Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Altered wheat opposed by many

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Genetically modified wheat might be back on the radar for some Canadian farming groups, but one Winnipeg researcher says at the height of the GM wheat furor, most prairie farmers didn't want the stuff.Former University of Manitoba PhD student Ian Mauro conducted a 2004 survey of more than 1,500 randomly selected farmers, nearly 600 from Manitoba. He said 83 per cent opposed Roundup Ready wheat's "unconfined release into the environment," a term used by the federal government for unrestricted commercial release.

Roundup Ready wheat is a genetically modified, herbicide-resistant wheat developed by Monsanto but shelved in 2004 over opposition.

"This is the largest independent, farmer-focused study ever conducted on GM crops," Mauro said.

Although the survey was conducted five years ago, the information has not been previously released. The stats are considered accurate within plus or minus two per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Even after farmers were divided by methods -- organic versus those who already grow herbicide-resistant crops, for example -- Mauro said the majority were opposed in each category. When asked if they would grow Roundup Ready wheat is if was already on the market, most said no.

A paper on the study, authored by Mauro and researchers Stéphane McLachlan and Rene Van Acker, is set to be published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

The survey was conducted by mail. Mauro said to ensure the results weren't skewed, he and other researchers did phone interviews with those who got the survey but did not respond.

The survey was held in 2004, shortly before Monsanto halted plans for its GM wheat. Mauro said he thinks the findings would be the same today.

But the results raised eyebrows with the Western Canadian Wheat Growers (WCWG), one of nine farming groups in Canada, the United States and Australia that last month called for another look at genetically modified wheat.

Manitoba vice-president Rolf Penner questioned the timing of the survey, conducted when sentiments about GM wheat were running high, and wondered over opposition among farmers who already grow Roundup Ready canola. He said he thinks today's figure would be around 70 per cent support for GM wheat.

Mauro said farmers surveyed were concerned about a lack of market acceptance for GM wheat. They also cited potential for contamination if GM wheat and canola were rotated on the same fields, he said, with the risk of leftover Roundup Ready wheat seeds becoming stubborn weeds if they sprout on a field of Roundup Ready canola.

lindsey.wiebe@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2009 A10

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