2-Plants: Canadian Wheat Board clarifies position on GM wheat
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TITLE: CWB clarifies position on GM wheat
SOURCE: The Western Producer, Canada, by Barry Wilson
DATE: November 8, 2001
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CWB clarifies position on GM wheat
Senior Canadian Wheat Board officials were doing damage control on
Parliament Hill last week, assuring MPs that they are not opposed to
genetically modified wheat. In fact, board chair Ken Ritter said he thinks
it will happen and there will be benefits for farmers who choose to grow GM
varieties. But not yet.
Board president Greg Arason said customers have made it clear they will
abandon Canada as a supplier if there is not an assurance that Canadian
supplies are GM-free. "It is evident that under these circumstances, we
cannot afford to rush a GM wheat variety onto the market until we can be
assured that we will be able to continue to meet customer requirements for
non-GM wheat shipments if necessary," Arason said.
The pre-conditions for introducing a GM variety include a credible
segregation system, effective testing and sampling methods and reasonable
tolerance levels for GM content. Under questioning from opposition MPs,
Ritter said he believes the pre-conditions can be met but not for a few
years. "We are moving towards a positive conclusion," he said. "This is not
an anti-technology stance we are taking."
Some MPs were skeptical about the board's strategy and attitude.
Saskatchewan Canadian Alliance MP David Anderson noted that when the board
called on the government not to register GM wheat before the market is
ready, it was joined at the news conference by biotechnology skeptics such
as the Council of Canadians and Greenpeace. "I have a concern you are
sleeping with some pretty strange partners," he told board representatives.
Arason did not respond directly to the issue of board allies. He said it
was important that the wheat board let its farmer suppliers know what its
international customers want. "For us to sit silent and not inform farmers
what customers are saying would be irresponsible of us," he said. Customers
like China and Japan have made it clear they are uneasy or outright opposed
to the possibility of having GM wheat mixed in with Canadian supplies. "The
U.S. is another large market for western Canadian farmers," Arason said.
"The North American Millers Association has publicly expressed its position
that crops that do not have wide market approval should not be placed on
Ritter told MPs there are predictions that the first country to introduce
GM wheat will lose two-thirds of its markets. Then, once customers become
more comfortable with the product, other countries will gain the benefit.
He noted that Monsanto's GM wheat work involves hard red spring wheat grown
in Canada rather than white wheat, which would be more adaptable to the
United States, so Canada would likely be the first on the market. "We see
little benefit to us," said Ritter."Right now, the negatives outweigh the
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