Genetic contamination damages organic producers

Monsanto’s lawsuit against Percy Schmeiser has attracted wide attention.

The evidence as presented by both parties is now in the hands of the judge for a decision expected sometime later this year.

Regardless of the results, Monsanto’s lawsuit has raised some important questions that need to be resolved.

Genetically modified canola has lost the certified organic canola market for organic farmers.

Farmers who once grew organic canola can no longer do so because the risk of cross contamination from GM canola is too high.

The organic marketplace has a zero tolerance for any GM product.

Some organic organizations have banned their members from growing canola for this reason.

Even other non-organic commodity groups such as the Saskatchewan pulse growers won’t approve research on GM varieties because of concerns about losing markets.

The recent case of GM contaminated Canadian canola seed being unknowingly planted on European farms has tarnished the Canadian seed industry.

This event has drawn attention to the canola industry and Canada’s pedigreed seed production regulations.

GM canola breeders and the canola industry have downplayed the risks of outcrossing in GM canola to their own detriment.

If you grow conventional canola in Western Canada, chances of your canola being contaminated with GM canola are high. The degree of this contamination may be small, but the various markets for non GM canola make their own judgment as to whether there is an acceptable level of contamination, if any.

Putting aside the important question of whether GM canola is good, bad, safe or dangerous, the question I would like to raise is how do we protect the interests and property rights of those who, for whatever reason, do not want GM canola on their land?

Because of outcrossing and accidental seed distribution, farmers by no action of their own are facing GM contamination on their property.

If pesticide contamination occurs and you can prove property damage and economic loss because of your neighbor’s negligence, the courts have clearly ruled that your neighbor and the pesticide applicator are liable for those damages.

In the case of GM contamination of organic canola, it is possible to prove economic loss.

I am not advocating that organic farmers sue their neighbors for GM contamination.

Nevertheless, the question remains – who is responsible for the damage caused by GM outcrossing?

The other important question is will patent claims for GM crops be protected by the courts?

If the genes from Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola have become part of my canola crop without my consent through a natural process of pollen transfer, who do those genes belong to?

If farmers want to isolate the Roundup Ready genes and canola plants from their contaminated fields and save the seed and replicate it and then plant that seed, will Monsanto sue and will their patent hold up in court under those circumstances?

It can be argued that once those genes cross with my canola on my property, they become my property.

How can a patent apply to a product that cannot be contained and is subject to the laws of nature? Should patents even apply to crops like canola that can easily outcross?

Monsanto and other GM crop developers will have a difficult time defending their patents until they can prevent outcrossing and contamination of GM-free crops.

It is up to the companies who develop GM crops to prevent outcrossing.

If we have the scientific knowledge to transfer foreign genes into plants, then surely we can find a solution to this problem.

If GM plant breeders cannot prevent outcrossing, then should they be allowed to release varieties of GM crops?

If we see further releases of GM varieties in other crops that are prone to outcrossing without addressing this problem of GM contamination, then farmers may be forced to seek compensation through the courts.

Cushon farms near Oxbow, Sask.

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