Positive Environment News

Canadian wheat may contain traces of GM crops - CWB

Date: 04-Jun-03
Country: CANADA

"It hasn't been raised as an issue," said Patty Rosher, who manages biotechnology issues for the Canadian Wheat Board, which controls wheat exports from Canada's main growing region.

Grain industry sources in the United States revealed on Friday that traces of GM grain had been found in U.S. wheat and flour.

The disclosure provides ammunition for farmers and grain marketers who are worried that a GM wheat developed by Monsanto Co. (MON.N) will create havoc in wheat markets if it is approved by Canadian and U.S. regulators.

Last week the CWB asked Monsanto's Canadian division to withdraw its application for government approval of its GM wheat because it said most of its customers do not want to buy it.

Rosher said Canadian wheat shipments currently contain small amounts of other grains, including canola, corn and soybeans, which may be GM varieties.

But the seeds are of different sizes and weights than wheat, so millers can clean out almost all of the GM material, Rosher said.

"The GM wheat, on the other hand, would be visually indistinguishable. You could not clean it out," Rosher said.

"The risk to the customer who doesn't want GM wheat is much higher," she said.

The CWB does not test its wheat for GM material, but it guarantees that shipments are free of GM wheat because it is not registered for use in Canada, Rosher said.

CWB customers are "generally satisfied" with the wheat board's guarantee, she said.

"I think there's an understanding that that material might be there, but there's no incentive on their part to test it, because they'll find it," Rosher said, noting that could create concern for consumers in some countries.

Tests can find trace amounts as low as 0.0001 percent, she said, adding that such levels are inevitable when wheat is handled through the same railcars, elevators, terminals and ships as other grains.

"Every vessel has a little bit of grain in the bottom, so ... if you're exporting bulk grain from any country, even if that country doesn't grow any GM crops, the tests are so sensitive that they could detect the few kernels that are lying at the bottom that might be GM," Rosher said.

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