Our voice is being heard and understood – Please see below a
significant editorial by Laura Rance, long time agriculture journalist and editor of the Manitoba Cooperator.
Critics of GM crops vindicated over time: Multinationals control seed supply
Just over a decade has passed since the use of genetically modified
crops on Prairie farms became widespread.
Although farmers have wholeheartedly embraced them, some of the
downsides predicted by early critics — which were pooh-poohed by the
experts — have also turned out to be true.
It turns out, cross-contamination does occur between genetically
modified (GM) and non-GM crops, such as the spread of volunteer
herbicide-resistant canola genes into other farmers’ fields.
It can also take place in the lab — as illustrated by the seepage of
GM-variety CDC Triffid flax into the Prairie flax seed supply.
Secondly, when this occurs, market repercussions are likely. Despite
its widespread popularity with farmers, and apathy among North
American consumers, there has been little progress over the past
decade persuading significant export markets, such as Europe, to
accept the technology.
Another concern was that these cropping systems could give rise to
more herbicide-resistant weeds. That has also proven true. Since the
release of Roundup Ready crops, there have been 17 weed species
worldwide that have developed resistance to the key ingredient of
Roundup, glyphosate. Just recently, Canada’s first known resistant
population — giant ragweed — was confirmed in Ontario.
This trend reduces glyphosate from a non-selective herbicide, meaning
farmers only need to use one product, to a selective one, which means
farmers must use it in conjunction with other products. In other
words, they may need to use more herbicides or use more tillage, which
runs counter to conservation farming ideals.
But perhaps the most significant developments of late relate to
control over the seed supply. Critics who fretted control would fall
into the hands of a few large multinationals were written off 10 years
ago as paranoid and anti-progress.
Maybe they were. But they were also right. Farmers have seen some
vivid examples of late about just how that is affecting how they
For starters, they don’t dare grow seed containing a company’s
technology unless they have that company’s permission, which also
gives the company the right to inspect their fields and bins. If they
are found to be in breach of their contract, they run the risk of not
getting another one, which limits their access to seed.
It’s controlling all right, but it’s not all bad. The companies
involved with Bt-corn, which has a built-in insecticide, were
virtually ordered by an industry committee recently to crack down on
farmers who were not adhering to the requirements to maintain non-Bt
Refuges are important when growing insect-resistant corn because they
maintain a small population of non-resistant insects, which then
dilute resistant traits that will eventually develop in the general
Compliance with the protocols had dropped to 61 per cent in 2009 from
80 per cent five years ago. Because the companies hold a pretty big
compliance hammer — access to seed — it’s likely that trend will be
Less positive, at least from farmers’ and the public’s perspective, is
the decision recently by many of Canada’s canola seed developers to
stop entering their canola varieties into annual independent yield
performance trials conducted over a wide geographic base.
Their stated reason was the trial plots were too small to adequately
reflect their variety’s performance. However, industry observers
familiar with objective testing say a more likely explanation is the
plot trial results undermined corporate marketing programs.
Because one company’s varieties have consistently outperformed the
others in recent years, it’s like entering a horse race knowing
someone else will win.
The big losers here are the farmers, who are now left with the
companies’ say-so when trying to select varieties that will work best
on their farms. They can still turn to crop insurance data, which is
based on farmers’ actual experience with varieties in their area, but
that doesn’t help them when looking at new varieties coming to market.
Even more insidious are recent reports the companies won’t allow independent researchers to explore questions surfacing about this technology’s longer-term environmental effects.
Reuters reported that 26 leading academic entomologists complained to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year that they are restricted from doing independent research by technology agreements companies attach to every bag of biotech seed.
“No truly independent research can be legally conducted on many
critical questions regarding the technology,” the scientists said in
The companies are, after all, simply looking after shareholders’
interests, which they are legally obligated to do. The question for
government regulators, however, is whether that is consistent with
protecting the public interest.
Laura Rance, editor of the Manitoba Co-operator, can be reached at
792-4382 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2010
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext.6
Fax: 613 241 2506