Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Alfalfa thing and final debate & vote on C-474

A year or two ago I was interviewing someone about organic issues and genetically modified something or other and the topic of GM alfalfa came up. She told me that GM wheat had been on the regulatory table some years ago, but the public outcry was such that it was soundly defeated.

Which she thought was great, but the real problem would come when GM alfalfa came knocking at Canada's door. That, she said, would kill organics, and the public wouldn't even know to get excited because who cares about alfalfa? Wheat we can identify with; it's part of being Canadian. But alfalfa's just hay or something, right? Actually it's at the bottom of our food chain, and so you had better care deeply, because it's about to change your life.

As you may have heard, the American government has not just opened the door but laid down a red carpet for GM alfalfa, so it seems we have pretty much lost the battle before the bugle has even sounded. Alfalfa is the fourth most widely-grown crop in the United States behind corn, wheat and soybeans.

It is the primary animal feed - forage crop - in Canada. It is heavily used to feed dairy cattle, as well as horses, beef cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys and other farm animals. Which means it feeds the dairy industry and the meat and egg industries. It's popular in animal feeds because it's high in protein, vitamins and minerals; this is why people eat alfalfa sprouts as well.

Organic producers are not allowed to use genetically modified ingredients or feeds, so if you buy organic eggs, milk, cheese, butter or meat, get ready to kiss them goodbye. Likewise organic alfalfa sprouts.

One thing to know about alfalfa is that it's pollinated by bees, so it will travel. The bees who pollinate it are specialized (alfalfa leafcutter bees/Megachile rotundata). Honeybees can't do the work because of the mechanics of the flower and the size and shape of the bee. Alfalfa leafcutters do not have the range of honeybees, but travel they will, and the GM alfalfa pollen with them.

Alfalfa is hugely important in farming because it's a legume, meaning it has nitrogen-fixing qualities for gardens as well as farms, and so it's frequently grown as a cover crop, as well as a forage crop.

Because of its position in our food chain, contamination of organic alfalfa with GM alfalfa means no more organic meat, eggs, dairy or sprouts for us, but it also means no more organic *or* conventional meat, egg or dairy products can be exported by Canada to protected markets like the EU which refuses to buy GM foods.

Surely this situation gives Canada grounds to sue the USA for violation of NAFTA's environmental and trade protections? I think we should be questioning long and loud why Obama's government's love affair with the biotech industry is allowed to rob Canada of the right to choose whether or not to allow GM plants and foods into our environment and agricultural production. Won't the American decision cause Canada clear economic losses by crippling our ability to produce organic foods and supply our export markets?

Therefore, this is a particularly important time to heed CEBan's call to action over Bill C-474 which is thoroughly entangled in the alfalfa issue. Bill C-474 aims to protect farmers who wish to export non-GM crops into protected markets; it came up because of the accidental contamination of Canadian flaxseed with GM flax.

The final debate takes place February 8; the final vote on February 9. We need the Liberals to vote for this bill, so if you are in a liberal (or even conservative) riding (or care to drop a line to Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper) write, phone or otherwise harangue your MP today.

Write to Tom Vilsack and Barack Obama while you're at it. Do not let them say that nobody complained so they did what they liked.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home