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GE Wheat Debate in Canada Boiling Over

CBC TV
SHOW: COUNTRY CANADA
March 21, 2002,

GENETICALLY MODIFIED WHEAT IS COMING SOON

GUEST: MARTIN ENTZ, Plant Scientist, Agriculture Canada; ; BILL TAVES,
Farmer; TRISH JORDAN, Monsanto Corporation; UNIDENTIFIED,
Moderator; LYLE VANCLIEF, Minister of Agriculture

ANCHORS: REG SHERREN

REG SHERREN: In laboratories off limits to all but a select few, in
carefully sheltered secret test plots across western Canada, scientists
are creating the next and possibly greatest genetically modified crop.
Genetically modified wheat could be ready by next year, and it has
some people scared.

MARTIN ENTZ: The reason they're so worried is because in this case
they don't want it but they don't see any way of stopping it.

UNIDENTIFIED: Hi, Bill. How are you doing? Good to see you.

SHERREN: Bill Taves farms near Cain in southern Manitoba. Today he's
delivering wheat for cleaning. But he also grows genetically modified
canola. He has for several years. But Taves is dead set against GM wheat.

BILL TAVES: If GM wheat came into the scene right at the moment, the value
of the entire western Canadian wheat crop would go down.

SHERREN: Wheat has been king in Canada forever. Year after year more
wheat is planted than any other crop, 20 percent of the world supply, exports to
70 countries. But GM wheat is threatening all that. Europe, Asia and Middle
Eastern nations don't want GM wheat, nor does Japan. The majority of
Canada's wheat-buying partners don't want it.

TAVES: Farmers, it seems, are on this biotech bus, but the driver's going
wherever they decide to go.

SHERREN: This is the bus driver's head office. Monsanto cornered the market
on GM canola. Genetically modified wheat is the next project.

TRISH JORDAN: We believe it can be done in a positive, responsible manner
with benefits for everybody.

SHERREN: Trish Jordan speaks on behalf of Monsanto. What is your assessment
of industry interest in genetically modified wheat or willingness to see the
product on the market today?

JORDAN: If you were to ask people right now, I mean, there's all kinds of
diverse opinions. And you know, if you talk about does anybody want to see
genetically modified wheat introduced today, probably 100 percent of people
would say no.

SHERREN: So you admit there's a fairly significant resistance out there to
the product.

JORDAN: No. No, I wouldn't say there was a significant resistance to the
product at all. And you're... that's... you're kind of turning my words
around. If you ask... how you ask people the question...

SHERREN: So you're saying there is an acceptance of the product out there?
Which is it?

JORDAN: Yes. I think the issue is does it have to be one way. You know, I
don't think farmers who want to use biotech crops for the benefits that they
provide and the economics that they return to their farm need to be told by
organic farmers that well, they shouldn't be allowed to farm that way.
Conversely, I don't think farmers who grow biotech crops have any right to
tell an organic farmer well, you shouldn't farm organically. I mean, there's
no reason whatsoever why different types of farming systems cannot co-exist,
as they have for hundreds of thousands of years.

UNIDENTIFIED: Hi there. How are you?

SHERREN: Not all farmers are convinced that's possible.

UNIDENTIFIED: If I can get people to grab a seat, we'll get started here
shortly.

SHERREN: In Brandon, Manitoba farmers meet Monsanto face to face.

UNIDENTIFIED: No kicking, gouging (inaudible)... There's a fair bit of
passion on this issue, and that's good. Passion is good. We just want to
keep things professional.

SHERREN: Some want answers about Monsanto's GM canola growing unwanted
in their fields. Others are anxious about plans for GM wheat.


UNIDENTIFIED: We haven't always done things as well as we would have hoped.
And the... the public perception of us has not always been that positive.

SHERREN: Do you get a little tired of big bad Monsanto?

JORDAN: Well, we're always tired of big bad Monsanto. But you know what?
It's expected.

SHERREN: How close is Monsanto to being ready to say the product is ready?

JORDAN: Do we have a specific date? Absolutely not. Do we think it'll be in
five years? We have no idea. You know. It'll be when we meet our
commitments.

SHERREN: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is Canada's watchdog over new
crops. The agency conducts exhaustive field tests before approving a variety
for farm use. Environmental risks are fully assessed. But the government
does not evaluate whether that new crop may harm the marketplace. That has
farmers worried.

TAVES: I think the federal government has to take some responsibility to
ensure that we're increasing the value of the crops in western Canada, not
decreasing them.

LYLE VANCLIEF: Well, do you think I, as the Minister of Agriculture, should
tell a farmer what he should grow and what he shouldn't grow? I don't think
so.

SHERREN: But some people suggest Lyle Vanclief is in an awkward spot. His
department is helping to develop genetically modified wheat. In 1997 the
federal government opened its doors to Monsanto with a dollar-for-dollar
agreement. Public money and resources are creating Roundup-Ready wheat.

TAVES: But at the top levels, and perhaps right at the political level, I
think there's a serious conflict of interest in what they're doing.

SHERREN: Why is it possible for the government to both be in business, in a
certain respect, with the industry and yet regulate it? And how can you do
that with any credibility?

VANCLIEF: Government research has always been and will likely always be, in
many cases, partnering in order to do advancing research and technology.

SHERREN: How can you regulate a company that you are essentially signing
contracts with?

VANCLIEF: But the Minister of Agriculture is not involved, other than to
make sure that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforces those
regulations. So... and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does the
enforcing. And we make sure that... the role of the Minister of Agriculture
is to make sure that they do their job, not how they interpret their job.

SHERREN: So you're satisfied there is no conflict.

VANCLIEF: No, I'm... I'm satisfied that the work is being done, will be
reviewed in the proper way.

TAVES: Well, if the Minister doesn't see that there's a conflict of
interest, or at least a perceived conflict... conflict of interest, then he
doesn't understand the nature of his own organization.

SHERREN: And farmers who are concerned say it doesn't help when the
government refuses to discuss a study that could cause problems for
Monsanto. Meanwhile, development continues. This summer, for the fifth year
in a row, genetically modified wheat will be grown in secret test plots
across the west. The stakes are high. One study suggests Monsanto could make
up to $6 billion with genetically modified wheat. Who, in your estimation
should make the final determination on whether or not genetically modified
wheat is introduced in the market?

JORDAN: Basically, we feel that it has to be a consultative process. We...
it's not a decision that we can make ourselves. It's not a decision
necessarily that the federal government can make.

VANCLIEF: The role of government is to ensure safety. And the... business
will make that other decision.

SHERREN: You can't put that horse back in the barn.

VANCLIEF: No, but you should ask that question to... to those that might be
considering marketing the wheat.

TAVES: Well, unfortunately, I think Mr. Vanclief is just hoping that somehow
we'll luck out. Let this thing play itself out, and maybe there'll be some
kind of a magic bullet solution that will come along and... I feel very
uncomfortable with that approach.


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