Market will decide upon GMOs – Opinion

Popoff is an organic inspector and consultant based in Osoyoos, B.C.

The NDP have a rather unfortunate double standard when it comes to genetically modified organisms.

MP Alex Atamanenko, the NDP agriculture critic, says he will “pull back the curtains” on the “shady world of genetically modified foods” by introducing mandatory, and very expensive labelling.

The goal for the federal NDP is to allow concerned consumers to avoid GMOs. Meanwhile, the provincial NDP governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are investing heavily in GMO research and development.

Perhaps the federal and provincial NDP should sit down in the same room and make sure they’re on the same page.

What Atamanenko and his leader, Jack Layton, fail to appreciate is that there’s already a well recognized label that allows consumers to avoid GMOs. It’s called “certified organic.”

I grew up on an organic farm in Saskatchewan and I worked all across North America as an advanced organic inspector for five years. I have to wonder; are the federal NDP even aware that many organic farmers don’t want GM labelling of regular food? The reason, plainly and simply, is it will only turn customers away from the already GM-free organic label.

Regular food production uses pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and genetic engineering, while certified organic production uses none of the above. Precise definitions of organic farming are still being developed, but few deny that organic farming must co-exist with regular farming.

After all, not all farms can be organic.

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Dr. Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace, points out that we need GM crops to maintain natural ecosystems. In fact, it’s one of the reasons he left Greenpeace. Otherwise, we’ll eventually clear all the earth’s forests to create enough farmland to feed everyone.

Stewart Brand, the creator of the Whole Earth Catalog that is popular among environmentalists, agrees.

So if a crop science company can create novel traits that appeal to regular farmers, why not let those farmers decide? Even the ominous sounding “terminator seed” technology will live or die based on the choices made by farmers who will only adopt new seed varieties if they’re beneficial.

If farmers of regular food want GM technology, let them have it, and any farmers or consumers who want to avoid GMOs can go organic. We’d love to have you.

One of the main differences between certified organic food and regular food is that organic production is concerned with how food is produced, along with the many important social issues that surround food production.

Regular food production, by contrast, is only concerned with what is in food as an end product. Either way, both have proven to be perfectly safe.

Ten years ago, ecologists like David Suzuki were concerned that GM crops could harm other organisms. The development of a GM-variety of corn (called Bt corn) containing a bacterium harmful to pests, led many environmentalists to warn that other beneficial insects could suffer.

However, in Suzuki’s own words, “a new meta-analysis of the effects of Bt corn on non-target insects in the field has since found that these types of crops appear to be less harmful to insects than farming methods that use insecticides.” (Suzuki, Understanding Genetically Modified Crops, Vista Magazine, Issue 53, July/Aug 2007.)

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Clearly, fear over GMOs is rapidly diminishing the world over. On July 1, Europe finally opened its doors to GM crop trials. Perhaps they noticed that Australia has been quietly running GM drought-resistant wheat trials for years even though the Australian government claimed they had banned all such research.

So why waste money to label more than 70 percent of our regular food supply when the solution is already right under our noses?

Labelling GMOs in Canada would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The estimate for Quebec alone is a whopping $30 million.

Atamanenko says this is a small cost. No wonder a similar private member’s bill was soundly defeated by Jean Chrétien’s Liberals back in 2001.

There’s already too much red tape in food production masquerading in the name of public safety. Indeed, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business points out that the federal government costs small food businesses $19,000 a year per business on average, or 29 days in staff time.

Small businesses simply don’t have the luxury of hiring additional staff to handle this paperwork, so it hurts them and it hurts consumers.

Organic farming and organic food consumption have grown by a healthy 20 percent a year since 1992 when records were first kept.

This sends a clear message to the federal NDP: let the market decide.

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And if they can’t wrap their heads around that message, perhaps they should ask for guidance from their provincial counterparts on the Prairies.

About the author

Mischa Popoff — Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector. He’s the author of Is it Organic?, which can be previewed at www.isitorganic.ca.

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