Origins of coexistence plan for GM alfalfa remain hazy

The Canadian coexistence plan was released just as evidence emerged in the U.S. that the coexistence plan there is breaking down

Manitoba’s alfalfa growers are concerned contamination by GM varieties 
would kill off export opportunities

alfalfa_176889412_thinkstoc.jpgA “coexistence plan” for genetically modified and conventional alfalfa in Eastern Canada is drawing criticism from farm groups in Manitoba, after being released by the Canadian Seed Trade Association earlier this month.

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To prevent contamination of conventional hay by GM alfalfa, the plan advises producers to eradicate all living and dead GM alfalfa plants when a stand is finished, burn leftover seeds and store GM hay separately.

“We know that doesn’t work, we know that you can’t do that — you’re always going to have stuff escaping, so it’s just a matter of whether it happens immediately, or whether it take three years,” said Jim Lintott, chairman of the Manitoba Forage Council, which opposes the introduction of GM alfalfa.

“It grows wild everywhere… and once it’s in your ditch, and then you get it across from the field to the ditch, then it just becomes part of the wild environment, and how do you control that?” asked Lintott. “With an annual crop, it dies off every year and you have some hope, but with a perennial crop you have to kill the plant, you just can’t mow it and then wait for winter.”

Paul Gregory of Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd. is also concerned about the impact GM alfalfa will have on his business, and notes in parts of the United States, GM alfalfa has already gone feral.

“Right now we have a true trade advantage for legume forage seeds in Canada… but it’s a large 100 million dollar industry that’s being threatened here because of this GM trait,” he said. “Why would we do this to our forage industry?”

A move to GM alfalfa will shut Canada out of the European market, Lintott said, adding the legacy of GM flax still casts a long shadow over Canadian exporters.

Two years into GM alfalfa production in the U.S., and one Washington-state farmer has already had his alfalfa seed rejected for export due to a GMO presence, according to a report by Reuters. (See sidebar)

Although the cause of that contamination is still under investigation, Lintott said the very nature of a bee-pollinated crop makes genetic modifications impossible to contain.

The National Farmers Union has also raised concerns about the how the Canadian Seed Trade Association developed its Coexistence Plan, and points out the first page of the document is a disclaimer intended to protect the association from liability.

“The CSTA’s disavowal of any liability indicates they have zero confidence in the plan themselves, and are seriously concerned that when —not if — it fails, they could be sued,” said Phil Woodhouse, an Ontario-based NFU representative.

He adds that the association has said the coexistence plan was developed by a value-chain group, but won’t say who the participants were.

“Obviously, the CSTA is unwilling to accept responsibility for their co-existence plan— and neither is anyone else,” said Woodhouse, describing the association as a lobby group for large seed companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont Pioneer and Forage Genetics International.

According to the Canadian Seed Trade Association’s website, its top priority is working towards the “unrestricted trade of seed around the world.”

Lintott said it’s not too late to prevent the formal introduction of GM alfalfa, but it will take political to do so.

“We’re always hopeful that common sense will prevail and that they won’t introduce it, but that’s not the history up until now,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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