GM wheat detected in Canada

by Eric Schroeder
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OTTAWA, ONTARIO, CANADA — The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on June 14 released a statement indicating it has discovered genetically modified wheat in southern Alberta.

“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recently completed testing of a few wheat plants found on an access road in Alberta that survived a spraying treatment for weeds,” the CFIA said. “When the CFIA was notified of this finding, CFIA scientists conducted tests to determine why the wheat survived. The CFIA’s tests confirmed that the wheat found was genetically modified and herbicide-tolerant. Since GM wheat is not authorized in Canada, the CFIA worked collaboratively with partners at all levels to gather as much complete, accurate and credible information about this discovery as possible.”

The CFIA said it was notified of the GM wheat by the government of Alberta on Jan. 31. By Feb. 12, the CFIA’s Ottawa Genotyping/Botany Laboratory had received samples of wheat seeds from Alberta and began conducting DNA-based analyses. Following the analysis, the CFIA narrowed the wheat line down to two possible companies before ultimately determining on April 8 that the Alberta wheat sample was a match for a Monsanto GM wheat line that was used in multiple confined research field trials in the late 1990s and early 2000s in both Canada and the United States. The locations of the confined research field trials were approximately 300 kilometers or more away from where the GM wheat plants were found in Alberta, the CFIA said.

The CFIA noted that no evidence was present to suggest that the GM wheat was present anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered. In addition, Health Canada has concluded that the finding does not pose a food safety risk.

“While genetically modified wheat is not approved for commercial use in Canada, the same genetically modified trait has been approved in canola, corn and soybeans for over 20 years,” the CFIA said. “In these crops, previous Health Canada and CFIA safety assessments have demonstrated that this trait does not pose a risk to public health, the health of animals or the environment.

“The CFIA will continue to work with the landowner to monitor the area over the next three years to help prevent any GM wheat from persisting.”

As part of its findings, the CFIA said it checked the DNA from the Alberta GM wheat against Canada’s grain exports. The agency determined that over the last three crop years, nearly 170,000 individual kernels of grain from more than 1,500 export shipments were analyzed, and no matches for the GM wheat were found.

The CFIA’s findings did not necessarily ease concern among the export community, though. The Japanese farm ministry on June 15 said it has suspended its tender and sale of wheat from Canada until it is able to confirm that the Canadian wheat that it buys contains no GMOs.

The full incident report is available here.

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