Organizers of the April 9 national Stop Genetically Modified (GM) Alfalfa Day in Canada claim the event was “highly successful” in calling attention to farmer and consumer group opposition to the crop’s introduction in eastern provinces.
But Forage Genetics International (FGI), the developer of Genuity Roundup Ready Alfalfa, announced the day before the rallies that planting the alfalfa won’t be an option in Canada this spring. And some Canadian farmer groups oppose the GM alfalfa opposition.
Stop GM Alfalfa rallies were held at 38 sites throughout Canada, organized by a coalition of farmer, consumer and environmental groups, including the National Farmers Union-Ontario (NFU-O) and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). Many of the rallies presented petitions calling on the government to put a moratorium on the release of the alfalfa.
“The rallies gave farmers and consumers a forum for voicing their concerns,” says Lucy Sharratt, coordinator for CBAN. “Attendance was very strong in the rural areas, with 80-100 people on hand in some cases. In larger cities like Toronto and Guelph, a lot of consumers came out to support farmers on this issue.”
The opponents of GM alfalfa claim the technology 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.
“As an organic livestock producer, I’m concerned GM alfalfa will make it that much more difficult to source alfalfa hay if the seedstock gets contaminated,” says Ann Slater, an organic sheep producer and market gardener. “Alfalfa is something we really rely on, not just as a feed for our livestock, but also for soil fertility.”
The rally Slater helped organize in Stratford, Ontario, drew 60-70 people, she says. “At least half of them were farmers. The No. 1 thing that kept coming up in conversations among the farmers was that this is something that’s being pushed on us. It’s not something we need or want. And in the end, it’s going to cost us money.”
Sharratt and Slater say the rallies were planned for last week because FGI could introduce the product in eastern Canada as early as this month.
The day before the protests, though, FGI announced that Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa wouldn’t be available for planting in Canada this spring. “We won’t have the varieties registered, and the coexistence plan for Roundup Ready alfalfa in eastern Canada won’t be complete in time for this planting season,” says FGI spokesman Mike Peterson.
FGI has not decided about future commercialization in Canada. But the company will continue to evaluate and collect performance data and gauge grower and industry interest in Roundup Ready alfalfa there, Peterson adds.
He also challenged assertions made by GM alfalfa opponents that there is little Canadian farmer interest in the technology, citing results of a survey of alfalfa growers in eastern Canada. Conducted last fall by Monsanto, which holds the patent on Roundup Ready technology, the survey offered results showing: “Almost half of the surveyed farmers indicated they would be likely to try Roundup Ready alfalfa if it was widely available,” Peterson says.
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CBAN’s Sharratt says her organization and other opposition groups remain unconvinced. “(They’ll) keep saying that they have no plans to introduce it now, and then one day, they’ll just introduce it. We’ve seen all kinds of indications pointing to that happening this year. If farmers have something to say on this issue, it needs to be said now.”
Several major Canadian ag organizations issued statements on April 9 expressing disagreement with claims made by the GM Alfalfa opponents.
A press release from Grain Growers of Canada (GGC), which represents 50,000 farmer members, noted that “this new alfalfa has been researched and approved by the Canadian government and has full food, feed and environmental release approval, as it has in the United States.”
“While we appreciate that many long-time opponents of progress have concerns, the reality is, they have a lot of rhetoric but no facts to back up their case,” GGC President Stephen Vandervalk said in the release.
Trevor Atchison, Manitoba Beef Producers president, expressed similar sentiments in a press release issued by his organization. “We must rely on Canada’s rigorous, science-based process to certify the environmental and health safety of new forage varieties. Non-science issues, like foreign-market access or public acceptance, should be left to the industry and market to address. This is not the realm for regulatory restrictions.”
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