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For the love of farming

(April 12, 2002 – CropChoice news) – The following is a presentation that Marc Loiselle, a grower of organic crops in Saskatchewan, presented on April 4 in Prince Albert.

By Marc Loiselle

Farmers are said to be ‘jacks of all trades’, and certainly there are many obvious abilities needed to successfully manage a farm…like field management, mechanical maintenance, financial planning, carpentry, plumbing, welding, animal husbandry, etc. Besides the many abilities required for farming, I now find myself, and others, needing to be crisis managers, extension agrologists, political lobbyists, anti-GMO activists, and public speakers…all creating a stress on time management. On that last point (public speaking)… I know I’m far from being proficient...that’s why you see me with a written presentation…

I want to begin by acknowledging some of the mentors, besides immediate family, that have helped me to get where I am today; you’ll surely recognize some…. Elmer Laird, Michael & Violet Kasper, Ray Bauml, Hart Haidn, Darryl Amey and Gerald Metrunec. There are many others also. One of these mentors has stated, "God help us if RR wheat is introduced in Canada." and I certainly agree with that statement.

I also want to recognize the efforts of the Can. Working Group on Genetically Engineered Wheat, established June 2001, and especially the organizations currently most active; namely the National Farmers Union, Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, Canadian Health Coalition, and the Sask. Organic Directorate of which I am the representative. Other organizations involved were the CWB, SARM, APAS, and KAP. The working group held a major press conference in Winnipeg last July to hilite a letter sent to our Prime Minister demanding there be a stop to GE Wheat. The letter had over 300 signatories from across Canada and internationally. In November the working group also spent a day lobbying Members of Parliament in Ottawa and appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture & Forestry as regards the threat of GE wheat.

Some key words and phrases that came to mind while I was preparing to write down specifics for this presentation were:

Ecoterrorism / patenting life forms including the human genome / injustice / cover-up / abdication of responsibility / private & corporate manipulation and control / profits for shareholders / government incompetence, selling away our sovereignty and the public trust or commons …such as our seeds / loss of democracy / freedom of expression / the right to assembly / peaceful demonstration / expressing dissenting or minority views and opinions, and the need to create a will in people to want to be involved enough to be pro-active…to go beyond just expressing your democratic right and ability to vote.

The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD..for short) is an umbrella organization representing the certified organic industry in Sask. Its members include certification organizations, processors, broker/traders, individual producers and consumers. SOD’s vision is "FOOD FOR LIFE".

Food we produce must be life-giving and promote health and longevity. The system we use to produce that food must not be a threat to ourselves, other humans, or other species.

Organic certification standards absolutely prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The organic market depends on being able to supply food that is produced without, among other things, genetic engineering. If we cannot guarantee a product free of contamination, we are not able to service those markets, resulting in a loss of our ability to be financially sustainable and resulting in a loss of choice for you the consumer.

As organic producers we are directly affected by the introduction of GMOs. In Sask. this currently applies to the growing of canola and possibly wheat in a couple years if it is not halted. Without guarantees that we can grow and market a non-GMO contaminated crop, we risk losing our certification and our livelihoods.

Organic farmers reject the philosophy that we must poison our environment or use radical genetic engineering of plants and animals to produce enough food for us all to eat.

Promoters of biotechnology are creating a false need for genetically engineered crops and food. It is not about making farmers richer or about feeding the world; it’s about feeding the companies that are the promoters and their shareholders! GE foods are being introduced into North America by stealth, with large companies using patent law as a weapon against farmers and consumers.

As has been demonstrated by such GE varieties as canola, corn and soyabeans; GE crops cannot be contained within specific research plots or farmers’ fields because of the genetic drift of their novel traits (such as the Roundup Ready gene) by the spreading of pollen and seed due to wind, water, animal and human activity; let alone harvesting, storage, transportation, and processing. GE wheat will be no different.

The buffer zones, or isolation strips, that we certified organic producers maintain adjacent to neighbouring fields, was intended to buffer and warn against pesticide drift, not drift of genetic material from other plants!

April 2001 SOD finalized its Position Paper on GMOs. This document outlines our many concerns about the threat to the integrity of organic food production, environmental stability, and human health; and forms a ‘basis’ for the legal and lobbying efforts we are now doing.

Note that when we refer to GMOs it is understood to mean a product derived by genetic modification/engineering using recombinant DNA and other transgenic techniques. Our Position Paper also covers the areas of Liability, Labelling, Segregation, Moratorium, Injunction, Lobbying, Clean Up, the Precautionary Principle, and Patenting. On that last point, our document states: ‘No individual, corporation, organization or state must be allowed to hold patent on life forms including seed for food production.’

On June 25th, 2001, the SOD, by motion, created a committee to investigate taking legal action regarding genetically engineered crops. At this time they also created, by motion, the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund (OAPF) to finance the operations of this committee. Since then, the OAPF Committee has acted to build and co-ordinate support for this legal initiative among organic farmers, all Saskatchewan organic certifying bodies, and the public. The committee has also facilitated fund raising, publicity and various lobbying efforts, as well as organizing press conferences announcing the creation of the OAPF and the launching of the class action lawsuit. Contrary to many media reports and other notices, including what was written about tonight’s topics, the SOD is not suing the biotech companies…it’s the organic farmers that are.

As you are probably aware, or should be, two fellow certified organic farmers, Larry Hoffman, and Dale Beaudoin have filed a class action suit against Monsanto and Aventis, on behalf of all Saskatchewan certified organic farmers. The suit was registered in Court of Queen's Bench on January10, 2002, and seeks compensation for damages caused by these companies’ genetically engineered (GE) canola, and to get an injunction to prevent Monsanto from introducing GE wheat in Saskatchewan.

The suit seeks to hold Monsanto and Aventis responsible for any GE contamination on multiple grounds including negligence, nuisance, trespass, and pollution under the Saskatchewan Environmental Management and Protection Act, and failure to conduct an environmental assessment and seek ministerial approval as required by the Environmental Assessment Act of Saskatchewan.

The suit alleges that GE canola has spread across the prairies in conventional crops so extensively that most certified organic grain farmers no longer attempt to grow canola, because of concern of GE contamination. Our organic customers have a zero tolerance for genetically engineered crops, and most organic producers now know that growing canola is just too risky.

The suit also states that when Monsanto and Aventis introduced their GE canolas they knew, or ought to have known, that their genetically engineered canola would spread and contaminate the environment. The companies had no regard for the damage these crops would cause to organic agriculture. The claim alleges that loss of canola as an organic crop has robbed organic farmers of a high-paying and growing market, and a valuable tool in their rotations.

The same thing will happen to wheat if GE wheat is introduced. Since wheat is the cornerstone of prairie agriculture, and essential for organic crop rotations, losing it to genetic contamination would devastate organic farming in Saskatchewan.

The Jan 10 press conference also highlited a letter to Fed Ag Minister Van Clief from our legal counsel, demanding that there be a full environmental impact study done on GE wheat.

Certain grain marketing officials have stated that it is physically impossible to have zero tolerance for contamination in non-GMO supplies. The grain production system as a whole will not be able to segregate effectively. Therefore they argue that the market and consumer perceptions about GMOs needs to change; that a standard less than 100% purity has to be accepted for wheat.

We argue that there is purity of wheat as is, so lets strive to maintain that!

If GE wheat were allowed to be grown by farmers, there would be no requirements to maintain any distance from neighbouring fields, and this would simply create situations of cross-pollination contamination. This is exactly what has happened with GE canola, despite the knowledge that this would happen. Farmers were not made aware of this and the impacts it would have on their own marketing, their neighbours’ crops, and the environment.

Part of SOD’s lobbying efforts, my own personal lobbying efforts as a councilor for a rural municipality, and efforts by others…have concentrated on getting Sask. RMs to declare themselves GE Wheat free zones and ban the growing of RR wheat. Support is growing steadily, one municipality at a time; and the next step is to enact bylaws to enforce this. Overall, the SARM passed a resolution at it’s March 2001 Annual Convention demanding that GM wheat be banned in Canada; but as with the letter to the Prime Minister and other government ministers, there has been no response!

The proposed commercial introduction of transgenic herbicide tolerant wheat and the consequent genetic contamination of other wheat varieties, will make it impossible for all farmers to have a clear choice about the type of wheat they grow. The introduction of GE wheat would pose a grave threat to the viability of the growing number of organic grain farms in Canada. Wheat is a major crop in organic grain production because of three important features: its relative drought tolerance, its competitiveness with weeds, and its marketability. The forced elimination of wheat from organic crop rotations due to contamination by GE wheat would therefore jeopardize the agronomic and economic viability of organic farming on the Canadian prairies.

We have never been able to confirm the locations of RR wheat plots in Sask. because all inquiries to the Can. Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Plant Biosafety Office, and Monsanto were denied with the official response that this is ‘confidential business information’. Current efforts via the Canadian Access To Information Act may reveal more details.

Because of my involvement with the Prairie Registration Recommending Committee for Grain (PRRCG variety registration) meetings in Winnipeg Feb 24-26, I have documentation proving that Monsanto's RR wheat was grown at 9 locations on the Prairies, 2 of those in Sask. in 2001, for the 1st year of a 3 year Cooperative Trial process leading to possible recommendation for variety approval by the PRRCG and approval by the Can. Food Inspection Agency's Variety Registration Office.

RR wheat was grown at an AAFC research farm and near Saskatoon by a private company. Then there’s the Monsanto research farm north-east of Saskatoon along the #41 Highway which is just beside the Aventis research farm. I have the unpleasant distinction of having to drive by both of these on my way to Saskatoon.

The CFIA website listed Monsanto as having 47 RR wheat trials on the Prairies, 10 in Manitoba, 18 in Sask. and 19 in Alberta; but a news report I read suggests there were as many as 152 last year!

Besides the obvious conflicting philosophies between organic farming and corporate controlled bio-patenting of seeds, especially pesticide tolerant varieties; there are the real concerns about genetic material transfer, co-mingling, etc. that are possibilities here, regardless of the care given to management techniques.

Considering that RR wheat was likely grown in many plots that had no apparent isolation strip separating it from other related varieties as was demanded for in the 2001 Cooperative trial (a 30 metre isolation strip); one has to wonder if there’s already been some low-grade contamination of other wheat? Although wheat is deemed to be a self pollinating plant as compared to canola that is open-pollinated; research to date has shown the actual spread of pollen from RR wheat and genetic out-crossing with other wheat to be up to 27 metres with a plot size of 50 square metres. What is not known, is the extent to which the contamination would be if there were large scale fields of RR wheat, where the volume load of the genetic material (ie: pollen) would be much greater and have increased capacity to travel longer distances…especially in violent weather.

The fact that 27 metres has already been established is worrying enough. An unconfined release of RR wheat would equate to all western Canadian wheat being considered as genetically modified, just as has already happened with western Canadian canola!

In addition there are profound long-term implications for research and development of future wheat varieties due to the potential contamination of wheat seed stocks, seed collections, breeder lines, heritage seed stocks and gene banks.

An email I received recently from Sharon Rempel of Edmonton reads as follows: "A growing quantity of heritage wheat is going to the fields this year and these old wheats and all seeds require our protection; we must speak up for the right to integrity of the individual seed and put voices to our seed. Otherwise seed stocks will be tainted and all life forced to try and weed out the pollutant DNA from its DNA. We could be better putting our energy to creating beauty on the earth." Yes, there are days when I wish I could put my anti-GMO activist cap aside and concentrate fully on research & development of seeds for organic food production and other noble endeavours, such as more time with my family.

GE crops cannot co-exist beside organic crops; after all that is what we are out to prove with our court case. We have and are able to co-exist, (albeit with difficulty), with conventional cropping with synthetic chemical use, provided precautions, etc. are taken. But we cannot protect our food production from genetic manipulation with gene transfer by pollen drift; eventually that particular crop is lost to certified organic production, such as canola in Sask., soyabeans or corn in other jurisdictions. Can we afford to take a conciliatory or middle-of-the-road approach with RR wheat? I think not; and I also invite you to weigh in on this issue. Besides the rights of farmers, the rights of consumers are paramount and must be respected; consumers rejection of GMOs is in large part why our Organic Certification Standards prohibit their use.

Farmers using GE crops are contributing to the increasing corporate control of our seeds and food by large trans-national companies, and the subsequent disenfranchising of all farmers, including themselves. Farmers need to take a stand against patenting and how biotechnology is used to alter seeds such as wheat; we risk a lot more than just losing market access. Our right to save our own seed is in being jeopardized.

It appears that legal recourse may be the only way to protect Canadians from unfettered genetic experimentation as scientists rapidly abandon public research in favour of corporate funding and the zealous biotechnological drive.

The following excerpt is from the National Farmers Union ( of which I am a proud member) excerpt from the ‘Policy on Genetically Modified (GM) Foods’: "Given that the negative environmental effects of GM crops--super-weeds, displacement of species, destruction of habitat, loss of genetic diversity--may be huge, and that the existence and magnitude of these effects are largely unknown, the Precautionary Principle clearly indicates that we should not introduce GM plants, livestock, or other organisms into our biosphere."

That Precautionary Principle means that protection of human health and the environment is taken in advance, not after the potential for damage has occurred. The introduction of GE/GM crops that is likely harmful to the environment, human health or sound social relations, even if proof of harm is not definitive, must be strictly regulated or eliminated.

It’s disturbing to consider that governments may take the irresponsible move of choosing to make policy decisions via the courts, instead of being proactive in favour of its citizens’ concerns about GE crops and food.

It’s equally disturbing to consider that trans-national companies, with government support, want to monopolize what we produce, how we produce it, then hide the facts and risks to human health and overall environmental impacts with no disclosure, no mandatory labeling of products, and no significant risk to them because of supposed exemption from liability.

They want us and the food system to conform and be uniform and don’t seem to give a damn about biodiversity and the rights of farmers and consumers. We’re supposed to trust them?

It doesn’t matter what perceived benefits a GE crop may present, the bottom line is there should be no release into the environment if the spread of the novel trait genes cannot be contained, and that release results in contamination of other crops and our food supply.

We don’t believe in the eventual domination of the food industry by a few trans-nationals. ...quote from Sharon Rempel, organic & heritage seed researcher from Edmonton, "Agriculture, with its diversity of crops and varieties, is one of the most important aspects of cultural diversity and it is only within the past decades that it has become less of a matter of culture and more one of commerce and industry."(end quote) Note agriculture vs. agribusiness; we’re losing out on the culture. That reminds me of a great ‘IDEAS’ series on CBC radio in the late ‘80s entitled ‘The Culture of Agriculture’. There’s also a new video titled ‘Global Banquet – Politics of Food’ that I saw at Seedy Saturday in Saskatoon three weeks ago; it is very moving and a must see.

The origin of the word culture is "to care for", or to "cultivate". Agriculture then meaning ‘the science or art of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock. Do we consider agriculture or farming as an expression of art?

We believe all people have the fundamental right to unpolluted air, water, soil and food. Stewardship implies that we are responsible to manage our lives and ‘property’ with proper regard to the rights of others.

…quote from Hart Haidn, Chair of the Can Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (I am one of the Board members on the CCSA) "Farmers have an obligation to provide safe basic foods and to steward the soil, water, air and biodiversity. A sustainable food system bridges the gap between interests of the different segments of society, between rural and urban communities, between economic prosperity and environmental protection, between producers of food and consumers."

We believe consumers are the ultimate market and they know best what to eat, and that they have the right to choose! Failing to have mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods should prompt you to be purchasing certified organic food as this is the only sure way to avoid eating GE food. Sourcing a good portion of your food directly from local growers or growing your own is great.

Ultimately, the rights of consumers are paramount and must be respected; they are the market and create the demand. Adoption of certified organic food production to meet growing demands is being jeopardized by the uncontrollable use of and contamination by transgenic crops. Introduction of GE wheat or other pesticide tolerant crops will do nothing to reduce toxic chemical usage, provide wholesome uncontaminated food or even to produce more food as is claimed; but will profit the GE companies and their technological elite at the expense of farmers, consumers, communities, and the common good of all Canadians. Health risks and environmental issues related to GE foods continue to be ignored!

We believe that seeds and living organisms are part of our collective heritage.

We believe that no life forms should be patented, including seeds!

… We believe that there must be a global agreement on sharing the genetic commons! It is a collective responsibility, not to be claimed as intellectual property!

We care about having neighbours and vibrant rural communities! Biopatenting of seeds poses a very real threat to the rural way of life.

We want justice for all farmers and consumers!

We want the freedom for ourselves and subsequent generations to continue as farmers, and be able to grow what we want…without GMOs!

For the love of farming, eating, health and Life, please help us to make this a reality.

Please offer your support, including financial contributions!