Bill On GM Crops Under Fire

The push is on to kill an NDP bill that would hinder approval of new genetically modified crops.

British Columbia MP Alex Atamanenko has garnered the ire of biotech companies with a private member’s bill that would deny registration of new genetically modified crops until they’ve undergone an assessment of their potential impact on export sales.

The bill makes crop developers feel unwanted in Canada, said Greg Penner, president and CEO of Neoventures Biotechnology Inc. of London, Ont.

“We should be looking at how to stimulate more biotech development and help stimulate cash flows for companies such as ours,” said Penner. “Conditions for GE (genetic engineering) companies are much better in the United States.”

The biotech lobby hit Parliament Hill last week. Penner said he was surprised to find there was little support for the bill, despite the public attention on genetically modified food.

“We explained the current registration system is transparent,” he said. “It gives the government the full ability to determine that a proposed plant is safe. We in industry have done everything we can to prove its safety.”

But another industry rep said his industry’s contribution to the country isn’t always appreciated.

“Politicians are aware of biotechnology but don’t appreciate the overall impact of our sector,” said Steven Fabijanski, president and CEO of Agrisoma Biosciences Inc. of Ottawa.

“We create economic opportunities and jobs. They’re interested, but they’ve got lots of other important issues to deal with.”

Atamanenko’s bill has the support of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois. The Conservatives voted against the bill while a divided Liberal caucus thought it worth sending to the agriculture committee for further study.

The biotech companies plan to return to Parliament Hill.

Fabijanski claimed there is only a “small, vocal minority” opposed to GM crops but his industry needs to do a better job of explaining their benefits. He said those include creating varieties that bring a better return to growers, and development of ones which will be more resistant to diseases such as fusarium, and incorporate health benefits, such as omega fatty acids and lower trans fats.

Fabijanski warned that the global biotech industry is a competitive one and that Atamanenko’s bill would make it “unlikely to ever get any of our developments commercialized again.”

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