Experts call it a mystery, genetically modified wheat not approved for use in Canada, has been found growing on the Prairies.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has completed an investigation into rogue GM wheat found growing on an access road that survived a spraying treatment for weeds.
Through extensive testing the CFIA has cleared Canada of having any GM wheat anywhere else in the country, which begs the question, how did these few plants begin?
According to the CFIA, they’re identical in genetic makeup to a GM wheat Monsanto used in experimental field trials more than a decade ago.
“It was that material. It would be impossible to have that fingerprint otherwise,” Maurice Moloney, the CEO of the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS), said.
GM wheat is not approved in Canada.
“It’s clear that somebody must have had some of that seed, even though the field trials were finished and the seed would normally be destroyed. Somebody must have had some of that seed. The only question is, ‘did it end up there by accident, or did it end up there by malicious design?'” Moloney questioned.
Both Japan and South Korea have suspended imports of Canadian wheat as a result. Japan is one of Canada’s largest trading partners of high quality Canadian wheat.
“People are waiting to see what sort of time period we’re talking about. The longer it drags out, it will have an effect,” Sask Wheat general manager Harvey Brooks said.
Similar instances of GM wheat appearing in the U.S. have resulted in lawsuits against the maker of the plant.
The CFIA analyzed 170,000 kernels of grain from 1,500 shipments set to be exported. No matches were found, leading the agency to deem the incident as isolated.
An undetermined volume of Canadian wheat is already loaded on vessels needing to find a new market.
“Farmers have finished seeding, they’ve finished spraying now for the most part and they want to ship grain,” Brooks said.
Biological chemistry professor John Pickett from Cardiff University in the U.K. feels the response has been an overreaction.
“I can’t imagine why anybody would think it is a problem. After all, it’s a plant that’s resistant by mechanism to a weed killer. That has nothing to do with human physiology.”
With the U.S. pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, 50 per cent of Japan’s market share is open. Sask Wheat is hopeful the issue is resolved quickly enough to capture that opportunity before other countries, like Australia, do.
Officials with Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, forestry and fisheries are visiting Canada this week to seek more information on the incident.
“We’re hopeful that this current review will be very satisfactory to everybody involved,” Brooks said.