Genetically Modified Organisms

Many of our member farmers use organic farming practices with many farming under organic certification. There is no tolerance for genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) or genetic contamination of crops or feed under organic certification standards. The number of organic farmers in Ontario increased between 1999 and 2000 by 17% (http://www.organiccouncil.ca). Consumer demand for organic food is also growing with many becoming more aware, both nationally and internationally, and fighting for food containing GMO’s to be properly labelled.

Ecological farmers rely on our own on-farm resources and avoid outside purchases as much as possible by growing and saving our own seeds or using cover crops and other fertility management techniques to suppress weeds.

Past technologies offered to farmers in the name of efficiency (chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc), have shown themselves to perpetuate an agricultural model removed from nature and to be damaging to the environment, farm profitability and the health of rural communities. There is no reason to believe that GMO technology will be any different.

Organic farmers in western Canada have now lost the opportunity to grow canola, a once important cash crop. Both organic and conventional farmers saving their own canola seed have found their seed contaminated by GM canola genes, making it difficult to rely on the resources from their own farm or develop regional or organic adapted strains. In some cases farmers have even been accused of stealing ‘technology’ from multinational corporations like Monsanto.

Ecological Farmers of Ontario- 10 Items for GMO Regulation and Registration in Canada

The EFAO demands the following:

(1) A moratorium on any further release of GM plants, animals or other life forms, including a moratorium on the release of GM wheat. There is no support for the release of GM wheat among farmers, consumers, marketing agencies or processors.

(2) Mandatory labelling of all food containing GM ingredients so that as consumers we can make informed decisions on what we choose to eat.

(3) A full environmental assessment of the impact of genetically modified organisms along the food web, both in the soil and with respect to insect, bird and wildlife populations, should be completed before any more GMO’s are released into the environment.

(4) Implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology, released in February, 2001, including:

(a) Adoption of the ‘precautionary principle’ as a framework to assess new technologies, including GM food;
(b) Adoption of rigorous scientific methods to evaluate GMO’s rather than the presently used, scientifically unjustifiable ‘substantial equivalence’;
(c) Subject all GM products to external review before approval;
(d) Insure adequate public investment in research to allow for independent evaluation;
(e) Undertake exhaustive research on the long-term effects of GMO’s on the environment, human health and animal health.

(5) The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is both the regulator and promoter of GMO’s. There needs to be a clear separation between the scientific assessment and economic promotion of GMO’s.

(6) It is unreasonable to allow GM companies to privately reap profits and not require that they also assume all costs (e.g. from genetic contamination) that erode the incomes of organic farmers and other growers of non-GM crops. Governments must make the holders of patents on GM seeds liable for any genetic contamination that results from the release of GMO’s into the environment and require holders of patents on GM seeds to compensate organic growers, other growers of non-GM crops and their communities, for the loss of crops as a result of genetic pollution.

(7) Ban agreements and technology (e.g. Terminator type genes) which restrict farmers’ right to save, trade and reuse seeds.

(8) No GM crops, food products or livestock should be licensed or introduced until domestic and international customers have indicated their acceptance.

(9) Before any GM variety is released it must undergo rigorous, independent long-term testing to address marketability, agronomic factors, health, safety, organic production and environmental concerns.

(10) Public money on agricultural research should be used to serve the interests of Canadians by supporting sustainable systems of agriculture which improve the nutrition and safety of food, the health of the environment and the situation of farmers and rural communities.

U.S. Decision on GM Alfalfa Concerns Ontario’s Ecological Farmers – “Organic Farmers Need Bill C-474”
February 1, 2011
Written by: EFAO GE Committee members Maureen Bostock and Ann Slater

Members of Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFAO) expressed sadness and outrage upon learning that Genetically Modified (GM) alfalfa has been approved in the United States. According to EFAO member and organic farmer, Maureen Bostock, “Clear evidence was presented to the U.S. government that genetic contamination of alfalfa seed stocks within 5 years is inevitable. Even knowing this, the decision to allow GE Alfalfa to be grown went ahead, disregarding the rights of farmers to grow crops without genetic contamination.”

If GM alfalfa receives varietal registration and goes into production in Canada, the organic sector will be devastated. As an insect pollinated crop it will be next to impossible to prevent contamination of organic and non-GM alfalfa as happened with the contamination of organic canola in western Canada. Canada’s organic farmers use alfalfa extensively as feed for dairy cows, other livestock and as part of the crop rotation for soil building purposes on grain and vegetable farms. Organic alfalfa sprout production and alfalfa pellets for export will also be threatened.

Bill C-474 will be debated and voted on in the House of Commons in early February 2011. According to Bostock, this bill could provide the government with some teeth to ensure that GMO crops are properly reviewed prior to their release on the basis of the economic harm they can do to other crops. If passed, Bill C-474 would require that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.” The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network has provided a full summary report of the debate outcomes, future action and what this means for GM advocacy in Canada.

“It is very clear why we desperately need Bill C-474 to be passed in the House of Commons next week”, said Bostock. Bostock went on to note that herbicides are not commonly used in alfalfa production, but that the biotechnology industry has focused on this, the fourth largest crop in North America, as a market for its glyphosate (Round-up Ready) technology. She concluded, “Without Bill C-474, there is no mechanism in Canada to assess the market harm such an introduction could cause.”

For more information or to get involved please contact Genetic Engineering (GE) Committee Chairs:
Ann Slater: 519-349-2448, aslater@quadro.net
Maureen Bostock: 613-259-5757, maureenbostock@hotmail.com
For updated information about GMO regulation and debate in Canada visit:
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network- http://www.cban.ca/
Canadian Organic Growers- http://www.cog.ca
National Farmers Union- http://www.nfu.ca/