On Jun 16th, 2017, 14 farm organizations wrote to the federal Minister of Agriculture to repeat their joint call for the government to cancel variety registration for all GM alfalfa until a full economic impact assessment is conducted.
We invite all organizations, producer associations, companies and community groups to sign on to this letter.
Individuals can take action by visiting www.cban.ca/alfalfa.
The text of the letter is below, followed by the form to sign on.
To: The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food,
CC: Jean-Claude Poissant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food; Ruth Ellen Brosseau, New Democratic Party Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food; Chris Warkentin, Conservative Party Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food; Simon Marcil, Bloc Québécois Critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food; Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader.
June 16, 2017
RE: Request for urgent action to prevent economic harm due to GM alfalfa
Dear Minister MacAulay,
On April 20th 2016, our organizations jointly called upon the federal government to cancel variety registration for all genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) alfalfa until a full economic impact assessment is conducted, and to establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US. One year later, nothing has been done and urgent action is still required. It is not too late to prevent cross contamination and protect the livelihoods of Canadian farmers and the success of many important sectors of our farm economy.
Through local distributors, Forage Genetics International (FGI) is marketing alfalfa stacked with GM traits for low-lignin and glyphosate tolerance. In 2016, the company released a limited amount of seed in Eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland). FGI is releasing it on a wider scale in 2017, increasing farmers’ uncertainty and concerns.
Alfalfa has great economic value, as it is used by farmers across the country producing a number of commodities with different production systems. Whether for domestic use or export, alfalfa is harvested both as hay and as seed. It is used to produce a wide variety of foods for Canadians, and is a cornerstone crop in sustainable agricultural practices.
Continued commercial planting of GM alfalfa seeds will inevitably contaminate both seed stocks and stands of feral alfalfa (volunteer alfalfa growing outside of cultivated alfalfa fields). If not stopped, this contamination will have devastating impacts on all forage seed growers and the whole Canadian alfalfa industry, including farmers, commodity sectors and food production businesses in Canada, both conventional and organic. The farming industry is already at risk from US alfalfa seed imports.
The release this spring on a larger scale in Eastern Canada exacerbates that risk. Alfalfa is the first perennial crop to be genetically modified and approved for sale in Canada, and this fact, along with other biological realities (such as insect pollination, seed size and the existence of feral/uncultivated alfalfa populations), means that cross contamination of non-GM alfalfa is certain. The risk of contamination from GM alfalfa is widely acknowledged. For detailed documentation, please see The Inevitability of Contamination from GM Alfalfa Release in Ontario (attached), a report by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
Farmers in both Eastern and Western Canada are exposed to contamination risk. While FGI has stated it intends to sell GM alfalfa only in the East, release there also places Western alfalfa seed and all other forage seed production for export at significant risk of market loss due to contamination.
1: GM alfalfa varieties must be deregistered
We restate our demand that the government deregister all GM alfalfa varieties this year, removing them from the market. This is the best way to prevent contamination of non-GM alfalfa.
2: Location of GM alfalfa plantings must be made public
Pending the deregistration of GM alfalfa, a transparent and public registry of all GM alfalfa sales and the locations of GM alfalfa planting is required to ensure farmers know whether they need to take measures to protect their crops, fields and products from potential contamination of non-GM alfalfa.
In the face of strong opposition to GM alfalfa by Canadian farmers, the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) attempted to allay concerns by developing “coexistence plans” for Eastern Canada in 2013 and Western Canada in 2016. GM alfalfa is now being marketed in direct contravention of the CSTA’s “coexistence plan.” Since the Eastern plan was published, FGI has added the GM low-lignin trait to its glyphosate-tolerant GM varieties. This trait permits – and promotes – harvesting hay up to the 50% flower bloom stage, much later than the coexistence plan’s recommended maximum 10% for reducing risk of GM contamination by pollination. GM alfalfa sellers are now telling farmers that three cuts are optimum instead of the CSTA’s coexistence guidelines recommended four. Before the season began, the coexistence guidelines were already being undermined by the very seed dealers charged with communicating the coexistence Best Management Practices (BMPs) to their customers. This ought to be a clear indication that the guidelines are both meaningless and inadequate.
The CSTA itself explicitly denies any liability for loss or harm that may result from relying on their coexistence plans. The plans rely on farmers, including those who want to avoid contamination, to voluntarily implement unrealistic and/or ineffective BMPs at their own expense. The plans have no mechanism for assigning liability, and no one is responsible for enforcing any of the recommendations.
3: Testing imports of seed grown in the US is required
We also repeat our request that Canada establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US. A 2015 US Department of Agriculture study found feral alfalfa contaminated with GM alfalfa in 27% of areas surveyed in three states in 2011. The study confirms that genetically modified alfalfa has dispersed into the environment. GM alfalfa was first planted in the US in 2005-2007 and more widely since 2011.
On February 29, 2016, Alberta Farm Express reported that a southern Alberta farmer discovered glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa growing in his field after he planted foundation seed imported from the US. (Please see the addendum: GM alfalfa contamination in the US and Canada).
In conclusion, we ask you to take immediate action to support and protect the future of our alfalfa industry, forage seed production, organic food production, sustainable agriculture and alfalfa related exports in Canada by deregistering all GM alfalfa varieties, publishing the location and amounts of GM alfalfa seed sales and plantings to date, and testing all alfalfa seed imported from the US.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. We look forward to your prompt response.
Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network
Canada Organic Trade Association
Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Growers of Organic Food Yukon
Manitoba Organic Alliance
National Farmers Union
Organic Council of Ontario
Organic Federation of Canada
Peace Region Forage Seed Association
Les Producteurs de lait du Québec
L’Union des producteurs agricoles
Please forward your response to:
Jan Slomp, President, National Farmers Union, 306 652 9465 firstname.lastname@example.org