Farmers welcome new crop varieties, but they also want regulations to ensure those crops don’t ruin markets, Paul Gregory told the House of Commons’ agriculture committee during a hearing on Bill C-474 broadcast live on the Internet Oct. 5.
“I talk to farmers every day,” said Gregory, president of Interlake Forage Seeds Inc., near Fisher Branch. “They want a traffic cop on the corner because of the market power.
“The farmers are scared witless with the power that Monsanto and Bayer and Dow have.”
If it becomes law, NDP MP Alex Atamanenko’s private member’s bill will require an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.
AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT
Gregory said he suspects some forage seed companies are afraid to openly oppose Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa, a GM crop that has been approved for commercialization in Canada, despite opposition from seed exporters. “As a company CEO responsible for the livelihood of your fellow employees, would you risk ticking off your biggest supplier of genetics in any public forum?”
The Organic Trade Association supports C-474 “as a first step” towards protecting the organic sector from the risk of market disruption, association executive director Matthew Holmes told the committee.
“We have a certain obligation… to ensure that our buyers are sold what they want to buy,” he said. “And it would seem reasonable that we would consider where we do business in agriculture and with whom before we introduce a product that could potentially compromise that existing business.”
The conservative government opposes the legislation, as do most farm groups, GM companies and researchers.
“My feeling as a researcher is this is not a time to introduce non-quantitive, non-scientific issues into our regulatory framework, which sets the environment for investment,” said Wilfred Keller, president of GenomePrairie, a branch of GenomeCanada, a not-for-profit agency, that invests government and private funds into genomics research.
If C-474 had been law Canada would not have commercialized herbicide-tolerant (HT) canola in the mid-1990s because half of Canada’s export canola customers ( Japan and the European Union) had not approved them, said Peter Phillips, professor of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Pubic Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.
According to Phillips, HT canola has generated $3.3 billion – $1.2 million and $1.5 billion went to farmers and GM developers, respectively and $600 million went to consumers.
“These major transformative changes need flexibility and liberty to be able to find their market niche,” Phillips said.
“Innovation is fundamentally about creative destruction. It’s not about protecting interests, it’s about unleashing the possibilities and challenges of existing positions.”
Gregory said he’s worried about the impact the commercialization of Roundup Ready (GM) alfalfa will have on his business. EU customers don’t want it, he said.
“And don’t bet the farm on low-level adventitious presence thresholds coming any time soon,” he said. “Currently, I am restructuring my company with legal firewalls that will limit our exposure to a lawsuit from Europe when they discover Roundup Ready (RR) alfalfa in a given seed lot.”
DIFFICULT TO CONTAIN
RR alfalfa will be difficult to contain because it’s a perennial crop and grows wild, Gregory said.
He doesn’t expect much domestic demand from the livestock producers because most grow grasses with their alfalfa, which would die when Roundup (glyphosate) was applied to kill weeds.
RR alfalfa is a major threat to organic growers because GM crops are prohibited from organic production and alfalfa is an essential crop for restoring nutrients in organic production, Holmes said.
Market impact is assessed after a new GM crop is approved, Phillips said.
Conservative MP Randy Hoback said he wants the committee to explore improving that process and he and Liberal MP Francis Valeriote have moved a motion to that [email protected]
– PAUL GREGORY