GM alfalfa remains on hold

Roundup Ready | GM alfalfa seed will not be released this spring

Roundup Ready alfalfa will not be available to Canadian growers this spring.

Forage Genetics International, which has exclusive rights to commercialize Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada, confirmed its plan March 24.

“For spring of 2014, Forage Genetics will not be commercializing Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada anywhere,” said FGI global traits lead Mike Peterson.

“That’s the only decision we’ve made so far. We’re just going day to day on the decision making process, but we have made a decision about spring.”

Plans for commercial release of the seed, which contains genetic modifications that allow the perennial forage to resist glyphosate damage, have been controversial in Canada.

Proponents of Roundup Ready alfalfa see it as an answer to weed control in seed crops and in forage grown for export markets. Opponents worry that the GM trait will spread to all alfalfa, eliminating the existence of non-GM varieties and closing the door for alfalfa products in countries that don’t accept GM.

FGI has always said it would delay introduction of the seed in Western Canada, where 80 percent of the country’s alfalfa is grown. The company initially planned release first in Eastern Canada, where alfalfa is grown primarily for animal forage and is key for the dairy industry.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which has lobbied against GM alfalfa’s introduction, welcomed the news.

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“It’s the right decision to keep GM alfalfa off the market this spring and every spring in the future,” said CBAN co-ordinator Lucy Sharratt.

“It’s great if Forage Genetics is actually listening to farmers on this issue. The government certainly didn’t.”

CBAN has consistently lobbied the federal government to allow farmer input and provide more transparency in its GM approval process.

Karl Slomp, president of the Alberta branch of the Alfalfa Seed Commission (ASC), said his group has not established an official position on GM alfalfa, but he expected it to be a topic at the April 1 annual meeting.

Quebec’s general farm group, Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), passed a motion in late February to prohibit the marketing of GM alfalfa in that province because of the potential for cross pollination.

Farm groups in Ontario and Manitoba have also expressed concerns about containment, particularly in areas where wild alfalfa is common.

“We’ve heard a lot of opposition from Ontario and Quebec farmers to release of GM alfalfa, so it in fact looks like farmers across Canada are asking the company not to put this product on the market, and I hope that this is actually a response to that voice,” said Sharratt.

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The Canadian Seed Trade Association spearheaded development of best management practices to prevent the spread of GM alfalfa to non-GM varieties. Released last year, the practices include testing, controlling wild plants and working with other growers to maintain adequate crop distances.

GM alfalfa is grown in the United States, where it has also been controversial.

The Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit earlier this month demanding federal documents that it believed would reveal that undue pressure was applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture when it approved GM alfalfa.

Weldon Hobbs, a director with ASC, said he recently attended meetings in the U.S. and learned that some U.S. alfalfa growers are being offered a premium to grow non-GM alfalfa seed.

He said he thinks controversy over RR alfalfa has reduced U.S. alfalfa seed production.

“Acreage production for alfalfa seed in the U.S. is almost at an all time low,” he said, despite attractive prices for the crop.

He said he has also heard rumours of seed shortages.

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Peterson said high winterkill last year reduced the amount of alfalfa seed produced, but denied a shortage.