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GM wheat detected in Alberta

By Mitchell Japp, MSc, PAg, Provincial Specialist, Cereal Crops, Regina

Wheat plants that were not killed by a routine glyphosate application last year led to the June 14, 2018, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announcement that genetically modified (GM) wheat was discovered in Alberta.

Extensive testing of all plausible sources of contamination has led CFIA to confirm that this incident is small and isolated. The GM wheat does not exist anywhere in the Canadian grain or seed systems. A risk analysis conducted by CFIA and Health Canada confirmed that there is no risk to human food, animal feed or the environment as a result of this discovery. GM crops have been shown to be as safe as non-GM equivalents. GM canola, corn and soybeans have been authorized in Canada for more than 20 years.

The source is unknown. GM wheat is not authorized for commercial production in any country, but many countries have had tests, including Canada. The wheat plants found in Alberta are not a match for any wheat authorized for sale or commercial production in Canada. The GM wheat event was determined to be MON71200, which was tested in Canada and the United States from the late 1990s to early 2000s. The CFIA has strict, rigorous requirements for confined research trials for GM traits. The nearest test site to the discovery was more than 300 km away.

CFIA and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) have used DNA fingerprinting against 450 registered wheat varieties and found no match. They have tested samples from 1,500 grain shipments over the past three years and found no match. They also tested 1,692 bulked samples from the 2017 Harvest Sample Program and found no match. The plants are not a match to any of the GM wheat findings in the United States (Oregon – 2013, Montana – 2014, Washington – 2016).

Extensive review of farm practices and testing has been done on the farm and access road where the GM wheat was found. No GM wheat was present in the grain or seed. A 60,000 m2 survey along the access road resulted in finding 284 wheat heads. 280 of those tested negative. The four plants found were in the first 15 m from the access road where the herbicide-tolerant wheat was discovered.

Canada’s wheat is safe. The federal government is working closely with trading partners. The CGC will continue to monitor all bulk wheat export shipments. Japan and South Korea have temporarily closed their borders to Canadian wheat while they conduct their own due diligence. CFIA has made a one-step test available to trading partners, if desired, to test for the presence of the GM wheat.

The discovery site will be monitored very closely for the next three years.

More information is available at the Government of Canada’s website.

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