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Canadian Wheat Board resists GM wheat collaboration

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 20-May-2009

The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has said that it will not support genetically modified wheat – at least until certain conditions are met.

The CWB made its position known after a group of wheat industry representatives from Canada, the US and Australia signed a joint statement last week vowing to work together to bring genetically modified (GM) wheat to market.

CWB spokesperson Maureen Fitzhenry told FoodNavigator-USA.com that consumer resistance to GM wheat and unresolved issues about segregation of GM and non-GM wheat currently limit the viability of its commercialization.

She said: “We are certainly not negative about GM, but we don’t think the time is right…We think it’s good that there’s discussion but we are just hoping that there is enough recognition of the major obstacles that remain.”

Acceptance and agronomics

The organization, which sells wheat and barley in Western Canada, was strongly opposed to the introduction of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat in 2004. Fitzhenry said that while “resistance to a certain herbicide is all very good”, the CWB would want to see added benefits such as tolerance to disease - and greater consumer acceptance - before it would support bringing GM traits to market.

“Right now there is no way to segregate GM from non-GM,” said Fitzhenry. “At present even one kernel of GM wheat is unacceptable to customers. We think there is still a long way to go and we can’t see a market value or greatly improved agronomics…All the evidence we have is that there is still a lot of resistance from consumers.”

She added that the CWB is actively trying to work to gain greater consumer acceptance of GM wheat, and to develop more tolerance about separation of GM and non-GM wheat.

GM research

Last week’s joint statement from wheat industry representatives expressed concern that as GM varieties of other crops, such as soy and corn, have begun to dominate in North America, wheat is being sidelined as a less lucrative option for farmers.

It said: “Lack of private and public investment in wheat research has left wheat development behind the advances in competing commodity crops, and has also led to a shortage of scientific expertise in wheat research generally.”

Fitzhenry said that she considers it a good thing that major players in the wheat industry have chosen to synchronize their efforts because “otherwise it becomes an issue of competitive rivalries” but added that Canadian farmers are well-informed about consumer resistance to GM wheat and are not likely to support its introduction unless attitudes change.

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