Farmer knowledge and a priori risk analysis: pre-release evaluation of genetically modified Roundup Ready wheat across the Canadian prairies
- 622 Downloads
Background, aim, and scope
The controversy over the world’s first genetically modified (GM) wheat, Roundup Ready wheat (RRW), challenged the efficacy of ‘science-based’ risk assessment, largely because it excluded the public, particularly farmers, from meaningful input. Risk analysis, in contrast, is broader in orientation as it incorporates scientific data as well as socioeconomic, ethical, and legal concerns, and considers expert and lay input in decision-making. Local knowledge (LK) of farmers is experience-based and represents a rich and reliable source of information regarding the impacts associated with agricultural technology, thereby complementing the scientific data normally used in risk assessment. The overall goal of this study was to explore the role of farmer LK in the a priori risk analysis of RRW.
Materials and methods
In 2004, data were collected from farmers using mail surveys sent across the three prairie provinces (i.e., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) in western Canada. A stratified random sampling approach was used whereby four separate sampling districts were identified in regions where wheat was grown for each province. Rural post offices were randomly selected in each sampling district using Canada Post databases such that no one post office exceeded 80 farms and that each sampling district comprised 225–235 test farms (n = 11,040). In total, 1,814 people responded, representing an adjusted response rate for farmers of 33%. A subsequent telephone survey showed there was no non-response bias.
The primary benefits associated with RRW were associated with weed control, whereas risks emphasized the importance of market harm, corporate control, agronomic problems, and the likelihood of contamination. Overall, risks were ranked much higher than benefits, and the great majority of farmers were highly critical of RRW commercialization. In total, 83.2% of respondents disagreed that RRW should have unconfined release into the environment. Risk was associated with distrust in government and corporations, previous experience with GM canola, and a strong belief in the importance of community and environment. Farmers were critical of expert-based risk assessment, particularly RRW field trials, and believed that their LK was valuable for assessing agbiotechnology as a whole.
Over 90% of canola production across the Canadian prairies makes use of herbicide-tolerant (HT) varieties. Yet, respondents were generally uniform in their criticism of RRW, regardless whether they were HT users, non-HT-users, conservation tillage or organic in approach. They had a sophisticated understanding of how GM trait confinement was intrinsically tied to grain system segregation and, ultimately, market accessibility, and were concerned that gene flow in RRW would not be contained. Organic farmers were particularly critical of RRW, in large part because certification standards prohibit the presence of GM traits. Farmers practicing conservation tillage were also at relatively great risk, in part because their dependence on glyphosate to control weeds increases the likelihood that RRW volunteer would become more difficult and costly to control.
This research is the first of its kind to include farmer knowledge in the a priori risk analysis of GM crops and, arguably, given its prairie-wide scope, is the largest scale, independent-farmer-focused study on GM crops ever conducted. The surprising uniformity in attitudes between users and non-users of GM technology and among organic, conventional, conservation tillage and GM using farmers speaks to the ability of farmers to discriminate among HT varieties. Our results clearly show that prairie farmers recognize that the risks associated with RRW commercialization outweigh any benefits.
Recommendations and perspectives
Farmer knowledge systems are holistic in nature, incorporating socioeconomic, cultural, political, and agroecological factors that all can contribute meaningfully to the pre-release evaluation of GM crops. The inclusion of farmers and other stakeholders in risk assessment will also help enhance and even restore public confidence in science-focused approaches to risk assessment. Although farmers are highly knowledgeable regarding RRW and arguably any agricultural technology, their expertise continues to be overlooked by decision-makers and regulators across North America.
KeywordsA priori risk analysis Farmer knowledge Genetically modified crops Public participation Roundup Ready wheat
We would like to thank the farmers that participated in this study, and value their knowledge and expertise. Special thanks to Melisa Yestrau for processing and mailing surveys and to Ryan Brook who assisted with data analysis. The Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), operating grant to S.M. McLachlan and PhD scholarship to I.J. Mauro, and the Manitoba Rural Adaptations Council (MRAC) provided financial support for this research.
- Abergel E, Barrett K (2002) Putting the cart before the horse: a review of biotechnology policy in Canada. J Can Stud 37:135–161Google Scholar
- Beckie HJ, Thomas AG, Stevenson FC (2001) Survey of herbicide-resistant wild oat (Avena fatua) in two townships in Saskatchewan. Can J Plant Sci 2:463–471Google Scholar
- Bell I (2004) Buffer zone enlarged for GM wheat trials. Western Producer. March 4Google Scholar
- Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach, 2nd edn. Springer, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
- Carter C, Berwald D, Loyns A (2005) The economics of genetically modified wheat. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, ONGoogle Scholar
- Creswell JW (2002) Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches, 2nd edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
- CWB (Canadian Wheat Board) (2004) Grain matters (July/August). In: Carter C, Berwald D, Lyons A (eds) The economics of genetically modified wheat. University of Toronto, Toronto, ONGoogle Scholar
- CWB (Canadian Wheat Board) (2008) Available at: http://www.cwb.ca
- Dillman D (2000) Mail and internet surveys: the tailored design method, 2nd edn. Wiley, Toronto, ONGoogle Scholar
- Dyck B, Fries T, Glen B, McMillan D, Zacharias K (2007) Wheat research must include GM editorial. Western Producer. December 29Google Scholar
- Eyzaguirre P (1992) Farmer knowledge, world science, and the organization of agricultural research systems. In: Moock JL, Rhoades RE (eds) Diversity, farmer knowledge, and sustainability. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NYGoogle Scholar
- Fowler C, Mooney P (1990) Shattering: food, politics and the loss of genetic diversity. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZGoogle Scholar
- Fulton M, Keyowski L (1999) The producer benefits of herbicide-resistant canola. AgBioFor 2:85–93Google Scholar
- Furtan WH, Gray RS, Holzman JJ (2005) Regulatory approval decisions in the presence of market externalities: The case of genetically modified wheat. J Ag Res Econ 30:12–27Google Scholar
- Huygen I, Veeman M, Lerohl M (2004) Cost implications of different GM tolerance levels: non-genetically modified wheat in western Canada. AgBioForum 6:169–177Google Scholar
- Kloppenburg J (1991) Social-theory and the de/reconstruction of agricultural science—local knowledge for an alternative agriculture. Rural Sociol 56:519–548Google Scholar
- Kloppenburg J (2004) First the seed: the political economy of plant biotechnology, 2nd edn. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WIGoogle Scholar
- Kuyek D (2007) Good crop/bad crop: seed politics and the future of food in Canada. Between the Lines, Toronto, ONGoogle Scholar
- MacRae M, Penfound H, Margulis C (2002) Against the grain: the threat of genetically engineered wheat. Greenpeace, Toronto, ONGoogle Scholar
- Magnan A (2007) Strange bedfellows: contentious coalitions and the politics of GM wheat. J Can Sociol Anthrop 44:289–317Google Scholar
- Mauro IJ, McLachlan SM, Sanders J (2005) Seeds of change: farmers, biotechnology and the new face of agriculture. Documentary film. Dead Crow Productions and Dada World Data, Winnipeg, MB, www.seedsofchangefilm.org
- Maxwell JA (2005) Qualitative research design: an interactive approach. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
- NAWG (National Association of Wheat Growers) (2009) Nawg’s biotechnology petition survey results, Washington, DC, http://www.wheatworld.org/html/info.cfm?ID=21
- NFU (National Farmers Union), SOD (Saskatchewan Organic Directorate), COG (Canadian Organic Growers), and Greenpeace (2004) The greatest threat to wheat farming isn’t hail or drought, it’s Roundup Ready wheat (ad). In: Farmers Independent Weekly. March 25, 2004Google Scholar
- NRC (National Research Council) (2002) Environmental effects of transgenic plants: the scope and adequacy of regulation. National Academy Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- Nunnally JC, Bernstein IH (1994) Psychometric theory, 3rd edn. McGraw-Hill, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
- Pidgeon N, Simmons P, Henwood K (2006) Risk, environment, and technology. In: Taylor-Gooby P, Zinn J (eds) Risk in social science. Oxford University Press, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
- RSC (Royal Society of Canada) (2001) Elements of precaution: recommendations for the regulation of food biotechnology in Canada, Ottawa, ON, http://www.rsc.ca/index.php?page_id=119
- SAS (2007) SAS Online Doc 9.1.3.: SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC, http://support.sas.com/onlinedoc/913/docMainpage.jsp
- Sharples FE (1991) Ecological aspects of hazard identification for environmental uses of genetically engineered organisms. In: Levin M, Strauss H (eds) Risk assessment in genetic engineering: environmental release of organisms. McGraw Hill, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
- Smith RE, Veldhuis H, Mills GF, Eilers RG, Fraser WR, Lelyk GW (1998) Terrestrial ecozones, ecoregions, and ecodistricts, an ecological stratification of Manitoba's natural landscapes. In: Technical bulletin 98-9E. Land Resources Unit, Brandon Research Centre: Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Brandon MBGoogle Scholar
- SPSS (2006) Version 15.0 Command Syntax Reference. SPSS Inc, Chicago, ILGoogle Scholar
- Statistics Canada (2001) Farm operators by education, by province (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta). Census of Agriculture, http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/agrc40a.htm
- Statistics Canada (2006a) Farm data and farm operator data. Census of Agriculture, http://www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/95-629-XIE/95-629-XIE2007000.htm
- Statistics Canada (2006b) Total farm area, land tenure and land in crops, by province (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta). Census of Agriculture, http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/agrc25a.htm
- Statistics Canada (2006c) Snapshot of Canadian agriculture. Census of Agriculture, http://www.statcan.ca/english/agcensus2006/ articles/snapshot.htm
- Statistics Canada (2008) Estimated areas, yield, production, average farm price and total farm value of principle field crops, in metric units, annual, 1908-2007. CANSIM Agriculture Statistics Database. Ottawa, ONGoogle Scholar
- Taylor-Gooby P, Zinn J (2006) Risk in social science. Oxford University Press, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
- USC and ETC (2008) The seed map: food, farmers, and climate change, http://usc-canada.org/resources/seed-map/
- Van Acker RC, Brule-Babel AL, Friesen LF (2003) An environmental safety assessment of Roundup Ready wheat: risks for direct seeding systems in western Canada. Canadian Wheat Board, Winnipeg, MBGoogle Scholar
- Van Acker RC, Brule-Babel A, Friesen L (2004) Intraspecifc gene movement can create environmental risk: the example of Roundup Ready wheat in western Canada. In: Breckling B, Verhoeven R (eds) Risk hazard damage: specification of criteria to assess environmental impact of genetically modified organisms. Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Bonn, GermanyGoogle Scholar
- Warick J (2003) Lining up against GM wheat: farmers, Canadian Wheat Board largely united in opposing Monsanto’s application to market ‘Roundup Ready’ genetically-modified wheat. Saskatoon Star Phoenix, www.healthcoalition.ca/sp-wheat.pdf
- Wilson WW, Janzen EL, Dahl BL (2003) Issues in development and adoption of genetically modified (GM) wheat. AgBioFor 6:101–112Google Scholar
- Wisner R (2003) Market risks of genetically modified wheat: the potential short-term impacts of GMO spring wheat introduction on U.S. wheat export markets and prices. WORC, Billings, MT, http://www.worc.org/issues/marketrisk-reports.html
- Yarrow S (1999) Biosafety issues of genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant plants—agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s perspective. In: Shantharam S, Montgomery JF (eds) Biotechnology, biosafety, and biodiversity: scientific and ethical issues for sustainable development. Science, Enfield, NHGoogle Scholar