Letters to the editor – July 26, 2012

GM APPLE NOT SIMPLE

I did hope that Dr. Wilf Keller, writing in defence of the genetically engineered apple for Ag-West Bio Inc. (Fruit technology reduces food waste, WP op-ed, June 21), would be more precise than the company Okanagan Specialty Fruits when explaining the technology.

Referring to the technology that silenced the genes responsible for the browning process in the apple, Keller says, “silencing does not involve the insertion of genes of a different species into the apple plant. Rather, existing genes responsible for browning within the plant are switched off.”

This description is presumably written to calm consumer nerves but is both factually incorrect and misleading. In fact, the “non-browning” GM apple will have a range of genetic sequences inserted. Modified apple DNA will be inserted along with genetic sequences from at least three different species:

  • a regulatory gene switch from a plant virus (Cauliflower Mosaic virus promoter: CaMV 35S)
  • a terminator sequence from a bacterium (Agrobacterium tumefaciens taken from its Nopaline synthase gene: nos)
  • an antibiotic resistance marker gene from a bacterium (Streptomyces kanamyceticus), here the nptII gene, which confers resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin.

Dr. Keller also appears to be implying that genetically engineering an apple with modified apple DNA would somehow be more benign than using genetic sequences from other species.

This may connect to public perception but is not substantiated by science.

On the contrary, there is evidence to show that unexpected side effects can and do occur with the use of genes or genetic sequences from within the same species.

Also at issue is where in the apple genome the new gene sequences get inserted, as gene insertions and processes of genetic engineering can cause injuries and disruptions (mutations) within the plants’ own genetic makeup.

This question is highly relevant to apple growers. Apple growers may wish to know that the apple genes that are to be switched off in the GM apple are not just responsible for browning but, for example, also play a significant role in plant resistance and defence against disease and pests.

Such inter-relations, interactions and multi-functionality inside the genome, as well as within the metabolic pathways of organisms, are precisely why genetic engineering is not as simple as companies would like us to believe, and why it deserves stronger scrutiny from our regulatory agencies.

Lucy Sharratt, co-ordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
Ottawa, Ont.

DEMISE OF EXHIBITION

It is with profound sadness that we foresee the demise of The Battlefords Agricultural Society, Inc. (the Exhibition Association).

The sadness is exacerbated by the knowledge that the decisions dictating whether the society lives or dies are in the hands of the City of North Battleford and it has already made decisions that negatively affect the continued viability of the society.

In addition, it appears most likely that the city is on the verge of making further decisions that will seal the destruction of the society.

This is in spite of the fact that the predecessor of the society came into existence 127 years ago and it has occupied its present location in North Battleford for 106 years.

After a number of long-term leases of the current grounds by the city to the society, the city has informed the society that it will not grant any further such long-term leases and, in any event, any lease, which includes the current one, will be cancellable by the city on six months’ notice.

No responsible organization can properly plan with a lease that may be terminated by the lessor on just six months’ notice.

The city has also told the society that the current exhibition grounds are being reserved for the development of big box stores that will generate substantial sales and tax dollars for the city….

We also understand that a consultant hired by the city to prepare an official community plan is, with the concurrence of the city, proposing the construction of a major thoroughfare, which will bisect the exhibition grounds….

The society does not have sufficient funds to relocate, even with adequate notice, and has no reasonable expectation of ever acquiring such funds.

If the city continues on its present course, the society will fail and all of its services will be lost to the peoples of the Battlefords. This includes the summer fair/exhibition, which will be presented this summer for the 125th consecutive year.

It includes the end of chuck wagon and chariot racing, demolition derby, all activities presented before the grandstand and the midway.

We see it as a tragedy that the legacy of this council and its senior administration could very well be the end to this historic and essential community organization.

Dana Alexander, president,
The Battlefords Agricultural Society, Inc.
North Battleford, Sask.

PROUDLY CANADIAN

I am proud of Canada’s national agriculture policy for dairy — supply management.

Like many rural initiatives of the past, it has deep co-operative roots that have nurtured the development of a viable, modern dairy sector in every region of Canada.

It provides the degree of discipline and organization necessary for dairy farmers in the organized world of trade and commerce.

Farmers are often exploited in the presence of chaotic action and disorganization. Using a consensus-based structure, dairy farmers work in a clear tripartite relationship with processors and society (government) to effectively address the evolving issues in the Canadian dairy sector.

This co-operation and discipline of actions enable farmers to pool resources and amplify the outcomes of our work. For example, we can maximize efficiencies in transportation and marketing expenses, and share the revenue risks equally between the regions.

Dairy farmers are able to effectively partner with both academic institutions for research and development, and dairy processors for new product development exploration.

Canada is a northern climate and while our dairy production costs are greater than many other areas in the world, the productivity of our cows remains very high. What is a fair mechanism for determining the price of milk?

Supply management is very transparent. Milk prices are ultimately set by society, through their government agency, the Canadian Dairy Commission, using a cost-of-production formula with actual on-farm expenses.

The highest cost producers are removed from the sample data to ensure that only the most cost efficient milk is measured.

The dairy cow is the real heroine in this story, providing both economic and ecological benefits for Canadians. Historically, most dairy farms developed around areas of good, but marginal, land in Canada.

Our cows are able to convert a grass resource into a nutritious valuable food product and this new wealth is shared and generates meaningful economic spinoffs in all regions of our country. Animals are vital to an ecosystem. Rumen biota is recycled back to the land, enhancing the soil’s health and productivity in a rotation with other crops.

At its heart, supply management is a localized food production model ensuring sufficient, healthy food for everyone and providing fair prices for farmers. That is something to be proud of Canada.

Randall Affleck,
National Farmers Union
board member
Bedeque, P.E.I.

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