I read with interest the January 21 article in the Western Producer about my Private Members Bill C-474, ‘NDP MP’s Bill Worries Canola Industry’. The article gives voice to the industry preference to avoid the market analysis of new genetically modified (GM) crops being proposed by this Bill and presents a rather hollow argument that this could put a chill on research and development. It struck me that there was absolutely no acknowledgement of the market reality which exists internationally towards GM. The recent loss of our flax markets due to contamination by GM Triffid makes it pretty clear that a GM technology that is not accepted by our major export markets has no economic value whatsoever.
European zero-tolerance is the current reality. The outcome of any possible negotiations toward low-tolerance levels in other countries is far from guaranteed and relying on this potential future change in policy leaves farmers with no protection. Is it not more prudent to learn from the current crisis of GM flax contamination and take concrete measures to protect our export markets?
The industry warns against introducing “politics” into GM approvals in Canada but my Bill is about economics, not politics. What are the economic realities for farmers if GM alfalfa or GM wheat are introduced, for example? Is the possibility of market closure an acceptable risk? Do we introduce new GM crops at any cost, even if this cost is our own markets? The reality is that GM contamination happens and is hurting farmers in Canada.
Flax farmers knew that the threat of GM contamination was a danger to their European markets. Unfortunately, they were right. There is nothing in our current regulations to prevent the commercialization of GM seeds that we know would lead to economic disaster.
The biotech industry may wish to avoid this economic reality but the people’s government should not have that luxury. Bill C-474 is meant to ensure that the government provides an analysis of the level of market acceptance before permitting the introduction of new GM seeds. I believe this is a necessary step to ensure that farmers are protected from unwanted GM contamination that could actually destroy their business.
Alex Atamanenko, MP
BC Southern Interior
NDP Agriculture Critic