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Canada may soon allow transgenic wheat

(Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Globe and Mail via Agnet: Canada soon could, according to these stories, become the first country to allow farmers to grow genetically modified wheat, ending the grain's status as the only major crop that has not been subject to genetic engineering.

The stories explain that Monsanto Canada, a biotechnology company, applied to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency during the Christmas week to permit the release of wheat it genetically manipulated to make it tolerant of the company's Roundup brand of herbicide. It also seeks approval to feed the modified wheat to livestock. A separate review on the safety of the company's genetically modified wheat -- used for products ranging from bread to pastries and noodles -- is before Health Canada.

The applications are the last major step before the full commercial production of genetically modified wheat, which could grow in fields as early as next year or 2005, if federal regulators find no safety concerns.

Stephen Yarrow, director of the plant biosafety office at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa, was quoted as saying, "This assumes that everything is okay."

Mr. Yarrow was further cited as saying that Canada could become the first country to allow genetically modified wheat, although Monsanto applied for approval from U.S. authorities when it approached Canadian regulators.

Monsanto officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Trish Jordan, a Monsanto spokeswoman, was cited as saying it will probably be years before the wheat, engineered to tolerate high doses of the company's pesticide Round Up, sees commercial use, adding, "While regulatory approval will certainly provide an important level of confidence across the wheat industry, it doesn't mean we're going to be ready to introduce the product."

Holly Penfound of the environmental group Greenpeace was quoted as saying, "There's no good reason to release this crop. Nobody wants it except Monsanto."

Penfound says Monsanto's assurances about being able to keep its wheat separate from regular wheat are unconvincing.

Besides, it shouldn't be up to a multinational company to make a decision on such an important issue, she said.