Farmer and environmental groups in Canada are stepping up efforts to head off the release of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa in the eastern regions of the country.

Earlier this month, National Farmers Union-Ontario and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) put out a call to action to organize multiple “Stop GM Alfalfa” events on April 9 in Ontario and other eastern provinces. The events aim to call more attention to opposition to GM alfalfa by Canadian farmers.

“We wanted to do this (event organization) now before farmers get busy with their spring fieldwork and find it more challenging to participate,” says Lucy Sharratt, CBAN coordinator.

GM alfalfa “will ruin export markets for alfalfa products, contaminate family farms, make it more difficult for farmers to control weeds and threaten the future of organic food and farming in Canada,” claimed opponents in a recent press release.

Canadian regulatory agencies decided GM alfalfa was safe to grow and use for livestock consumption in 2005. Before the seed can be sold in Canada, however, companies must register individual varieties with the federal government. Some industry watchers say that process could begin as early as this spring.

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Forage Genetics International (FGI), the company that developed the first Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties sold in the U.S., “has not yet made a decision to commercialize” the technology in Canada, says company spokesman Mike Peterson.

If varieties are registered, it’s likely they would initially be marketed only in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, says Peterson. FGI has agreed to hold introductions of GM alfalfa in Canada’s prairie provinces until a plan is developed to address cross-pollination concerns expressed by seed growers.

The Canadian Seed Trade Association, a group of 128 corporate members engaged in seed research, production and marketing domestically and internationally, is working with other stakeholders on a co-existence plan to address such issues.

“It’s still in the draft stage,” Peterson says of the plan. “We’re willing to wait for that to be finalized before we make any decision on commercializing.”

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