POP: Roundup Ready Wheat Testing

POP: Yes
Res #: POP 4-03A
Number: 4
Year: 2003
Midterm: No
Expired: Yes
Responses Received: No

Point of Privilege Resolution No. 4-03A

WHEREAS, SARM has 2 previously passed resolutions opposing the registration and release of GM transgenic wheat and cereal crops; and

WHEREAS, in July 2002, Monsanto filed for health approval in Canada, then in December 2002, filed for regulatory approval in Canada and the United States to release its Roundup Ready wheat on an unconfined basis for feed use and commercial production; and

WHEREAS, wheat does spread its pollen, despite its mostly self-pollinating nature, and that the pollen then does drift by wind, insect and other activity; which results in genetic out-crossing to other wheat and similar species of plants; and

WHEREAS, initial research data in Saskatchewan has demonstrated conclusively that wheat pollen drifts to 27 metres and supplementary information indicates as far as 80 metres; and

WHEREAS, the isolation perimeter zone surrounding Roundup Ready wheat confined field test plots is set at only 30 metres, according to the protocols established for the variety registration trails within the framework of the Prairie Registration Recommending Committee for Grain (PRRCG); and

WHEREAS, there are many more field test plots of Roundup Ready wheat in Saskatchewan, besides the few done for the PRRCG variety registration purposes, for which it is not known what, if any, isolation perimeter zones are established; and

WHEREAS, without substantially increasing any isolation perimeters to allow for the still unknown overall potential out-crossing of wheat, there is already an open possibility that the Roundup Ready gene could be escaping beyond the confines that are currently established; and

WHEREAS, the exact locations of Roundup Ready field test plots is a closely guarded secret known only to Monsanto, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and to Saskatchewan Agriculture, Food & Rural Revitalization’s (SAFRR) Provincial Oilseed and Transgenic Crops Specialist; and

WHEREAS, rural municipalities and individual landowners/ratepayers are not notified when and where Roundup Ready wheat test plots are located;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that SARM lobby AAFC/CFIA and SAFRR to disclose the locations of all field test plots of Roundup Ready wheat in Saskatchewan and to give prior notification to SARM, rural municipalities and landowners of the intent to set up such test plots; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in order to safeguard the genetic purity of non-GM wheat, SARM lobby AAFC/CFIA to stop further confined testing of Roundup Ready wheat until it is known to what extent genetic out-crossing (cross-pollination) of wheat and related species is possible.

Response from the Honourable Clay Serby, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Revitalization:

Exact trial locations of the field test plots of Roundup Ready wheat are considered Confidential Business Information by the CFIA, and as such are not disclosed to the public. Furthermore, SAFRR staff are not privy to the exact locations of confined trials planted in Saskatchewan.

With respect to safeguarding the purity of non-GM wheat, SAFFR supports the Canadian Wheat Board's position on delaying the registration of transgenic wheat until several conditions are met. These include, among other things, a functioning identity preservation system, identified end use markets, and risk/benefit analysis prior to unconfined release.

Response from the Honorable Lyle Vanclief, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada:

To address your resolution regarding wheat derived through biotechnology, I want to assure you that Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world and that sound science is the basis of the federal government's health, safety and environmental assessments of new products. As with any new product of bio-technology, biotechnology-derived wheat will be subjected to a thorough safety assessment before the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) authorizes its unconfined environmental release. No wheat with new traits will be approved until the proponent has completely satisfied all regulatory requirements and has provided the CFIA with sufficient evidence that the crop will not pose a significant risk to the environment.

As part of the CFIA's environmental assessment process, such plants are first grown in a confined field trial, under controlled conditions. Further tests, based on the field trials and other data, are done to determine whether the plant will be granted unconfined release. The potential for cross-pollination with traditional crops is assessed, as is the potential impact of cross-pollination, should it occur. This assessment process is in place to make sure that plants with novel traits that do not meet the criteria for environmental safety are not released in Canada. For more information in this regard, you may wish to consult the Regulatory Directive entitled "Assessment Criteria for Determining Environmental Safety of Plants with Novel Traits." This directive is available on the CFIA Web site at:

I have noted your comments about the test sites for biotechnology-derived crops/ The tests themselves are not secret, only their exact location. As you may know, many trials in other countries involving plants with new traits have been vandalized. This potential for mischief creates an additional set of risks. Therefore, it is in the public interest that the exact location of the trials remains confidential business information.

The CFIA's Access to Information and Privacy Office advises that this information may not be released. However, let me reassure you that all of these research trials are reproductively isolated from other species and are inspected by CFIA inspectors for compliance to all the terms and conditions of approval. Provincial authorities are always notified prior to the authorization of a research trial and are provided with a 30-day comment period.

The Government of Canada supports consumers having access to meaningful, credible and truthful information as it relates to biotechnology and food. The Government, in partnership with consumers, health professionals and the agri-food industry, continues to work with stakeholders to develop more ways to meet the non-health and safety information needs of consumers.

The Royal Society of Canada and many other internationally recognized scientific organizations have reviewed both the safety of foods derived through biotechnology and the scientific frameworks used for their evaluation. There is an impressive consensus amongst these groups that the products currently commercially available are as safe as their traditional counterparts. A number of studies have now been completed on the environmental effects of biotechnology-derived crops. A recent review entitled Environmental Benefits of Modified Crops: Global and European Perspectives on Their Ability to Reduce Pesticide Use is available from the author at The report provides a perspective on why these products have been rapidly adopted in the countries that have approved them.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is committed to supporting the sustainable development of Canada's agri-food sector. As science is absolutely essential to enable innovation, the Department conducts research and develops and transfers a wide range of appropriate technologies. For example, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada conducts research to develop production packages that meet organic production standards. As well, the Department extensively uses biotechnology tools in a wide range of research programs.

The Department has also conducted research to assess the fit of herbicide-tolerant crops in Canadian crop production systems. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is investigating whether, and, if so, how wheat derived through biotechnology may contribute to the sustainability of western Canadian agriculture. Cross-pollination can be an issue, but wheat is a very highly self-pollinating crop and so experiences with other crops, particularly canola, are not transferable to wheat.