December 10, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- Toronto Star editorial, 12/04/03:
The last thing beleaguered Canadian farmers need is for a
short-sighted federal agency to do anything that would undermine
consumer confidence at home and abroad in the process that
exists to ensure food safety.
Yet, that's exactly what Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
risks with a deal with Monsanto that would see it receive
royalties from the biotechnology giant should a variety of
transgenic wheat be approved for sale.
While it's been known for several years that Agriculture
Canada researchers were working with the company to develop
genetically modified wheat, news of a commercial relationship
between Ottawa and Monsanto is highly troubling.
Quite apart from its responsibilities to develop and support
the farming industry, Agriculture Canada is also charged with
ensuring the safety of the food supply.
While it may argue that safety regulation properly belongs
to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, an arm's-length branch
of the department, there's little doubt that consumers are
in no mood to engage in bureaucratic hair-splitting on this
Even as Monsanto and federal researchers were testing the
GM wheat at undisclosed locations across Manitoba, Saskatchewan
and Alberta as part of their joint venture, the Canadian Wheat
Board and advocacy groups such as Canada's National Farmers
Union raised legitimate concerns.
The wheat board wants a moratorium on registering GM wheat
until Canada is sure its grain handling system has the capability
to segregate transgenic grains for shipments to those few
customers who might want them. Given that many of the 70 countries,
particularly Japan, which now buy from the board refuse to
accept grain with even minute traces of GM product, the stance
As the experience with transgenic plants such as canola shows,
such contamination is a concern. While cross-pollination in
wheat may be greatly lower than for canola, the volume of
wheat on the Prairies ensures that even a little bit can go
a long way to devastation.
Based on the current registration system, which places no
value on market acceptance of a grain variety, Monsanto's
GM wheat could win government approval as early as next year.
While the company has promised that it won't rush GM wheat
to market until international standards and market concerns
are addressed, public perception about the independence of
the evaluation process remains key.
Canadian beef farmers, reeling from the effects a case of
bovine spongiform encephalopathy that's devastated their industry,
and consumers for whom the independence of government inspections
regimes remains their primary safeguard, need to know that
Agriculture Canada's integrity remains beyond question.
And that can't happen if the government department has a
financial stake in approving for sale a variety of GM wheat
in which it has invested money and helped to develop.
In addition to the problem of consumer resistance to transgenic
wheat, preliminary studies by some researchers suggest that
application of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Monsanto's
Roundup significantly stimulates the growth of fusarium pathogens.
The fusarium blight can render grain unsuitable for human
or animal consumption by producing a ``vomitoxin.'' A Roundup-resistant
wheat may have longer-term ramifications than the bottom lines
at Agriculture Canada and Monsanto.
Agriculture Canada should never have put itself in a position
where its duty to serve the public in a transparent way conflicts
with a deal struck with a partner who has to protect commercial