September 17, 2004 -- CropChoice news: Earlier this week,
the Canadian National Farmers Union and Greenpeace released
documents obtained through the country's open records
law. They showed an April agreement between Agriculture
and Agri-Food Canada (the country's ministry of agriculture)
and Syngenta to test wheat the company genetically engineered
to resist fusarium head blight.
Rather than secret, the trials are public and a continuation
of those done in 2002 and 2003, said Judy Shaw, government
affairs director for Syngenta Canada.
All such confined field trials of plants with novel
traits are supposed to be listed on the website of the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, but the 2004 data is
missing, which raised concerns in some quarters of a
Normally, the information is posted to the website
after planting, which was delayed this year by the weather,
said Heather Arbuckle, an environmental release assessment
officer with the Food Inspection Agency. In addition,
making the information tables readable to the blind
has presented technical difficulties that further delayed
posting. Arbuckle said the trials for 2004 should be
posted by next Wednesday, Sept. 22.
Fusarium is a destructive fungal disease that renders
wheat inedible, subtracting more than C$100 million
annually from Canada's harvest.
Judy Shaw from Syngenta said the company is serious
about tackling the fungus through a variety of techniques.
Those include: biotechnology -- inserting a fungus-resistant
trait(s), which may or may not originate in the same
species, into the wheat plant; conventional technology
-- using traditional plant breeding (also incorporating
genomics to identify resistant genes within the plant);
and crop protection -- creating new fungicides to better
control or kill fusarium.
These field trials are meant to evaluate traits, not
to grow a resistant wheat ready for market this year,
she said. The earliest the company could do that would
be after 2010. Commercial introduction would be dependant
on a number of factors, including market acceptance.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada conducts the trials
under contract with Syngenta and maintains secrecy over
their exact locations to protect the company's intellectual
Darrin Qualman of the National Farmers Union said the
transgenic wheat trials should stop: "It is undoubtedly
a net loss proposition when you look at 80 to 90 percent
market rejection and then add in the higher cost of
the patented seed."
Egypt, England, Italy, Japan and other major export
markets have said repeatedly they will reject genetically
modified wheat from Canada (and the United States) if
it were commercially grown or if contamination happened
from experimental trials. Qualman said such market rejection
could amount to hundreds of million of dollars.
While this disease resistant wheat might increase supply,
demand would fall as those export markets looked elsewhere
for non-transgenic varieties, he said. As a result,
wheat growers could find themselves receiving lower
prices for their harvests.
To access information on trials of plants with novel
traits in Canada, go to the "Plant Biosafety"
section of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website
at http://www.inspection.gc.ca . Under "Frequently
Asked Questions," click on "What PNTs have
been grown in confined research field trials in Canada?"
Then, choose the "detailed" tables of the
year in question.
The CBC story is available at http://winnipeg.cbc.ca/regional/servlet/View?filename=mb_wheat20040915