The Ontario government has rejected a call from two farmers asking the province to apply tough environmental assessment legislation on proposals to commercialize genetically modified alfalfa.
In a decision last week, a senior provincial environment department bureaucrat decided that since Canadian Food Inspection Agency rules already have cleared GM alfalfa as safe to grow, there is no need to apply the provincial Environmental Assessment Act to the file.
The department said that “a new provincial regulation making activities on the sale and distribution of GM seed subject to the EAA would overlap with the existing federal regulation. Therefore, the public interest does not warrant an (environmental bill of rights) review by the ministry.”
In the heated debate around biotechnology, the decision drew strongly mixed reactions.
Ottawa-based Grain Growers of Canada sent a letter to Ontario environment minister Jim Bradley praising the decision.
“It is important as we move forward to be mindful of unnecessary duplication and the need to maintain a science-based approach,” wrote GGC executive director Jim Facette.
In an Oct. 4 interview, he said provincial regulation would have been a costly duplication but also held the danger of decisions being made “on the basis of emotion and not science and safety.”
The anti-GMO Canadian Biotechnology Action Network called the Ontario decision a “lost opportunity” to acknowledge the dangers of GM alfalfa for cattle producers and organic farmers.
“This assessment would have been an ideal way to hear the concerns of farmers in Ontario and document the contamination threat from GM alfalfa,” said Lucy Sharratt of Ottawa-based CBAN. “Incredibly, there’s still no consultation with farmers or consumers, at any level of government, before GM seeds are approved.”
The application to apply the provincial environmental law was made by National Farmers Union members Diane Dowling, president of an eastern Ontario NFU local and Dave Lewington, vice-president of an NFU local near Sudbury.
Both argued that the commercialization of GM alfalfa would inevitably show up on their farms.
CBAN supported the farmers in their appeal under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, urging Ontarians to write the minority Liberal government to oppose introduction of GM alfalfa.
CBAN said the CFIA 2005 approval of GM alfalfa did not properly assess its potential contamination issues.