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Liberals Step Up to Protect Farmers

Friday March 4, 2011. Ottawa. Yesterday, Liberal members of the House of Commons Agriculture Committee tabled a motion calling for a moratorium on the approval of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa in Canada.

“I’m pleased to see Members of Parliament have listened and are prepared to take action to protect farmers” said Arnold Taylor, a Saskatchewan organic grain farmer who spoke before the Committee on February 17th on behalf of the Canadian Organic Growers. “I hope that the Committee will vote for this moratorium and make it a reality so we don’t end up with the same kind of contamination in alfalfa that hit organic canola farmers and damaged Canadian flax export markets.“

Maggie Mumm, an organic alfalfa seed producer and co-owner of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds said, “Farmers don’t want or need Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant alfalfa. Conventional and organic alfalfa growers agree that GM alfalfa would be a disaster for our markets.”

In addition to export markets for processed alfalfa products, alfalfa is used as a forage crop in pastures and as hay for high-protein feed for dairy cows, beef cattle, lambs, and pigs. It is also a natural source of nitrogen to fertilize the soil, making it particularly important for organic farming. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees and other insects, making it easy for contamination to spread. Alfalfa is also a perennial which means that each new GM alfalfa plant can grow and produce viable seed for several years.

The motion before the Agriculture Committee asks the government to place a moratorium on approving the herbicide tolerant Roundup Ready alfalfa until the Government completes public research: “(a) into Canada’s ability to ensure the genetic integrity, production and preservation of a diversity of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), non-GMO and organic alfalfa production; (b) the ability of Canada’s handling and transportation system to ensure segregation of forage seeds and detection of genetic co-mingling in alfalfa seeds and hay; (c) the development of industry-led, third party audit and verification systems;” The Agriculture Committee should vote on the motion Thursday March 10th and if passed, it will be referred to the House of Commons for a vote.

“There are no benefits to genetically modified alfalfa, only risks,” said Benoit Girouard, President of the Quebec farmer association Union Paysanne. “Its time our politicians started working for farmers, not Monsanto.”

“This is a good first step to protecting the organic industry in Canada. The motion shows a real recognition that farmers face critical challenges from genetically modified alfalfa,” said Ann Slater of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario. “The motion shows that some MPs are listening to what the people want. In a time when democracy is at the top of people’s minds around the world, it provides hope that our actions can bring results,”

“We urge the Agriculture Committee to support this motion so it can be voted on in the House of Commons as soon as possible. The moratorium is urgently needed,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

On January 27th, the US Department of Agriculture approved plantings of GM alfalfa despite widespread opposition from farmers and consumers, and after protracted legal cases. Without the proposed moratorium, Canada is only one step away from allowing GE alfalfa to be planted here.

For more information: Arnold Taylor, Canadian Organic Growers, 306 252 2783; Maggie Mumm, Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, 306 747 2935: Benoit Girouard, Union Paysanne, 450-495-1910: Ann Slater, 519 349 2448, Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 263 9511.