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POLICY & REGULATION: Canadian bill would add more scrutiny to approval process of new GM seeds



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   BILL WOULD ADD MORE SCRUTINY TO APPROVAL PROCESS OF NEW GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEEDS

SOURCE:  The Globe and Mail, Canada

AUTHOR:  Jessica Leeder

URL:     http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/bill-would-add-more-scrutiny-to-approval-process-of-new-genetically-modified-seeds/article1899895/

DATE:    08.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The future of genetically modified crops in Canada is in question as Ottawa prepares to vote on whether to add a new layer of scrutiny to the approvals process. [...] A private member?s bill scheduled for a House vote Wednesday evening would force the government to add analyses of potential harm to export markets before approving new genetically engineered seeds. The biotech industry has lobbied heavily to have the bill quashed."

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BILL WOULD ADD MORE SCRUTINY TO APPROVAL PROCESS OF NEW GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEEDS

The future of genetically modified crops in Canada is in question as Ottawa prepares to vote on whether to add a new layer of scrutiny to the approvals process.

Genetically modified seeds are currently approved if they are deemed scientifically safe for feed, human consumption and environmental release. A private member?s bill scheduled for a House vote Wednesday evening would force the government to add analyses of potential harm to export markets before approving new genetically engineered seeds.

The biotech industry has lobbied heavily to have the bill quashed. Its national association, BIOTECanada, held 50 meetings last fall with federal politicians and government officials. Introduced by New Democratic Party MP Alex Atamanenko (Southern Interior, B.C), the document, titled C-474, has made it this far in the parliamentary process due to the contentiousness of genetically modified seeds.

Debate over their use is growing in spite of the fact that conventional farmers in Canada and the United States have been producing crops from patented seeds for years ? canola, soybeans, cotton and corn ? attracted by their built-in resistance to herbicides, hardiness and high yields. Consumers unknowingly buy GM food products because labelling laws do not compel manufacturers to disclose GM content to consumers.

Analysts are predicting defeat of the bill, which is less than one page long and does not lay out specifics on how the market analyses would be conducted. But if the bill dies, debate over the future of GM crop regulation in Canada will continue to thrive.

The prospect of new legislation ?opened everyone?s eyes? to the need for government to address the use of biotechnology in Canada?s food industry, said Wayne Easter, the Liberal party agriculture critic.

?There are some very serious concerns about the imbalance of power between the major corporations like Syngenta and Monsanto and the ability of producers to retain ? control over the food system,? he said. ?This bill doesn?t address any of that.?

The Liberals? early support of the bill has helped keep it alive, but Mr. Easter said the bill lacks nuance and detail. His party has no plans to support it during the vote.

?If we allow a bad piece of legislation to pass, it could very much hurt our economy,? he said. ?On the other hand, if we don?t find an approach to deal with GMOs and the absolute dominance that some major corporations have in that industry, that could also cause economic damage. We?ve got to find the right balance here.?

Mr. Easter and his House agriculture committee colleagues are in the midst of a national investigation into the state of biotechnology in agriculture. Six of the 12 committee members are on a cross-country tour to hold hearings on the matter; a series of meetings scheduled on Wednesday, including one with Monsanto Canada president Derek Penner, will prevent members from voting on C-474.

Those in favor of the bill, including the National Farmers? Union and the Canadian Organic Growers, argue that the spread of GM crops in Canada has not been adequately regulated. Increased use of GM crops, they worry, will not only make it more difficult for farmers with non-GM varieties to avoid cross-contamination, it will jeopardize their ability to compete in export markets that demand non-GM product.

Canadian flax farmers experienced the reality of this first-hand recently after GM seeds were discovered in the cash crop; exports were quarantined and markets were shut to Canadian producers. Markets that remain non-receptive to GM seeds include the European Union, Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and several African nations.

Spurring farmers? worry over the ubiquitous nature of GM crops is the fact that the Obama administration recently lifted restrictions on planting of Monsanto?s GM alfalfa, which is used as animal feed and to enrich soils. Critics have charged the deregulation will compromise the entire alfalfa crop, which is pollinated by bees that can travel for miles.

Monsanto has won approval for its alfalfa in Canada, but seeds have yet to be sold. The mere prospect has panicked both organic farmers (who worry their meat and milk industries are in jeopardy) and conventional producers concerned about trade.

Judy Shaw, a spokeswoman for the biotech firm Syngenta Canada, said seed companies aren?t introducing product to the market that would be harmful to farmers. ?Why would we bring something to the market that our customers couldn?t sell?? she asked.

She said her company does not support the bill, which would amount to more red tape for seed innovation and stall farmers? access to new products. A Monsanto spokeswoman also confirmed her company?s opposition to the bill, which would introduce unfair ?non-scientific criteria? to the regulatory process that could create disadvantages for Canadian farmers.

?If this bill passed, it would really just put us a whole step back in terms of our innovation strategy around biotechnology,? said David Sparling, chair of Agri-Food Innovation and Regulation at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

However, Canada does need a biotech strategy for agriculture, he said. ?If we decide this is an important and useful tool, how are we going to invest in it ? but still protect smaller markets? That?s the balancing act.?



                                  PART 2

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

TITLE:   GMO EXPORTABILITY BILL BACK IN COMMONS WEDNESDAY

SOURCE:  Manitoba Co-operator, Canada

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.manitobacooperator.ca/issues/story.aspx?aid=1000401740

DATE:    08.02.2011

SUMMARY: "A bill meant to block federal approvals for seed of genetically modified crops not wanted in export markets returns to the House of Commons Wednesday for what?s expected to be a quick death. [...] ?Despite having received over 12,000 letters in support of C-474, the Conservatives remain opposed,? Atamanenko wrote Tuesday, ahead of a press conference he has scheduled on Parliament Hill for mid-morning Wednesday."

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GMO EXPORTABILITY BILL BACK IN COMMONS WEDNESDAY

A bill meant to block federal approvals for seed of genetically modified (GM) crops not wanted in export markets returns to the House of Commons Wednesday for what?s expected to be a quick death.

Bill C-474, a private member?s bill introduced in the Commons in November 2009 by the New Democrats? agriculture critic, British Columbia MP Alex Atamanenko, is booked for third reading in the House Wednesday.

?Despite having received over 12,000 letters in support of C-474, the Conservatives remain opposed,? Atamanenko wrote Tuesday, ahead of a press conference he has scheduled on Parliament Hill for mid-morning Wednesday.

And Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter ?has indicated he will recommend his party vote against this popular initiative,? Atamanenko wrote Tuesday.

The bill, which narrowly passed second reading in April 2010 by a 153-134 vote, is unlikely to survive if both the Conservative government and Liberal opposition reject it. The two parties combined hold 220 of 308 seats in the Commons.

C-474 calls for amendment of the federal Seeds Regulations to require that an ?analysis of potential harm to export markets? be conducted before federal permission is granted for the sale of a new GM seed.

The bill does not propose shutting down all approvals for GMOs, but Atamanenko has said he believes the government?s science-only approach to how GM seeds are regulated is ?irresponsible because it completely ignores market considerations.?

He blamed the government?s ?lax regulatory process? for allowing CDC Triffid, an approved but later deregistered GM flax variety, to make its way into Canada?s supplies of certified flax seed, shutting out Canadian flax exports from their key markets overseas.

?For the first time, Parliament has a chance to seriously consider a regulatory mechanism that will ensure farmers are never again faced with rejection in our export markets because we allow the introduction of (GM) technologies that they have not approved.?

But a number of crop commodity and biotech industry groups have lined up against C-474, warning such ?non-science-based? criteria for GM seed approvals could put a needless chill on future developments in seed biotech.

Grain Farmers of Ontario, for one, argued in April that C-474 ?could indefinitely delay all future approvals on the basis that there may be one country somewhere that would not accept genetically modified crops.?



                                  PART 3

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

TITLE:   CROP THREATS RAISED AT U OF G FORUM

SOURCE:  Guelph Mercury, Canada

AUTHOR:  Vik Kirsch

URL:     http://news.guelphmercury.com/News/Local/article/759320

DATE:    08.02.2011

SUMMARY: "A local audience heard dire warnings Monday about unknown health and environmental risks as well as potential threats to Canadian agriculture?s foreign markets from genetically modified plants and animals. Ottawa-based Canadian Biotechnology Action Network co-ordinator Lucy Sharratt said regulatory protections are lax and a battle?s brewing between farmers who reject GM products and those promoting them like universities and biotech firms."

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CROP THREATS RAISED AT U OF G FORUM

GUELPH ? A local audience heard dire warnings Monday about unknown health and environmental risks as well as potential threats to Canadian agriculture?s foreign markets from genetically modified plants and animals.

Ottawa-based Canadian Biotechnology Action Network co-ordinator Lucy Sharratt said regulatory protections are lax and a battle?s brewing between farmers who reject GM products and those promoting them like universities and biotech firms.

?Farmers are predicting harm to their businesses. This conflict is intensifying,? Sharratt, who heads a coalition opposing genetic modification, told a University of Guelph GM forum.

It precedes an anti-GM rally 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in the university?s Branion Plaza against the campus-developed ?Enviropig,? which produces cleaner excrement. That?s also the day Parliament votes on a private member?s bill requiring federal study of potential harm to export markets from genetically altered seeds. Further, a federal agricultural committee comes to Guelph Wednesday to hear biotech concerns.

Almost 100 people, mostly U of G students, came to an engineering classroom Monday to hear forum members, including Organic Council of Ontario executive director Jodi Koberinski, who said the full risk of genetic engineering of farm products remains a mystery.

?We?re really, really early in the science of this,? she said.

Ecological Farmers of Ontario spokesperson Roger Rivest said organic crop markets have been hurt over the years by GM soybeans, corn and flax, with alfalfa the next crop at risk. ?We?re going through the whole process again,? said the Essex County organic farmer.

The challenges include keeping GM and organic crops completely separate to avoid contamination and devising ways to ensure consumers know what they?re eating in the absence of labelling requirements. He said organic alfalfa is threatened if a GM alternative becomes widespread.

?This is a total affront to the organic industry,? Rivest said.

National Farmers Union provincial co-ordinator Sean McGivern questioned the need for genetically altered products, stressing the Enviropig?s benefits to the environment can be had simply by farmers introducing better farm management practises.

He said he viewed altering a species as nothing short of polluting the gene pool. ?Public support for it is zero,? he added. ?Is this a legacy the University of Guelph wants to be saddled with??

Sharratt warned Canada has already seen the demise of much of its organic canola growing sector, with no compensation to organic farmers.

Those who object to genetic engineering of farm products have no recourse without a regulatory environment that considers such concerns, she reiterated. ?There is no mechanism to make our voices heard.?