Canadian farmers opposed to GM wheat: survey

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (Reuters) - Canadian farmers oppose the introduction of genetically modified wheat until market conditions change, a Canadian Wheat Board survey has found.

In the CWB’s annual survey of 1,300 Western Canadian farmers, only 9 percent said GMO wheat should be grown as soon as it’s available, with the majority saying it shouldn’t be grown until conditions are met such as proving benefits to farmers and demonstrating market demand. Nineteen percent said it should not be grown in Canada.

Farmers were close to evenly split when asked how interested they are in growing GM wheat. Fifty-one percent said they’re not interested, with 46 percent very or somewhat interested.

“My sense is that farmers are mostly taking an economic look at it,” said CWB chairman Larry Hill, a farmer in the western province of Saskatchewan. “They’re pretty aware that there’s not major acceptance by customers and if it’s going to be introduced they want to be sure it’s going to make them money.”

Canadian farmers grow other GMO crops, particularly canola, but there’s greater sensitivity around wheat because it’s a direct human food ingredient unlike canola which is crushed for vegetable oil or biofuel, Hill said.

Debate about genetically modified wheat resurfaced in May when farmer groups in the top wheat-exporting countries of Canada, the United States and Australia jointly called for synchronized production of GMO wheat. Other farm and environmental groups later issued a joint statement of opposition.

A new publicly funded academic study, to be published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, shows Canadian farmers were overwhelmingly opposed in 2004 to Monsanto’s aborted proposal for herbicide-resistant genetically modified wheat.

That study surveyed 1,566 Prairie farmers five years ago and found 83 percent disagreed Roundup-Ready wheat should be commercially developed. Farmers felt the benefits of Roundup-Ready wheat outweighed the risks of losing markets, increasing corporate control of the food supply and contamination of non-GMO crops, said Ian Mauro, the lead author and a post-doctoral fellow at University of Victoria in British Columbia.

“All of the research indicates that the marketplace is very sensitive to any GM trait and what we found is farmers are concerned about market risks,” Mauro said. “Although we’ve identified the risks specific to Roundup-Ready wheat, I can definitely see that many of them could apply to other GM wheat.”

The Roundup-Ready wheat survey is irrelevant today because five years have passed and Monsanto is no longer pursuing that or any GMO wheat, said Trish Jordan, the company’s spokeswoman in Canada. The CWB’s results aren’t surprising because no private companies are known to be developing GMO wheat, she said.

“In the absence of having that information (on potential GMO benefits) it’s very difficult for a farmer to decide,” Jordan said, adding that market acceptance would also be critical.

Syngenta AG, the world’s largest agrochemical group, said in February it’s not actively pursuing genetically modified wheat because of consumer resistance.

Editing by John Picinich