Roundup Ready in alfalfa exports ‘catastrophic’

China market closed | U.S. exporters blacklisted because of GM presence in the crop

BROMONT, Que. — The discovery of Roundup Ready alfalfa in global hay exports should be on Canadian farmers’ radar, says a Canadian hay exporter.

Ed Shaw, who exports forage around the world, including to China, said three American hay exporters have been blacklisted from exporting hay to China, and hundreds of container loads of hay have been turned away after Roundup Ready alfalfa was found in the loads.

“In the export market, it has be-come a really hot topic item with the Chinese market. The Chinese have zero tolerance for GMO,” Shaw said during a discussion about the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada at a recent forage conference. “It’s catastrophic.”

Forage Genetics International, which has the right to sell Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada, seeded 11 test plots in Quebec and Ontario this year and is looking to expand its test locations and studies next year.

Roundup Ready alfalfa is registered and allowed to be grown in the United States, but Shaw said U.S. exporters have been blacklisted because of the genetically modified crop.

“They have had three strikes against them and the U.S. is considering totally shutting down the Chinese market until we get something established,” he said.

“China has zero tolerance and I mean zero tolerance, not several parts per million but zero tolerance.”

Shaw is worried that Canadian hay exporters will be shut out of the market if GM canola seed is found in hay crops.

“I am afraid that if we start testing our alfalfa for zero tolerance, I bet we would fail,” he said.

“Now the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and the Chinese are trying to work on a tolerance level. If you have canola field next to an alfalfa field and get some trash, it’s going to check positive on the forage.”

Forage Seed Canada president Heather Kerschbaumer said a container load of her farm’s timothy hay was rejected because of the discovery of one canola seed in a 25 gram sample destined for Japan three years ago.

“(It) was enough to cause the company we had the contract with to cancel our contract,” she said.

“We lost $20,000 because of one canola seed.”

It’s a troubling trend for Canadian grass and forage seed growers, who export thousands of tonnes of seed around the world. The discovery of a Roundup Ready alfalfa seed in an alfalfa, timothy, red clover, brome or fescue shipment would put an end to all export markets.

Kerschbaumer said her Golden Acre Seed Co. had nine non-Roundup Ready alfalfa samples tested last year for the presence of Roundup Ready alfalfa, and all tested negative.

“We find alfalfa in 60 to 70 percent of the lots shipped out of the Peace. If it is genetically modified, we would lose all those markets as well.”

Kerschbaumer said she recently visited the Imperial Valley in California, where counties have outlawed the growing of Roundup Ready alfalfa because of their large vegetable production. Alfalfa is used in the rotation with vegetable crops.

Kerschbaumer said she returned from that trip with a glimmer of hope that there are ways to stop Roundup Ready alfalfa from being introduced into Canada, at least in Western Canada.

“They told us if they can’t keep it out of Canada, keep it out of the West,” she said.

“If you can’t keep it out of the West, you should keep it out of Alberta. If you can’t keep it out of Alberta, you should keep it out of the Peace because there will be benefits and bonuses paid on the seed that is produced that is GE free.”

Shaw said the three blacklisted hay producers are from the Imperial Valley. The rules that prohibit the production of Roundup Ready alfalfa don’t stop the hay from being processed in the area.

“What has been processed there has been contaminated. They’re bringing hay in from God knows where. You can’t grow it, but processors can still bring it in.”

Kerschbaumer said Forage Seed Canada wants to raise awareness of the issue and encourage farmers to test their alfalfa seed before it’s planted.

“It’s a big awareness issue,” she said.

“You want the cattle people to be aware not to plant it. They could be unknowingly planting this stuff and contaminating fence lines and ditches, which could contaminated someone’s seed fields.”

mary.macarthur@producer.com

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