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Canada farm minister sees no end to genetic debate - 040399



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Thursday March 4, 10:13 pm Eastern Time

Canada farm minister sees no end to genetic debate

By Irene Marushko

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, March 4 (Reuters) - Canada's Agriculture Minister Lyle
Vanclief on Thursday added his voice to the growing international debate
over genetically modified organisms (GMOs), saying many countries would
carry on attempts to regulate GMO trade.

Canada's position on the issue became clear when it backed the United States
at meetings in Colombia last month, when the U.S. delayed attempts by
numerous countries to devise a United Nations safety protocol regulating
international GMO trade.

``No, I don't think it will go away,'' Vanclief told Reuters in an interview
from Ottawa.

The U.S., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay -- known as the
Miami Group -- shared the view that such a protocol would greatly complicate
trade, increase costs and force GMO labeling that might spark consumer
boycotts.

``But that doesn't mean in any way shape or form that it isn't the goal of
people to have (a protocol). It's just that it wasn't able to be reached in
Columbia recently,'' Vanclief said in a telephone interview from Ottawa.

``The mandate that our team had...recognized clearly that we had that
responsibility but we did not want to interrupt trade as well,'' he said.

Canada is a major world agricultural producer and also grows and exports
several strains of GMO canola, a Canadian rapeseed variant which has
recently had trouble selling in Europe because of its inclusion of GMOs.

The use of GMOs has sparked fears in many European countries as well as in
North America about possible effects of GMOs on human health and the
environment.

Currently consumers are not told they are purchasing products containing
GMOs because they are not labeled.

Vanclief said he favored labeling of modified products if they changed
nutrient value or produced allergens.

``The whole labeling debate is an international one at the present time and
I think it's one that's certainly going to be there until there's an
international agreement,'' he said.

GMOs allow plants to be bred to be more nutritious, resist weeds and
insects, require less moisture and increase yields.

Canada has been opposed to segregating modified and unmodified crops which
would greatly increase storage and handling costs.

Vanclief said the World Trade Organization (WTO) was already ``somewhat''
equipped to deal with many biodiversity concerns about genetically modified
products, such as fears that herbicide-resistant plants could cross-breed
with weeds.

``There are a lot of developing countries and undeveloped countries that are
there that, I'm told, simply did not understand the whole thing nor do they
understand what's available even at the present time through the WTO,'' he
said.

But another GMO called the 'terminator' can program seeds not to reproduce
an organism which has prompted fears that farmers in rich and poor countries
would be forced to buy new seed from companies holding patents each year.

``I think people are very, very paranoid about the fact that they think this
is a new ability that's there. This type of thing has been there all
along,'' Vanclief said, citing old corn hybrids with the terminator
characteristic.

He said it was up to Canada to explain its very strict Canadian laws which
ensure the safety of GMO products.

``None of these things are approved, unless using the best science available
of the day, they are safe,'' Vanclief said.

But he added: ``There's no such thing as being absolutely sure that anything
is safe. No such thing. That's impossible. It doesn't matter what it is.''




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