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Organic farmers gain key piece of evidence in class action

(June 27, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- The following is from a press release.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada publicly released a study today on the Isolation Effectiveness in Canola Seed Production. The study discloses that growers producing Certified canola seed for the conventional canola market cannot prevent genetic contamination of their seed by Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola and Aventis's Liberty Link genetically modified (GM) canolas. The contamination was so severe that the research scientists who did the study recomended that four varieties of canola seed sold in the conventional canola market be withdrawn or Breeder and Foundation seed sources for the varieties be cleaned up.

In 2000-2001 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) undertook a study for the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) to look at whether the isolation distances used by certified seed growers were effective in preventing genetic contamination by Round Up Ready and Liberty Link GM canola varieties. It took months of pressure on behalf of the Saskatchewan certified organic farmers engaged in a class action lawsuit against Monsanto and Aventis to obtain a copy of this important publicly-funded study.

Results show that even with the strict isolation distance and inspection standards required by certified seed growers, contamination occurs. In the case of one very experienced grower mentioned in the study, the contamination level was as high as 7.20%. This unusually high level of contamination led the researchers to conclude that the foundation seed itself was highly contaminated.

Seventeen of the 70 samples tested showed contamination that exceedee the purity required for Certified seed (99.75%) and 30 of the 70 samples exceeded the purity required for Foundation seed (99.95%). Only two of the 70 samples would be considered acceptable seed for organic production. The study concluded that “… the present isolation distance of 100m provides adequate but not complete protection from foreign pollen.” And further, that the “… large number of canola seeds normally planted per acre plus the high probability that a small percentage of herbicide tolerant seeds will be present in most Certified seed lots has and will continue to result in significant herbicide tolerant plant populations in most commercial canola fields.”

It follows that certified organic farmers, whose standards strictly prohibit contamination by GM varieties, are highly unlikely to be able to produce a crop free of RoundUp Ready or Liberty Link contamination, thus losing the opportunity to serve the lucrative certified organic canola market.

The CSGA maintains that the study was merely preliminary and not statistically significant. However, the research scientists who did the study do not say this. Furthermore, they state that the sample size was large enough to give a 99% confidence level that buyers would find the same level of contamination in the seed stocks.

AAFC and the CSGA initially refused to release the study when asked. After persistent pressure, AAFC finally agreed to release a copy of what it was already planning to release to the CBC pursuant to an existing Access to Information request. However when the document finally arrived, large tracts were missing and relevant portions were concealed as "confidential business information". It was only after the lawyer representing the organic farmers in the class action launched a court application to compel the disclosure of the full report that the AAFC and CSGA offered to publicly disclose the full report.

This study will be a key piece of evidence in the organic farmer’s action because it provides scientific documentation of the widespread GM contamination that has all but wiped out their organic canola market. It further provides evidence that the contamination is from both the Roundup Ready and Liberty Link genes.

A copy of the study can be obtained on request from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

For further information please contact the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund:
Arnold Taylor, OAPF Chairman, (306) 241-6125 or (306) 252-2783
Marc Loiselle, Research and Communications Officer, (306) 258-2192 or (306) 227-5825

Legal Counsel:
Terry Zakreski, Priel Stevenson Hood & Thornton, (306) 244-0132

See attached Media Backgrounder for an overview of the pedigreed seed system.

For details of the class action suit, please see http://www.saskorganic.com

Media Backgrounder -- Overview of the pedigreed seed system

Farmers depend on seed growers to provide them with clean seed of a recognized variety grown to certain pedigree. Most of the following are excerpts that can be found at the CSGA website: www.seedgrowers.ca The Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA) is the sole seed pedigreeing agency for most agricultural crops in Canada's seed system. It is recognized and respected around the globe because it ensures mechanical purity and provides an audit trail that guarantees varietal identity and genetic purity.

The objectives of the CGSA include "To ensure, and certify to, the varietal purity of seed produced by its members and to maintain the pedigree thereof." The CGSA mission is to advance the seed industry by: promoting the benefits of pedigreed seed throughout the seed industry and to end-users; advocating the use of the seed certification system as an integral part of identity preserved and quality assurance programs; and to provide seed crop certification by: Developing genetic purity standards and regulations for pedigreed seed crop production; Maintaining an accountable and verifiable seed certification system; and Certifying the varietal purity of pedigreed seed crops.

Glossary (from the Regulations and Procedures for Pedigreed Crop Production" known as ‘Circular 6’):

Canola: Cultivars of Rapeseed which are classed as Canola type because of the characteristic of low erucic acid and low glucosinolate content in the seed.

Class (of seed): Names given to the generations of Pedigreed seed as Breeder Seed, Select Seed, Foundation Seed, Registered Seed and Certified Seed approved by a recognized crop certification agency. (note: for canola there is no Registered pedigree)

Germplasm: Refers to plant materials that serve as a basis of crop improvement or a reservoir of genes for research. The total hereditary makeup of organisms.

Breeder Seed: Seed recognized by the CSGA as being seed of a variety (cultivar) that has been produced by a recognized plant breeder or a plant breeder responsible for the maintenance of the variety under conditions which have ensured that the specific traits of the variety have been maintained. It is the source for the initial and recurring increases of seed for the Pedigreed classes.

Foundation Seed: The approved progeny of Breeder or Select Seed produced by seed growers authorized by the Association for the production of seed of this class, and which has been so managed to maintain its specific genetic identity and purity. The seed is graded by a person authorized by Ag Canada. Foundation is the highest class of seed of commerce.

Certified Seed: The approved progeny of Breeder, Select, Foundation or Registered Seed produced by seed growers and so managed to maintain genetic identity and purity at a high level. It is the class of seed recommended to be used for commercial crop production. The seed is graded by Agriculture Canada or by Authorized Establishments under the Canada Seeds Act and Regulations.

Cross-pollinate: Fertilization by pollen from another plant. Cross fertilization.

Genetic purity: Trueness to type or variety, usually referring to seed.

Isolation Requirements: Regulatory: the distance required to isolate Pedigreed seed crops from other crops which may be a source of pollen or seed contamination. Used to maintain genetic purity of crops by isolation from other pollen sources.

Open pollinated: Seed produced as a result of natural pollination as opposed to hybrid seed produced as a result of a controlled pollination.

Outcross: The plant resulting from pollen of a different variety of the same species.

Pedigreed crop: A crop for which the CSGA, based on a crop inspection report, has issued a Crop Certificate which indicates that the crop has been granted Breeder, Select, Foundation, Registered or Certified crop status.