Jul 312018

The mysterious case of Alberta's rogue GMO wheat: Could it happen again?


(INSERT, Sandra:   Re “Could it (rogue GMO wheat) happen again? – –  There have already been rogue GMO flax and rogue GMO rice.   The information is in these postings:

What does “regulated or registered by the Government” mean?  The perpetrators of the rogue GMO flax are known, no one was ever held to account.   Farmers, not a Government regulatory agency, working through the courts held Bayer to account over the “rogue” GM rice.

I looked for an update on what’s happening in the realm of genetically-modified insects, and found “4 GM Insects You May Not Know About“,  May, 2016:

  • GM Mosquitoes
  • GM diamondback (cabbage) moths
  • GM pink bollworm moths (cotton), and
  • GM honey bees “in the works”.

The author, in relation to cabbage and cotton crops says:   As some pests have become increasingly resistant to the toxins in GM crops over the last couple of years, Oxitec’s mission is to “pair” these insects with their GM crops.    AND

Oxitec developed these moths because pests such as the pink bollworm moth are becoming increasingly resistant to the Bt toxin, used in genetically modified cotton and corn.

The thinking behind the idea of GM bees appears to be to create a species that can withstand the “colony collapses”.   If neonic chemicals are related to the deaths of honey bees, then I suppose the next thinking will be to develop GM songbirds and hummingbirds and wasps and . . . you know, all those beings that neonics are killing, with extended exposure.

(REF:   2018-05-19   Summary, NO, Health Canada DID NOT decide to de-register one of the chemicals linked to death of bees and song birds (the neonic “imidacloprid”)

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BACK TO  The mysterious case of Alberta’s rogue GMO wheat . . .

Prairie farmers breathed a collective sigh of relief last week, when Japan — Canada’s second-largest buyer of wheat — lifted a month-long import ban imposed in the aftermath of the discovery of a few stalks of genetically modified wheat growing in a ditch in southern Alberta.

But with the origins of the rogue wheat still a mystery, activists say the Canadian government should put a halt to all field testing of GM wheat or risk such an incident happening again.

“It’s a concern that the government was unable to identify the cause of this contamination,” said Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “We think that in the case of genetically modified crops — where there is a serious risk of economic harm if contamination occurs — that there needs to be a ban on field testing those crops.”

Extensive testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the wheat plants found in Alberta — which contained a gene that made them resistant to the herbicide Roundup — matched a strain of genetically modified wheat produced by the American agricultural biotech giant Monsanto. However, Monsanto had not conducted field trials of that strain of wheat since the early 2000s and even then, the trials took place approximately 300 km away from the southern Alberta road allowance where the unusual wheat sample turned up.

While the CFIA concluded there is no evidence this GM wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated spot where it was discovered, it has so far been unable to identify where the wheat came from or how it turned up in the ditch in question.

Genetic engineering is already commonplace in some agricultural crops — the vast majority of canola, sugar beets, corn and soybeans grown in Canada have been genetically modified to resist herbicides. However, genetically modified wheat has never been approved for commercial production by any country. Monsanto never did pursue commercialization for GM wheat seeds, in large part due to resistance from wheat-importing countries that were strongly opposed to the product.

However, experimental field trials of various strains of GM wheat continue to this day. Biotech companies have done field trials of genetically modified wheat most years since 1998, including 52 in Alberta in 2014. Most of the recent field trials have been done in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In 2017, 54 field trials of genetically modified wheat — including 32 by Bayer Crop Science, which recently purchased Monsanto — were carried out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Any company or research institution testing a genetically modified crop is expected to follow strict protocols to prevent any of the seeds or plants from “escaping” into the surrounding environment. But the system is not foolproof. The United States has reported three separate incidents of unauthorized GM wheat releases which occurred in Oregon in 2013, in Montana in 2014, and in Washington in 2016.


In 2009, traces of genetically modified flaxseed — another product that has not been approved for commercial production — were found in Canadian shipments to the European Union, at that time this country’s largest buyer of flax. The incident proved devastating to the flax industry, which spent years trying to eliminate all traces of contamination from the Canadian crop. To this day, the EU market for Canadian flax has not fully recovered.

“Despite the reassurances about protocols, etc., this stuff always seems to escape,” said Terry Boehm, who farms in Saskatchewan and chairs the National Farmers’ Union seed committee. “It’s a natural process. These things want to reproduce.”Boehm added for an individual farmer, the discovery of stray GM wheat plants growing within a regular crop would be a nightmare scenario.

“It would be disastrous, really,” he said. “One would have to go into all sorts of measures to root out those plants and do follow-up monitoring — all probably at the farmer’s expense.”

The Alberta Wheat Commission, which represents the province’s wheat farmers, said the recent incident is a reminder that genetically modified material potentially has the ability to resurface, even years later.

A farmer harvests wheat on June 6, 2013 in Okayama, Japan. Japan is Canada’s second-largest buyer of wheat. Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images“It is a possibility, and we need to be vigilant and ensure all the proper protocols are in place when these research trials are being done,” said general manager Tom Steve.

While the AWC does not have a position on the merits of GM wheat, the organization is broadly supportive of agronomy research aimed at the development of new wheat varieties. The organization’s chair Kevin Bender, who farms in the Sylvan Lake area, said he believes GM wheat could reduce the amount of herbicide used in crop production and allow farmers to produce more wheat on less land. He pointed out that other GM crops have been in the food chain in Canada for 20 years and there has never been any evidence they are harmful to human health.

“I think it would be beneficial for all of us if we did have it (GM wheat),” Bender said. “But for whatever reason, it hasn’t been generally accepted yet. In every other aspect of our lives we embrace technology but when it comes to food production, we want to do it the way it was done 100 or 200 years ago. It just seems very backwards to me.”

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and dean of the faculty of management at Dalhousie University, said the anti-GM movement has actually quieted in recent years, as more time has passed without any scientific evidence of harmful health effects. But he said there are still many consumers, particularly outside North America, who are uncomfortable with the idea of “tampering with nature” through genetic engineering.

“I think producers need to accept that we’re in an era where perceptions are quite important,” Charlebois said. “The science is actually quite clear — there is little risk involved here for consumers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll deal with rational, unbiased human beings on the other side of the world.”


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