laying the seeds of tough talk

The Yukon Agricultural Association is trying to suppress discussion about whether genetically modified seeds should be allowed in the territory. It's an odd approach for an industry association to take on such an important issue.

The Yukon Agricultural Association is trying to suppress discussion about whether genetically modified seeds should be allowed in the territory.

It’s an odd approach for an industry association to take on such an important issue.

More discussion is needed, not less. The answers to this question are not easy, especially in a place like the Yukon.

Food technology has increased yields in marginal lands around the world.

And there’s no doubt the Yukon sits on the margin.

Here on the frontier, our food supply is dependent on the trucking industry. We’d have a hard time feeding ourselves for long if that 2,000-kilometre-long supply line was cut.

Genetically modified seeds could allow local farmers to grow food that was impossible in the past, permitting the territory to become more self-sufficient.

But it comes at great risk.

These new seeds are, basically, a uncontrolled science experiment.

We toss them in the ground, harvest the crops, reap the increased yields and short-term profits and, over time, hope everything goes well.

But there are always costs to such things.

And we rarely know what they are before it’s too late.

We’re screwing with highly complex ecosystems.

And, our society places less emphasis on the scientific study of ecosystems before they are messed up than we do from ripping the profitable resources from those lands.

Don’t believe it? Check out the budget of the Environment Department compared to Energy, Mines and Resources.

Far too often we chase profits before properly assessing the consequences of a given action.

And then we try to patch up the consequences. If we can.

If not, we simply walk away.

In agriculture, multinationals have done little to build trust.

They have copy-protected seeds, turning food into a proprietary business.

They shroud much of what they do in secrecy, to protect their corporate interests, and even fight to prevent proper labelling of the foods they bring to market, denying consumers the right to choose what they want to eat.

Once a species is introduced to an area, on purpose or by accident, there is no going back. They work their magic, irrevocably changing the landscape and the wildlife.

The consequences can be profound, and often not in a good way. There are plenty of examples – white sweetclover, milfoil, zebra mussels, rats … there are many, many more to choose from.

When it comes to agriculture, is this where the Yukon blindly wants to go?

It’s a good question. It deserves a vigorous debate.

Being farmers, the Yukon Agricultural Association seems like a reasonable group to begin the process.

It’s a divisive subject, said Rick Tone, the association’s executive director, explaining why it is trying to avoid a discussion.

That’s just cowardly.

You can’t avoid the tough talk, especially if you’re an industry group.

This is a discussion the Yukon must have.

And the sooner the better. (Richard Mostyn)