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Canadian Coalition Calls for GE Wheat Ban

Canadian Coalition Calls for GE Wheat Ban

The Associated Press (Canada)
July 31, 2001
Canadian group seeks ban on biotech wheat
DATELINE: WINNIPEG, Manitoba

Genetically modified wheat could put farmers out of business and destroy
Canada's grain export industry, says a coalition calling on Ottawa to
prevent approval of the new strains.

The coalition of farm, health and citizens' groups held a joint news
conference Tuesday to outline their objections to wheat that is being
genetically engineered to resist herbicide.

Such wheat is currently being grown experimentally in five provinces.
Monsanto, a company already known for its herbicide-resistant canola, is
expected to seek approval for a herbicide-resistant wheat variety sometime
after 2003.

"Overwhelming numbers of Canadian farmers and consumers, as well as
customers for Canadian wheat overseas, have said that they do not want
(genetically modified) wheat at this time," the coalition stated in a letter
to Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

The vast majority of Canadian wheat is exported, and farmers predict those
markets could be devastated if importing countries perceive that shipments
include even a fraction of genetically modified wheat.

Don Dewar of the Manitoba group Keystone Agricultural Producers warned that
if genetically modified wheat varieties are approved, Canadian producers
will no longer be able to guarantee the quality of their product.

"Many importing countries have expressed concerns dealing with genetically
modified wheat, and there is currently no international agreement stating
what levels of GMO admixtures are acceptable in export wheat," Dewar noted.
Marc Loiselle of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and Fred Tait of the
National Farmers Union pointed out that the introduction of genetically
modified canola has already wiped out the certified organic canola market,
because producers have no way of guaranteeing that their product has not
been contaminated.

"The approval of (genetically modified) wheat would be devastating," said
Loiselle. "A farmer's ability to grow wheat uncontaminated by a novel trait
gene will be virtually impossible."

Monsanto recently won a court case against Saskatchewan canola farmer Percy
Schmeiser, arguing that he illegally grew its patented herbicide-resistant
canola. Schmeiser continues to maintain that his crop was contaminated by
pollen from neighboring fields where farmers had paid for the Monsanto seed.
"Once this is into the system, as we found with our canola experience, you
really can't segregate it any longer," Tait said.

Ivan Ottenbreit of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan
also warned about another danger of cross-pollination, saying that a
herbicide-resistant wheat could mix with native grasses with the result that
herbicide is suddenly useless on weeds such as quack grass.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Holly Penfound also warned about the likelihood that
pollen from genetically modified crops could spread to wild plants.
"The market rejection of (genetically modified) wheat is international and
growing," Penfound said. "Let me be clear. This is an inadequately tested
experiment that has no place contaminating our farms and food. Our
government should be calling the shots, not the food biotech companies that
are pushing GM wheat into the market."

Patty Rosher of the Canadian Wheat Board said her agency recognizes the
potential benefits that biotech presents to consumers and farmers, but needs
to be convinced of product safety and market acceptance before genetically
modified wheat is brought into the mainstream.

Canadian wheat exports were valued at $2.9 billion last year, and Stewart
Wells of the National Farmers Union called on Chretien to protect that
industry.

"If the prime minister was to say he is prepared to do whatever it takes to
ensure that Canadian farmers and Canadian consumers wouldn't be harmed by
the introduction of genetically modified wheat, that would send a very
strong signal."

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