Canadian Wheat Board Cites Analysis
That GM Wheat Poses Environmental Risk
By Peter Menyasz
International Environment Reporter
Volume 26 Number 15
Wednesday, July 16, 2003 Page 739
OTTAWA--A study by three agricultural scientists concludes that unconfined release of genetically modified wheat in Western Canada poses an unacceptable level of environmental risk, Ken Ritter, chairman of the Canadian Wheat Board's board of directors, said July 9.
The study the wheat board commissioned of Monsanto Co.'s Roundup Ready wheat has been submitted to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Plant Biosafety Office, which is conducting an environmental assessment as part of its review of Monsanto's application for approval of the product, Ritter said in a statement.
Roundup is the trade name for the herbicide glyphosate. The wheat is genetically modified to make it resistant to Roundup, allowing the glyphosate to kill surrounding weeds while not damaging the crop itself.
"The study shows that this product, if granted unconfined release, will cause environmental problems for all farmers, not just those who choose to grow it," Ritter said.
The wheat board is Canada's grain marketing agency. It has opposed approval of genetically modified wheat, primarily for trade reasons, fearing that Japan and European countries will not allow imports of modified crops.
Threat to Sustainability
Release of Roundup Ready wheat without restriction would threaten the sustainability of reduced tillage cropping systems in Western Canada, posing a risk to the environment and natural resource conservation, said the study by Rene Van Acker, Anita Brule-Babel, and Lyle Friesen, professors in the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.
Reduced tillage provides significant environmental resource conservation and economic benefits, and has been recognized as a method of carbon sequestration that could help Canada meet its Kyoto Protocol goals for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, it said.
"Under current conditions, the release of Roundup Ready wheat in western Canada would be environmentally unsafe," the report said.
Monsanto did not return telephone calls from BNA seeking comment.
Movement of the Roundup Ready trait among wheat crops would also create additional risk for Canadian marketers of wheat and cereal grains in meeting the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which is intended to meet global environmental safety needs, it said.
Adds to Cost, Herbicide Load
The study pointed to evidence gathered after the commercial release of Roundup Ready canola in Western Canada, in which the transgene providing insect resistance was readily transferred to regular canola crops, and the Roundup Ready trait is now found in a high proportion of regular canola seed lots.
According to a spokesman for the wheat board, this has caused problems because of crop rotation, where Roundup-resistant canola was found in fields that were shifted to other crops in subsequent years. Pre-seeding treatments of Roundup killed all weeds, but it did not affect the genetically modified canola. Further herbicide applications were needed to kill the Roundup-resistant canola so that other crops could be planted in those fields, the spokesman said.
According to the study, the application of an additional pre-seeding herbicide adds cost to the production system and herbicide load to the environment, and the situation would be the same if Roundup Ready wheat is approved for commercial release.
"Even with the value of experience after the release of Roundup Ready canola, there have been no means proposed, implemented, and tested for containing the Roundup Ready trait. Industry-led stewardship plans have been suggested, but they are fundamentally inappropriate as the means to achieve this end. Further research in key areas is required to create and test means for containment of this trait," it said.