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 cover-up.
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 property rights.
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