Toronto Star, Saturday, March 4, 2006
We need choice on GM foods
By Cameron Smith
Are Canadians doomed to have no choice but to eat
food that, at least in part, has been genetically
The answer probably is yes – unless the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency (CFIA) completely reverses the path
that it's on. And that's not something it will do
It has been approving the use of GM,
herbicide-tolerant crops in Canada, saying they're safe
to grow and safe to eat – although scientific studies
are beginning to question their safety. (For instance,
go to the website of the scientific journal
Environmental Health Perspectives and search under
glyphosate. You'll find opinions pro and con.)
It's of no concern to CFIA if GM-free crops are
contaminated through cross-pollination or random seed
dispersal from GM crops. The contaminated crops are
still safe, CFIA says, adding that its decisions are
based only on science and cannot take into account the
commercial impact of contamination.
To David Orchard, this creates a nightmare scenario.
Orchard is a Saskatchewan farmer who grows organic wheat
and alfalfa on 1,093 hectares. This summer, he'll have
almost a third of his land in alfalfa.
(Orchard was a leadership candidate for the federal
Progressive Conservative party in 2003. He swung his
support to Peter MacKay after MacKay signed a pledge
never to merge the party with the Canadian Alliance, a
pledge MacKay later broke. Orchard now is a Liberal;
MacKay now is foreign affairs minister.)
Alfalfa, Orchard explains, is extremely valuable to
organic farmers because it not only improves the soil by
fixing nitrogen from the air, it's excellent for
controlling weeds. It will free a field of weeds by
choking them out over three or four years, he says.
Instead of cutting his alfalfa for livestock forage,
Orchard harvests the seeds and sells them for
germinating into alfalfa sprouts for organic salads.
Once an alfalfa field is contaminated by a GM,
herbicide-tolerant variety, Orchard says, neither the
alfalfa nor the seeds can be sold as organic, and the
field loses its status as certified for growing organic
If Monsanto Canada's herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready
alfalfa is introduced into Canada, "it will be
disastrous (for organic farmers)," Orchard says,
"because it would mean the end of farming organic
alfalfa, just as the introduction of GM canola in 1996
has all but wiped out Canadian organic canola
The CFIA has already declared Roundup Ready alfalfa
safe for release into the environment, which allows U.S.
farmers to sell GM alfalfa as livestock forage in
Canada. So far, Monsanto has not applied for approval to
sell seeds for growing Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada.
To address the problem of contamination, CFIA is
planning to publish a proposed regulation next month
that will initiate federal standards for organic
The proposal will suggest that if organic fields are
accidentally contaminated with GM plants, the fields can
retain their status as organically certified. However,
the proposal will say nothing about whether crops grown
on these fields will be considered organic under federal
regulations. That will come later.
There will be 90 days for public comment on the
proposal and then CFIA will open discussions on what
percentage of crop contamination will be acceptable
under the regulations.
If such a standard is set, it will be like saying all
organic food can be a little bit pregnant with GM
contamination. It will eventually mean the end of
GM-free food in Canada and the end of choice for
Cameron Smith can be reached at