The wheat plants were found growing on an access road in southern Alberta by an herbicide application contractor who reported the plants had survived a dose of Roundup to local authorities.
Seven plants were taken for testing and the rest of the patch was destroyed.
The CFIA’s Ottawa Genotyping/Botany Laboratory conducted several DNA-based analyses, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifications of various common GM DNA sequences, and found the wheat contained pieces of DNA that do not occur naturally and were a match to Monsanto’s GM herbicide-tolerant (glyphosate-tolerant) “Roundup Ready” wheat (MON71200).
The agrochemical and biotechnology titan last grew test plots of this wheat in Canada in 2004, but withdrew its application for regulatory approval following mounting international rejection.
Genetically modified wheat is not approved by any government around the world for commercialization and is therefore illegal.
Ban from Japan
This is the first time cultivated GM wheat has been found in Canada, although several escapes of Roundup Ready wheat have been found in the US, including in Oregon in 2013, Montana in 2014, and Washington in 2016.
Several buyers, including South Korea and Japan, temporarily halted purchases of US wheat after the discovery in Oregon.
The recent Canadian discovery has prompted Japan to ban imports of Canadian wheat, and authorities are worried that more countries may follow.
Canada is a major wheat-producing nation with wheat contributing $11bn annually to the country’s economy.
The CFIA said it is confident this is an isolated case and there is no evidence that it has entered the grain handling system or the seed system.
Health Canada has also concluded it does not pose a food safety, animal feed, or environmental risk.
According to the CFIA, last year, there were 43 approved field trials in Saskatchewan and 11 trials in Manitoba involving wheat with novel traits, but none in Alberta.
Herbicide tolerance was the objective for 39 of these trials, with 32 focused on yield increases and six on fungal resistance
“The GM wheat has a genetic background that does not match any currently registered wheat in Canada. It has a fingerprint that is distinct from any registered wheat. CFIA is continuing our work to identify the specific class of this wheat, but this work is ongoing,” said a CFIA scientist.
The CFIA will continue to monitor the location for the next three years to verify that all GM wheat that may germinate is destroyed.
Can’t afford to be careless
“We’re relieved this is an isolated contamination case but we’re concerned that the government couldn’t determine how it happened. Without knowing the cause, contamination could happen again,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).
“A less isolated GM wheat contamination incident could be devastating to Canadian farmers and the future of our wheat exports,” added Thibault Rehn of the Quebec network Vigilance OGM.
"We can't afford to be careless with GM crops because it’s difficult or impossible to reverse contamination once it occurs.”
Monsanto did not respond to BakeryandSnacks' request for a comment.