Dear Mayor and Councillors,
I strongly urge you to support the resolution unanimously passed by the Regional District of the Okanagan and Similikameen in June 2012 against the genetically engineered apple currently being developed in the Okanagan, at the meeting of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities from the 24th-28th September in Victoria. The resolution is included at the end of this letter.
Genetically engineered foods are the product of recombinant DNA and are most commonly referred to as genetically modified or GM. Canada regulates GM foods under the broader category of “Novel Foods” (Health Canada) and “Plants with Novel Traits” (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). Internationally, GM foods remain controversial entrants into the food system.
GM foods were introduced into the food system in Canada before the Canadian public was made aware of their existence (GM canola was approved in 1995 in Canada). In Canada, there is no mandatory labelling of GM foods and there was no government-mediated public debate before the application of GM technology to crops.
There are four GM crops currently grown in Canada – soy, canola, corn (mostly hard corn for animal feed and processed food ingredients) and white sugarbeet (for sugar processing), though others have been approved for growing and eating (potatoes and tomatoes, for example that are not on the market). GM crop varieties have come to dominate these three crop types though there are only two GM traits on the market: insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
There is limited use of these GM crops in BC however new GM crops (and animals) may soon be introduced that have more immediate relevance to BC farmers and the BC economy, For example, a GM “non-browning” apple, a GM (herbicide tolerant) alfalfa, and a GM (fast-growing) Atlantic salmon could be introduced as the next GM crop types in Canada. All three have the potential to dramatically change the reality of farming and fishing the province and would directly impact our domestic and export markets.
GM Apple: The current controversy over the proposed GM apple – engineered not to go brown after being cut – exposes the problem that can arise when a company, in this case the small BC company called Okanagan Specialty Fruits, seeks regulatory approval for a product that is widely seen in the industry itself as a threat to markets. The BC Fruit Growers Association opposes the commercialization of this GM apple because of the risk to domestic and export markets. BC organic orchardists are also against the GM apple which poses a direct threat to organic certification. A recent poll conducted by the association showed that 69% of Canadians do not want the GM apple. However, federal regulatory approval of the apple does not include the consideration of market impacts, nor the impacts on the organic sector. The GM apple will be approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency if the GM apple is evaluated as safe for human consumption and safe for the environment. The potential impacts on BC apple producers’ markets and the risk to organic certification are not considered. The economic impact of a particular GM crop is irrelevant in current federal regulation.
B.C. has a competitive advantage over many other jurisdictions because of its worldwide reputation for producing safe, high-quality and high-value food products. Our province has identified the abundance British Columbia’s agrifood sector has to offer and the enormous potential to continue to grow a diverse agriculture sector with an emphasis on food safety. Farmers, agri-businesses and the public trust the government to do long-term independent scientific studies to determine the safety of food before it is made available to them. Farmers and agri-businesses who rely on propagation of their crops and breeding of their livestock to produce the following years’ income, trust the government will be a resource to them in doing so.
In order for these businesses to have a choice in retaining crop and livestock diversity, they need to have the information about products, seeds and organisms that may affect the outcomes of their choices. Publicly accessible long-term independent scientific studies and information on all available GM products, seeds, organisms and labelling of e products, seeds and organisms currently on the market would put accountability on British Columbia’s businesses and their customers in making these choices. Without the availability of these studies and the subsequent scientific information, accountability for the results of their choices and for the future of their businesses is out of their hands. British Columbia could lead the way for the rest of Canada in developing agrifood strategies sustainable for all methods of farming and production of food.
Okanangan-Similikameen UBCM GM MOTION carried unanimously 21st June 2012
WHEREAS the BC Fruit Growers Association has asked the Okanagan Valley Regional Districts to investigate the establishment of a GE Free Zone for Tree Fruit Products: fruit and plant material in our respective Regional Districts.
WHEREAS orchard after neighbouring orchard of tree fruits can potentially be contaminated with GE DNA Constructs by the activities of pollinating insects like honeybees and the transport of honeybees from one orchard to another by the beekeepers.
WHEREAS The Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative, where over 80% of the commercial tree fruit crop in British Columbia is received, packed, stored, graded and shipped, will deny any GE (Genetically Engineered) fruit or fruit containing GE DNA Constructs
WHEREAS 100% of the Organic Tree Fruit orchards in BC that are found to contain GE fruit or fruit containing GE DNA Constructs would lose their organic certification.
THEREFORE, Be It Resolved that: UBCM asks the British Columbia Government to legislate the prohibition of importing, exporting, and the domestic production of fruit and plant material containing GE DNA Constructs and to declare that through legislation that BC is a GE Free Province in respect to all tree fruit products and …
Further, that UBCM forwards this motion to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for similar consideration for legislation by the Federal Government to establish the Country of Canada to be GE Free in respect to all tree fruit products.