NDP Proposes Tough Restrictions For New GE Crops

Aprivate member’s bill before the House of Commons this month would require regulators to consider the potential market impact of any new genetically engineered crop before approving it.

Alex Atamanenko should get the backing of his fellow NDPers as well as Bloq MPs, who are against GE crops. The Liberals tend to be divided on the issue. The National Farmers Union is also opposed to GE crops, but Grain Growers of Canada says it’s against Atamanenko’s bill.

“We are co-operating with other farm groups to make our opposition to this bill clear to government and opposition MPs,” says Richard Phillips, executive director of the Grain Growers. “We are strongly opposed to any measure that moves assessment of GE crops away from sound science.”

Among those groups is the Flax Council of Canada, he said.

Atamanenko cites the flax industry’s loss of sales to Europe in recent months after trace amounts of an unapproved flax variety called CDC Triffid was discovered in some Canadian shipments to Europe. That event “makes it very clear that any GE technology that is not accepted by our major export markets has little economic value to Canadian farmers,” he says.

The variety was never registered in Canada at the request of the flax industry, but somehow it slipped into the production system and wasn’t detected until last year.

Several years ago, farm group and political opposition to GE wheat in Canada because of its likely damage to export sales helped put that proposed crop into limbo, although support among some Canadian and American commodity groups to revive it.

Any new GE crop or variety has to be approved under Health Canada’s novel foods regulations, which considers whether the new plant would have any adverse health or environmental impacts.

As part of that process, Atamanenko’s bill would require “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.”

This kind of analysis would prevent any future instances of foreign markets being closed to Canada growers because of GE crops, he says. “Zero tolerance for contamination for unapproved GE products is a firmly entrenched policy in Europe. This policy is not about to change any time soon and we cannot sacrifice any more of our crops and farmers to wishful thinking.”

Atamanenko said he was concerned by Monsanto’s plans to resume developing a GE wheat variety. “It is my understanding that the international customers who buy 82 per cent of Canada’s wheat crop say they will stop buying all wheat from us, GE and non-GE alike, if GE wheat is introduced. Even the risk of contamination alone would shut down export markets.”

GE alfalfa has been approved for use in Canada even though some farm groups fear it will have grave economic consequences, he added.

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