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Canadian farmer speaks out on GMO contamination

(Dec. 28, 2001 Ė CropChoice news) -- Saskatchewan organic farmer Marc Loiselle gave the following speech at a recent concert to raise funds for the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and its possible class-action lawsuit over the transgenic contamination of organic canola in Canada. See http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=499 for background.

Good evening! Itís wonderful to see you all gathered here tonight. Itís an inspiration to me as a certified organic farmer in these stressful times, and yet hopeful times as well. Hopeful because with support like we have tonight, we can make a difference!

On behalf of the SOD, I extend a very special thank you to this eveningís sponsoring organizations, organizing committee, performers (Mighty Spiffs, Grassland Boys, Eileen Laverty, Crooked Creek, and Wide Mouth Mason) and of course to all of you.

The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, SOD for short, is an umbrella organization representing the certified organic industry in Saskatchewan. Its members include certification organizations, processors, broker,traders, consumers and individual producers. SODís vision is "FOOD FOR LIFE". This vision is taken seriously by organic producers like myself who in the process of making a living, we must treat the land, its flora and fauna with the utmost of respect. We mean "LIFE" in its most positive senses. We mean that food we produce must be life-giving and that it promotes health and longevity. We also mean that the system we use to produce that food must not be a threat to ourselves, other humans, or other species. The system must address the shortsightedness in conventional food production that is contrary to the need for a clear vision for the future. The system needs to be economically viable, environmentally sound, socially just, and meets the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.

Organic certification standards absolutely prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The organic market depends on being able to supply food that is produced without, among other things, genetic engineering. If we cannot guarantee a product free of contamination, we are not able to service those markets, resulting in a loss of our ability to be financially sustainable and resulting in a loss of choice for you the consumer.

As organic producers we are directly affected by the introduction of GMOs. This currently applies to the growing of canola and possibly wheat in a couple years if it is not halted. Without guarantees that we can grow and market a non-GMO contaminated crop, we risk losing our certification and our livelihoods. The organic industry regrets that governments have taken up biotechnology with such fervor. We believe that if a significant portion of the expenditures made in this area were put in the area of responsible, sustainable agriculture; farmers, the public, and the environment would be much better served.

Organic farming techniques have fed mankind for thousands of years. Organic farmers reject the philosophy that we must poison our environment or use radical genetic engineering of plants and animals to produce enough food for us all to eat.

As has been demonstrated by such GE varieties as canola, corn and soybeans, GE crops cannot be contained within specific research plots or farmersí fields because of the genetic drift of their novel traits (such as the Roundup Ready gene) by the spreading of pollen and seed due to wind, water, animal and human activity; let alone harvesting, storage, transportation, and processing.

GE wheat will be no different. It is inconceivable that management practices, detection technology, or segregation systems will prevent GE wheat from contaminating fields, food shipments, and feed supplies. Why put your faith in a post-harvest segregation system for GE wheat, when it canít even be segregated in the field when itís growing! If GE wheat were allowed to be grown by farmers, there would be no requirements to maintain any distance from neighboring fields, and this would simply create situations of cross-pollination contamination. This is exactly what has happened with GE canola, despite the knowledge that this would happen. Farmers were not made aware of this and the impacts it would have on their own marketing, their neighborsí crops, and the environment.

If as a farmer you use GE crops, you are contributing to the increasing corporate control of our seeds and food by large transnational companies, and the subsequent disenfranchising of farmers. If farmers donít take a stand on limits to patenting and how biotechnology is used to alter seeds such as wheat, we risk losing market access, income, choice, as well as control over what we produce, how we produce it, what value it has, and who will buy it.

There is a real concern that GE wheat would facilitate the entry of the Ďterminator geneí, whose current patent is owned by a GE transnational company operating in Saskatchewan Why would they own it, if not to release it at some time?

The buffer zones, or isolation strips, that we certified organic producers maintain adjacent to neighboring fields, were intended to buffer and warn against pesticide drift, not drift of genetic material from other plants!

The right to farm and consume food free of GMOs is threatened. Earlier this year, when members of the Saskatchewan organic industry met with some provincial government representatives to discuss the GMO issue, including SODís Position Paper on GMOS, and asked for action on their part to enact moratoriums for example, they told us that we were barking up the wrong tree and that we shouldnít bring the patenting issue into the discussions. They said it was a federal responsibility. The federal government is not responding to our concerns either.

Itís worth noting that the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry has received more mail on the biotech and GE food issue than any other issue, including the gun control law. This tells me that we need to maintain or increase all our letter writing campaigns, and other lobbying efforts. It is disturbing to consider that transnational companies, with government support, want to monopolize what we produce, how we produce it, then hide the facts and risks to human health and overall environmental impacts with no disclosure and no labeling of products, and no significant risk to them because of exemption from liability.

They want us and the food system to conform and be uniform and donít seem to give a damn about biodiversity and the rights of farmers and consumers. Weíre supposed to trust them? Farmers have little or no input and are pressured into giving up control. How are we to ever believe that any good will come of biotechnology for food development after the track record weíve seen over the past years? The bio-engineered agri-business approach to food production threatens to reduce farmers to serfdom, perpetuate the use of toxins and genetic engineering for food production, and offer little or no diversity and choice for consumers. Shame on our governments, public agencies and institutions for not preventing the increased corporate takeover by such multinational companies. Whatís the biggest factor in all this? Money and greed. They cloud the mind, blur our vision, and stifle positive efforts for the common good.

Some say that the development of GE crops and foods has gone so far that the only thing left to do is to accept that, lick our wounds, and try to get compensated for our losses. We say thatís unacceptable, itís not too late, especially for wheat; but swift action is needed to stop it.

Despite the wide range of concerns by many Canadians on GE food and crops, ongoing lobbying efforts to get full public hearings on the issue of GE wheat, including efforts to have changes in the grain variety registration process, overhauling the regulatory process, and enact moratoriums, the SOD feels that the time has come for a legal challenge, and we are actively working towards launching a class action suit. We need your support to do this. Organic groups in other countries are or will be, pursuing legal actions.

Some so-called experts suggest that "Öthereís no reason to support rural Sask."..that.. "if the number of existing farmers left the countryside, that would mean more wealth for the remaining ". What a bunch of crap! These same experts say,. "invest in the cities instead, thatís where the wealth is". Have they never heard or understood that agriculture is the backbone of this province!

  • I donít believe in using poison to produce food, or the absolute necessity of using genetic engineering.
  • I donít believe in the eventual domination of the food industry by a few transnationals.
  • I donít believe in farmers being Ďmarriedí to grain, chemical, and GE companies.
  • I believe in farmersí right to grow and save their own seeds.
  • I believe all people have the fundamental right to unpolluted air, water, soil and food.
  • I believe governments need to empower people and need to redirect their policies towards truly sustainable agriculture.
  • I believe consumers are the ultimate market and they know best what to eat, and that they have the right to choose!
  • I believe in the common good!
  • I believe that no life forms should be patented, including seeds!
  • I believe that there must be agreement on sharing the genetic commons! It is a collective responsibility, not to be claimed as intellectual property!
  • I care about the environment and peopleís health and welfare!
  • I care about what we eat and how we grow it!
  • I care about having neighbours and vibrant rural communities!
  • I want people to care about the way I grow food!
  • I want justice for all farmers and consumers!
  • I want the freedom to remain a farmer, and be able to grow what I want without GMOs!
  • I want my children to have the freedom to farm!
  • I want everyone to have abundant life!
  • I am a passionate supporter of organic farming!
  • I am a steward of an intergenerational Saskatchewan family farm!
My name is Marc, and I am a farmer!!!

Thank you!