Alfalfa growers uneasy with anti-GMO stance

Most producers are comfortable with the technology but believe it poses a threat to alfalfa seed and forage exports

BROOKS, Alta. — Alberta’s alfalfa seed growers commission has a clear stance on genetically modified Roundup Ready alfalfa. It is against introduction until there is greater market acceptance.

However, that stance comes with a certain level of discomfort.

Many alfalfa seed growers also grow GM canola, GM sugar beets and GM corn. The technology has provided weed control, insect resistance and yield benefits that they have embraced in other crops, and that makes some of them uncomfortable with refusal of GM alfalfa.

“We understand the technology very well and we understand that we can’t take a hypocritical stance and say we don’t support an industry tool that reduces pesticide loads on the environment and on the people who use them and on the crops,” said commission president Brian Slenders.

“We understand the beneficial nature of them. The problem is that darn little bee. He doesn’t know how to stay at the fence row. I’m not sure, after seeing a lot of problems in the States, how you maintain a co-existence agreement.”

Studies in the United States indicate GM alfalfa has spread to feral alfalfa and potentially to tame varieties.

In Canada, Forage Genetics International (FGI) has the distribution rights to Roundup Ready alfalfa.

Slenders said the commission received a letter from FGI last week stating it has no intention of introducing Roundup Ready alfalfa for production in Western Canada, which sits well with the organization.

Most Canadian-grown alfalfa seed is used domestically and in the U.S., but alfalfa forage is exported to many countries.

China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and countries in the Middle East will not accept GM product.

Edward Shaw, director of market development for Canada’s largest forage exporter, Green Prairie International of Lethbridge, told stakeholders in a letter earlier this year that GM alfalfa would have major repercussions for the company.

“To date, there is no interest in the Asian markets for any GMO forage products,” Shaw wrote.

“Any contracts issued with our customers in Japan, Korea and China always state that GMO forage product is unacceptable. The same is true with our largest importer of alfalfa, the Middle East.”

China now has a trade protocol with Canada on alfalfa, so export volumes have the potential to increase dramatically in the next two to three years. Shaw said introduction of GM alfalfa could jeopardize that potential.

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties passed a resolution two weeks ago aimed at preventing the introduction of GM alfalfa to the province.

Background to the resolution also stated concern over potential loss of forage export markets.

Darren Nikkel, former alfalfa seed commission president, said growers share that concern, but he also acknowledged the need for continued forage research.

“It is a very sensitive subject,” said Nikkel.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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