February 14, 2016
Agrofuels or biofuels?
The term “agrofuels” describes liquid fuels derived from food and oil crops produced in large-scale plantation-style industrial production systems. These agrofuels are blended with petrol and diesel for use primarily as transport fuel. The term biofuels is used widely for any fuel derived from biological material in contrast to fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) but where plants are cultivated in agricultural systems for the purpose of fuel production, the term agrofuel is more appropriate to include the specific context and problems such as monoculture plantations and the competition with land for food production.
Agrofuels are speeding us towards climate change: Agriculture already contributed at least 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Corn for ethanol, and soy and canola for biodiesel, are industrial monocrops that take fertilizers, pesticides and water to grow - and these three are also the major genetically engineered crops grown in the world (most owned by Monsanto). It is estimated that in 2010, 1/3 of the US corn crop will be dedicated to ethanol production instead of food. Production of agrofuels, primarily palm oil, is now the largest cause of deforestation in South East Asia - and deforestation is responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions. The race to access crop land for fuel and food production is now resulting in a global "land grab" where foreign countries and companies are buying or leasing land. 86% of global biomass is located in the tropics and subtropics, a simple fact driving an industrial grab that threatens to accelerate the pace of forest destruction and land acquisition in the South in order to feed the economies of the North.
- Read the "debate" on agrofuels between CBAN Coordinator Lucy Sharratt and Gord Quaiattini of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association in the July/August Costco Connection.
- Listen: Bioethanol and biodiesel not a green alternative, Interview with CBAN Coordinator Lucy Sharratt, Vancouver Cooperative Radio va Rabble.ca October 2010
- Read "Biofuels Backfire: hasty approach will impact environment, food production" from Common Ground magazine, July 2010 by Lucy Sharratt
- Click here to download a background document from Food Secure Canada.
April 2014: Biofuels such as ethanol made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term. A $500,000 study paid for by the U.S. federal government released in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 per cent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline. Read the CBC story here.
August 2012: There's growing pressure on the Obama administration to end support for corn ethanol. The worst drought in 50 years has not only condemned this year's (mostly GM) corn crop but threatens next year's too. The US government mandate requires unleaded fuel to be approximately 13% ethanol, regardless of supply.
August 2012: Growing demand for African palm oil for biofuels and as a key ingredient in cosmetics and processed foods is fuelling deadly land disputes in the Honduran countryside, pitting large landowners against landless peasants. At least 78 people have been killed over the past three years as a competition for land In Honduras heats up.
February 2012: A new study from the George Morris Centre shows that Canadian ethanol production policies are responsible for increasing costs for the Canadian livestock sector by $130 million per year.
Europe's world-leading $13 billion biodiesel industry is on the verge of being legislated out of existence after studies reveal indirect impacts cancel out most of its benefits. See Reuters story, July 8, 2011: Climate impact threatens biodiesel future in EU
ETC Group Report, October 2010: "The New Biomassters - Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods" exposes the emerging global grab on plants, lands, ecosystems, and traditional cultures as industry shifts industrial production feedstocks from fossil fuels to the 230 billion tones of 'biomass' (living stuff) that the Earth produces every year - not just for liquid fuels but also for production of power, chemicals, plastics and more in the new "bioeconomy".
Podcasts from the “Earth Grab” events:
The rush to grow ‘biomass’ for fuels and industry will be worth $1/2 trillion – but won’t feed people, or stop climate change. Farm leaders from the Global South describe the reality and propose alternatives: Iderle Brénus, leader/organizer, Mouvement paysan Papaye, Haiti; Ibrahim Coulibaly, farm movement leader, COPAGEN, Mali.
Biofuels in Canadian fuel
The Conservative Government is implementing the "Renewable Fuels Regulations" to require 5% of fuel should come from biofuels like corn ethanol, even though a study from Environment Canada found that the ecological footprint could not reliably be determined. The highly controversial new regulations was passed (Bill C-33) in June 2008 in the midst of the new food crisis. The Bill allows the federal government to develop and implement regulations requiring 5% average renewable content in gasoline by 2010 as well as require 2% average renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012. The Canadian government rushed the "Renewable Fuels Regulations" to require biofuels in our gas but there are new reports all the time about serious environmental and economic problems with biofuels.
What's Wrong with Biofuels Regulations in Canada?
There are many new studies and the verdict on biofuels is not looking good:
- The promised economic benefit to farmers will not be seen. The government’s own "regulatory impact statement" now reveals that farmers will not benefit from the production of grains used to make the biofuels. The statement says more corn will be imported from the US to meet the biofuels regulation in eastern Canada!
- The impact statement also shows that consumers will bear most of the costs associated with the biofuel expansion - to a total of $2 billion. This is because the ethanol-blended gas has a lower energy content so consumers will need to buy more fuel! The statement also says: “Assuming all industry costs are passed on to the consumer, regional average cost over 25 years range from 7 cents in Ontario to a relatively higher impact of 30 cents in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces”.
- The promise that air quality would get better and thus improve the health of Canadians also didn’t pan out as a recent 2009 Health Canada report concluded that “there are no substantial differences in predicted health effects between use of conventional use (gasoline) and E10 (ethanol-blended gasoline).”
- The Federal Government still says the new biofuels mandate will be good for the environment, even though their own research indicates no statistical difference in Greenhouse Gas Emissions at the tailpipe between vehicles using ethanol and vehicles not using ethanol. <http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2007/03/30/ethanol-emissions.html>
When the Senate passed Bill C-33, it also suggested that, “any new information that is available prior to regulations being proposed is taken into consideration before such regulations are promulgated.”
Global Conflict Over Agrofuels
The corporate "agrofuels" gold-rush has ignited a major global conflict. Find out why...
"At the World Forum on Food Sovereignty, held in Mali in Africa, we and other delegates discussed how capital has manipulated terminology by adding the prefix “bio”, which signifies life, to renewable plant-based fuels. This is ridiculous, because all living things are “bio”. We could call ourselves bio-people, bio-John Smith, bio-soya, etc. Companies use the prefix “bio” to encourage the public to see their products as a good thing, as politically correct. So, at the international level, Vía Campesina has agreed to use more accurate terminology. These fuels and energy are produced from agricultural crops and so the correct terms are agrofuels and agro-energy." - João Pedro Stedile is one of the leaders of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), Brazil’s Landless Movement
August 2010, Friends of the Earth Europe and Africa report: Africa Up For Grabs: Africa is increasingly being seen as a source of agricultural land and natural resources for the rest of the world. National governments and private companies are obtaining land across the continent to grow crops for food and fuel to meet growing demand from mainly overseas countries.
Agrofuels and GE Trees
Biotechnology corporations are seriously promoting genetically engineered trees and new GE crops for use as biofuels (agrofuels). The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy September 10-12, 2008 in Vancouver was all about genetic engineering and new technologies for biofuels - including, and explicitly, GE trees. The conference included the session “Cellulosic Ethanol from Softwoods Around the World” and the presentation “Biotechnology in Purpose-Grown Trees to Make Bioenergy Production" by ArborGen, the leading company researching GE trees.
This corporate link with agrofuels was a major reason why Brazil, Canada and the US defeated the attempt by African governments to establish an international moratorium on GE trees at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 2008.
“Fast growing, purpose-grown trees are an ideal feedstock platform for second generation bioenergy production…Producing renewable energy from purpose-grown trees is the latest step in the evolution of trees’ long and fruitful history and critical to meeting global bioenergy development needs.”
– from summary to BIO Conference presentation "Biotechnology in Purpose-Grown Trees to Make Bioenergy Production" in the session "New Feedstocks for Biofuels", a presentation from Barbara Wells of ArborGen.
The markets for GM crops are dominated by just a few seed and agrochemical companies. The high level of corporate concentration in the seed market has meant higher prices and limited choices for farmers. Legal controls, such as patents on genetic sequences, have meant that farmers cannot reuse, save, share or sell GM seeds, but have to buy them from seed companies every year. Patented GM seeds are significantly more expensive than non-GM seed. For more info on the impacts of corporate control in seeds see the new report "Are GM Crops Better for Farmers?"
June 23, 2015: Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and is trying to buy Syngenta, the largest pesticide company in the world. Monsanto sells glyphosate, the world’s highest volume herbicide, but needs to sell more chemicals to help deal with glyphosate-resistant weeds (see CBAN's report "Are GM Crops Better for the Environment?"). Monsanto and Syngenta together control 54% of the global commercial seed supply. Syngenta has twice rejected Monsanto’s bid of $45 billion dollars- Syngenta says this "significantly undervalues” the company’s prospects. The Financial Times reports that Monsanto may pursue a "tax inversion acquisition” where the merged company would be incorporated in the UK, to reduce the company’s tax bill. Monsanto would “also propose a new name for the combined company to reflect its unique global nature.” Monsanto is looking to buy Bayer or BASF if their bid for Syngenta fails.
Monsanto/Syngenta: From Gene Giants to Agribehemoths, ETC Group, May 14, 2015
The six major companies developing and selling GE crops are:
- Collectively, they control 59.8% of seeds and 76.1% of agrochemicals globally.
- They also account for 76% of total private research and development in seed and agrochemical sectors. At least 70% of this R&D is devoted to biotechnology and GE crops.
These six companies accounted for 98% of all biotech acres in 2007. Monsanto’s GE traits were in 85% of the total acreage planted with GE crops (in 13 countries).
Since the first GE seeds were introduced in 1996, the market share of the world’s three largest seed companies – Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta – has more than doubled, from 22% to 53.4% of commercial seed sales.
These six companies regularly cross license to each other, reinforcing their market power. About half of all commercial GE seeds with stacked traits are the result of cross licensing between companies.
Monsanto is the world's largest seed company and, as of January 2013, had filed 144 seed patent infringement lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small businesses in 27 states in the US. Click here to see more information about Monsanto
ETC Group, March 2013: Gene Giants Seek "Philanthrogopoly" The report takes a look at how the 6 multinational Gene Giants control the current priorities and future direction of agriculture research worldwide.
ETC Group, December 2011:Who Will Control the Green Economy? The 60-page report connects the dots between the climate and oil crises, new technologies and corporate power. The report warns that the world’s largest companies are riding the coattails of the “Green Economy” while gearing up for their boldest coup to-date – not just by making strategic acquisitions and tapping new markets, but also by penetrating new industrial sectors. DuPont, for example, already the world’s second largest seed company and sixth largest company in both pesticides and chemicals, is now a powerhouse in plant-based materials, energy and food ingredients. Other major players like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, BASF and Unilever are making strategic investments in risky technologies in hopes of turning plant biomass into products and profit.
ETC Group, October 2010: Gene Giants Stockpile Patents on “Climate-Ready” Crops in Bid to Become Biomassters: Patent Grab Threatens Biodiversity, Food Sovereignty. Under the guise of developing “climate-ready” crops, the world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are filing hundreds of sweeping, multi-genome patents in a bid to control the world’s plant biomass. ETC Group identifies over 262 patent families, subsuming 1663 patent documents published worldwide (both applications and issued patents) that make specific claims on environmental stress tolerance in plants (such as drought, heat, flood, cold, salt tolerance). DuPont, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and their biotech partners account for three-quarters (77%) of the patent families identified. Just three companies – DuPont, BASF, Monsanto – account for over two-thirds of the total. Public sector researchers hold only 10%.
ETC Group publishes reports on major trends in corporate agendas to control nature including new patent grabs.
The early warnings of environmentalists about the negative impacts of genetically engineered plants are, unfortunately but inevitably, being proven correct. In addition to ongoing concerns about the impact of GM insect resistant (Bt) crops on soil ecosystems and non-target insects we see the following serious problems:
- Contamination: Contamination from GM plants is having ecological and economic and social impacts.
- Superweeds: In 2010 the development of herbicide tolerant (HT) weeds became a serious problem in the U.S and in HT weeds are now becoming a problem in Ontario and Alberta.
- Superpests: In 2011 insects that developed resistance to GM Bt (insect resistant) plants were being observed.
- Increased Pesticide Use: GM insect resistant (Bt) crops produce their own toxin and do not reduce or eliminate insecticides, but simply change the way that pesticides are used, from sprayed on, to built in. US and Latin American data show that GM herbicide tolerant crops have increased overall pesticide use, and have dramatically accelerated the emergence and spread of resistant weeds.
- Decrease in Biodiversity: The expansion of corn and soy crops in North America, particularly GM herbicide-tolerant corn and soy which is twinned with herbicides, has destroyed much of the weedy habitat of monarch butterfly.
Once genetically engineered organisms are released into the environment, they cannot be recalled and they cannot be controlled.
- Canadian farmers are currently suffering through a crisis of GM contamination of flax - Click here to read about the case of GM flax contamination.
- You can also take action to stop the introduction of GM alfalfa and read about how inevitable contamination will impact conventional and organic farmers.
- Article and videos about how contamination is affecting communities around the world - and what people are doing to stop and reverse it. GRAIN 2009 "Fighting GMO contamination around the world"
- Worldwide Contamination Registry: Click here to see the on-line registry of GE contamination incidents. See details of all the known cases of GM contamination of food, feed, seed and wild plants that have taken place worldwide (hosted by GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace). The Register has documented more than 216 cases of GM contamination in 57 countries over the past 10 years, including 39 cases in 2007.
The genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) pig called “Enviropig” has been shut down thanks to CBAN and your action. Thanks to your support and actions we have stopped the GM Pig!
June 22, 2012 - Press Release:GM “Enviropigs” Meet Dead End: Remaining GM pigs euthanized at the University of Guelph
April 2, 2012 – Press Release: Genetically Modified Pig Shelved
The hog industry group Ontario Pork has stopped funding the GM pig research at the University of Guelph. The university has now closed down its active research and ended its breeding program of GM pigs. The pig was engineered with genetic material from a mouse to reduce phosphorous in its feces and could have become the first GM food animal approved in the world.
April 3, 2012"I had the feeling in seven or eight or nine years that transgenic animals probably would be acceptable. But I was wrong. It’s time to stop the program until the rest of the world catches up" - Dr. Cecil Forsberg, "inventor" of Enviropig. Read the full New York Times article.
This victory comes at a critical moment
The first GM food animal could still be introduced in North America if we do not stop the small U.S. company AquaBounty from getting approval for its GM Atlantic salmon. Just like the GM pig, the GM salmon is designed to support factory farming. It is not wanted by consumers or the aquaculture industry. If a GM fish is introduced, it will also be harder for us to stop other GM foods, crops and animals.
There are key fights before us in Canada. We can still stop GM alfalfa – a crop that was introduced in the U.S. but not yet in Canada. We need to stop GM alfalfa to protect organic food and family farms that are at the frontlines of GM resistance in North America and are central to the economic revival of our farm sector.
Our victory over the GM “Enviropig” shows that Canadians are prepared to fight genetically engineered food, crops and animals – and we will win. We can stop genetic engineering. We are already succeeding.
You can help us build our movement - join us now! Donate today.
CBAN's final report in the GMO Inquiry 2015 examines the claim that we need genetically modified crops (and animals) to address global hunger and provide enough food for a growing population.
The report includes updates and research from the five other reports of the GMO Inquiry, on the impacts and risks of GM crops and foods on farmers and the environment over the past twenty years.
June 2015: Non-governmental and farmer organisations from South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya and Uganda strongly condemn the go-ahead given by the South African GMO authorities for Monsanto to commercially sell its genetically modified "drought tolerant" maize seed for cultivation in South Africa. According to the groups, there is no evidence showing that the drought tolerant trait even works.
October 2014: CBAN Report "Will GM Crops Feed the World?"
Proponents of GM crops tell us that we need genetic modification to feed a growing population and reduce global hunger. CBAN's report examines experiences with GM crops from around the world to answer this question.
The report exposes the many ways in which GM crops threaten the environment and farmers' livelihoods, and overlook the real causes of hunger. Using case studies from around the world, the report shows that there is no place for GM crops in an ecologically sustainable and socially just food system.
- Click here for the full report.
- Click here for the 2-page report summary.
- Click here for the handy 2-page mini-booklet, for distributing at events and in your community.
"Seeking a technological food fix for world hunger may be the most commercially malevolent wild goose chase of the new century."- Dr Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. See this and other quotes across the years.
November 19, 2013 webcast featuring Miguel Altieri from the University of California (Berkeley) – a widely published, leading authority on agroecology – speaking about ecological agriculture as a key solution to food insecurity, hunger, and climate change. How to Feed 9 billion on a Small Planet: watch the Youtube presentation and discussion
Growing evidence shows that agroecology will feed the world. Business as usual will not.
Biotech plays the world hunger card to promote GMOs, October 13, 2013 by Lucy Sharratt and Taarini Chopra, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
"GMOs: Fooling – er, "feeding" – the world for 20 years", by GRAIN, May 2013. Debunks the myths summarized in five points: GMOs will feed the world; GMOs are more productive; they will eliminate the use of agrochemicals; they can coexist with other crops; and GMOs are perfectly safe for humans and the environment.
"The food crisis is not a scarcity problem; it’s an access and distribution problem, fundamentally linked to the way our food is produced. Simply put, our global food system is unfair and no longer works. It needs a dramatic transformation. How we grow our food matters." - From USC Canada's 2012 Primer on the Global Food Crisis
- 85 % of the world’s food is currently grown and consumed within national borders
- 90% of the 525 million farms in the world are still less than 2 hectares in size and occupy 60% of global arable land.
- 1.4 billion people still eat from farmer saved seed.
- From the March 2013 ETC Group report Gene Giants Seek "Philanthrogopoly"
To date, agroecological projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80 per cent in 57 developing countries, with an average increase of 116 per cent for all African projects. Recent projects conducted in 20 African countries demonstrated a doubling of crop yields over a period of 3 to 10 years.
- “Agroecology and the Right to Food”, Report presented at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, March 2011. Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Peasants Feed the World
Eighty-five percent of the world’s food is grown and consumed within national borders and/or the same eco-regional zone. Most of this food is grown from peasant-bred seed without the industrial chain’s synthetic fertilizers. Peasants breed and nurture 40 livestock species and almost 8000 breeds. Peasants also breed 5000 domesticated crops and have donated more than 1.9 million plant varieties to the world’s gene banks. Peasant fishers harvest and protect more than 15,000 freshwater species. The work of peasants and pastoralists maintaining soil fertility is 18 times more valuable than the synthetic fertilizers provided by the seven largest corporations.
There are 1.5 billion on 380 million farms; 800 million more growing urban gardens; 410 million gathering the hidden harvest of our forests and savannas; 190 million pastoralists and well over 100 million peasant fishers. At least 370 million of these are also indigenous peoples. Together these peasants make up almost half the world’s peoples and they grow at least 70% of the world’s food. Better than anyone else, they feed the hungry. If we are to eat in 2050 we will need all of them and all of their diversity. - From Who Will Feed Us? ETC Group, November 2009.
Find here information on the following important crops - not on the market:
- Alfalfa - Monsanto's GE alfalfa is not yet on the market in Canada!
- Apple - A GM non-browning apple was approved in Canad and the US in 2015 but is not yet on the market.
- Flax - Canadian farmers suffered a GE flax contamination crisis in late 2009 even though the flax is not on the market.
- Potato - A new GM potato was approved in 2014 the US but not yet in Canada.
- Rice - People across the world are fighting to stop GE rice.
- Wheat- Monsanto withdrew applications for GM wheat approval in 2004 but continues to develop GE wheat.
It has been 15 years since genetically engineered crops and foods were first introduced into Canada. But only 4 GE crops are currently grown in Canada:
These crops are either insect resistant or herbicide tolerant and many now carry both traits. We could also be importing GE papaya, squash, cottonseed oil and milk products from the US.
Though the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada have approved over 50 varieties of 12 GE crops and foods under their category of "Plants with Novel Traits" and "Novel Foods", not all of these are products of genetic engineering. Furthermore, many GE crop varieties listed are not currently on the market in Canada (such as GE potatoes and tomatoes). See the below lists for the exact breakdown of what genetically engineered seeds farmers in Canada are planting and what GE foods are on our grocery store shelves.
- Click here to to see this chart of GM foods in Canada.
- Click here to see the Shoppers Guide from Greenpeace Canada which lists brand-name foods.
- Click here to read the full story of how Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone was rejected in Canada.
GE Crops Globally
2012: GM crops (predominately corn, soy, and cotton - herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant) are still confined to a handful of countries with highly industrialized, export-oriented agricultural sectors. One country alone - the U.S. - plants 43% of the global GM crop area. 77% of the world's GM crops are planted in the U.S.(43%), Brazil (19%) and Argentina (15%). India (GM cotton) and Canada (GM canola, corn, soy and sugarbeet) both plant 6% of the global acres of GM.
GE Crops in Europe
2011: The only GE crop currently cultivated in the EU is Monsanto's insect resistant (Bt) corn (MON810). In 2010, GE corn was produced in the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Slovakia on a cultivation surface of about 82 000 hectares equaling a 13% decrease compared to 2009. Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg have all banned the use and sale of the MON 810 GE corn due to concerns about its long term effects.
It's been 20 years since genetically engineered (GE; also called genetically modified or GM) crops and foods were first introduced into Canada.
Only 4 GE crops are currently grown in Canada:
These 4 crops end up on our grocery store shelves as processed food ingredients and are also widely used for animal feed and to make biofuels. These crops are engineered to be either insect resistant or herbicide tolerant, and many now carry both traits.
We could also be importing a small amount of:
5. GE papaya (from Hawaii)
6. GE squash - some varieties of yellow crookneck squash (from the US)
7. GE cottonseed oil
8. milk products from the US made with the use of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone
- The GM non-browning apple was approved in 2015 in the US and Canada but is not yet on the market (2015).
- There is a GE potato that was approved in late 2014 in the US, but it is not yet on the market.
For details on where these GM crops are planted, and how much, see CBAN's report "Where in the world are GM crops and foods?"
- Click here for the chart of GM foods in Canada.
Though the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada have approved over 81 varieties of 12 GE crops and foods under their category of "Plants with Novel Traits" and "Novel Foods", not all of these are products of genetic engineering and many are not currently on the market. Many GE crop varieties that are approved are not on the market in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, such as GE potatoes and GE tomatoes. See the below list for the exact breakdown of what genetically engineered seeds farmers in Canada are planting, and what GE foods are on our grocery store shelves.
Press Release - November 19, 2015: Canadian Groups Concerned as US Approves GM Salmon - Canada to produce GM fish eggs
Health Canada could approved the GM fish for human consumption any day and this GM salmon would land unlabelled in grocery store shelves. Email the Minister of Health today, to Stop GM Fish
You can also sign and share the petition: Will Health Canada approve the GM fish for eating? Sign the petition today!
Canada's Minister of the Environment approved the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon eggs and fish in late 2013. However, the GM fish is not yet approved for human consumption in Canada. The US government approved the fish for eating on November 19, 2015. The company will produce GM fish eggs in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and ship them to Panama for grow-out and processing.
The company AquaBounty - now owned by Intrexon - claims the salmon grow to market-size twice as fast as other farmed salmon. The salmon are engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout (an eel-like creature). It would be the first GE food animal in the world.
- June 2015: The GM "fast-growing" salmon is more susceptible to disease, may not actually grow any faster, and it looks like the genetic modification is causing inconsistent growth rates. Find out more here.
- Background, October 2014
- Press Release - November 25, 2013: Canada’s Approval of GM Fish Eggs Threatens Environment, Groups Say
Court Case in Canada
Two Canadian environmental groups – Ecology Action Centre (NS) and Living Oceans Society (BC) – are asking a court in Canada to decide if the federal government violated its own law when it permitted the manufacture of the genetically modified (GM) "AquAdvantage" salmon. Lawyers with the charitable organization Ecojustice filed a judicial review application with the Federal Court on Dec. 23, 2013 and served notice of the lawsuit on all parties, including the fish manufacturer AquaBounty, in January 2014. The legal challenge asserts that the approval is unlawful because it failed to assess whether the GM salmon could become invasive, potentially putting ecosystems and species such as wild salmon at risk.
The main legal arguments are based on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, including:
- That the federal Ministers of Environment and Health acted unlawfully in purporting to complete an assessment of whether the GM salmon is toxic or capable of becoming toxic without obtaining all information required by law;
- That the Minister of the Environment had no jurisdiction to publish a notice setting out the permitted uses of the GM salmon eggs, based on an incomplete toxicity assessment of the GM salmon;
- Alternatively, the Minister of the Environment failed in her legal duties by permitting unassessed uses of GM salmon, such as its grow out in Canada, to proceed.
- Press Release - Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society, March 13, 2014:Genetically Modified Salmon Court Case Prompts Federal Government to Publish Vague Notice of Waiver for Toxicity Information
- "GM Salmon Go To Court", Lucy Sharratt, CBAN Coordinator, Common Ground, February 2014.
- Check out their press release: Environmental groups take federal government to court for permitting manufacture of genetically modified salmon in Canada
- You can find more information about the legal challenge at www.ecologyaction.ca/content/GM-Salmon-Trial-Release
AquaBounty Fined in Panama
Press Release: October 28, 2014 - Panama Fines GM Fish Company with Canadian Operation for Violating Environmental Regulations The Government of Panama has fined the company AquaBounty for breaching numerous national environmental laws during its ongoing research and development of a genetically modified (GM) Atlantic salmon. The GM fish eggs were shipped from Canada, provoking fears of environmental contamination in both countries.
- Press Release - November 21, 2013: Complaint in Panama Raises Concerns About GM fish Research in Canada
- Letter to the Minister of the Environment from CBAN, November 21, 2013
- Letter of Support to CIAM's administrative filing in Panama, alleging violations of environmental regulations. Signed by CBAN, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Center for Food Safety, GeneWatch UK, Food & Water Europe.
Background on the GM Salmon
What is the GM Salmon?
The U.S. company AquaBounty has genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified or GM) Atlantic salmon. The company claims its “AquAdvantage” salmon grow to market-size twice as fast as other farmed salmon. That’s because the Atlantic salmon are engineered with a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and genetic material from ocean pout (an eel-like creature).
AquaBounty wants to produce all the GE Atlantic salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, ship them to Panama to grow out and then ship the processed fish to the US consumer market. This is only the first part of the company's plan - the plan they are seeking approval for now - they say they want to grow the fish in North America, Chile and other countries, in the future.
The GM Salmon is from Canada
Prince Edward Island, Canada is now home to the world's first GM fish-egg production factory. In November 2013, Environment Canada announced its decision to allow production of the GM fish eggs. The company has a research facility at Bay Fortune in Prince Edward Island which it will turn into a fish-egg factory if the U.S. and Panama also approve the fish.
No One Wants GM Fish
- The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Association and the International Salmon Farmer's Association do not support the commercial production of GM fish.
- Grocery stores are now pledging not to use GM seafood.
Will GM Salmon Be On Our Plate Soon?
June 2015: The US and/or Canadian governments could approve the GM fish for human consumption any day. A timeline is unknown.
January 2014: Environmental groups are taking the federal government to court for permitting manufacture of genetically modified salmon in Canada. Ecology Action Centre (NS) and Living Oceans Society (BC), represented by Ecojustice, assert that Canada's approval of GM fish production is unlawful because it failed to assess whether genetically modified salmon could become invasive, potentially putting ecosystems and species such as wild salmon at risk. The Canadian government approval would permit egg production and even the grow-out of GM salmon at other facilities in Canada, provided criteria in the Minister of the Environment’s November 2013 notice are met.
January 2014: The GM salmon is very close to approval in the U.S. but a timeline for a final decision is not known in the U.S. or in Canada. In Canada, Health Canada refuses to tell the public if they are currently assessing the salmon for human consumption.
November 2013: The Canadian government (Environment Canada) gave the first-ever government approval for this GM fish when it permitted the production of the GM fish eggs.
In late 2010, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the preliminary conclusion that the GE salmon is safe for to eat and does not pose a risk to the environment. But FDA meetings in September 2010 did not conclude with a recommendation to approve the salmon. Instead, the FDA’s own committee members voiced serious concerns about the quality of the data and the risks. In January 2013, the US government released its environmental assessment of the GE Atlantic salmon, a last step to approving the GE fish.
The First GM Food Animal in the World?
The GM fish was in a race with the GM pig called “Enviropig” to become the first genetically engineered animal in our food system but the campaign led by the Canadian Biotechnology stopped the GM pig in March 2012. The GM salmon would be the first GM food animal approved in the world.
Atlantic salmon are farmed in both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The escape of farmed fish from either marine net pens or hatcheries is serious, reoccurring pollution that threatens species. For example, mature escaped Atlantic salmon have been recorded in streams in B.C..
To try to avoid a full review of these risks, AquaBounty is only seeking permission to raise the fish in a land-based facility in a “remote highland area” of Panama - even though they say they want to raise the fish in the U.S. and other countries. The company also says that all the fish will be sterile females, but admits they can only guarantee 95% of the salmon will be unable to reproduce.
Any risk of GM Atlantic salmon escaping into the wild is unacceptable, especially when Atlantic salmon are already in danger of disappearing.
Also, GM salmon could put even more pressure on marine ecosystems. The fast-growing GM salmon could consume up to five times more food than other farmed salmon - because salmon are carnivorous they actually eat large amounts of wild-harvested fish like anchovies and sardines, caught just to feed them.
Health Risks and Bad Science
Critics have long warned that the process of genetic engineering itself could possibly result in increased allergenicity and AquaBounty’s own data point to this potential in their GM salmon.
Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union US, says, “The FDA is relying on woefully inadequate data. There is sloppy science, small sample sizes, and questionable practices.” For example, the company used insensitive tests to try and measure the levels of growth hormone in the GM salmon and the levels of IGF-1, a hormone linked to a number of cancers.
"Biotech Gets Fishy with GE Salmon" Common Ground Magazine, Lucy Sharratt, CBAN, October 2010.
Watch the Presentation: "Is the GM Salmon Safe?"
"Is the GM Salmon Safe?: A look at the data on the health and environment risks" Featuring Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Consumers Union, US. International expert on the risk assessment of genetically modified organisms. Filmed May 13, 2013 in Charlottetown PEI.
- Watch the Video:http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/FlyingPage/4931/Guardian-live-broadcast
- View the Slides: (the slides in the video cannot be seen) Click here to download the accompanying PowerPoint slides.
What do we know about the GM salmon, proposed to come from PEI? A biologist and ecologist, Michael Hansen Ph.D. is a Senior Scientist at Consumers Union in the US. He also represents Consumers International, a federation of more than 250 organizations in 110 countries, on issues related to genetic engineering. Dr. Hansen was appointed as an international expert for two different FAO/WHO Joint Expert Consultations: Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Modified Animals, including Fish (2003) and Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant DNA Animals (2004).
June 2015: Mohawk community of Akwesasne passes a resolution to ban genetically modified crops. "GMOs, we have no songs for. GMOs, we have no ceremonies for. Because that's not what the Creator made as seeds, that was made by man. So we don't have songs for them." See the news story.
Union of BC Municipalities votes to ask province to ban GE crops and animals
September 19, 2013 - In an unprecedented step, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), at their Annual General Meeting in Vancouver, passed a resolution “that UBCM ask the British Columbia government to legislate the prohibition of importing, exporting and growing plants and seeds containing genetically engineered DNA, and raising GE animals within BC, and to declare, through legislation, that BC is a GE Free area in respect to all plant and animal species."
Already 16 municipalities in BC have declared themselves GE Free Zones, and 10 Official Community Plans of Regional Districts have come out against GE crops, as communities across the province mobilized for a ban on GE crops.
Press Release - September 19, 2013: Union of BC Municipalities Asks Province to Ban GE Crops and Animals
GE Free Zones in Canada
- Powell River, BC (2004)
- Salt Spring Island, BC (2004)
- Denman Island, BC (2004)
- Nelson, BC (Nov 3, 2008)
- Kaslo, BC (Jan 13, 2009)
- New Denver, BC (Sept 8, 2009)
- Rossland, BC (May 11, 2009)
- Richmond, BC (May 29, 2012)
- Saanich, BC (Nov 2012)
- Metchosin, BC (Nov 2012)
- Cherryville and Rural Lumby, BC (March 8, 2013)
- Telkwa, BC(March 11, 2013)
- Bulkley-Nacheko, BC (March 2013)
- City of North Vancouver, BC (June 10, 2013)
- Roberts Creek, BC
- Village of Anmore, BC (April 2015)
- Akwesasne, Quebec (June 2015)
51 municipalities within the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC, resolution passed April 2013 – for AVICC members go here http://avicc.ca/about-the-avicc/avicc-members-2/)
You can join the efforts of the CBAN Member Group, the Society for a GE Free BC
City of North Vancouver votes unanimously to become a GE Free zone
10th June, 2013: This evening the City of North Vancouver became a GE Free zone. Councillors who were originally doubtful changed their mind during the meeting after a number of community members made forceful presentations about the importance of this issue. Congratulations to all the campaigners who worked on this, the next piece in the puzzle to making the whole of BC GE Free.
On March 11, 2013 in Telkwa BC this resolution was passed: "Whereas the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) in agricultural activities is inconsistent with the Village of Telkwa's Official Community Plan and Integrated Community Sustainability Plan; and whereas the nature of cross pollination is not limited by municipal boundaries; be it resolved that the use of GMO's for agricultural purposes is unwelcome in the Village of Telkwa"
On March 8, 2013 Cherryville became the 11th BC municipality to pass a resolution to ban GMO crops! Local volunteer group Bee SAFE, held a public meeting at the Cherryville hall to discuss how GMO crops affect other crops. “There is no co-existence possible between GMO crops and other crops – by not deciding to ban them, we're deciding to ban every other type of agriculture and to put the future of our food and our farms in the hands of corporations like Monsanto, who own patents on GMO seeds” said Huguette Allen. Congratulations Cherryville!
2012: Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District passes a resolution against the GE apple, which is approved by all BC municipalities at the Union of BC Municipalities in September 2012
May 29, 2012 Press Release: Richmond City Council Finalizes GE Free Zone
Richmond City Council (British Columbia) unanimously confirmed a decision to make the city a GE Free Zone. Following the initial unanimous decision by the General Purposes Committee on May 24, 250 Richmond residents turned out last night to support final approval at City Council. The biotechnology industry lobby group CropLife presented in a failed effort to dissuade councilors from approving the resolution. Instead, teachers, parents, farmers, high school students, and other ordinary citizens prevailed - they packed City Hall and spent almost 3 hours making 5-minute presentations to City Council.
The City of Richmond agreed to oppose the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified or GM) plants and trees in the City, making an exception for the 3 dairy farms that already grow GM corn. The resolution states, “no further GM crops, trees or plants should be grown in the City of Richmond. This also includes GM fruit trees, all GM plants and shrubbery, GM vegetables, GM commodity crops and any and all field tests for medical and experimental GM crops.” The City also agreed to send letters to all levels of government “requesting strengthened management of genetically modified plants, and including the introduction of mandatory labelling requirements, more transparent assessment procedures and enhanced communication with the public.” The Richmond Food Security Society and the Society for a Genetically Free (GE) BC introduced the resolution in 2010. Richmond is a municipality of almost 200,000 people to the south of Vancouver in British Columbia and has about 200 farms.
The Society for a GE Free BC with GE Free Kootenays, and GE Free Yukon are working hard to secure GE Free Zones.
City of Rossland, B.C. Adopts G.E. Free Resolution
May 11, 2009: “Moved by Councillor Charlton / Seconded by Councillor Spearn
THAT the City of Rossland oppose the cultivation of genetically engineered plants and trees, by using transgenic engineering, in the municipality; and that the City of Rossland will not purchase genetically engineered plants and trees for its own use; and that the City of Rossland agrees to revisit the resolution as pertinent new information becomes available that affects this resolution; and the City of Rossland shall forward copies of this resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, Interior Health, B.C. Ministry of Health, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, B.C. Provincial Health Officer, the Prime Minister of Canada, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, CropLife Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, local MLA and MP offices and any interested and related groups. “
City of Nelson Passes GE-Free Resolution
November 3, 2008: "The City of Nelson does not support the cultivation of genetically engineered plants and trees in the Municipality of Nelson and further that council will not purchase for its own operations GE plants or trees. The City of Nelson agrees to revisit this as pertinent new information becomes available that affects this resolution and further that the City of Nelson shall forward copies of the resolution to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Union of BC Municipalities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, CropLife Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, local MLA and MP offices and any interested and related groups for comment."
Update 2013: The Museum in Ottawa has removed the goats from display after public pressure.
March 27, 2012, Press Release - Genetically Modified Goats on Display at Ottawa Experimental Farm: Family Outing Turns to Shock
“Seeing the transgenic goats gave me a horrible, sick feeling inside. I just think it’s wrong,” said Beatriz Oliver, who brought her four-year-old daughter and two-and-a-half-year old son to the farm on Saturday not knowing the GM goats were at the museum, “I was glad they’re too young to read the signs. I didn’t want to have to tell them that someone put spider DNA into these goats. It’s unethical and unnecessary.”