Farm groups say trace levels of GM contamination should be allowed

Allowing minute traces of genetically modified material in shipments of grains and oilseeds is needed to keep exports flowing, say the Grain Growers of Canada and the Canada Grains Council.

Both groups want Ottawa to keep pushing for an international agreement on low level presence (LLP) of GM material.

“Canada has the chance to be a leader and help direct the tone of the policy around the world,” Franck Groeneweg, a Saskatchewan farmer and Grain Growers director, told the Commons agriculture committee.

“The lack of an LLP in export markets has led to their closure when unapproved events show up. Zero tolerance is unachievable.”

Most GM contamination is the result of residues from previous shipments and never constitutes a food safety threat, said Groeneweg, adding some countries are using the issue as a barrier to trade or to placate anti-GM critics.

Without a clear standard of allowable trace levels, there will be ad hoc country-by-country standards that will bring chaos to the international grain market, said Gordon Harrison, president of the Canadian National Millers’ Association.

Ottawa has proposed a standard of either 0.1 per cent or 0.2 per cent, said Harrison, adding his association favours the higher level “plus an allowance for analytical uncertainty.”

There also needs to be clear rules on what happens to a shipment that is rejected and how it can be brought into compliance, he said. The committee also heard from opponents of such measures.

Allowing trace amounts of GM contamination would open Canada to shipments of unapproved GM traits, said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

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