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Thursday, April 7, 2011. Yesterday, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) issued a statement to clarify that it has no plans to research genetically modified (GM) wheat.

NRC now states, “GM wheat is not an objective of the NRC wheat program. We will be developing a number of tools that will be used to reduce the breeding cycle, increase yield and adapt to climate stresses. GM varieties are not contemplated at this time.” The statement was issued in response to media stories of April 3 that reported on a leaked memo from the government research agency.

“NRC has finally recognized what everyone but Monsanto understands: that GM wheat is unacceptable to farmers and consumers,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

Genetically modified crops are created through recombinant DNA technology (also called genetic engineering or transgenics), introducing genes from other species.

In 2004, Monsanto withdrew requests for government approval of its herbicide tolerant GM wheat in Canada and the US because of widespread farmer and consumer protest in both countries, and around the world. However, Monsanto re-launched research into GM wheat in 2009 and the biotechnology industry is now engaged in a new public relations campaign in favour of GM wheat.

Monsanto’s new plans for GM wheat are, however, meeting the same strong objections that defeated the company’s product in 2004. The Premier of Australia’s largest wheat growing state recently panned GM wheat, and Japanese flour companies continue to say that they will refuse to process GM wheat. In early 2010, 233 groups from 26 countries restated their opposition to GM wheat.

“Wheat improvements can and must happen without the use of transgenics. GM wheat would spell disaster for Canada’s wheat growers, just as GM alfalfa now threatens farmers across the country,” said Terry Boehm, President of the National Farmers Union in Canada.

“The costs to farmers from the GM flax contamination fiasco would pale in comparison to what would happen if GM wheat was introduced,” said Arnold Taylor, a grain farmer with the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate. GM flax was developed with public funds through the University of Saskatchewan and registered in Canada over the objections of flax farmers who succeeded in removing the GM flax from the market in 2001. In late 2009, Canadian flax exports to 36 countries were found contaminated with the GM flax, resulting in shut markets and economic loses to farmers.

For more information: Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext. 25; Terry Boehm, National Farmers Union, 306 652 9465, Arnold Taylor, Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, 306 252 2783, cell 306 561 7788.