Release of new variety of GM wheat irreversible



Release of new variety of GM wheat irreversible

(The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon))
PUBLICATION: The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
DATE: 2022.04.01
SECTION: Lifestyle
COLUMN: Environment
BYLINE: Paul Hanley
SOURCE: The StarPhoenix

Canada's regulatory agencies had better be certain of the consequences of their actions before licensing Roundup Ready wheat (RRW), given that its introduction would be irreversible. Once released into the environment, it will not be possible to withdraw RRW, even if it proves as damaging to the economy and the environment as many economists and scientists predict.

"Once a genetically modified wheat variety is licensed and grown by some farmers," say a group of Saskatchewan ag economists in a paper entitled The Optimal Time to License a Biotech 'Lemon,' "it will be nearly impossible to reclaim all of the novel genes from the environment. Small quantities of the variety will eventually diffuse throughout the grain production and marketing system. The diffusion process makes the decision to license GM (genetically modified) wheat irreversible. Thus, the external costs will persist even if GM wheat is no longer commercially produced."

I don't know about you, but I don't like the sound of that. While there doesn't seem to be any proof that RRW is harmful to human health, many consumers see no point
in taking the risk since there are no benefits to them, such as better nutrition. It is certain that modified genetic material will spread to non-GM plants, resulting in the contamination of the entire Canadian wheat supply. Even though this contamination could be small, most of Canada's grain customers have indicated that they will reject grain with as little as one per cent genetic contamination, given that their customers do not want to eat GM foods.

This should rule out the licensing of RRW, since environmental assessments of new technologies are typically done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. All the costs of using the technology (mostly environmental or health-related) are assessed and weighed against the benefits (usually economic). In the case of RRW, no economic benefits have been identified, other than to Monsanto, the corporation that has
developed the technology. Farmers will lose millions in lost markets and increased costs to control herbicide resistant volunteer grain. The environmental/agronomic risks associated with RRW are significant. The first risk is that genetic contamination will spread through mechanisms such as pollen flow and physical handling. The second is the development of weed, insect or disease resistance to the chemicals used with RRW. The third is the cost and management of volunteers, i.e. the GM plants that can no longer be controlled by the Roundup 60 04/01/03 herbicide which persist in subsequent years. Economists have shown that these risks will be detrimental to
farmers, whose weed control costs will increase even if they do not use RRW themselves.

RRW is also being proposed for the U.S. market, but one American economist believes that the price of spring wheat could drop by about one-third if a GM variety is introduced commercially. Dr. Robert Wisner says "every available indicator of foreign consumer demand points to a high risk of GM wheat rejection in export markets. In the past four years the US has lost over a billion dollars of corn and soybean meal exports because of foreign GM concerns." The risk of loss is higher with wheat since more of it is exported. Montana legislators are proposing the Montana Wheat Protection and Promotion Act, which would require Monsanto and other companies to show that GM wheat can be marketed overseas, and that GM wheat and conventional wheat can be segregated, before they can sell GM wheat in Montana. The North Dakota legislature is considering a similar bill. Saskatchewan should do the same.

RRW is consistent with an economic model that stresses productivity goals over quality, sustainability and health goals. But achieving high levels of production only depresses commodity prices and often undermines quality and sustainability. In farming today, it may be that prosperity is increasingly linked to health and ecological consideration. The winners in this boondoggle may be those nations that do not license GM wheat. Canada's rejection of RRW will ensure that it maintains its reputation for pure, high-quality milling grain, and retains access to premium markets.
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