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4-Patents: GE alfalfa next battleground in the fight to control Canada's agricultural seeds

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Taking on chemical giant
SOURCE: The Toronto Star, Canada, by Cameron Smith
DATE:   25 Feb 2006

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Taking on chemical giant

Alfalfa is the next battleground in the fight to control Canada's
agricultural seeds, and so far, Monsanto Canada Inc. is winning.

Already it has reached three key objectives. The first is that if
farmers' crops are contaminated, through no fault of their own, with
Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) strain, Monsanto will own all the
GM plants in their crops. This principle was decided in a split 5-4
decision by the Supreme Court of Canada two years ago in the case
brought by Monsanto against Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan.

It creates a vexatious problem for organic farmers who need to separate
GM from non-GM seeds to maintain their organic status. GM seeds look
exactly like organic seeds, so even if farmers ask Monsanto to get its
GM plants out of their fields, they can never be sure all are removed.
They can never be sure their crop can be sold as organic. They have to
live with uncertainty and, as with any business, that's bad news.

Monsanto's second success came last May in a Saskatchewan court, where
the judge in a class action application said Monsanto was not liable for
damages if crops contaminated with one of its GM species no longer could
be sold as organic. The decision is under appeal.

The third success is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
declared in July that Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa is safe for
release into the environment. This leaves Monsanto with only one more
approval to get from CFIA before its GM alfalfa seeds can be sold in
Canada. The seeds will produce plants resistant to Monsanto's Roundup

The stakes in this battle are high. If Monsanto wins, it will profit
from the sale of seeds and Roundup herbicide, and it will charge a fee
of $15 an acre for the crop grown. On the other hand, if organic farmers
are able to save GM-free seeds for replanting, there's no profit at all
for Monsanto and minimal cost to the farmers.

The card that Monsanto has up its sleeve is that if GM alfalfa is grown
in Canada, it will assuredly contaminate organic alfalfa, just as canola
has been contaminated. Canola is pollinated by wind, and Monsanto
acknowledged in the class action application last May that canola
contamination was both foreseeable and inevitable.

Alfalfa is pollinated by bees that roam up to five kilometres from a
farmer's field. So, cross-pollination from a GM field within bee-flight
distance from an organic field is pretty well guaranteed. In addition,
it's impossible to keep GM seeds from spreading. They get into
hedgerows, and propagate from there. They're dropped by grain trucks and
are disseminated by birds. Once in the wild, they'll move like any weed.

Trish Jordan, spokesperson for Monsanto Canada, says that GM seeds are
not a threat to organic growers because there will be minimum
contamination -- she calls it adventitious presence -- and anyway, there
is no such thing as varietal purity.

In every crop grown, she says, there are minor levels of adventitious
presence such as weeds, other species and chemical residues. The minor
presence of GM alfalfa in an organic crop would be no different, she
says. The crop could still be sold as organic, so organic farmers would
not suffer.

But is that good enough? Organic farmers say no. The CFIA says yes. And
there is no labelling required in Canada to identify the presence of GM
contamination in food, so consumers have no information base from which
to respond.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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