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Organic And Biotech Advocates Urged To Sort Out Their Differences

After months of prodding, Frank Valeriote has convinced organic farmers and growers of biotech crops to start talking to, rather than about, each other.

The Liberal MP has persuaded representatives of both sides to meet this month in his Guelph riding and he hopes it’s the first of many such chats. He wants the two sides to “discuss the issues that divide them and how they could be resolved.”

One key issue is the size of the buffer zone required to keep GE traits from migrating into what’s supposed to be organic fields, an issue that has been raised repeatedly at the hearings of the Commons agriculture committee.

It’s likely a motion will be made at the committee to place a moratorium on the testing of GE alfalfa until its potential to contaminate organic and conventional strains of alfalfa is better understood. Registration for GE alfalfa has not yet been sought by Monsanto in Canada and there appears to be little support for it from Canadian farmers.

Valeriote’s initiative grew out of a proposal he made in December in the early stages of the committee’s examination of biotech issues. It was sparked by the debate surrounding Alex Atamanenko’s bill to require a market test as part of the approval process for new GE crops. The NDP agriculture critic’s bill was defeated but it stirred up interest in finding ways to allow organic and biotech to coexist.

Atamanenko supports Valeriote’s move, as does Conservative MP Randy Hoback and it’s received support from witnesses appearing before the committee, including Peter Philips, a public policy professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and Ted Zettel, president of the Organic Growers of Canada

Zettel said his group would be happy to participate in a discussion in which all sides of the issue were involved. He also noted that the organic movement is only concerned with GE versions of food crops, not modified nonfood crops being grown for fuel, industrial chemicals or medicines.

The hearings will continue for a few more weeks before the MPs write a report for Parliament that will probably highlight the need for an ongoing discussion on the issue.

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