June 19, 2013
Remarks from Press Conference: NFU and CBAN
Remarks from Press Conference, March 15, on Bill C-474.
More information here.
Maureen Bostock On behalf of the National Farmers Union:
The National Farmers Union supports Bill C 474 as a major step towards creating a regulatory protocol that will protect farmers from the loss of export markets due to the “unintended consequences” of genetic engineering.
The Triffid flax crisis sheds light on the reasons why Bill C 474 is so critical. The contamination of flax by unapproved Triffid genes resulted in the halting of flax shipments to European countries. While European market accounts for 70% of Canada’s flax shipments abroad, exports to 35 countries in total have been affected as well.
12,000 farmers in Canada have been affected by lost flax income in 2009 as a result of the contamination of 5 flax varieties at the breeder level. And the flax crisis is far from over.
As Canadian farmers struggle to make a living with input costs continuing to rise unchecked, those who will plant flax this year face a marketplace where prices have collapsed by 32% since the flax contamination was discovered. The Flax Council of Canada concedes that at best, it will take five years to eliminate Triffid contamination from seed inventories.
Farmers are right to be concerned that the flax crisis will drive European buyers to look to other countries where GE contamination of crops for export has not become the norm. Flax was not the first GE release to have “unintended consequences.” The release of GE canola in Canada a few years ago devastated the burgeoning organic canola industry and has resulted in the virtual disappearance of non- genetically engineered varieties from the Registry.
The impact may be even wider as European buyers may also reconsider purchases of Canadian brown mustard which in the past has cornered 95% of the European market.
In the words of Christian Eberle, chief executive officer of Granosa Ag of Switzerland speaking about the flax crisis at the annual meeting of the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission in January 2010: “It was known Canada had GM crops but everyone believed it was well managed, so this was a shock.”
On the horizon are two new GE crops, wheat and alfalfa, currently under discussion in the U.S. GE wheat and alfalfa have the potential to undermine both conventional and organic export markets for these crops. A recent survey by the Canadian Wheat Board of its farmer/members showed that 69% opposed the introduction of GE wheat and 51% said that they are not at all interested in growing GE wheat varieties. As well, a 2001 Canadian Wheat Board survey of international markets found that 85% would look for wheat elsewhere if Canada approved GE wheat.
It is critical that the Canadian government take action immediately to reassure our international partners that we value their markets and will make the necessary changes to restore our reputation. But even more critical, by voting in favour of Bill C-474, the Canadian parliament can reassure farmers that in future their economic interests will be front and centre when decisions regarding the release of new agricultural technologies are made.
 Western Producer, January 21, 2010
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network:
Firstly, we would like to thank and congratulate Alex Atamanenko for his Private Members Bill that addresses such a glaring and serious gap in Canadian regulation of genetically engineered crops.
This measure to assess the potential economic harm of GE crops to our export markets is long overdue.
The flax contamination crisis is an unfortunately illustration of the urgent need for support for Bill C-474.
474 would protect farmers from expected harm to our export markets.
If the Canadian government approves GE crops without these crops also being approved in our export markets, we can expect that farmers will pay the price.
As is the case with flax, governments as well as farmers can also expect to directly pay the price.
The Harper Government has just committed up to 1.9 million to help the flax industry cope with the costs of testing and its diplomatic missions to rebuild our relationships with Europe.
These costs are a shadow of what we would expect if GE wheat is approved in Canada for example – when we know that 82% of Canada’s wheat customers would stop buying our wheat altogether just because of the threat of contamination.
The costs of flax contamination – uncertain markets, depressed prices, testing costs – are also a warning of what we know will happen with the release of GE alfalfa.
We know contamination happens – we know it will happen with GE alfalfa. Conventional and organic growers will pay this price if the government does not take steps now to consider the economic harm GE alfalfa will cause.
The reality of GE flax contamination and the immediate threat of GE alfalfa to our markets make the clear case for Bill C-474.
Once again, we would like to thank and congratulate Alex Atamanenko for this Private Members Bill and we ask all MPs to support Bill C-474