Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 36 - Evidence - Meeting of June 4, 2013
OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 4, 2013
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
6:15 p.m. to examine and report on research and innovation efforts in the
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
I will take this opportunity to welcome our guests, and we will introduce
them formally in a few minutes.
My name is Senator Percy Mockler from New Brunswick, and I am Chair of
the committee. At this time I would like to ask senators to introduce
themselves, and we will start on my left.
Senator Mercer: I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia, and I
am the deputy chair.
Senator Plett: I am Senator Don Plett, and I am from Manitoba.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton, Ontario.
Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais, from Quebec.
The Chair: The committee is continuing its study on research and
innovation efforts in the agriculture sector. Today we are focusing on
innovation in the agriculture and agri-food sector from the agricultural
supply and bioeconomy perspective.
I would like to bring to the attention of the witnesses that in our order
of reference from the Senate of Canada we were authorized to examine
research and development efforts in the context of developing new markets
domestically and internationally, enhancing agricultural sustainability and
improving food diversity, security and traceability of our products.
Today, honourable senators, we are honoured to have witnesses from
Monsanto Canada, with Mr. Mike McGuire, President.
Mr. McGuire, thank you very much for accepting our invitation. We know
you play an important role — your company and your personnel — in moving
Canada forward in agriculture.
Accompanying Mr. McGuire is Trish Jordan, Vice-President, Public and
Corporate Affairs; and Brian K. Treacy, Vice-President, Regulatory Affairs.
I am informed by the clerk that Mr. McGuire will give the presentation.
Mr. McGuire, following your presentation senators will ask questions.
Mike McGuire, President, Monsanto Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chairman
and members of the Senate committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear
before you on the important topic of investment and innovation in
agriculture. I am Mike McGuire, President and General Manager of Monsanto
Canada, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
I am a Canadian who grew up in Ontario. I have been employed in various
positions of responsibility within Monsanto Canada and Monsanto's head
office in St. Louis for the past 26 years. I have been in my current role,
leading our Canadian business, since July 2011.
Monsanto is an agricultural company. Our only customers are farmers and
our mission is globally focused on enabling both small holders and
large-scale farmers to produce more from their land while conserving more of
the world's natural resources such as water, soil and energy. We have
summarized that mission as one that is geared toward helping farmers produce
more, conserve more and improve their lives, as well as the lives of those
who depend on agriculture around the globe.
I thought I would use my time today to give you some brief background on
Monsanto in Canada, speak to you about the challenges farmers face with
respect to producing food for a growing world population and share with you
why we apply science, innovation and technology to help improve agriculture,
make it more sustainable and support farmers with the tools they need to be
successful on the farm.
I will also speak to the importance of science-based regulations to
attract investment and ensure that farmers, who operate in a global
agricultural market, have access to the tools they need to remain
Monsanto Canada employs approximately 280 full- and part-time people in
15 different locations and facilities across Canada. In addition to our
Canadian head office and our trait-integration facility located in Winnipeg,
we also have an eastern business office located in Guelph, Ontario, a
government and regulatory office in Ottawa, a seed manufacturing facility in
Lethbridge, research farms in Saskatoon, Yorkton and Edmonton, breeding
facilities in Carman, Manitoba; Oakville, Manitoba; Guelph and London,
Ontario; and a seed production facility in Cranbrook, British Columbia.
It is at these facilities that our research into enhancing seed germplasm
and introducing favourable traits in crops that include corn, soybeans and
canola takes place and where we field test the commercial products that have
come out of our extensive research pipeline.
These traits include weed and pest resistance, yield enhancements and
stress tolerance traits such as drought. These innovations are important to
farmers as they help them increase yield and profitability. They also hold
considerable potential for the future of agricultural production and are
innovations that farmers tell us they are looking to apply on their farms.
When we look at the challenge facing farmers — a challenge that involves
feeding, fuelling and clothing a growing planet that is expected to hold 9
billion people by the year 2050 — Monsanto does not see one answer and does
not apply just one approach to improving agriculture for farmers. We are
best known for our advances in biotechnology and since 1996, farmers have
used our biotech seeds to increase yield in important crops such as corn,
soybean and canola.
Canadian farmers are among the strongest supporters and largest adopters
of biotechnology, but increasingly, small-holder, resource-poor farmers in
countries such as India, China, the Philippines and parts of Africa are
embracing GM seeds. Today, there are 17.3 million farmers around the globe
making the personal choice to grow their crops with the benefits of
However, biotechnology is only part of what we do. We also apply other
innovations to improve agriculture. One of these innovations is developing
new ways to improve traditional plant breeding using modern science to
accelerate the age-old practice of creating better plants by selecting the
most desirable traits in existing plant populations. The best technology
cannot return benefits for farmers unless it is used in strong seed
germplasm. With tools like molecular markers, we are able to identify
desirable characteristics in plants and bring them to farmers faster than
Other improvements are achieved through agronomic solutions that we offer
to farmers, such as chemistries, biologicals and equipment technologies.
Monsanto spends $3.8 million a day in research globally. In Canada, we are
investing about $15 million annually in corn, soybean and canola breeding
research — all aimed at giving farmers the tools they need to be successful.
We see our contribution to agriculture as one in which we ensure that
agriculture remains a vibrant and successful industry by analyzing the
problems and challenges of agriculture and then applying human innovation to
find solutions and bring new crop options to farmers.
The benefits that farmers have realized since the introduction of biotech
traits in 1996 and those they will see in future traits will only come if we
are in a position to complete the necessary lab and field research required
to confirm economic and environmental benefits for farmers and safety for
humans, animals and the environment. It is because of existing science-based
regulatory policies, which facilitate trade and investment as well as
respect for property and intellectual property, that farmers in Canada have
access to the tools they need to compete with farmers in other countries
around the world. In this respect I want to applaud the efforts of the
Government of Canada toward defending the principles of science-based
regulation. This is not always easy in light of regions such as Europe that
continue to have a dysfunctional regulatory system that sometimes prevents
the entry of beneficial Canadian agricultural products. Canada remains a
world leader in biotechnology research and innovation because of a
regulatory framework grounded in science. Monsanto and our farmer customers
strongly support this focus.
I believe you have heard from groups like CropLife Canada and others in
the agricultural sector who share this view. More important, this
science-driven position is also supported by the large majority of farmers
and commodity organizations in Canada. Our system is held up as a model for
other world areas and has brought substantial industry and research
investment to Canada.
We believe it is important to have Canadian federal regulatory agencies
review the food, feed and environmental safety of all products of
biotechnology. We believe the government should publicly defend its system
and explain its safety record to Canadians. We have a fantastic track record
of ensuring human, animal and environmental safety of agricultural
commodities, and we should not be afraid to defend the system. That system
allows farmers to produce some of the safest food in the world, and there is
a benefit for consumers too in that it ensures they have access to an
abundance of safe high-quality food that is affordable for Canadian
families. CropLife Canada states that Canadian families save 50 per cent on
their weekly grocery bills thanks to modern agriculture.
We are very concerned to see provincial and municipal attempts to impose
additional regulations on agricultural seeds and technologies determined to
be safe by federal agencies. One only need look to provincial and municipal
pesticide bans to see this is a real issue. More recently, there was a GMO
ban put in place on Vancouver Island. These actions discount the important
and credible work you do and ignore the large body of scientific evidence
that shows plant science innovations are safe. More damaging is that they
potentially withhold beneficial crop technologies from Canadian farmers.
Federal support and leadership are needed to convey to other
jurisdictions that science-based principles ensure predictability across
Canada and reduce the risk of Canada losing investment. Farmers need
continued access to safe, beneficial technologies. They need and want the
right to retain the freedom to choose the tools that allow them to thrive,
run successful farm businesses and support their families and communities.
Since their introduction in 1996, more than 2 trillion meals containing
biotech crop ingredients have been consumed without a single reliably
documented case of harm to humans or animals. The continued review of these
technologies for food, feed and environmental safety using a science-based
system sends an important message to our customers around the world that
Canadian agriculture embraces innovation and technology and that these
products are comprehensively reviewed and safe.
As Monsanto's lead for Canada, I advocate for Canada and Canadian farmers
every day in order to attract internal investment because my colleagues are
doing the same globally — fighting for investment to go to their farmers in
Brazil or Argentina or China or India. As a Canadian, I want that investment
to come to Canada for the benefit of Canadian farmers and the Canadian
agricultural economy, but it is getting harder.
This year, Monsanto invested more than $1 billion in research and
development to develop the most robust pipeline of products in the industry.
Today, our researchers throughout the world are actively working to
discover, develop and deliver the next generation of agricultural products
so farmers can get more out of each acre of farmland while lessening
agriculture's impact on the planet.
The world only has an additional 8 per cent to 10 per cent more arable
land that could be used for agricultural production. Soil and water
resources are growing increasingly scarce, so we need to equip farmers with
the tools to allow them to produce greater yield on less land with fewer
Our farmer customers have been very clear about what they want from
Monsanto. They want us to continue to invest in research and development to
help bring innovative approaches to the farm. They want top-performing seeds
and trait choices in all areas of the country, and they want a broad array
of product choices across all crops.
As a company, we recognize that we can be successful only if we provide
our farmer customers with products that add value to their farming
operations. Since the mid-1980s, there have been more than 50,000 field
trials of genetically modified crops in 45 countries around the world. In
commercial terms, the rate of adoption has far outpaced the introduction of
any other new technology in agriculture. Following extensive safety
evaluations over many years, a total of more than 580 million acres have
already been grown commercially across North America, South America, Africa,
Asia, Australia and Europe. Humans and animals around the world have
consumed an estimated 600 million tonnes of GM crops.
These are some of the reasons that Monsanto continues to invest in
Canadian agriculture and work with the industry to find solutions to allow
new technologies to be brought forward in a positive and responsible manner,
respecting the individual choices that farmers want to make on their farms.
The research we have undertaken internally with academics and other third
party researchers to bring new biotech traits to crops like corn, canola,
soybean, alfalfa, sugar beet, wheat and vegetables indicates that Canadian
farmers are searching for new, more economical sustainable options to
enhance their yields and their profitability.
Biotech crops and modern plant breeding techniques have offered farmers a
compelling value proposition, including product effectiveness, yield
improvement, simplicity, conservation tillage enhancement, cleaner grain, no
crop restrictions and a solid track record of environmental safety.
Canada must continue its leadership position in the agricultural sector
by defending its science-based regulatory system and challenging unjustified
trade barriers that are inconsistent with WTO rules. We have been encouraged
by the positive feedback we have received from Canadian farmers and indeed
farmers around the globe. We remain fully committed to working with industry
and government to find manageable and effective solutions to allow the
benefits of biotechnology to be shared with farmers, industries and
I want to thank the committee for taking time to look at our industry and
ask the questions that will help keep it vibrant in the years ahead. The
future development and investment in crop technology research in this
country is obviously important to our business and to farmers, and we want
to work cooperatively with our industry colleagues and farmers to continue
to bring forward innovative products that will benefit the agricultural
sector in this country.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. McGuire.
Senator Mercer: Thank you for being here. You are an important
witness for us. The role of your company in the agricultural sector is well
known. You have underscored the 9 billion people we will have by 2050 and
highlighted the fact that there is only 8 to 10 per cent more arable land
that can be brought into production. If we are going to feed 9 billion
people, we have to find new ways to do that, and obviously new technology
will help us.
Europe's opposition to genetically modified products is an ongoing
concern. Do you see any progress at all in the acceptance of GMOs in Europe?
You obviously monitor it closely and would be anxious to get into that
market if you could.
Mr. McGuire: That was a great question. We see Europe as a market
today that is looking for improved deals. In today's environment, where
biotechnology is not an option, we have actually increased our efforts in
traditional plant breeding across Europe in markets where biotechnology is
not available to growers.
Our commitment is to provide growers the tools that are available in any
region to improve their yields. In Europe, our focus is on traditional plant
breeding, and we have made great gains. We believe farmers there could
benefit from biotechnologies and some of the advantages they offer to
growers in other parts of the world. We believe that eventually that will
come to pass but, in the current state, we believe that our best approach is
to work with the tools that we have that are accepted in that region.
Senator Mercer: You can help educate me, at least, if not many of
our viewers. You talk about the best technology cannot return benefits for
farmers unless it is utilized in strong seed germplasm and with tools like
molecular markers. Do you want to explain what a molecular marker is and how
that will help?
Mr. McGuire: I will start the question and then defer to Mr.
Treacy to answer the science-based questions.
We have seen an evolution of knowledge and use of new techniques to
actually look inside the plant in a different way, differently than we ever
could have in the past. As a non-scientist, as I started my career in
agriculture 26 years ago, before biotechnology, progress was slow. Breeders
looked at plants. They kicked them. They washed the ears and did tons of
trials hoping to find that magic plant, and a lot of it was visual. We have
moved past that to a point where we actually can use new tools to speed that
process up. A lot of it is using tools like molecular markers. In terms of
the science, I will defer to Mr. Treacy.
Brian K. Treacy, Vice-President, Regulatory Affairs, Monsanto Canada:
Thank you for the question. I think Mr. McGuire did a good job of explaining
breeding and how it has evolved over time.
He is absolutely right. In history, we have employed breeding to advance
agriculture through visual means, what we call a phenotype. The phenotypes
that we see, tall plants, higher yielding, are all based on genes and traits
that we call the genotype. What we can now do in the lab is link a
particular visual improvement to the plant with the particular gene or
trait, and we can map this a bit like a library. Without having to grow out
the full plant to see the visual effect of the plant, we can now test in the
laboratory multiple generations all in one year and significantly advance
using information technology to link up and enrich all of these beneficial
traits in the plant.
Mr. McGuire: The other way I would look at it, from a
non-scientific view point, is that we understand now, with a lot of
advances, whether they be in human genotyping or plant genotyping, what
functions various genes have within the plant. Understanding the functions
of those genes lets us link that knowledge back to which genes help
contribute to higher yield so we do not have to actually grow and look for
those things in the field. We have a higher probability of having those
things happen knowing which genes are present in those plants and then
growing them to reap an improved variety.
Senator Mercer: I am curious about this no GMO ban put in place on
Vancouver Island. How does that play out with some of their existing
industry? They have a growing wine industry there and are growing more and
more grapes every year. Some of those grapes must be genetically modified in
Trish Jordan, Vice-President, Public and Corporate Affairs, Monsanto
Canada: The recent trend for some smaller municipalities or different
municipalities within provincial jurisdictions tends to look at this issue
more from a social perspective than a science perspective, and it has become
very political. When they generate enough momentum, it has become symbolic
for them to say, "Our region is going to be non-GMO."
What it does not take into consideration is exactly what you have
identified, that farmers or industries within that same region may be
utilizing the benefits of that technology. I think it is symbolic, and they
are not able to actually engage farmers in the discussion, for whatever
reason, so it will be interesting to see whether this actually has an impact
on agricultural production in those particular municipalities.
Mr. McGuire: If it were dairy production in that area, those
growers would not have that option.
Senator Mercer: I would imagine the unofficial crop in B.C., B.C.
bud, probably has some genetic modification.
Senator Plett: Senator Mercer and I know a little bit more about
the grapes in British Columbia today than we did a week ago. It was a
My first question was about the GMOs and how we were doing in Europe, and
the second one was about molecular whatever it was, so I think Senator
Mercer read my notes. I will move away from there a little bit.
First of all, thank you all for being here. It is wonderful to see fellow
Manitobans here. We appreciate that.
You did talk about our involvement globally and what we need to do to
enhance and continue in order for our farmers to do better. Locally, we need
to do better globally. I am curious as to how we are doing globally and what
we as a government can do to help with some innovation technology so that we
can play an even bigger role. Where do we fit in the grand scheme of things
globally in comparison to some of the other countries that you mentioned?
Mr. McGuire: Canada has been recognized as one of the places where
growers appreciate the benefits of biotechnology. As a Canadian, one of the
things that we try to do as a Canadian organization is make sure that those
products are launched in Canada as quickly as they are launched anywhere
else in the world. A bad day for me is when American growers have the
technology before Canadian growers. That is an internal perspective that the
Monsanto people have. We have a passion for making sure that our growers
have access and are competitive with the people they have to compete with in
the world markets. That is the way we approach it. It has been great because
the approach we have had through the regulatory system has been predictable,
well-thought-out, well-supported, timely launches.
The Canadian regulatory system has allowed us to, probably in the last
six years, launch every technology in Canada at the same time as in the U.S.
We are not as big a team and do not have as many people, so it is a little
bit harder for us. However, I think that we give Canadian growers every
advantage as quickly as the American growers, who typically are first out of
the chute. That being said, that took us up to about two years ago.
Previously, a lot of the South American governments were pretty slow. Brazil
was pretty slow to get things approved.
Brazil has really ramped up and supported their regulatory system to the
point where they have the manpower and the resources to do a complete
regulatory approval probably a little more quickly than we can in Canada.
Now, we have a situation where there are some growers in other parts of the
world that are probably a little faster out of the chute than even our
growers. That was where I described the example of when I have to go to our
head office in St. Louis and ask for investment in Canada. They say, "Maybe
we could get something to market a little faster in Brazil." I am actually
competing internally for funding.
We have been the poster child, historically, for getting there first, and
there is a little pressure on that right now, I think.
I do not know if you, Mr. Treacy, have any comments.
Mr. Treacy: Yes, I would like to add to that. Number one, I would
like to applaud the Canadian government for enabling innovation. It is the
science-based regulatory system that enables that innovation, and, to Mr.
McGuire's point, Canada is a leader. When I talk to my colleagues in
Brussels or in South Korea, it is a different ball game. It is not
predictable. It is not based on science. It is highly political. It becomes
a trade barrier or a tool for a trade barrier. That said, I would say Canada
has the top regulatory system in the world. Having said that, to Mr.
McGuire's point, Brazil and Argentina are really moving forward, and they
are becoming a little bit faster than Canada.
Moving forward, I would encourage the Canadian government to continue
with their regulations that are based on science and also to continue to do
the work they are doing in policy development. I believe that they are a
leader in developing policy and capacity building. Examples include capacity
building in China and in developing countries in Africa and also developing
international policy around — I do not know if you are familiar with it —
the policy of low- level presence. This is an example where Canada has taken
a global lead, and the world is watching. They respect Canada as being an
honest broker globally, and so, for that, keep doing the great work.
Senator Plett: I would also like to applaud the Government of
Canada, so we are certainly on the same team there.
You mentioned — and I found it a little disconcerting — that we are
having some problems with provincial and municipal governments.
What can the Government of Canada do to help alleviate some of the
obstacles you are experiencing? On a more personal note, is my government in
Manitoba a large obstacle to you?
Mr. McGuire: I will start.
Senator Plett: You will give her the tough one.
Mr. McGuire: Ms. Jordan has been on some provincial committees on
the pesticide ban.
A good day for us is when products deemed safe at the federal level have
access to all markets in Canada. It goes back to my whole discussion around
going to my head office in St. Louis and saying, "I want money for
investment," and them wanting to ensure that the products they develop that
are deemed safe can be sold everywhere in Canada, that it is predictable and
that all markets are open to us. Having a second tier of what seem like
approvals on products deemed safe becomes an obstacle for me and for my
quest to attract investment in Canada. That is why it is an issue for us.
I think maybe Ms. Jordan can speak to where we stand in Manitoba and
Mr. Treacy: I have one point just before she jumps in.
I wanted to add something about the differences between the provinces and
the federal government. From my perspective in regulatory affairs, if you
approve a product at the federal level for food, feeding environment or
registration for a particular chemistry and then it is banned in a
particular province, in our view, it erodes the confidence in the regulatory
system. People start asking questions. That is something that can be lost
very quickly, and it puts doubt into the mind of the public.
Mr. McGuire: There are 300 scientists, federally, who do great
work to improve the products. For local jurisdictions to politically decide
to ignore that work really diminishes the value of those people doing that
Ms. Jordan: At the provincial level, specific to Manitoba, we have
been working quite hard in terms of trying to have dialogue with the
provincial government on issues around the use of biotechnology and of
They are currently examining the issue of a provincial pesticide ban for
what they call cosmetic use. We do not personally believe that there is such
a thing as a cosmetic use of a pesticide. They are used for very specific
reasons, both by farmers and urban consumers, to kill pests in their homes
or weeds on their lawn.
I will say that we have not made very much headway with our provincial
government in Manitoba. They are on a track that they believe needs to be
passed in terms of implementing a pesticide ban. To our concern, again, they
are ignoring the good work that Health Canada has done. They are referring
to what we would call quasi-science or pseudo-science to support their
position. We were recently able to meet them to again express our concerns
and to ask questions about their proposal.
We also spoke to the Minister of Agriculture about the province's
position on biotechnology, and, again, they hesitated to actively support
it, which is surprising when you consider the adoption rates of a wide
variety of biotech crops in Manitoba. They grow corn, canola, soybeans.
Soybeans have expanded quite significantly in Manitoba. Clearly, the farmers
have indicated that this is something that they want, and they are just
concerned about the crossover of a municipal concern with the agricultural
Senator Plett: Thank you very much. If there is a second round,
chair, I have a few more questions.
Senator Tardif: Good evening. Food security is an important issue
in many parts the world, and, as you indicated in your presentation, the
world only has an additional 8 to 10 per cent of arable land that could be
used for agricultural production. What criteria do you use to determine the
weight that you give to the profitability factor, versus the social and
environmental factors, in the products you develop?
Mr. McGuire: We have determined that many of the technologies we
make available for large-scale modern agriculture are also a really great
fit for small-scale agriculture. I will give you an example: If you recall,
last year was a very hot dry summer in the Midwestern U.S., and there was
significant crop failure. This year, we are launching a new technology
called drought guard in corn that will provide a measure of drought
protection in years similar to what we experienced last year. That is a
technology that will have great commercial value for us and for growers and
give us security in that food supply. That same technology is one that we
have donated to the Bill Gates Foundation.
We have donated the technology. We have plant breeders working with the
Bill Gates Foundation to take that same technology to Africa and
underdeveloped countries for small stakeholders. Our concern there is that
these are not people who want to grow crops to sell them. They want to grow
their own food, and, to us, that is an incredibly important aspect. When we
look at these technologies, generally, most of the technologies we develop
have carryover, and we can use them in two different ways. That is a great
example, and I believe the technology in Africa will be launched next year.
Mr. Treacy: It will probably be in about three years.
Mr. McGuire: We are into field trials in developing varieties.
There is a nice crossover that a lot of things we can do for large-scale
agriculture also have a great place in terms of small-holder agriculture,
and the key thing for us is that these are not people trying to grow crops
to sell them to make money. They are trying to grow their own food supply.
Senator Tardif: I know the production of genetically modified
alfalfa has been improved in Canada since 2005, but it has not registered
with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for commercial reasons, if I
understand correctly. The approval of Roundup alfalfa in the United States
in 2011 has been done, but many Canadian organizations such as the National
Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network fear the
registration of Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada and fear it will contaminate
the organic crops. Do you feel their fears are justified?
Mr. McGuire: I will speak first to our commercialization efforts
and the history.
When Roundup Ready alfalfa was first approved in Canada, we were not
certain that there was a commercial market or commercial need for the
product, so we did not commercialize immediately. We went back and
determined at some future point the growers were asking for that technology.
Once it was launched in the U.S., growers found it was successful and added
value. We re-evaluated our situation in Canada and decided to move on a
commercial track to do all the things so we could be prepared to sell it in
the market and complete the final approvals that were required in Canada. We
have taken a measured approach.
The approach was broken into two segments. There is one market in Eastern
Canada, which is really just a commercial hay market. There is also a market
in Western Canada where alfalfa seed is grown. We decided to look first at
the market in Eastern Canada where farmers only grow it for hay and there is
very little or no seed production, and the issue you described would not
exist in terms of having seed production in the same area. Currently, we are
looking at potentially launching that product in Eastern Canada. I believe
the first variety was registered with CFIA recently. We have not launched it
commercially yet, but we have worked with organizations like the Canadian
Seed Trade Association, which represents all seed production companies,
including the smaller companies that do organic production, and worked with
them to develop a set of coexistence guidelines. We committed not to launch
our product until we had gone through a stakeholder process to get the
opinions and best practices so that we could launch the product responsibly.
That has been where we have taken it so far. In terms of the probability
and mechanics of pollen flow and how the crop reacts, I will ask Mr. Treacy
Mr. Treacy: I had the pleasure of meeting the Honourable Wayne
Easter a couple of weeks ago as part of CropLife Spring Dialogue Days, and
he had a similar question. We talked about a couple of items that I will
share with the committee today.
It was Mr. Easter's understanding that there was not enough dialogue on
this particular product, and that sort of came up as a surprise. We talked a
bit about transparency, and I articulated to Mr. Easter that through the
Canadian Seed Trade Association, we have been giving regular updates once to
twice a year for the past 10 years with opportunity for input on the
We also talked about coexistence and a plan that exists in the U.S. that
supports the current commercial production in the U.S. and how we are
developing a plan in Canada. We will Canadianize it to make it
Canadian-specific, and this plan is in development through a broader working
group within the Canadian Seed Trade Association. There will be more
discussion, I believe, at the meeting coming up in July in Quebec City.
We also talked about U.S. production. Right now, Forage Genetics
International is the seed company. We have the Roundup Ready gene, if you
like, in alfalfa. We are sort of the Intel chip in the computer, so to
FGI, and they communicated this at the Canadian Seed Trade Association,
services the conventional alfalfa market, Roundup Ready alfalfa, as well as
the organic market, and they have been able to do so with no disruptions
following the coexistence plan that they have in place.
Now, just to follow up on Mr. McGuire's comments regarding pollen drift
and that sort of thing, I would say that the overwhelming majority of
alfalfa acres, 99 per cent plus, are for Forage production, and, in order to
harvest for maximum nutrition, maximum protein, you harvest at around 10 per
cent bloom, so roughly 10 per cent of the field is in flower, which
drastically reduces the opportunity for pollen flow.
Furthermore, there has been research in private and public institutions
on pollen flow in alfalfa for the past 25 years, and it is well known. It
turns out that for alfalfa, the pollen is not windblown, but it is thanks to
bees that pollinate. It is not all bees but leaf cutter bees in particular
that play a physical role in transporting the pollen, and these bees are
introduced into the fields to allow pollination to occur.
Taken together, we believe that with stewardship programs, a coexistence
plan and what Mr. McGuire just touched upon, an east/west divide in terms of
Forage production versus seed production in Canada, there is an opportunity,
should the market demand it.
Mr. McGuire: One of the other things we looked at when we talked
about the decision to commercialize was going back to the conversation about
being competitive with U.S. growers. We could see that U.S. Forage growers
would have an advantage not just currently but in the future because new
technologies are coming in alfalfa.
Once Roundup Ready alfalfa is introduced, there is new technology coming
called "low lignin," which increases digestibility of alfalfa. People who
use alfalfa for feeding their cattle would benefit from this new and
improved alfalfa product. Our thinking was if we did not start getting
alfalfa moving forward into the 21st century, our Canadian dairy producers
and beef producers would be at a disadvantage because this new beneficial
crop would not be available to us in Canada.
Senator Eaton: Thank you for coming. You certainly do absolutely
outstanding work, but we certainly have a Canadian trait where we do not
always advertise ourselves.
I live in Toronto where, as you know, probably pesticides are banned, the
way they are in Vancouver. What I do not remember seeing, and we have talked
a lot about it at this committee, are future free trade deals either with
the EU or with Japan, Korea, et cetera.
I do not remember ever seeing Monsanto advertising itself. A lot of
ecoactivists live in the East, and I remember talking to the oil sands
people about how much misinformation is put out there, and they say, "Yes,
we are advertising in Calgary." Yes, but a lot of the money comes from the
East that finances those activists.
Do you have campaigns? When you see something like Vancouver trying to
shut you down, do you advertise what you are doing, how you are
science-based? I notice for the oil sands finally the penny has dropped; it
is almost too late. They are now beginning to show what good things they are
Do you do that? Do you go into schools to try to get children at a young
age where they are open to things like science?
Mr. McGuire: The interesting part is that Monsanto had spent, I
believe, almost $1 billion in biotechnology before we even knew that we
could actually do it. Back in the 1980s, Monsanto made a huge investment, a
huge leap of faith by people, to try to create products that we were not
sure could exist. They were successful, and we were years ahead of the
industry because of that vision. That was a benefit. It was also the reason
that we are the poster child for biotechnology because we were first, we
were innovative and we were the leader. Since that day, many other companies
have developed, such as DuPont, BSF and Bayer. There are many other people
that you will be hearing from in our industry.
Senator Eaton: Yes, but you are the one whose name we hear.
Mr. McGuire: I will just say that we are the people who are the
lightning rod. We have determined that there is an approach that does not
necessarily mean we should be speaking on behalf of the industry. I will ask
Ms. Jordan to speak to that approach.
Ms. Jordan: Thank you for the excellent question. It is something
that I deal with on a day-to-day basis from a public affairs perspective and
from a consumer acceptance perspective.
We like to work with industry associations because there are many players
in this market that are doing the exact same thing that Monsanto is doing.
We feel that we are a credible voice, but in that kind of toxic environment
we are not perceived as being credible. We will always stick up for science
and we will defend our products because we know they are safe. We will also
defend the farmers' rights to those products.
What we have tried to do, in terms of helping people understand that it
is not a black and white issue and there are two sides, is engage farmer
groups and work with others in the industry who hold a similar view of these
To your point around the mass of questions and concerns around Monsanto
specifically, we do know that there is a concerted, orchestrated,
multinational, anti-biotech group that is focused on biotechnology and
specifically Monsanto. They have access to about $2.4 billion U.S. dollars
in revenue to create fear, concern and misinformation. We will spend some
money on that but we would rather spend the money on developing beneficial
products for farmers. We cannot compete with that on a public affairs
Senator Eaton: I would ask you to consider the politics and so
often business is so good at what they do, the way you are, but you forget
the equation of the political optics, the consumer and the voter in
Vancouver or downtown Toronto who will vote out of ignorance because that is
what they are told and they do not hear the other side of the story.
Ms. Jordan: I do agree and we certainly appreciate the advice.
In relation to the second part of your question, I will say that there
are many things we are doing as a company working with partners. We work
with a number of groups called Agriculture in the Classroom, and not
specific to biotech but just to help children from grade 1 through to grade
12 understand what modern agriculture is all about and understand all
components of agriculture from organic to fruit and grain production to
using the benefits of biotechnology.
We have lots of science and agricultural education programs that we
support. We have tried to find the groups and the organizations that are
already working in this area and then ask them whether we can help and how
we can help. We are trying to expand the voices in that regard.
A recent issue we are also considering as an industry through a North
American organization called BIO is similar to what McDonalds did with their
website. I am not sure if you are familiar with that, but it is basically
opening the kimono, being completely transparent and saying "we welcome
your questions." That is something we will likely launch within the next
six months and say that we have nothing to hide. We are proud of our
products. Farmers are using these products because they have benefits and we
are prepared to answer questions.
That would be an example of a type of program where we would be a little
more proactive in terms of trying to address people's concerns.
Mr. Treacy: We actually have a department within the company
called Scientific Affairs and, as Ms. Jordan mentioned earlier, as much as
we explain our technology and talk about the benefits, in the social media
we just do not come across as credible. Scientific Affairs is focused on
reaching out to academics and we are going after top scientists around the
world. We are also working with government extension. We are collaborating
with academics and government extension to do work, but also serve as
advocates. Not all researchers want to be advocates of the technology and be
vocal, but this is something that is growing. That is number one.
Number two, we also have a grower advisory council. This is a panel of 12
to 15 of the top growers in Canada, representing all of the different
sectors in agriculture and we update them with new products in the pipeline,
seek their feedback on how to roll it out and how we can do better.
Senator Eaton: I have been on the Agriculture Committee since I
joined the Senate in 2009. I have never had anybody from Monsanto come to my
office, and I have had everybody from firemen to doctors who have all come.
Do you come onto Parliament Hill? Do you go around to parliamentarians?
Are you going to the EU parliamentarians? Do you sit down and talk to
I am sorry. I feel strongly that you have such a good case and you are
not presenting it, but thank you.
The Chair: Good comments.
Senator Merchant: My question is actually a supplementary question
about alfalfa. I come from Saskatchewan and I know that there is great
concern out there, particularly about the contamination of crops. It is fine
to say that this will start in Ontario but, as you very well know, 87 per
cent of Canadian alfalfa is produced in the West. Western farmers should
have a role to play before you make all these decisions. I understand that
there are honey bees that can also disseminate the pollen.
The farmers out there are very concerned about this. Are the National
Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network large
organizations that are opposed to the GM alfalfa or are they small
Ms. Jordan: The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is an
organization that is fundamentally opposed to the introduction of science
and biotechnology in agriculture in any crop of any type. I would argue that
they have a biased perspective.
The National Farmers Union is a very small farm organization. I do not
believe at all that they represent the majority of the interests of farmers
in this country. Organizations such as the Grain Growers of Canada probably
represent a significantly higher number of farmers. That said, we have
always been open to having conversations with groups like the National
Farmers Organization on issues of either organic, conventional or biotech
crop production. Generally speaking, the NFU has policies that are opposed
to biotechnology and we respect their right to choose what works best for
them on their farm. However, we believe there are ways that both types of
farming can co-exist. It is really not one or the other; it is doable to
have both options.
Mr. McGuire: In the U.S. we are successfully doing and have
successfully done exactly what we would propose doing in Saskatchewan for a
number of years now so it has coexisted. The same company that produces
organic and conventional biotech seeds can do it all as one company. There
is a model that says it can be done responsibly, effectively and
efficiently. As long as we can have a respectful dialogue we are open to
having that, but if the option is "we just don't want it" then it is a
tough starting point for us.
Senator Merchant: Thank you. I appreciate your answers, because
they have been contacting us, to hear it from your side. They have a side
obviously, too, and they are not here. I thank you for your answers.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this evening. I
would like to go back to the comments of Senator Plett in terms of business
development and the competition you experienced in trying to bring dollars
You mentioned science-based regulatory systems and the importance of that
and, Mr. Treacy, you mentioned the leadership in terms of a global policy
and a low-level presence.
Could you comment on UPOV 1991 and its adoption, whether that is
important to you? We have heard from other witnesses on that. Could you also
comment on some of the other programs that the government offers?
I also sit on the National Finance Committee, and this morning we heard
from the Chemical Industry Association of Canada. They talked about the use
of things like SR&ED and the accelerated capital cost allowance. If you
could comment on those, it would be helpful to understand whether those
programs are valuable to you.
Mr. McGuire: I will comment generally on UPOV, but I think that
really speaks to intellectual property protection. In an industry like ours,
where you make very large investments in research and development, you need
to have some assurance that those inventions will be stewarded and that you
will be able to reap the value from them in a predictable way.
To have the most current, up-to-date protection, as might be experienced
in other parts of the world, is very important to us. It is one of those
things where, if it is not a level playing field, it is a box I cannot check
when going to the U.S. to ask for dollars.
It is interesting how there are a number of boxes you need to check, and
if you check more boxes you have a greater probability of securing funding
for Canada. It is an issue we have talked about to ensure we are as up to
date as the rest of the world, but we need to move forward and ensure we are
at the right place.
I think your second question revolved around other things that can be
done. It is a great question. I think, as a privately held company, maybe we
do not always look at what is available to us. We have started very recently
to look at programs that are available, where we could match our funding. I
think recently there are some programs that seem pretty innovative and will
allow companies like ours to invest more in Canada by having support in
To us, it is a bit of a new area. We have tended to think that we will do
it on our own, but I think we have a couple of things in the pipeline where
we have submitted and looked, and I think it will help us get to places
faster. I can take the money I get from St. Louis, match it up with more
money, and get to a better place faster. Those are new thoughts for us, and
I think there are probably new sources of funding that were not there
Senator Buth: In terms of the amount of time it takes to develop
varieties, you were involved — and you commented that you are involved — in
Europe in terms of traditional breeding. Even though there are things like
marker-assisted selection, you clearly have the experience in terms of
traditional breeding versus biotech. Can you comment on the length of time
it takes to bring a product to market using those two examples?
Mr. McGuire: It is an interesting process, because the process of
plant breeding, from the day you want to improve a variety to the day you
bring it to market, the timelines are almost identical. The number of years
it takes, using even the new tools, to bring a new set of genetics to the
market is seven to ten years. From the day you decide you want to introduce
a new biotech trait, for example resistance to a new pest, is about seven to
We have a parallel path where, while we are developing the biotech trait,
we are also developing the variety it will go into, separate pathways almost
equally funded. At the end of the day we bring them together at a facility
in Winnipeg called our trade integration facility. We have a facility in
Winnipeg that takes the new trait, the improved genetics, and at the tail
end of the process puts them together. It is interesting that it is the same
Senator Callbeck: Thank you for coming this evening.
My first question is a simple one. I have heard it said often that
Monsanto seeds are only good for one year and that they cannot be replanted;
is there any truth to this?
Mr. McGuire: I will start with the question. When Monsanto
introduced the concept of biotechnology, we also introduced the concept that
a grower would pay for that technology on a yearly basis. There was a
benefit to these new and improved seeds, and a grower could make the choice
to buy those new and improved seeds and use them for one year and then
choose to repurchase the next year.
The seeds are viable for more than one year. There is no physical way
that they will not reproduce. We introduced a concept of a contract whereby
the grower agreed to only use them for a single season and, if he liked the
performance, he would be free to come back and choose for a second year. No
physical means that they will not be able to grow, but the grower would
knowingly make that choice at the beginning of the season each and every
Mr. Treacy: To add a technical piece to that answer, it is all
about hybrid vigour. When you have parent A and parent B and you develop a
hybrid, the hybrid will yield higher than A as well as B taken together. Mr.
McGuire is right: You could save that seed and grow it again, and there is
evidence to demonstrate that you lose that hybrid vigour in that second
generation, so you do not get the same level of yields.
Mr. McGuire: That was the process before biotechnology as well.
Senator Callbeck: What does the evidence show? You say you do not
get the same level of yield, but what would be the difference, roughly?
Mr. Treacy: I would have to follow up with the committee in terms
of exact numbers.
Mr. McGuire: I can comment on corn, as an example. In corn, if you
take an improved hybrid, a grower may receive 200 bushels an acre. If he
were to plant the seed from that crop and lost the hybrid vigour, he may get
40 to 60 bushels per acre. That has been sort of the science of hybrid
Hybrid corn was developed in the 1920s. That process has been the same
since 1920, when people first developed how to make hybrids in corn, that
Senator Callbeck: I think it was last week in Oregon that an
unapproved strain of your GM wheat was found by a farmer in a field, and
there had not been trials there since 2001. Where do you think it came from?
Mr. McGuire: That is incredibly recent news, as of last week. The
key points there are that we were asked by the USDA to cooperate and provide
testing mechanisms to understand if it was Roundup Ready Wheat. We did those
things and provided it. Their initial claim is that it is Roundup Ready
The most important thing is that it was already approved as safe for
consumption, so it is a safe product. We never commercialized it, but it was
a safe product.
We ended up discontinuing that program nine years before. I think, in
that time, 500 million acres of wheat have been grown, and this is the first
place where there seems to be an instance, a small 80-acre field, where some
plants survived. There is an ongoing investigation. We are trying to
understand what it is, how it could have happened and some of the reasons it
could be existing there. It is early, and we are investigating.
Senator Callbeck: Have you ever done trials in Canada on that
Ms. Jordan: Yes, we conducted trials on Roundup Ready Wheat from
1998 through to 2004 on spring wheat. This finding in the U.S. was on winter
wheat. We have never conducted winter wheat trials in Canada.
Mr. McGuire: The product, winter wheat, that was discovered was
never tested in Canada.
Senator Callbeck: The fact that that strain was found certainly
had some market consequences in the way some countries responded. What are
you doing about that?
Ms. Jordan: There is a market concern, even though there is no
food safety concern, so we have made event-specific testing mechanisms
available to key importing countries that have very cautious approaches to
this whole issue. Japan, for instance, is very concerned. South Korea and
China are two others that I can think of. They employ those tests now and
have tested recent shipments and found no presence of the trait, which is
obviously very encouraging. The initial reaction was one of caution. We have
to let this play out to see what the long-term impact, if any, is on trade.
Senator Maltais: In principle, is it true that no GMO wheat is
sold for human consumption?
Mr. Treacy: That would be correct. There is no commercial GM wheat
Senator Maltais: I would like to pick up on what Senator Callbeck
was discussing with you. Was what happened in Oregon due to the fact that
your product was not registered?
Ms. Jordan: Is that why there was market concern because it was
not registered for commercial sale? Yes. It had full regulatory approval.
Senator Maltais: If I understood correctly, your product was not
Ms. Jordan: It was not registered for commercial sale.
Senator Maltais: Why did the U.S. government have to pass
legislation to allow the production of genetically modified plants that were
not registered, specifically for you, the Monsanto Protection Act, as it was
Mr. McGuire: The work conducted was pre-commercial to identify the
safety and benefits under controlled stewardship and government guidelines.
It was not intended for commercial sale. The work was pre-commercial
developmental work. Monsanto decided not to commercialize those products,
discontinued the program and followed USDA guidelines in terms of stewarding
the shutdown and destruction of all fields and seeds produced during the
time when we were evaluating the technology. We are assessing the
documentation, but we were stewarding it in its discontinuation according to
all the approved guidelines. We never sought to have it approved for
commercial sale, but we had reached the point where it was approved as safe
Senator Maltais: Mr. Treacy, you said earlier, in relation to
alfalfa, that pollen was not windblown but transported by a particular type
of bee. Can you tell me what type of bee that is?
Mr. Treacy: You are correct. We understand from people who look at
pollen flow in alfalfa that it is a specific type of bee called a leafcutter
bee. I understand that beekeepers breed leafcutters and introduce them into
the fields to facilitate pollination of the crop. They are leafcutter bees.
Some work is done by honey bees but the vast majority of pollination in
alfalfa is thanks to leafcutter bees.
Mr. McGuire: Honey bees do not fit in the plant.
Senator Maltais: That is an important point, because some people
eat honey and have no idea that it contains genetically modified products.
The leafcutter bee produces honey. The honey is commercialized using
genetically modified products. Is that correct?
Mr. Treacy: You would have GM pollen in the honey. Do I understand
that correctly? To allow that to occur, the bees released into the field to
allow pollination for seed production would have to be close to a beekeeper
using bees for honey production. Honeybees do not enter the field or play a
role in the pollination of alfalfa so there would have to be two parallel
systems. The question is: Could leafcutter bees be used to develop honey? I
do not know the answer to that. To my knowledge, they are specific to
Mr. McGuire: They use them for pollination, not honey production.
Senator Maltais: So they do not produce honey.
Mr. Treacy: Precisely.
Senator Maltais: So they are bees that do not produce honey?
Mr. Treacy: Precisely.
Mr. McGuire: Not commercially.
Senator Maltais: Do they have a name?
Mr. Treacy: Leafcutter.
The Chair: Thank you very much for the clarification. I was going
to ask you to go back to what you said at the beginning, Mr. McGuire, about
the leadership of your company and science-based principles to answer that
question; but it is clear now.
Thank you, Mr. McGuire and your team, for sharing your vision and
comments. We urge you to continue with all stakeholders in the agricultural
field making Canada the best country in the world. Thank you.
Mr. Treacy: Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity. I wanted to
note that I brought some brochures for information sharing purposes. I
apologize that they are in English only. I am quite happy to leave the
information with the clerk for distribution as you please.
The Chair: We will accept that. As we approach the writing of the
report and its distribution to various levels of government and
stakeholders, if you feel that you want to intervene or add information,
please feel free to do so until the end of September.
I declare the meeting adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)