by SUSAN MANN
Genetically modified alfalfa seeds are going in the ground this spring in Eastern Canada but opposition groups plan to continue their fight against the product.
Forage Genetics International says in a March news release it plans to sell its glyphosate tolerant seed product that also includes another trait that reduces the amount of lignin in the plant. Lignin is a structural component of alfalfa plants that holds them upright, the company’s release says. Reducing lignin should make the genetically modified alfalfa more digestible for cattle and dairy cows.
Only a limited amount of seed (enough to plant less than 5,000 acres of hay) was available in Eastern Canada this spring and the product is not yet available in Western Canada, the release says. Furthermore, Canadian growers are required to keep hay produced from the genetically modified alfalfa in Canada.
Mike Peterson, Forage Genetics International global traits lead, says by email the initial seed quantities allocated for the spring in Eastern Canada have already been sold out.
There was just a limited amount of seed available, “which is why the acres are limited for this season,” he notes. Most of the product will be planted in Ontario and Quebec.
The product received approval for unconfined environmental release in 2014 from Canadian regulatory authorities. American farmers have been growing genetically modified alfalfa since 2005.
NFU president Jan Slomp says “we will vehemently oppose it and we are not done with our actions yet, as others aren’t either.” He says NFU doesn’t have any actions planned currently as to what it will do next.
The group wrote to Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay last month asking him to immediately stop Forage Genetics International from selling its genetically modified seed in Canada. In the March 24 letter, the group also asked the minister to install border controls to stop imports of “contaminated conventional alfalfa seed from the United States.”
NFU didn’t get a response from the minister, Slomp says. “MacAulay has never responded to anything we sent him.”
MacAulay’s communications director, Guy Gallant said he’d provide a written statement on the GM seeds matter when contacted by phone Thursday. A statement wasn’t provided in time for this posting.
The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties is also opposed. Last month, it passed a resolution to prevent genetically modified alfalfa from being introduced in Alberta until there is market and consumer acceptance.
Slomp says once the genetically modified (GM) alfalfa is planted in Canada there would be no way to stop the GM trait from “contaminating everything else,” such as organic and conventional crops. The product’s introduction in Canada could also impact export markets.
Many domestic and export markets prohibit alfalfa seeds, hay or pellets that have genetically modified content, NFU says in a March 24 news release.
In addition, the product’s use in Canada may “put at risk any market we have in Europe for animal products,” Slomp explains.
Canadian Cattlemen’s Association executive director Dennis Laycraft says the company’s GM alfalfa rules mean only the hay produced from GM alfalfa seeds must stay in Canada. Beef cattle eating the hay can still be exported to the United States and beef from cattle consuming the product can also be exported.
In its release, Forage Genetics International says there is a stewardship plan in place, similar to ones that exist in the United States, that allow organic, conventional and GM alfalfa to co-exist. The Canadian Seed Trade Association helped facilitate the plan’s development. Peterson says as part of the plan, growers follow best management practices as outlined in Canadian Seed Trade Association documents.
Slomp says a 2015 study by the Untied States Department of Agriculture shows GM alfalfa genes have escaped and pollinators are spreading them throughout the countryside. The study proves “co-existence is a fallacy, a completely impossible thing.”
Southwestern Ontario corn and soybean grower Emery Huszka, recently elected NFU-Ontario president and Region 3 coordinator, questions why it’s so necessary now to release the product for sale “given that we’re struggling with (glyphosate) resistant fleabane here in southern Ontario. It (the fleabane) was so thick you could walk across it.”
The release of GM alfalfa seeds is “providing another breeding ground in an already glyphosate-resistant weed environment,” he notes.
Huszka says another concern the company hasn’t addressed to NFU’s satisfaction is how cross-pollination will be controlled. BF