Is Canadian grown wheat and barley grains GMO free?

Is Canadian grown wheat and barley grains GMO free?

Photo Credit: Barn Owl Malt


It’s one of the questions we were asked as part of the evaluation criteria to be accepted as a bread supplier as more and more retailers are looking to reduce their exposure to genetic modified (GM) products.

In Canada, GM crops are largely produced in Ontario and Quebec. Currently, there are four genetically modified crops available on the market, including canola, soybeans, grain corn and sugar beets, with several other varieties approved by the government.

Summary: Canadian grown wheat is GMO free.

According to the Canadian Inspection Agency:

GM wheat is not authorized in any country for commercial production, as no company has sought commercialization. However, herbicide tolerant GM crops including canola, corn and soybeans have been authorized in Canada for more than 20 years

How about barley grains grown in Canada?

Spent Goods uses 20% brewery barley grains and 80% certified organic wheat (from Ontario based K2Milling) to make our Sourdough Beer Bread.

Typically, a brewery can use over 30 different varieties of barley grain to craft a single beer type, offering different flavour profiles.

Tracking down the genetic modification implications when growing barley for each seemed pretty daunting so I turned to craft malter, Devin Huffman, from Belleville based Barn Owl Malt to help.

Genetically modified organisms (​GMO) shouldn’t be a concern with respect to barley malt. Currently there are no commercially available GMO barley varieties so there wouldn’t be any risk of GMO content in an all barley malt spent grain.

There would however be concern with GMO content in the spent grain from an adjunct brewery i.e. macro-brewers who routinely use corn and rice, both of which have potential to be GMO grains.

I suppose the only potential source of GMO’s with respect to a craft brewery would be in the case they are using rice hulls as a filter agent, or if they are using liquid sugar additive (but that would typically be a separate process independent of the grain additions).

Summary: Barley grown in Canada is GMO free.

BTW what is Malting?

Malting is when malters (like Devin) partially sprout the barley, producing what is known as ‘Malted Barley’

Typically, malters add water to barley grain and allowed to sprout in a malting room. After day 5, sprouting is stopped using heat.  Description of malting process

Any other potential GE additives used in the malting process?

As far as the malting process goes there are generally no additives involved with the possible exception of Giberelic acid (G.A) – a germination promoting hormone.  This could pose a problem because a malting facility would not typically report the use in any way an end user would see.  In theory, the use of G.A. is rare.
As a rule, craft malthouses do not use G.A. and it is “prohibited” in the craft malting guild charter but I’m not sure there are any food/drug regulations that explicitly prohibit it

Summary: Malted barley provided to the brewery to make beer is GMO free.

What about use of Genetically modified enzymes during the brewing process?

Larger (macro) breweries are known to use enzymes to assist with the brewing process given the volume they deal with. According to Devin, “[Macrobreweries] could use enzymes to assist with extracting sugars from unmalted grain”

Some of these enzymes could be genetically modified and since its an enzyme, wouldn’t necessarily end up on an ingredient list.

Thus, the concern.


With respect to lab grade enzymes, it shouldn’t be a normal practice for craft brewers to use them.

Summary: Less need / no incentives to use genetically modified products when producing in smaller batches.

Another advantage of the craft industry!

A big thank you to Devin for his help.

Please learn more about the malting barley process and their Ontario grown malts by visiting Barn Owl Malt.

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