Doctors Thierry Vrain and Shivs Copra are making a Western Canada tour this month and stopped in at the Grand Fork’s Senior’s Centre, Dec. 5.
The duo work with the Society for a GE Free BC and share their research on genetically engineered products and what the public needs to know about them.
Sheila Dobie, a Grand Forks and Boundary Regional Agricultural Society (GFBRAS) board member, introduced the two men as “courageous and respected scientists” before the presentation began.
City councillors Cher Wyers and Gary Smith were at the event as was British Columbia Southern Interior member of parliament (MP) Alex Atamanenko – who was one of the events sponsors.
Vrain started the presentation be clarifying the definition of a genetically modified crops. He said that there are almost 500 million acres of GM crops in the world right now and that 90 per cent of them are genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Round Up.
This is the main reason for genetically engineering seeds and it affects all main crops including soybeans, canola, potatoes, wheat and sugar beets. He added that 100 per cent of the alfalfa in Canada is contaminated.
“Weeds are farmer’s number one preoccupation,” he said. “This is supposed to make farming easier and cheaper. … It is an extremely successful technology. If you are not using this technology you are back in medieval time.”
Genetically engineered crops are created using bacteria. The bacteria is the original engineer, according to Vrain and they are the only organism that passes genes back and forth to each other. That is how GM products first got started and it's a quality unique to bacteria.
“You don’t get genes from people sitting next to you,” he explained. “Plants and animals don’t have that.”
When it was Chopra’s turn to talk, he said that there were five things that pollute food sources in North America: genetically modified seeds, hormones, antibiotics, slaughterhouse waste and pesticides.
“Remove those five things from the food supply and automatically all things become organic,” he said. “You do not need to certify. You do not need to ask (what is in your food).”
According to Chopra, the European Union has already banned hormones, antibiotics and slaughterhouse waste in food production. They are partially banned GM products but they are still allowed in animal feed and they are beginning to ban pesticides. Whereas in North America, Canada and the United States still have all five culprits.
For Chopra, labelling isn’t the answer.
“It’s too little too late,” he said. “Labelling something at the end of the process when the damage has been done will do nothing. It’s like putting on cigarette packs ‘this will kill you.’ So what? You are still smoking.”
Instead, he says the substances must be banned and that the decision makers are the public because they pay the politicians salaries. He also said that BC and Quebec are leading the way in getting GM food banned and that they need to join forces. If that is done, he says, the rest of the country will follow.
“This is our country,” he said. “Save it.”
At the end of the presentation the floor was opened to questions. Many audience members wanted to know more about what they could do or had more detailed questions about how the process worked.
However, not all of the audience were on board with the research presented.
Coun. Smith, who also owns Gaia Principles Integrated Pest Management Services, questioned the research including that there is an increase in pesticide use.
“Can you demonstrate that? I find I reduce chemicals because I rotate. I think it’s on the decrease,” he said, noting that because of his background in the industry he feels like he knows “more than the average person here.”
Vrain responded by saying that that not everyone uses the same methods as Smith and that the research was on a global level.
“Not all farmers are as educated as you are. They don’t follow integrated pest management,” he said.
Smith expressed a desire for the presentation to be turned into a debate, saying that Vrain and Chopra were only presenting one point of view.
In response, Smith was told that 64 countries in the world had a point of view. They looked at the evidence and decided to require labelling on GM food and that was their point of view.
Chopra said that while Smith may have personally managed his fields a certain way, the research was done using the products the way the company represented them, not the way an individual specifically chooses to use a product.
“I smoked for 94 years and didn’t die – that’s not a study,” said Chopra.
By this time, the audience was starting to get heated up and Atamanenko tried to get Smith to sit down and let others talk.
“This is not a debate Gary,” he said. “You don’t have to monopolize this. We can let other people speak out.”
As the evening came to a close, Smith was told that the audience didn’t want to hear any more and that he could “make a speech another time."
Smith later spoke to Les Johnson from Grand Forks TV (GFTV) in a private interview and told him, “Folks get on a bandwagon and without being fully educated -- or actually partically educated – (which is even more dangerous) they go chugging like a train down the track. Pushing people down the way, trying to make their point, which is not necessarily true, not necessarily fact-based and not necessarily effective.”
He conceded that it was a heated night and that he wanted people to understand his position.
“I was very frustrated the other night. You could probably tell that,” he said to Johnson. “I’ve worked in this industry for a long time. I was a research assistant for Ag Canada. That doesn’t mean I was a scientist but I worked along scientists.”
He feels his experience gives him inside information on GM products and that the presenters didn’t have legitimate information.
“If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance you baffle them with bullshit,” he said. “I was just shocked by some of the implications that they were making about the effects of this stuff.”
He added that he is all for labelling and that Canada has a great labelling system. He also said that people should have a choice and that there should be a choice, it shouldn’t be a mandate.
“If we can make informed decisions, that’s great, but don’t try to greenwash me,” he said.