Breaking News! Farm groups call on the Minister to stop GM alfalfa seed release in Canada – You can support them today

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Breaking News! 15 farm groups from across Canada have asked the Minister of Agriculture to stop the release of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa seeds.
Please share this important news and call to action.
The press release is below, followed by the letter that groups sent to the Minister.
Individuals can take action right now to support farmers atwww.cban.ca/alfalfaletter2016
Groups and food/farm businesses can sign the letter at http://www.nfuontario.ca/wpr/gm-alfalfa/
Summary: On April 1st, after years of delay due to farmer and consumer protests, the company Forage Genetics International confirmed it had sold a limited quantity of GM alfalfa seed for planting the spring in Eastern Canada. This is the first time that any GM alfalfa has been released in Canada. The contamination risk from GM alfalfa is very high because alfalfa is a perennial plant that is pollinated by bees. Alfalfa is a valuable crop used to produce many different types of foods. Alfalfa is used by farmers across the country including in hay and pasture for farm animals such as dairy cows; as a crop to build up the soil for growing grains; and as an export product. For more information, updates and action on GM alfalfa see www.cban.ca/alfalfa
Thank you for taking action!

Press Release

Farm Groups Call on Ag Minister to Stop Genetically Modified Alfalfa Seed Release

Longueuil, Ottawa, Saskatoon. April 20, 2016 – Canadian farm organizations representing a diversity of farmers and production systems are asking the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, to take immediate action to stop any further release of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) alfalfa seed, following an announcement by the company Forage Genetics International (FGI) that it has sold a limited quantity for spring 2016 planting in Eastern Canada. This is the first time that any GM alfalfa has been sold in Canada.

A letter signed by 15 farm organizations calls upon the Minister to remove variety registration for all GM alfalfa until a full economic impact assessment is conducted, and to establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US. These measures would stop the sale of GM alfalfa seed in Canada and prevent the inadvertent importation of GM alfalfa via contaminated seed from the US where it has already been introduced.

“It’s imperative that the government take urgent action to stop the commercial introduction of GM alfalfa, to prevent irreversible contamination,” said Marcel Groleau, President of the Union des Producteurs Agricoles, which is the Union of Agricultural Producers in Quebec.

“So many farmer livelihoods will be threatened by proliferation of this one GM crop,” said Peter Eggers, an alfalfa producer in Alberta and National Farmers Union Board member. “Alfalfa is an amazing crop for so many farmers. Losing alfalfa to GM contamination would be devastating for many farmers and consumers. Contamination from GM alfalfa would have serious negative impacts on many different types of farmers and farming systems, both conventional and organic.”

Alfalfa is grown on almost 30% of Canada’s cropland. Alfalfa is used as high-protein feed for dairy and meat animals (hay and pasture). It’s also used in crop rotations to build up the nutrients in soil, making it important for growing grains and vegetables. Canada is the one of the world’s top five exporters of alfalfa pellets and cubes, and exports over $50 million of alfalfa seed every year. However many of Canada’s export markets have not yet approved GM alfalfa.

“The introduction of GM alfalfa could mean we lose some valuable export markets,” said Heather Kerschbaumer of Forage Seed Canada which represents all forage seed producers in Canada, “The risks and costs are just too high for our industry.”

The risk of GM alfalfa spreading to where it is not wanted is acknowledged as particularly high because alfalfa is a perennial crop that is pollinated by bees, it often grows wild in uncultivated areas, and it has tiny seeds.

“Canada’s growing and high-value organic sector could be seriously harmed by GM alfalfa,” said Lisa Mumm, board member of the Canada Organic Trade Association and a farmer-owner of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds which grows and sells organic sprouting seeds for the consumer market, “Many farmers rely on alfalfa to produce a range of organic foods for Canadians.” GM alfalfa is a major concern for organic farmers because the Canadian Organic Standard prohibits the use of GM seeds.

FGI has approval to sell alfalfa with two genetically modified traits licensed from Monsanto, for glyphosate-tolerance and low-lignin.

Farm groups, farm businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations are invited to sign the letter at http://www.nfuontario.ca/wpr/gm-alfalfa/

For more information: Patrice Juneau, Union des Producteurs Agricoles, 450 679 0540 ext. 8591; Peter Eggers, National Farmers Union, 780 568 3805; Heather Kerschbaumer, Forage Seed Canada, 780 835 4508; Lisa Mumm, Canada Organic Trade Association, 306 747-3214.

The letter is available at  http://www.nfuontario.ca/wpr/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Joint-Letter-to-Minister-MacAulay-on-GM-alfalfa-April-20-2016.pdf

The letter was signed by the following organizations:
Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network
Canada Organic Trade Association
Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Forage Seed Canada
Growers of Organic Food Yukon
Manitoba Organic Alliance
National Farmers Union
Organic Alberta
Organic Council of Ontario
Organic Federation of Canada
Peace Region Forage Seed Association
Les Producteurs de lait du Québec
SaskOrganics
L’Union des producteurs agricoles

*********

To: The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food,

CC: Jean-Claude Poissant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food;vRuth Ellen Brosseau, NDP Agriculture Critic; Chris Warkentin, Conservative Party Agriculture Critic; Simon Marcil, Bloc Québécois Agriculture Critic; Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader.

RE: Request for urgent action to stop further release of GM alfalfa seeds

Dear Minister MacAulay,

We are writing to ask you to take immediate action to stop any further introduction of genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered) alfalfa in Canada and to establish testing of imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US, in order to protect the livelihoods of Canadian farmers and the future of many important sectors in our farm economy.

Any commercial release of GM alfalfa seeds will result in unavoidable contamination, with a range of devastating impacts on a wide range of farmers, commodity sectors and food production businesses in Canada, both conventional and organic. Farmers across Canada are already at risk from contaminated US alfalfa seed imports.

The economic importance of alfalfa to agricultural and food sectors across Canada demands your particular attention and immediate action. Alfalfa is the first perennial plant to be genetically modified and this fact, along with other biological realities (such as insect pollination, seed size and the existence of feral/uncultivated alfalfa populations), means that contamination of non-GM alfalfa is certain. Alfalfa is also unique because of its economic value to so many different farmers and commodity sectors across the country – both domestic and export, harvested as both hay and as seed – as well as its role in the production of a wide variety of foods for Canadians, and its role in sustainable agricultural practices.

Firstly, we ask you to take immediate action to stop the further commercial release of GM alfalfa seeds by removing variety registration for all GM alfalfa varieties, until a full economic impact assessment is conducted.

The company Forage Genetics International (FGI) announced in late March 2016 that it intended to sell GM alfalfa seeds for spring planting, for the first time in Canada, and an April 1st media story confirmed that the seeds had already been sold. FGI is marketing alfalfa with (Monsanto’s) stacked GM traits for low-lignin and glyphosate resistance. The company said it would release seeds in Eastern Canada (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) and that “expected seed quantities will be limited in 2016 but are estimated to be sufficient to plant a small, targeted launch of less than 5,000 acres of hay.” Even this limited release will lead to a measure of contamination and begin a spiral of uncertainty for Eastern and Western farmers and their customers.

The risk of contamination from GM alfalfa is widely acknowledged and is detailed in the attached report The Inevitability of Contamination from GM Alfalfa Release in Ontario by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. In an attempt to address contamination concerns, the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) developed a coexistence plan in Eastern Canada (2013). However, we have no confidence in this plan. The plan is not workable and has been critiqued in the attached report The Canadian Seed Trade Association’s so-called “Coexistence Plan” is a gateway to GM alfalfa contamination by the National Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. The plan is now also out of date and rendered invalid by the addition of GM low-lignin as a stacked trait: this trait is designed to allow – and promote – the harvesting of alfalfa hay at a flower bloom stage far later than the maximum 10% recommended in the plan’s current (and inadequate) “Best Management Practices.”

A release of GM alfalfa in the East also places Western alfalfa seed production for export at significant risk of contamination, a risk recognized by FGI: “The [coexistence] plan for Western Canada is in response to requests for additional stewardship actions that address the possibility of product moving from Ontario/Quebec to Western Canada.” However, this plan is not yet finalized.

Importantly, no authority is actually responsible for the implementation of the coexistence plans and no one stands behind them. The CSTA itself explicitly denies any liability for loss or harm that may result from relying on the coexistence plans. The plans rely on farmers, including those who want to avoid contamination, to voluntarily implement unrealistic and/or ineffective “Best Management Practices” at their own cost.

Secondly, we ask you to urgently establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US.

A December 2015 US Department of Agriculture study found that 27% of areas with feral alfalfa surveyed in three states were contaminated with GM alfalfa. The study did not identify causes – both seed spillage and cross-pollination are possible – but confirms that genetically modified alfalfa has dispersed into the environment. GM alfalfa was planted in the US 2005- 2007 and 2011-present (the survey was conducted in 2011).

A February 29, 2016 article in Alberta Farm Express reported that a batch of foundation seed contaminated with the GM Roundup Ready trait was sent to a forage seed grower in southern Alberta four years ago.

The consequences from the release of GM alfalfa seeds are extremely serious. We ask you to take immediate action to support and protect the future of family farming, organic food production, sustainable agriculture and alfalfa-related exports in Canada.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

Signed on April 20, 2016 by the following organizations:

Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN)
Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA)
Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia (COABC)
Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario
Forage Seed Canada
Growers of Organic Food Yukon
Manitoba Organic Alliance
National Farmers Union
Organic Alberta
Organic Council of Ontario
Organic Federation of Canada
Peace Region Forage Seed Association
Les Producteurs de lait du Québec (PLQ)
SaskOrganics
L’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA)

********

 

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
Suite 206, 180 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 1P5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext. 25
Fax: 613 241 2506
coordinator@cban.ca
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