Farmers seek clarity over NDP stance on GMO labelling

A photo showing Tom Mulcair posing with anti-GMO activists has been posted on Twitter to spark debate

The former NDP agriculture critic says the party does not have an official policy that supports mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

Last year Murray Rankin, NDP MP from Victoria, introduced a motion in the House of Commons asking the federal government to pass mandatory labelling of GM foods.

Politicians never voted on the private members’ motion because it didn’t come up on the schedule before prime minister Stephen Harper called the federal election Aug. 2.

A member of Rankin’s campaign team said mandatory GMO labelling is part of the NDP’s policy book.

However, Malcolm Allen, NDP candidate in Niagara Centre and agriculture critic in the last parliamentary session, said it’s not NDP caucus policy.

“Grassroots members (might) have passed something at a convention,” he said. “But it’s not something that MPs have actually done as a group … at a caucus meeting.”

Allen made the comments in response to a Twitter post by Mike Pasztor, who farms in Norfolk County, Ont. Pasztor tweeted a photo of Mulcair posing with anti-GMO activists.

The photo, taken in Ottawa in February, shows Mulcair holding up a “GMOs just label it” T-shirt along with Rachel Parent, an Ontario teenager who was campaigning for mandatory GM labelling in Canada.

Lucy Sharratt, who leads the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network that opposes GMO technology, was also in the photo.

Pasztor said he posted the photo on Twitter because he’s concerned that anti-agriculture activists could have influence over Canada’s next government.

“During a federal election not much centered around agriculture ever gets mentioned,” he said. “I think as farmers we need to be proactive in hearing where all these parties stand on these issues.”

Rob Stone, who farms near Davidson, Sask., said a six-month-old photo doesn’t prove that Mulcair supports GMO labelling but the NDP leader needs to clarify his position.

“I think it’s a really important thing for everyone to know,” said Stone. “This is a serious, massive thing for Canadian agriculture.”

Allen said he doesn’t support a simplistic approach to GM labelling, which scares rather than informs the public.

He said Rankin’s motion was unsatisfactory because it didn’t address the complexity and consequences of GM labelling.

“I’ve articulated before that we need clear labelling so folks understand what they are buying,” he said.

“(But) changing labelling is difficult. To do it right so people get the information they deserve (but) you don’t go around damaging farmers … or processors from making the good food that they make.”

Pasztor said he is worried that activists may soon exert more influence over federal agriculture policy.

“It kind of scares me,” he said. “We’re seeing it first hand in Ontario, who they (politicians) are listening to. … Right now the activists have the platform.”

Stone agreed.

“What does this do to innovation in the future?… What does that do to investment in Canada if we have a very backwards approach to things?” he said.

“Canada has prospered and built itself around science, technology and innovation. To see that type of back in time, listening to the activist approach to how they’re going to run our economy, it’s really very concerning for me.”

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