Farm groups say even limited sale of GM alfalfa seed poses too high a risk

Farm groups say the release will begin a ‘spiral of 
uncertainty’ for producers and their customers

alfalfa seed - Glen Nicoll
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Fifteen Canadian farm groups have called on the federal agriculture minister to stop the sale of genetically modified alfalfa seed in this country.

In a letter to Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, the groups state they also want variety registration removed for all GM alfalfa until a full economic impact assessment is conducted.

They are also calling for protocols for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the U.S.

“These measures would stop the sale of GM alfalfa seed in Canada and prevent the inadvertent importation of GM alfalfa via contaminated seed from the U.S. where it has already been introduced,” the Canadian Organic Trade Association said in a press release.

Other groups asking Ottawa to act include Forage Seed Canada, Peace Region Forage Seed Association, L’Union des producteurs agricoles (Quebec’s powerful farm group), and a number of organic farm associations, including Organic Alberta.

Forage Seed Canada said Canada exports $280 million worth of forage seed annually, plus another $100 million worth of alfalfa and timothy hay meal and pellets. Most Canadian export markets have zero-tolerance policies for GM forage seed and hay and test on a parts-per-million basis, it said.

“The introduction of GM alfalfa could mean we lose some valuable export markets,” said Peace Country producer Heather Kerschbaumer, the group’s president. “The risks and costs are just too high for our industry.”

In late March, Forage Genetics International said it would sell a limited amount of HarvXtra alfalfa in Eastern Canada for planting this spring. HarvXtra alfalfa has Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant Roundup Ready genetics plus a trait for lower levels of lignin, a structural component of alfalfa plants that holds them upright but makes them less digestible for dairy and beef cattle.

The farm groups’ letter states that “even this limited release will lead to a measure of contamination and begin a spiral of uncertainty for eastern and western farmers and their customers.”

“Any commercial release of GM alfalfa seeds will result in unavoidable contamination, with a range of devastating impacts on a wide range of farmers, commodity sectors and food production businesses in Canada, both conventional and organic,” it says.

“It’s imperative that the government takes urgent action to stop the commercial introduction of GM alfalfa, to prevent irreversible contamination,” stated Marcel Groleau, president of the Union of Agricultural Producers in Quebec, in the COTA release.

It is not overstating things to call this the single greatest threat Canada’s growing organic sector has ever faced, said Kate Storey, president of the Manitoba Organic Alliance. The Canadian Organic Standard prohibits the use of any GM seeds and organic growers fear they will be unable to guarantee their production is GM free, she said.

“This puts the organic standard at risk,” Storey said. “If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I’m not, I would say someone has put together a pretty good plan to get rid of organics.”

The farm groups’ letter to MacAulay also says they have no confidence in the coexistence plans developed by the Canadian Seed Trade Association.

“The plans rely on farmers, including those who want to avoid contamination, to voluntarily implement unrealistic and/or ineffective ‘Best Management Practices’ at their own cost,” the letter states.

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