Response to Western Producer newspaper: Greenpeace responsible for Triffid flax scandal

By April Reeves

I responded to this article in the ‘editorial’ on their Nov. 26/09 publication. It was written by 5 people. I wonder if the Producer is writing ‘nice’ things about Monsanto in order to continue their advertising. I owned a publication once; I know what that’s all about…

GM Acceptance/Opponents Fading

Positive signs for greater acceptance of GM foods, by Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen, D’Arce Mcmillan and Ken Zacharias

GREENPEACE’S European campaign against genetically modified crops has hurt Canadian farmers. The organization pressured European authorities to test Canadian flax for the presence of unauthorized genetically altered seed and pressured mustard processors to avoid Canadian mustard seed.

Greenpeace got what it wanted in the Triffid flax situation, a trumped up “scandal” to rail against, to frighten consumers about the alleged dangers of GM crops and inadequate government regulation and oversight.

Canadian farmers got what they didn’t want, market disruption, lower prices and a costly new flax testing system.

But they might take hope in signs that European obstacles to trade in GM crops are eroding and Greenpeace’s anti-GM campaign will eventually fail.

Contributing to the erosion are alterations in European Union structure, changes in consumer attitudes and development of new traits in GM crops.

For several years, the European Commission has been approving GM crop varieties for importation. It is a bureaucratic process, but the list of approved varieties is slowly growing.

While certain European countries maintain bans, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm that is less swayed by domestic political pressure, has shown a more open attitude and willingness to follow the recommendations of the bloc’s food safety agency, which has looked at GM crop varieties and determined them safe.

EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has argued against blanket GM restrictions, such as the bloc’s zero tolerance policy that rejects grain shipments if they contain minute quantities of unapproved GM grain, because they drive up feed costs and damage Europe’s livestock sector.

This more practical attitude might gain more traction since ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, an update to the EU constitution that promises to streamline the way Europe runs its affairs.

Public opinion also appears to be changing, signaling that if government allows GM products to be sold, there will be a level of consumer acceptance.

A majority of Europeans are still wary of GM foods, but the numbers of decided opponents are falling. A regular survey of European attitudes showed that 27 percent had a positive attitude to GM food in 2005, up from 21 percent in 2002. A poll in Britain showed that about half of people believe the technology can be a way to combat global food shortages.

Surveys in countries that allowed GM foods on store shelves showed that most shoppers did not actively avoid GM products and most did not check labels to see if food was non-GM.

Polls also show consumers want more information about GM foods and the more they know, the likelier it is they will accept them, particularly if it can be shown they benefit the environment or consumer health.

Health issues will be addressed by the new wave of GM crop varieties that have traits associated with nutrition.

For example, Monsanto has developed a soybean that produces oil containing omega-3 fatty acids, similar to those in fish and flax oil, that are believed to improve heart and brain health. New Scientist Magazine reports that BASF is developing GM canola that will deliver similar oil.

There is also golden rice, a high beta-carotene grain that could help alleviate widespread vitamin A deficiency in Asia that leads to blindness.

With these developments in European government, evolving consumer attitudes and more healthy GM products, it will be harder for environmental groups to successfully campaign against them.

We hope their recent efforts, though costly to Canadian farmers today, will prove to be their last hurrah.

Letter to the Western Producer from April Reeves, Dec 14/09:

Re: Positive signs for greater acceptance of GM foods

I’m going to begin by saying that I’m not anti-Monsanto. They do have some wonderful technology that will benefit the world. But they also have found a way to control the food industry and manipulate politicians and farmers.

Big Biotech companies have taken the seeds we know to be safe and altered the DNA by adding/splicing genes from bacteria, viruses, plants animals and fish. While a GM tomato may look like an organic tomato, the DNA structure inside is very different, and you are eating this without any idea of how it can affect you short or long term. Some GMO foods contain the herbicide ‘Roundup Ready’ in their DNA makeup, and you are eating a tiny bit of  the pesticide every time you eat ‘Roundup Ready’ GM food (Monsanto added Roundup to the DNA to kill bugs that chew on those plants). GM organisms can spread, interbreed and contaminate natural organisms, leaving no chance of the human race to come back to the original seed should GM foods be found deadly.

Greenpeace: When you get big corporations doing what they like, you will always find an opposing group. It’s what keeps the balance. Greenpeace is such an organization, and like or dislike them, without them, these profit-driven giants will tell you what to eat, how much and when, regardless of your health interests or choices. Farmers (or anyone else) who blame Greenpeace for the Triffid flax scandal are missing the source of the problem. You can’t stir the pot without a cause to stir, and those who dismiss Greenpeace today will be eating crow if Greenpeace is found to be correct. Europe does its own testing of our exports, and found the GM Triffid regardless of any publicity Greenpeace could administer.

Apparently the writers did not do any homework on the ‘approval processes’. I did. I spoke with the CFIA (phone call: P. Fielding: 613-221-4315) who skirted around the issue of testing. It’s sloppy to say it best, but she did say that they let the independent biotech companies police their own studies. Wow, that really makes me feel so much better…

Organic food sales grow at a rate of 20% per year. That’s not a number to ignore. Consumers are becoming educated, and there are many groups springing up to help spread the word. While many do not check labels yet, this debate is just beginning. In 2008, CBS and the New York Times did a poll that found 53% of consumers would not buy GMO labeled foods. GE free zones already exist in Canada and around the world. Consumers also look for organics because they don’t want all the pesticides that GM foods contain.

While the world will never be ‘just organic’ or ‘just GMO’, the consumers are asking for the right to choice. The groups like Greenpeace, CBAN and The Non-GMO Project are working towards labeling, specific growing procedures (like confined areas, greenhouses so that the ‘flax scandal’ doesn’t happen again) and a less aggressive approach by Monsanto towards farmers.

The reason we don’t have labeling of GM foods now is because of the pressure Monsanto (and others) put on our politicians to stall. That is about to change in 2010, with the North American Non GMO Project. It’s a non-profit collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed companies and consumers, with some big powerful names in the mix. If GM is becoming popular (as your article suggests), then why are they so against the labeling process (my conversation with Trish Jordan, 10/19/09)? Perhaps the writers of the ‘Positive signs’ article could help out, since they know something I don’t?

Yes, polls show more consumers want to know about GM foods. Some will care, some won’t. One truth stands alone: original seeds pose no threat or harm to humans. The food we ate 30 years ago was safe and nutritious. For the first time in our life, we are wary of our food.

Until third party transparent testing over time shows that the altered DNA and stacked traits (where various ‘approved’ DNA alterations are added, one at a time until you have food with a whole ‘stack’ of  ‘traits’) in GM foods causes no long term health problems, is not attributed to any of the diseases now growing at alarming rates (autism, allergies) or any new diseases/problems, we are asking that these foods are labeled and their transparency is exposed to the consumer.

Stating that GM crops will fix the food problems in starving countries is absurd. It’s simple math: eventually there will be more people than land to grow on. Our solution is not GM food; it’s the insane population growth. It just can’t sustain itself down the road, and it’s too sensitive a problem for any politician to tackle, so Monsanto rushes for the opportunity to push untested products and promote corporate share growth with the slogan “We will feed the world.”

In the end though, the consumer will decide how food is grown, not politicians and not Monsanto. You can’t sell someone something they don’t want to eat, and the grocery stores are in it for profit too. We have the power, one person at a time, to change a bit of history.

To state that all GM is good and that consumers are ok with it is just not so (if you have done your homework), or you have political or financial motivation. To state that Greenpeace is to blame for the Canadian flax scandal is obvious bias from slipping consumer acceptance. The GMO debate has not even had the chance to evolve yet, with GE crops being in our world for such a short time. Give it another 5 years and you will be writing a totally different story.

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