Reduce GM migration | Forage Genetics International will apply for commercial registration once issues have been addressed
The Canadian seed industry is working on a plan that could set the table for the commercialization of Roundup Ready alfalfa in Eastern Canada as early as next year.
Stephen Denys, president of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, said the association has begun work to develop a co-existence plan for the production of genetically modified alfalfa as a hay crop in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
The plan would outline steps that should be taken to ensure the orderly production of Roundup Ready alfalfa and minimize the chance of gene and pollen flows between fields.
It would also deal with set-back distances between GM and non GM alfalfa crops, equipment sanitation and seed migration from one region to another.
Forage Genetics International (FGI) of Wisconsin, which has exclusive rights to commercialize Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada, has indicated it will not do so until a co-existence plan has been completed and other issues related to agronomic management and producer stewardship have been addressed.
Last week, CSTA members took an important first step in that direction.
Stakeholders from the seed and forage industries took part in a CSTA sponsored workshop in Kitchener, Ont., to discuss co-existence issues, including liabilities associated with the potential migration of GM alfalfa seed from Eastern Canada to Western Canada.
FGI officials say a plan could be in place by late 2012 or early 2013.
The company could apply for commercial registration in Eastern Canada next year once the plan has been finalized and other outstanding issues have been addressed.
Denys said the co-existence plan is being formulated specifically for alfalfa forage producers in the East.
“I think everyone in the industry recognizes that the elements of the industry are different in Western Canada, so Western Canada is going to have to be dealt with in a different way,” he said.
Regulatory authorities in Canada have already approved the use of Roundup Ready alfalfa and have concluded it poses no risk to human health or the environment.
However, FGI has yet to apply for commercial registration, partly because of persistent concerns by organic farmers and conventional alfalfa seed growers, who say potential market damage is likely to occur if the crop is commercialized.
A significant portion of Canada’s conventional alfalfa seed production is exported to Europe, where GM alfalfa has yet to be approved and where low tolerance thresholds for unapproved GM varieties have the potential to disrupt trade.
Denys said it is important to have a co-existence plan in place, even if commercialization of GM alfalfa does not occur in Canada in the immediate future.
Although some alfalfa growers are opposed to the crop, others are eager to see it commercialized because it simplifies weed management and offers potentially higher yields.
Roundup Ready alfalfa is already produced in the United States and accounts for nearly 70 percent of total production in some states.
“One of the reasons that the CSTA is facilitating this process … is that when we look ahead, it not just alfalfa (that will be affected) but other crops as well,” Denys said.
“Today it’s GM alfalfa … tomorrow — maybe 10, 15 , 20 years from now — it could be cereal crops. There’s going to be demand for certain traits in the market so we want to make sure there’s a process in place.”
Mike Peterson, lead of global traits with FGI in Janesville, Wisc., said the commercialization of Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada is not a done deal.
“What we’re doing right now is … testing experimental Roundup Ready varieties in Eastern Canada and looking at local adaptation and yield and winter hardiness and those types of things. We’re also in the process of gauging … commercial marketers’ interest … but this is all focused in Eastern Canada right now.”
If it does occur, commercialization in Western Canada will not take place until growers have been consulted, he added.
“It’s really going to have to be driven by the western Canadian hay growers and seed growers.”
In Ontario, Ann Slater, co-ordinator with the National Farmers Union, said support for GM alfalfa among the province’s forage producers is far from unanimous.
Commercialization will have an unknown impact on Ontario’s alfalfa seed and organic farming industries, she added.
She said exercises aimed at controlling pollen flow from one field to another will be unsuccessful, regardless of the distances involved.
The result for organic producers and seed growers will be the loss of markets.
“Our experience with GM Triffid flax shows how quickly export markets can be shut down due to contamination,” she said.