a statement by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The GM wheat was discovered in the summer of 2017 when it resisted herbicide spraying treatment. Seven plants were brought in for testing and the rest were destroyed. The test shows the wheat contained a genetically modified trait developed by Monsanto but the wheat does not match any of the 450 varieties of wheat registered in Canada. It is not linked to the field trials for GM wheat done years ago, many kilometres away.
CFIA will be monitoring the site for the next three years, and implementing controls such as keeping the land fallow.
In Canada, or any other country, there are no genetically modified wheat varieties registered for commercial production.
While genetically modified wheat is not approved for commercial use in Canada, the same genetically modified trait has been approved in canola, corn and soybeans for more than 20 years. In these crops, previous Health Canada and CFIA safety assessments have demonstrated that this trait does not pose a risk to public health, the health of animals or the environment, according to CFIA’s statement.
CFIA conducted an inspection that actively examined farmers’ adjacent fields, as well as on-farm stored grain. There is no evidence that the GM wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered. In addition, there was no GM wheat found in Canada’s grain or feed system.
In a statement following the event, Cereals Canada assured customers there is no commercial production of genetically modified wheat in Canada and reaffirms that there is no evidence the event entered food or feed chains.
The Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) released a statement saying that Canadian Grain Commission’s ongoing monitoring of export cargoes has found no evidence of the unapproved trait in Canadian wheat shipments.
“This is an isolated discovery and the extensive protocols that were followed have verified that no wheat with unapproved traits entered the commercial system,” said Kevin Bender, AWC chair, in the statement.
However, Japan has suspended the tender and sale of Canadian wheat, a Japanese farm ministry official said, according to Reuters, until the country can “confirm that the Canadian wheat that Japan buys contains no GMO.” On June 18, 2018, South Korea followed Japan and suspended the trade of Canadian wheat.
“It’s standard protocol in both countries to temporarily close markets in such cases,” Global Affairs spokesman Jesse Wilson said Monday, according to the CBC.
If the suspension is lifted before the 2018 harvest occurs in September/October, there will be minimal impact on western Canadian and Alberta farmers. Alberta’s Trade Minister Deron Bilous said there were three similar incidents in the United States and all of those took less than two months to resolve, according to CTV Calgary.
Update: South Korea has lifted the ban on Canadian wheat shipments on June 26, 2018.
Update: Japan resumes Canadian wheat purchases on July 20, 2018.
CFIA refused to speculate on how the GM wheat arrived but assured that it did not leave the isolated area it was found. Over the past decade, there have been other cases involving the discovery of GM wheat in Washington, Oregon and Montana.
The full statement from CFIA, as well as an incident report, factsheets for producers and consumers, and more background information can be found here.
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