Canadian farmers and consumers: nationwide protests against GM alfalfa, following GM canola and flax contamination

5 May

day action gm alfalfa toronto

Consumers supported farmers in a day of action to stop the introduction of GM alfalfa into Canada. On April 9th 38 protest rallies were held in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Demonstrations were held outside the constituency offices of federal MPs and the variety registration office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa.

NFU-Ontario president John Sutherland told Farms.com that there are a number of concerns about the release of genetically modified alfalfa, including:

  • The risk of contamination of non-genetically-modified alfalfa crops and seed stocks.
  • Increased seed and herbicide costs.
  • Spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds.

The news was not heard on British radio, and did not appear on the websites of the BBC and Financial Times – the writer was alerted by an emessage from GM Education.

GM Education2 header

But in a media release, the Grain Growers of Canada and its more than 50,000 farmer members said they support genetically modified crops: “We support Canada’s robust science-based regulatory environment which ensures any new crops or traits are proven safe for human consumption, animal feed and our environment. While we appreciate that many long-time opponents of progress have concerns, the reality is they have a lot of rhetoric, but no facts to back up their case.”

According to the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association, genetically modified alfalfa should present “few issues” to conventional livestock producers growing alfalfa for their own use.

To coincide with the demonstrations, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) released a new report detailing how GM alfalfa released in eastern Canada will contaminate non-GM alfalfa and hay crops in Ontario.

cban contamination report coverThe report describes how seeds, pollen, and volunteer plants from GM alfalfa will pollute non-GM alfalfa. If released, GM alfalfa would be the first GM perennial crop introduced in Canada.

“We can clearly see how farmers will pay the heavy costs of this inevitable contamination,” said Ontario organic sheep and vegetable farmer Ann Slater, a member of the National Farmers Union. “The only way to stop contamination from GM alfalfa is to keep it off the market.”

Alfalfa is an important crop for dairy farming in Ontario as well as for livestock farmers and vegetable and field crop producers. Some Ontario farmers also save alfalfa seed.

“This report puts an end to discussions about coexistence with GM alfalfa,” said Ontario farmer Phillip Woodhouse, who was at a meeting of the Canadian Seed Trade Association where the industry tried to build a plan to plant GM alfalfa alongside conventional crops, “Forage Genetics International appears willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of Ontario farmers to get their product on the market somewhere in Canada. No farmer can shield themselves from this genetic pollution.”

GM Education cited two earlier instances: 

The 2008 Triffid crisis

In 2009, GM flax contamination in Canada caused a crisis when exports to Europe – which has never approved GM flax – were stopped. The contamination dated back to 1998 when a Canadian GM flax variety called CDC Triffid was first registered. Canadian farmers feared their European exports would be hit, and persuaded the authorities to deregister the GM variety. But GM flax had already found its way into the food chain, and in 2009 CDC Triffid was found in exports to 35 countries which had never approved GM flax and led to significant damage to the reputation of Canadian exports to the EU.

In the 90s – the curse of Canola

An even earlier warning came from the widespread and uncontrolled pollution of non GM canola, first grown in 1995. Three years later, GM pollution was found in volunteer canola plants. GM canola pollution in Canada has now reached such a high level that most certified seed growers in Saskatchewan will not guarantee their canola seed to be GM free and most certified organic cereal growers abandoned canola in their crop rotations.

Murray Bunnett, an organic farmer, speaking to a CBC journalist, reflects that, “When a person trespasses on somebody else’s property and it causes damage, the property owner can seek compensation. But when genetically modified crops trespass on farmers’ land, they can’t go after the company to get compensation. That’s fundamentally wrong.”

Farmer Paul Slomp adds: “We have to ask ourselves who is making the decisions around what kind of food we eat. And what concerns me is if farmers don’t want it and if eaters don’t want it, why on earth is this being legitimized and being commercialized in Canada”

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