A proposal by NDP Agricultural Critic Alex Atamanenko to expand the assessment of new GE crop varieties to include their export market acceptability was stalled in the Commons March 17.
He likely won’t learn the fate of his private member’s bill for some time, but Conservative MPs seem determined to talk it out when it comes back for completion of the debate. That means it will have received an hour’s discussion and drop to the bottom of the list of MPs’ motions and not likely surface for many months if ever.
Fellow NDP’ers and the Bloc Quebecois supported him. Libe ral MP Frank Valeriote from Guelph said his party would agree to send the bill to the agriculture committee for study. Many urban Liberal MPs are opposed to GE crops, but those with rural constituencies tend to back them.
However, the Conservatives rejected Atamanenko’s motion saying it was a poorly disguised attempt to block any new GE crops. Before the debate, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Atamanenko’s “heart was in the right place, but not his head.”
Earlier in the week, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture also suggested the bill be referred to committee so MPs could hear from farmers on both sides of the debate. The NFU and Canadian Biotechnology Action Network tried hard to drum up support for the motion, while representatives of various commodity groups lobbied MPs to defeat it.
IMPACT ON SALES
Atamanenko wants to amend the federal Seeds Regulations to require the possible impact on export sales of Canadian crops to be considered before any new GE variety is registered. New varieties are examined for health and environmental impact under Health Canada’s novel foods regulations before approval.
He said many foreign customers won’t buy GE varieties and may not even purchase non-GE varieties out of fear they will be contaminated by the GE version. He cited the example of western flax growers who have lost sales to Europe during the last few months because of a trace contamination of their crops by a GE variety called CDC Triffid. The seed was never registered for use in Canada but got into the Canadian seed supply. It wasn’t discovered until it showed up in a test in Europe that measures parts per billion.
Atamanenko said seed developers are proposing GE alfalfa and wheat. If they are approved for use in Canada, they could contaminate non-GE varieties and Canadian farmers will lose export markets.
David Anderson, parliamentary secretary for the Canadian Wheat Board, said Atamanenko was simply trying to scare the farm community. “To bring this bill into play would bring all of our seed regulations in a completely different direction. It would no longer be based on science and farmers need to be very wary of that.”
Canola and soybean farmers wouldn’t be enjoying their current prosperity without GE crops, he added.
Valeriote said that rather than focusing on the flax issue, MPs should be addressing “how to properly keep non-approved GMOs from entering the food system in the first place.”
He said the bill “may actually present serious barriers to this burgeoning Canadian industry and potentially risks our competitive advantage in this cutting-edge field of research and development.”
There is “compelling evidence that the smart, safe, secure application of GM food science will play an important role in the international community’s continuing attempt to address the crisis of world hunger and malnutrition.”
As well, the bill “holds the potential for a drastic departure from our current regulatory regime,” he added. “The Canadian regulatory system that protects our health, safety and environment is one of the best, most comprehensive and respected systems in the world.”