Brandon rally draws 40 protesters opposed to introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa

Opponents of genetically modified crops rallied in front of the constituency office of a local MP to protest approval of glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa, which they say could be seeded on fields in Eastern Canada as early as this spring.

The demonstration, which drew about 40 protesters, was organized by the local chapter of the National Farmers Union in support of a nationwide campaign launched by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. Brandon-Souris MP Merv Tweed wasn’t in his office at the time.

Kenton-area organic farmers Tricia and Danny Turner brought their two young children to protest what they see as the “dangers” of genetically modified food crops.

“We’re definitely concerned about contamination,” said Tricia Turner. “We’re here not just to support our own interests, but also everyone on planet Earth and the food supply that is getting contaminated with chemicals and GMOs that are making people sick.”

Although Roundup Ready alfalfa received regulatory approval in 2005 and has been grown south of the border since 2002, no commercial varieties have been authorized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Opponents of the crop fear efforts to forge a “coexistence” protocol with the U.S. may open a route for Forage Genetics International to market Roundup Ready alfalfa to dairy operations in Eastern Canada this spring.

Once released, it will inevitably spread, whether by insects or by farmers, said Ian Robson, an NFU member and one of the organizers of the protest.

“I could go down there and buy a bag of seed and bring it back here,” said Robson. “The company recognizes that they have to build some kind of acceptance before they can apply and so they use nice, flowery language like ‘coexistence’ to mislead people.”

Contamination of non-GM varieties is “inevitable” if Roundup Ready alfalfa is released, he said, and that would mean farmers would lose markets that refuse GM products and consumers would lose the ability to choose non-GM food.

But other farm leaders say the concern is unwarranted.

Such decisions should be “science based,” said Manitoba Beef Producers president Trevor Atchison.

“We have to leave the perceptions and feelings aside, because without science you have nothing,” said Atchison, noting many of his group’s members have grown Roundup Ready corn and canola for years with no ill effects.

“If Roundup Ready alfalfa is safe, the MBP wouldn’t stand in the way of it.”

If any new technology is safe, proven effective, and is accepted by the public, he’d be willing to give it a try on his ranch, he said.

Grain Growers of Canada spoke out against the rallies across the country and alleged the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network was funded by foreigners.

“While we appreciate that many longtime opponents of progress have concerns, the reality is they have a lot of rhetoric, but no facts to back up their case,” president Stephen Vandervalk said in a press release.

Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan noted her company doesn’t produce alfalfa seed, and is only licensing the technology to Forage Genetics International.

“Contrary to what you’re hearing from the NFU and CBAN, FGI has absolutely no intention of selling any variety of Roundup Ready alfalfa in the spring of 2013,” said Jordan, adding, in her view, the protesters are just “fundamentally opposed” to biotechnology of any kind.

But at the rally in Brandon, Tricia Turner said she and her husband became leery of GM food after watching “Genetic Roulette,” a film released in 2012 by GM critic Jeffrey Smith. They now avoid eating conventionally produced meat and dairy products because of the risk that the animals were fed GM corn or other grains, she said.

She predicted more and more consumers will do likewise.

“The more people become educated about the dangers of GM, the more they will buy organic to steer clear of it.”

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