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2-Plants: Canadian National Farm Union fights "genetic pollution"



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TITLE:  NFU fights 'genetic pollution'
        National farm group wants Ottawa to make ag-biotech
        firms liable
SOURCE: Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Canada, by Joanne Paulson
DATE:   May 12, 1999

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NFU fights 'genetic pollution'
National farm group wants Ottawa to make ag-biotech firms liable

The National Farmers Union (NFU) wants the federal government to make agricultural biotechnology companies financially responsible for what it calls the "genetic pollution" of organic and traditional crops. Stewart Wells, the NFU's Saskatchewan co-ordinator and an organic farmer near Swift Current, said he could lose his organic certification for canola because it will be impossible to guarantee it does not contain genetically engineered properties. "If this continues, once wheat, barley, lentils and other crops are genetically engineered, I won't have anything left to grow," said Wells. At the NFU's conference last December, the group decided to lobby government to make companies liable for "genetic pollution that has infringed on the livelihoods of farmers or the general public." "Provincial and federal taxpayers' money is being used to help these companies do their research . . . but the profits are always privatized," said Wells.

Agriculture seed and input companies are transferring genes from some plants into others to create new varieties that are drought, herbicide or pesticide resistant. They are frequently referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Ag-biotech issues have been heating up in recent months. In Saskatchewan, a court battle is proceeding between Monsanto and Bruno-area farmer Percy Schmeiser over Roundup Ready canola, which does not die when sprayed with Roundup herbicide. Schmeiser maintains the Monsanto canola found in his field was volunteer, but Monsanto alleges he did not pay the required fee when he planted the crop. A growing number of North American farmers are pursuing court action against ag-biotech companies, claiming new crop varieties or agricultural inputs are causing weed and insect resistance and are failing in the field. Ag-biotech is a "gigantic experiment" foisted on farmers and the public, based on the fallacy that there is nothing to worry about because !
!
farmers make their own planting decisions, said Wells. "It's not my choice . . . because they can't control this once it's released into the wild."

Bill Anderson, a scientist and manager of regulatory affairs for the Saskatchewan Agbiotech Regulatory Affairs Service, said cross-pollination between GMOs and traditional varieties is possible, but non-GMO crops can also transfer their genes. Herbicide tolerance is the most manageable modification and the most benign, he added. For non-organic farmers, "it's just something you would take care of with another herbicide." Anderson agreed there is a problem for organic farmers at present, but said a threshold level for GMO content should be established for organic crops to help farmers maintain their certification, he said.

Ann Clark, an agronomist with the University of Guelph in Ontario, said canola crops must be at least eight kilometres apart to prevent cross-pollination. Corn and potato crops, by comparison, need only be one kilometre apart. "This is a huge problem, and it's not simply a problem for organic farmers," she said. Selling agricultural commodities into the European Union is already becoming more difficult, as the EU develops more sensitive testing to keep out most genetically modified crops. "Exports are being vastly hurt right now," she said. Clark said Canadian federal and provincial governments are spending $700 million annually to further ag-biotech research, but none is going to risk assessment as far as she can determine. People are often told genetically altered crops are safe because of the government's stringent regulations, but the government is not an independent third party, she said. 



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