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Producers Demand Compensation Over Roundup Ready Alfalfa

“We’re putting the government on notice.”

– LES JACOBSON, MFSA

Manitoba forage seed producers say they will hold Ottawa accountable if the impending approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa hurts their industry.

A resolut ion pas sed at the Manitoba Forage Seed Producers Association annual meeting vows growers will hold Ottawa “directly responsible for any economic loss experienced as a result of trade injury incurred due to loss of export markets for alfalfa seed and other legume and grass seed crops related to the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa into Canada.”

Producers believe gene flow from Roundup Ready alfalfa, a genetically modified variety, will cross-contaminate regular alfalfa and cut off seed sales to Europe, which has a zero-tolerance policy toward GM.

Roundup Ready alfalfa is not registered for commercial production in Canada. A court ruling in the United States has temporarily halted production there.

But U. S. sources say the alfalfa variety could clear regulatory hurdles in time for planting later this year.

Monsanto holds the patent to the Roundup Ready trait. Forage Genetics International, an Idaho-based breeder, is licensed to produce the seed.

Monsanto recently conducted research trials in Western Canada for data to support the necessary herbicide label for Roundup Ready alfalfa, should it become commercialized in Canada. Monsanto said last fall it had finished the trials and was destroying the plots.

Forage Genetics has previously said it has no immediate plans to release the variety in Canada.

APPROVAL RECEIVED

But Roundup Ready alfalfa did receive food, feed and environmental approval by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada in 2005.

That, along with developments in the U. S., clears the way for its introduction here, said Les Jacobson, MFSA’s outgoing president.

“If it’s registered in the United States, it’s only a matter of time before it comes into Canada,” Jacobson said.

MFSA last year lobbied federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to conduct an environmental impact study before commercializing Roundup Ready alfalfa. Jacobson said Ritz promised to do so but didn’t put it in writing.

“With this resolution today, we’re putting the government on notice that if he (Ritz) is not prepared to do what he told us that the federal government would do, we’re going to hold them financially responsible if there’s an economic downturn in the industry over the next period of time.”

Discussion about Roundup Ready alfalfa dominated the MFSA’s Jan. 11 meeting.

LENGTHY ADJUSTMENT

In his remarks to producers, Jacobson said it’ll take five to seven years for the forage seed industry to adjust to the impact of GM alfalfa in North America.

If producers suffer economic losses, the government has a duty to compensate them, he said.

The meeting was told other forage seed shipments could also be affected. For example, if Roundup Ready alfalfa seed accidentally showed up in a container of timothy seed, the EU could reject that, too, because of its zero-tolerance policy.

Even though Roundup Ready alfalfa is not grown in Canada, European forage seed companies require advance testing and GM-free certification of shipments because of Monsanto’s test plots.

Adger Banken, a director with DLF Trifolium, a large Dutch grass seed company, said EU soybean importers are pushing for some GM tolerance levels because zero tolerance is unrealistic.

“If you are growing a lot of GMO crops worldwide, how can you ever avoid it?” he said during a break in the meeting.

TOLERANCES SOUGHT

Banken said he hoped the EU will develop GM tolerance standards within a year. But it will be difficult because “it’s such a complicated topic. It’s so hard.”

Meanwhile, in the U. S., Roundup Ready alfalfa could be cleared for commercial production in time for summer planting.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture recently completed a court-ordered environmental impact statement on glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa. The draft statement is currently in a public comment period.

The court had previously halted the production and sale of glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa seed, pending the statement.

The review, completed in Nov. 2009, concludes that granting non-regulated status to glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa has “no significant impact on the human environment” and “no adverse effects on human health and worker safety.”

Mark Wagoner, past chairman of the National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance, said Roundup Ready alfalfa could be seeded this summer, barring any further court challenges to it.

Wagoner, a producer from Washington state, acknowledged U. S. growers have mixed feelings toward the crop. On the one hand, most of his fellow producers support it, he said. At the same time, they recognize the potential for gene flow, cross-contamination and the loss of overseas markets.

“I think most of the growers in our area are pro-GMO traits. But we just don’t want to screw things up. We don’t want to limit ourselves into growing that stuff, either. So we’ve got to be real careful,” Wagoner said. [email protected]

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