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GE would mean short-term gain and long-term loss

(Sunday, March 23, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Howard Keene, The Press, 03/21: Canadian farmer Bob Willick has tried conventional crops, genetically modified crops, and no-till cultivation.

But he has ended up an organic farmer.

He was in New Zealand last week with his wife, Barbara, to warn against lift ing the moratorium on GE release.

Their visit was supported by Greenpeace.

On his 1000ha Saskatchewan property, he farmed conventionally for 22 years before becoming involved with no-till cultivation using Roundup to burn off the weeds, and following that GE crops.

Because the growing season was relatively short, he was always looking for new crops and techniques.

"We always looked for technology to come up with solutions to our low income problems."

He grew genetically-engineered LibertyLink canola, which is resistant to Liberty herbicide.

He said the first year the crop was "terrific", but in following years a weed problem gradually developed, especially a viney weed, cleavers.

"We probably lost $30,000 to $40,000 in the third year, the cleavers population just exploded."

They then tried Roundup Ready canola from Monsanto.

"I found this package very expensive, and it threatened markets. Roundup Ready didn't yield as heavily as a normal crop.

"I could see Roundup wasn't going to control cleavers in the long term."

He said markets for canola collapsed, and prices dropped.

Mr Willick's "whole thinking changed" after he went to an organics conference.

He is one of nearly 1000 organic farmers taking a class action against Monsanto and Bayer, seeking to recover damages associated with the release of GE canola in Canada.

They are also seeking an injunction to prevent the introduction of GE wheat to Canada.

He said organic and non-GE canola could not be grown any more in Saskatchewan because of GE spread.

Mr Willick said that if New Zealand farmers embraced GE it would be a short term gain for a long term loss.

"As proud farmers pay attention to the quality of food you are sending to the world. Understand what they want, and why they want it."

While he was her Mr Willick talked to Federated Farmers.

The federation's grains council chairman Hugh Ritchie said Mr Willick's experience was of no particular relevance to New Zealand growers.

He said New Zealand farmers currently had little interest in growing GE crops that were available to Canadian farmers. "However we believe there could be considerable benefits to New Zealand farmers from the use of GE for specialist pharmaceutical use.

"Just as Mr Willick had the choice to move to organic production,whilst other farmers have continued to grow GE crops, New Zealand arable growers should be able to retain the option of growing GE crops if they see commercial advantage in it."

He said that unlike Canada, New Zealand had a rigorous approval process that would apply once the moratorium was lifted.

Steve Abel of Greenpeace said Mr Ritchie had totally missed Mr Willick's point. "Once you release a GE crop the evidence is that it spreads, thereby stealing the right of conventional farmers to grow GE-free and ultimately the right of consumers to eat GE-free produce."