by SUSAN MANN
A federal agriculture standing committee vote to recommend the government implement a moratorium on commercializing genetically modified alfalfa has been postponed until later this month.
Liberal MP Wayne Easter says the committee was to vote on the recommendation, proposed by the Liberal committee members, at its meeting in Ottawa Thursday. But “the committee got derailed substantially.”
Easter says Conservative MPs disrupted the two-hour meeting and talked about procedural matters. There wasn’t adequate time to deal with the recommendation so they’re “hoping to get it back up on Tuesday (March 22).”
He says he’s disappointed but not surprised. “We need a debate on the motion not on procedure.”
The U.S. approved the glyphosate resistant variety for widescale use in January but those in the industry say there are no immediate plans to commercialize the variety in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s plant biosafety office approved the technology as safe for food, feed and environment in 2005.
The proposed moratorium has widespread support from other parties in addition to the Liberals. Easter says the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois seem to be in support of the moratorium.
For the Conservatives part, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says by email “the government will continue to support a science-based approach to biotechnology that encourages innovation and gives farmers choice.”
Ontario farmer Colleen Ross, National Farmers Union first vice president, says the union opposes the commercialization of genetically modified alfalfa. Its position is that until market and economic impact studies are done there should be a moratorium.
Ross says as a farmer she’s concerned because alfalfa is a really important crop for rotation used by both conventional and organic producers. For farmers grazing livestock, part of their pasture mix is alfalfa. It’s also grown for hay.
Once genetically modified alfalfa starts to be grown it will be impossible to separate the genetically modified crop from the one that isn’t. Custom balers won’t be able to completely clean their equipment to the point they’d be able to guarantee organic farmers there isn’t any genetically modified alfalfa seed or crop residue on their machines. That would put organic farmers’ crops at risk for contamination.
Ross, an organic farmer, envisions a scenario where, like canola, alfalfa will become completely contaminated by the genetically modified variety. “The seed is carried quite easily on equipment.”
It that happens, Canada could no longer guarantee its non-genetically modified status or the organic status for organic farmers. Genetically modified crops aren’t allowed in organic production.
Ontario Forage Council president Bob Dippel says the council hasn’t taken a position on genetically modified alfalfa. The council is a non-profit organization devoted specifically to forages. BF