The Japanese government has ended its temporary suspension of Canadian wheat imports, just over a month after pausing purchases from Canada following the confirmation of a handful of unapproved genetically-modified wheat plants found growing in southern Alberta in 2017.
The country’s ministry of agriculture issued tenders for 62,957 tonnes of food-quality wheat from Canada on Friday, according to a report from Reuters.
“Japan is a long-standing, premium customer of Canadian wheat and is the highest grade buyer of Canadian wheat in the world,” noted Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl, in a statement welcoming the Japanese decision on Friday.
“We appreciate that loyalty and highly value the collaborative nature of our trading partnership,” he continued. “Cereals Canada is grateful for the effort that the Government of Japan has put into resolving this issue as quickly as possible, work that included travel to Canada by officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.”
Japan halted purchases of Canadian wheat on June 15th, the day after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said a limited number of glyphosate-tolerant wheat plants were found growing along an oil site access road in southern Alberta last summer.
The CFIA says none of the wheat entered the grain handling or seed production system. Ongoing testing of shipments by the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) has found no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Japanese officials traveled to Canada and met with Cereals Canada, the CGC, and the CFIA the following week. The CFIA also shared a validated test for the GM trait with Japan’s government.
Japan has not found any GM wheat in its system, but has indicated it will continue to test shipments from Canada.
“Today’s news proves that Canada’s science-based regulatory system works,” said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission, on Friday. “Not only does Canada’s grain handling system employ some of the most rigorous quality control protocols in the world, but we also prioritize transparency with our customers. Japan is a highly valued customer of Canada and we are pleased to see that they have reaffirmed their confidence in our system and have resumed normal trade.”
Dahl also recognized the united approach the Canadian grain industry took to finding a resolution to Japan’s concerns:
“Almost all organizations and companies have come together to present unified single Canadian industry message. As a united industry we are able to work with the government and our customers to help maintain our reputation as a reliable supplier.”
Timeline for GM wheat case:
(with info from the CFIA)
Summer 2017: A custom applicator in southern Alberta reports wheat plants that survived a glyphosate herbicide treatment (Roundup) to local authorities. They were found growing along an access road to an oil site. The Alberta government collects samples for testing.
January 2018: The Alberta government confirms the wheat plants are herbicide tolerant.
January 31: The Alberta government informs the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about finding a few herbicide-tolerant wheat plants in southern Alberta.
February 15: The CFIA confirms that Alberta’s samples are genetically modified (GM) and herbicide-tolerant.
February 16-20: The CFIA runs further tests and narrows a list of wheat lines that had been grown in research trials down to three belonging to two companies.
February 19: The CFIA informs Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Health Canada (HC). Risk and safety assessments of the wheat begin for human health, the health of animals and the environment.
February 22: CFIA contacts both companies, including Monsanto, to obtain samples from possible wheat lines.
March 13: The CFIA rules out one company after testing its samples and determining that it is not a match for this GM wheat.
March 23: Testing by the CFIA and Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) confirms that this GM wheat does not match any of the 450 registered wheat seed varieties sold in Canada.
March 28: The CFIA confirms that the herbicide-tolerant wheat was not a match with previous incidents in the U.S.
April 6: The CFIA concludes development and validation of a testing method to detect this GM wheat.
April 6: The CFIA receives samples from Monsanto to test the other possible wheat lines.
April 8: Testing by the CFIA confirms that the wheat contained genetic elements that match an event provided by Monsanto. This event (MON71200) is not approved in any registered wheat variety. Monsanto says this event was field tested in Canada from 1998 to 2000. The company dropped it from its research in the latter years of its glyphosate-tolerant wheat program, which ended in Canada in 2004. The nearest trial site where Monsanto tested this event was located hundreds of miles away from where these plants were discovered, according to CFIA officials. The plants also do not match the type of wheat that Monsanto tested the trait in in Canada.
April 9: The CFIA receives and begins testing CGC’s wheat samples from their 2017 Harvest Sample Program.
April 20: The landowner is informed of the finding. The CFIA collects information to identify possible scope and presence of this GM wheat.
April 20-25: Seed and grain samples from the landowner’s farm are collected and sent to CFIA lab to test for this GM wheat.
May 1: Results of all seed and grain samples taken on farm are negative for this GM wheat.
May 8: Wheat heads from field surrounding the access road are dry enough for the CFIA to collect and test.
May 9: HC and CFIA complete risk and safety assessments of this wheat. This trait does not pose a risk to public health, health of animals or the environment.
May 23: Testing of wheat heads is completed. Only four wheat head samples found immediately beside the access road were positive for this GM wheat. All other samples were negative.
May 24: The CFIA transitions from inspection to monitoring.
June 14: CFIA, AAFC and HC hold technical briefings to inform industry, commodity groups and media about the case.
June 15: Japan suspends imports of Canadian wheat.
June 18: South Korea suspends imports of Canadian wheat and flour.
June 21: The CFIA publishes its incident report. The CFIA says it “can confirm that no GM wheat has entered the food or feed system, nor is it present anywhere else in the environment.” The agency also notes “was able to identify the GM wheat and determine the limited scope of its presence, but was unable to specifically identify the source of the GM wheat. All evidence-based lines of inquiry were pursued and have not resulted in any further avenues to be explored. Going forward, the CFIA will focus on monitoring the site and will verify that all GM wheat that may germinate is destroyed.”
June 26: South Korea lifts suspension on Canadian wheat and flour imports.
July 20: Japan resumes imports of Canadian wheat.
Related: What we know (and don’t know) so far about the GM wheat discovery in Alberta