More than 80 protesters marched in downtown Red Deer on Tuesday over the introduction of genetically modified alfalfa in Ontario that they say will hurt organic farmers and their consumers nationwide.
As part of a Canada-wide protest, the group marched from City Hall to Red Deer Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen’s office about 10 blocks away. Carrying placards that read Protect Our Pollinators and I Love Family Farms, the group wanted to show the public why the issue is so important.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which promotes food sovereignty and democratic decision-making on science and technology issues, recently released a report documenting how genetically modified (GM) alfalfa will contaminate non-GM alfalfa and hay crops if released in Eastern Canada. Large-scale agricultural companies Forage Genetics International and Monsanto want to introduce it.
Joffre-area organic beef and pork producer Blake Hall said it’s critical that the federal government stop GM alfalfa. If introduced, it would be the first GM perennial crop introduced in Canada.
“Because it’s a perennial and it’s pollinated, it’s been proven that spreading is inevitable and will make its way to Western Canada,” said Hall, a youth advisor for the National Farmers Union.
Hall has been organic farming for four years and over that time, he’s seen demand increasing for clean, local food.
“It’s not just farmers here, but eaters and co-producers that are wanting food that isn’t genetically modified,” said Hall.
Hall said it will impact his business because certification is required for organics. It will also have wide effects on conventional agriculture, both for the export markets and with crop rotations.
The GM alfalfa would spread through spilled seed.
“Hay is harvested late and when it’s already gone to seed, it can spread that way,” said Hall. “And because it’s pollinated with bees, those pollinators will spread pollen from a GM plant to a field that may not have that tracer gene in it and will propagate it that way.”
Since the alfalfa plant won’t die in the winter and will come back in the spring, it will spread that way as well.
Alfalfa is an important crop for dairy farming as well as for livestock farmers and vegetable and field crop producers. Many Alberta farmers also save alfalfa seed.
Canada approved GM alfalfa for health and environmental release in 2005, but any variety must be registered through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency before it can be commercially released. To date, no genetically modified alfalfa varieties are registered. Forage Genetics International applied Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) herbicide tolerant Roundup Ready technology to alfalfa. Registration and commercial release could happen this spring, according to National Farmers Union-Ontario.
Hall said GM alfalfa has been in the United States since 2010.
It was important to march to Dreeshen’s constituency office because this is a federal issue, said Hall.
“We also have a petition we have for him to table (at the House of Commons),” said Hall. “If we ask him to, he’s mandated to, provided we have enough signatures, which is a minimum of 25 and we have far succeeded that.”
About 180 signatures on a petition were presented to a representative at Dreeshen’s office. Hall said they were aware that Dreeshen wouldn’t be there since he was at a prior commitment in Sylvan Lake.
Reached later Tuesday, Dreeshen said he would present the petition once it’s determined it’s valid.
Dreeshen, who has farmed GM canola on his Pine Lake area farm, said he’s OK with GM alfalfa coming on stream. These genetically modified crops have great value, he said.
Dreeshen said it should be farmers’ choice to grow crops with altered genetic traits.
During the federal regulatory process, the research showed there would be no concerns with pollination, he said.
“As long as the safeguards are there within the science behind the breeding of the plant, then it should be safe,” Dreeshen said.
The Grain Growers of Canada and its more than 50,000 farmer members issued a statement of support on Tuesday for genetically modified crops because they say that weeds, insects and diseases are then controlled with fewer pesticides.