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Questions and answers: Detection of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant wheat in Alberta

What has been discovered?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was notified that a few genetically modified (GM) wheat plants were found on an access road in southern Alberta. Testing of the plants by the CFIA showed the wheat to be genetically modified to be tolerant to a common herbicide.

Why did the Government look into this?

GM wheat is not approved or authorized for commercial use in Canada. The CFIA understands the importance of Canadian wheat for Canadians and our international trading partners. The CFIA is informing Canadians of the actions it took and will continue to take in light of this discovery, as part of its commitment to openness and transparency.

Is this GM wheat present elsewhere in Canada? Is it possible that GM wheat is in our food chain and in the animal feed supply?

Extensive sampling and testing have shown there is no GM wheat present anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered.

Furthermore, the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) confirmed that this GM wheat has not been seen previously in the CGC's records of grain shipments. The CGC and the CFIA have conducted scientific analysis and confirmed that the wheat plants found in Alberta are not a match for anything authorized for sale or for commercial production in Canada.

Where did the wheat come from? Who planted it?

Based on our extensive scientific testing, there is no evidence that this GM wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered.

We may never know how this GM wheat came to be present on an access road. What we do know is that this GM wheat finding was very limited in scope and that the CFIA followed all plausible leads that may explain its origin. None of these leads brought forward any further reasonable avenues, including that there was any wrong-doing.

Are there risks to human or animal health or the environment regarding GM wheat?

Health Canada has performed a health risk assessment and has concluded this finding does not pose a food safety risk to Canadians.

Herbicide tolerance is an approved GM trait in canola, corn and soybeans. In these crops, previous Health Canada and CFIA safety assessments have demonstrated that this trait does not pose a risk to public health, the health of animals or the environment.

Why isn't GM wheat approved for sale or production, since GM crops already exist on the Canadian market?

Currently, GM wheat is not approved for any commercial use in Canada, as no company has brought a GM wheat product forward for safety assessment and commercialization.

At this time, there is no domestic or international market demand for a GM wheat product. It is a business decision not to pursue authorization.

How can Canadians be assured that GM crops are safe?

Health Canada conducts thorough safety assessments of all foods derived from biotechnology (such as genetic modifications) to verify that they are as safe and nutritious as foods already in the Canadian marketplace.

Health Canada has completed a health risk assessment of the finding and has concluded that it poses no food safety risk to Canadians.

Could this discovery impact the Canadian wheat market?

The Government of Canada recognizes that farmers may be concerned about getting their wheat to market. However, there is no evidence based on our extensive scientific testing that this GM wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered. Our efforts are now focused on monitoring to ensure that Canadian wheat continues to meet domestic and international standards.

The Government of Canada will continue to be open and transparent. We are working closely with the provinces, growers, and other members of the value chain to identify ways to mitigate any potential impacts that may occur. We are also making every effort to assure our trading partners that this unauthorized wheat has not entered the food or animal feed system, and that trade should not be impacted.

What are the CFIA's next steps?

No presence of this GM wheat was found anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered. However, the CFIA will continue to work with the landowner to monitor the area over the next three years to prevent any GM wheat from persisting.

What is the Government of Canada doing to ensure that this incident does not happen again?

The CFIA will review this incident to identify areas for continuous improvement within our Directives.

Canada already has a rigorous regulatory system in place – a system that is often used as a model by our international trading partners. Canada is committed to maintaining its reputation as a world leader, as well as protecting the health and safety of Canadians. Therefore, any areas identified for improvement will be pursued.