Despite cold temperatures, Nadine Walker bundled up her 10-month-old son and headed outside to support the other concerned parents, local farmers and consumers who worry what the introduction of genetically modified alfalfa in Canada could do to their crops, animals and food.
"Food is a necessity, and I don’t think that we need to be putting things in it that don’t need to be there," Walker said. "We’ve lived our lives this long without having genetically modified food."
Nearly 40 people rallied outside of Conservative MP Brandon-Souris Merv Tweed’s constituency office yesterday for a day of action to help stop GM alfalfa. The local rally was among other 38 protests going on across Canada yesterday called for by the National Farmers Union-Ontario and supported by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
Some protest supporters, including Walker, said they are worried about the effects genetically modified food could have on their children and grandchildren.
"It’s hard to find organic food or food that’s safe for your children. It’s not even safe to buy lettuce from the store anymore and it’s really worrying us as parents to try and find out what we’re going to feed our children in the future," Walker said.
Forage Genetics International has already applied Monsanto’s GM herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready technology to alfalfa and it was approved for health and environment release across Canada in 2005. But before it can be commercially released it will have to pass through the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency. The decision could come down as early as sometime this spring.
Alfalfa, commonly harvested as hay, is a high-protein feed for dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs. It’s also used to build nutrients and organic matter in soil. Alfalfa is also a perennial plant that is insect-pollinated, meaning that if GM alfalfa is commercially released, it could contaminate non-GM and organic alfalfa.
Manitoba Beef Producers said in a press release yesterday that Roundup Ready alfalfa has already been found to be safe and "has full food, feed and environmental release approval in Canada.
"However, because the variety is not registered it can not be sold in Canada. MBP understands that Forage Genetics International has not made a decision about Canadian commercialization."
Region 5 National Farmers Union board member Ian Robson organized the protest outside Tweed’s office and said conventional alfalfa is an important crop and the addition of a patent seed variety would only be an added cost for farmers.
He’s also hopeful that with enough supporters, this could be prevented.
"Right now before the product is allowed is the time to be talking," Robson said. "We think that we can prevent this and we think the public can help us prevent the sale of this product in Canada."
Robson and a few other supporters met with Tweed's assistants before the rally, but Tweed’s office refused to comment after an interview request from the Sun. Robson said the meeting went well, however, and that they are starting a dialogue with the government.
"We had a fairly good response ... we talked to his staff," he said. "The government is trying to look at the science of this issue. There are many kinds of science and we hope the government takes the economic science into consideration and the economic impact on farmers."
In an open letter addressed to Tweed, Robson wrote: "The Creator will provide what is needed for our seeds to yield well for farm people and consumers.
"We seek fairness — we don’t want to pay excessive costs to chemical and seed companies or disrupt consumers’ ability to choose healthy foods that are not contaminated with genetically modified (GM) products."
Fred Tait, a cattle farmer just outside of Portage la Prairie, said he's worried that if this product gets into the food supply, it could contaminate everything.
"I’ve been in the cattle business all my life and there's no need for this," he said. "Once it’s introduced, to the environment I can’t keep genetically modified alfalfa off my farm."
Tait said he will continue to work with Tweed’s office, but he admits that they still need to catch the attention of more supporters.
"We have to broaden the coalition. A few farmers and a few social activists will not win this battle, but when the public comes onside the way they did over growth hormone milk and genetically modified wheat, then governments back away."