Planting GM crops is raising alarms in organic community

Organic farmers and other allies are attempting to stop GM alfalfa from being planted

Steve Sharratt comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on April 30, 2016

Sally Bernard, shown holding her son, Thayne, along with her children Lucy and Wilson, husband Mark holding Solomon, says introducing GM alfalfa in P.E.I. will open a “Pandora’s box” of problems for organic agriculture. 

 

©Submitted photo

MONTAGUE - The intention to plant a genetically modified strain of one of the most common crops on P.E.I. this spring has raised alarm bells in the growing organic sector.

Organic farmers and other allies are attempting to stop GM alfalfa from being planted by appealing to federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.

“I’m not trying to be an alarmist,’’ says Sally Bernard of Barnyard Organics near Kensington. “But this is the greatest of the Pandora's Box of all the GMOs thus far, because the GM genes, once in the environment, simply cannot be controlled. “

That’s because it will be spread by pollinating bees and some say it will have a huge negative impact on organic certification on P.E.I.

“We are alarmed that GM alfalfa is been introduced this spring in eastern Canada,” says Morell area farmer Reg Phelan of the National Farmers’ Union. “The bees will be spreading this gene where ever they travel.”

Phelan said GM alfalfa could contaminate adjacent fields, deny organic certification, and ruin current markets such as Europe which bans GMO products. Japan and China have already said no to GM alfalfa hay.

The Green Party of Canada is also calling on MacAulay to take immediate action to stop any further release of genetically modified (GM) Alfalfa seed in Canada.

“We know that genetically modified Alfalfa will hurt farm income in Canada the same way it hurt U.S. farmers upon its release a few years ago," said Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a release.

A statement from the media relations desk of Agri-Food Canada said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada concluded Roundup Ready alfalfa is safe and authorized for use in 2014.

“The Minister of Agriculture’s…..role is to ensure that producers have a choice among the agricultural practices, technologies and products that are approved as safe and that offer them the most economic and environmental benefits.”

Barnyard Organics of Freetown says a moratorium should be placed on the issue until evidence is acquired.

“The question of contamination of GM pollen getting into the conventional or organic fields may also pose legal issues,’’ offers Phil Ferraro, manager of the ADAPT council. “A honey bee can carry pollen over a mile. There may be legal implications if one farmer loses a market for their crop due to contamination from a neighbours’ field.”

Ferraro said he’s no expert, but suggests farmers planting any GM crops need to seriously consider the risks versus the benefits.

“I see this as a real opportunity,” said Bernard. “As the only province with the potential to keep GM alfalfa out due to our physical border of water, we could become a new exporter of alfalfa?”