Genetically engineered seeds have been a boon to canola and soybean farmers and Ottawa shouldn’t impose non-scientific evaluations on future varieties, representatives of oilseed growers told the Commons agriculture committee last week.
The committee is holding hearings on a bill presented by NDP farm spokesman Alex Atamanenko to require a market analysis of new GE crops or varieties.
Rick White, general manager of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said canola is essential to the profitability of his farm and “biotechnology has played a very significant role in canola becoming our most valuable crop.
“When herbicide-tolerant canola was introduced, it represented a major shift in the way we grow canola, making our land and environmental stewardship practices much stronger,” he said.
“Weed control has always been a challenge with canola. … With the introduction of herbicide tolerance we now control weeds with only one pass of the sprayer, and this means less chemical is applied to the soil and we spend far less money on fuel and labour.”
As well, GE varieties offer a robustness that is essential in the face of extreme weather such as wet conditions or drought, he added.
Jim Gowland, who farms near Walkerton and is chairman of the Canadian Soybean Council, said about 65 per cent of Canada’s soybean crop is GE varieties. It’s the sixth-largest crop in terms of production and fourth in terms of cash returns.
GE soybean varieties were introduced in 1997 and the industry developed the ability to segregate specialty soybeans from bulk-handled grains, he said. “The investment of time and infrastructure was crucial to support the coexistence of GE and non-GE soybeans, addressing the needs of the industry’s key market segments.
Passage of Atamanenko’s bill could put into jeopardy future investment in GE varieties and that would hurt the competitiveness of Canadian farmers, he added.
JoAnne Buth, president, Canola Council of Canada, said Atamanenko’s proposal “is an invitation to other countries to deny our science and eliminate our competitive advantage in world markets. It’s a huge gamble with our industry and we strongly oppose it.”
The canola industry already has a voluntary market access policy that ensures new GE seed traits are only introduced to Canadian producers when they’ve been approved in all of our major export markets.
“Since its inception in 1995, the policy has always been respected,” she said. “We also work directly with farmers to ensure that they grow only approved varieties and utilize acceptable pesticide treatments that could impact trade.”
The Canola Export Ready communications program provides information to growers in the industry on acceptable pesticides, seed treatments, canola varieties and approved GM traits for canola that is destined for export markets, she added.
What the industry really needs is “a regulatory framework for managing low-level presence of a GE trait. As an alternative to the immediate closure of a market under a zero-tolerance standard, an LLP approach would provide the importing country to adopt a risk management approach to allow a low level of GE while a permanent solution is determined. This avoids the market calamity which can impact producers and businesses which rely on the trade of this product while ensuring the health of humans and animals.
“The real issue for GE traits in the international arena is the zero-tolerance approach to any level of a GM trait that is not approved in an importing country,” she noted. “We cannot achieve zero because of the grain industry bulk-handling and transportation system.”