Growers plan court action to protect organic industry

A group of Saskatchewan organic growers wants those responsible for introducing genetically modified canola into the province to pay for the damage they allege has been done to their industry.

They also plan to seek an injunction against the introduction of GM wheat.

The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate says international buyers have no interest in Canadian organic canola because growers here can’t certify it is 100 percent free of GM material.

“The introduction of GM canola has all but removed this crop from our crop rotations,” said directorate president Arnold Taylor.

“Organic farmers use diverse crop rotations to control weeds and build fertility in a sustainable way. Any crop loss in our rotation is potentially gravely harmful and would impair our ability to farm organically.”

Taylor spoke at an Oct. 12 news conference in which the directorate announced its plans to launch a class action suit against Monsanto and others “responsible for introducing” GM crops into the province.

The directorate describes itself as an umbrella group of organic certification bodies and producers in the province. But even organic producers who are not under that umbrella are encouraged to participate in the class action suit.

Although they have announced their intentions, the group has yet to file any documents that would start legal action.

That’s because they are awaiting the proclamation of new Saskatchewan class action legislation, said Terry Zakreski, the lawyer retained by the organic growers, who is also Percy Schmeiser’s lawyer.

A spokesperson for Monsanto said the company had no comment on the pending legal action.

“It’s pretty difficult for us to comment on something that might happen or might not happen,” said Trish Jordan.

Zakreski expects the province’s legislation to be proclaimed on Jan. 1, 2002, with the directorate’s legal action to proceed shortly after. In the meantime, the group will be trying to raise $50,000 to pay for legal costs.

So far it has $1,000 in the bank.

In addition to seeking damages for the introduction of GM canola, the group wants an injunction on the introduction of GM wheat – a crop Monsanto is currently working on.

“As far as our markets go it would destroy us,” said Taylor.

“If we lose wheat from our crop rotation, our ability to farm organically will be destroyed,” he said.

According to Canadian Wheat Board estimates based on surveys conducted by provincial agriculture departments and various organic groups, wheat accounted for about 116,000 of the 736,000 acres seeded to organic crops in Canada in 2000.

Forage, green manure, summerfallow and pasture make up nearly 60 percent of those 736,000 organic acres. Only 42,000 acres of organic oilseeds were seeded in 2000 and most of that was flax.

According to the surveys, there are an estimated 1,536 organic growers in the country. Zakreski said all of those growers are welcome to participate in the class action suit, which could involve another big player besides Monsanto.

“We’re investigating the potential liability of the (federal) government for allowing this to happen,” said the lawyer.

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