Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stop GM Alfalfa

I try to keep politics off my blog. These pages are meant to be an online diary of sorts, to document my attempts at a "simpler" life, not a soapbox for my (many) rants about our broken food and farm systems.

But I've ranted before and I'll do it again. Like right now...

While only (only?) four genetically modified (GM) crops are currently grown in Canada -- canola, corn, soy and sugar beets -- there will be soon be a fifth, if Monsanto and Forage Genetics get their way. That's why we need to stop the release of GM alfalfa -- the first genetically modified perennial crop to be introduced in Canada.

Alfalfa, popularly known as the "Queen of Forages" is the most important widely grown forage crop in Canada. In 2011, alfalfa was produced on over 25 million acres of farmland, or 30% of Canada's cropland.* It serves a variety of functions -- it's grown in mixed stands with other grass species then harvested and stored for high-quality hay or haylage for dairy, beef cattle and sheep; organic farmers (who can't use chemical herbicides or nitrogen fertilizers) use it as green manure in crop rotations to help build nitrogen levels, increase soil aeration, as well as outcompete weeds; and when planted in pure stands it's used for seed production.

In 2005, Monsanto received regulatory approval for glysophate-tolerant (aka Roundup Ready) alfalfa in Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada approved Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA) for environmental release, animal feed and human consumption. But before the crop can be commercialized and sold in the marketplace, seed varieties need to be registered as per the Seeds Act, which in itself is a convoluted and classified process that takes place with no public consultation or disclosure.

The Canadian Seed Trade Association (whose members include Monsanto and Forage Genetics International, the U.S. forage seed company that has applied the Roundup Ready technology to alfalfa) is developing a "coexistence" plan for GM and non-GM alfalfa hay so that farmers can continue to serve both organic and conventional markets (though contamination from GM alfalfa will threaten our export markets). But alfalfa is an insect-pollinated, perennial crop and nature cannot be contained; it is pure corporate hubris to think otherwise.

According to a new report from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), "If GM Roundup Ready alfalfa is registered and commercialized in Eastern Canada, the flow of genes and traits from GM to non-GM alfalfa will be unavoidable."

We have already seen the disastrous results of GM flax and GM canola contamination across Canadian farmland. What's more, as more GM varieties are registered, fewer non-GM varieties become available.To add insult to injury, if patented GM seeds are found in an organic farmer's saved seed, that farmer can be sued for patent infringement. And the incidence of glyphosate-resistant weeds is growing; another Roundup Ready crop will only accelerate the development of resistant weeds.

Farmers will lose both money and markets if GM alfalfa is released. But if you think this is just a farmer issue, consider this: if GM alfalfa is released, organic farmers will lose an important high-protein animal feed. Without access to GM-free forage, what will happen to your organic meat and dairy?

As Wendell Berry famously said, "eating is an agricultural act." This assault on family farms affects us all.

To learn more or to get involved with the "Day of Action to Stop GM Alfalfa" on April 9th, visit CBAN's website.

* From CBAN's "The Inevitability of Contamination from GM Alfalfa Release in Ontario: The Case for Preventing the Introduction of Roundup Ready Alfalfa" (April 2013)


Mama Pea said...

Doesn't all this just make you sick? Have they all gone mad?

Miriam said...

Oh stupid can we as a society be? Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

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