Canadian officials deny that pooping geese could have spread GMO wheat seeds

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 13:08 EDT
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Canadian goose via Shutterstock
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Canadian agricultural officials exchanged a series of emails in late August of 2012 outlining a crisis plan explaining how personnel at the country’s agricultural agency should deal with inquiries about whether experimental Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) wheat could be spread in the feces of Canadian geese. The Ottawa Citizen said Tuesday that it has received heavily redacted copies of the emails, which point toward a concerted effort to squelch the notion that GMO wheat could have escaped its growing area at Agriculture Canada’s Experimental Farm in Ottawa in the digestive tracts of Canadian geese.

Richard Martin, a spokesperson for the Canadian Wheat Board, told Raw Story, “There is no GMO wheat grown commercially in Canada” at all. The Ottawa Citizen report said that Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued two permits to the Experimental Farm to conduct “confined research field trials” of transgenic wheat containing the patented GLK1 gene package, designed to make plants resistant to the fungus fusarium.

At risk is an international boycott of Canadian wheat, which could cost farmers billions of dollars. Earlier this year when a strain of Monsanto GMO wheat abruptly appeared in a field in Oregon, causing Japan and Korea to boycott imports of U.S. soft, white wheat.

On Friday evening, August 24, 2012, an Agriculture Canada staffer wrote to her colleagues that the CFIA contacted her to inform her of an unspecified incident involving the experimental wheat. A flurry of emails followed over the weekend discussing whether seeds from the GMO wheat seeds “will survive in the goose poop.”

Canadian geese are voracious eaters that typically defecate every few minutes. Birds and other seed and plant-eating animals often play a central role in distributing seeds by way of their droppings. If a large number of Canadian geese descended on and ate GMO crops, they could very well, in theory, transport those seeds to other locations.

On the following Monday, Agriculture Canada sent an email to staffers with a list of talking points designed to minimize public alarm if word got out that geese could be spreading GMO seeds.

“(T)he dispersal of viable seed by urban and suburban populations of Canada Geese is minimal,” insisted the email. The wheat strains in question were reportedly spring wheat, which the email author said “would be killed by the winter frost.”

At the Experimental Farm, the GMO wheat was surrounded by conventional crops on all sides, a technique commonly used to keep experimental crops from pollenating other, non-modified plants. The memo to Agriculture Canada staffers said that Canadian geese had eaten both normal and GMO wheat.

“So in reality, only a small population of the geese probably fed on very little material resulting in much dilution…,” wrote the official, although the Citizen noted that the rest of the sentence is blacked out.

An Agriculture Canada spokesperson told the Citizen Tuesday that the Experimental Farm was growing some GMO crops, but that “the latest research indicates that there is minimal risk of dispersal of viable seeds through Canada geese droppings. Additionally, since the seeds were a spring wheat cultivar, even if the seeds were to survive a goose’s digestive system, they would be killed by winter frost.”

Canadian geese reportedly did $250,000 (Canadian) in damage to crops at the Experimental Farm in 2012. Currently the farm is using Border Collies to keep the birds away.

[image of Canadian goose via Shutterstock.com]

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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