Yukon grown food at risk

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Monsanto Canada Inc./Forage Genetics International is asking the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to permit KK179, a new genetically-engineered (GE) alfalfa to be released in Canada.

I thank the farmers and food security advocates for sharing their views and for casting some light on this rather secretive approval process.

Alfalfa is the first perennial, insect-pollinated GE crop to be considered for approval in Canada. The environmental implications of introducing such a variety are not known, and neither is the economic impact. Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of alfalfa, and organic and conventional alfalfa farmers face a serious risk of losing markets due to contamination.

Monsanto’s latest GE application should be rejected based on the precautionary principle. Under this principle, the burden is on those whose action has a suspected risk to prove no harm will be done.

I count myself along with thousands of Yukoners who are not convinced that engineering or modifying life is the wisest course of action when it comes to growing food. There is no conclusive proof that unleashing genetically engineered crops and seeds – and now a perennial plant – won’t have major negative consequences for our environment and compromise our ability to grow food and feed ourselves.

A major experiment is being conducted, not under controlled conditions in a lab, but on farmers’ fields and in wild places. Why do we risk letting more genies out of more bottles? Whose interests are we serving by permitting such experimentation?

The Yukon NDP has consistently called for a moratorium on the planting of any genetically engineered seed in the Yukon, during which time the Yukon public should be asked to decide whether GE crops should be grown here.

Though the federal government approves new applications, the Yukon government has the ability to put rules in place that would keep Yukon GE-free. Both Archie Lang and now Brad Cathers, Yukon Party ministers of Agriculture have taken the side of multinationals, and not the nearly two thousand Yukoners who have signed petitions.

In the spring 2013 legislative sitting, Minister Cathers rejected a moratorium and said, “we believe the appropriate action at this time is for government to facilitate dialogue involving groups representing Yukon farmers.”

But Mr. Cathers hasn’t even kept this minimal commitment. There’s been no public consultation on whether we want to keep Yukon GMO-free or become a part of the experiment.

It is unfortunate that the minister’s commitment to a “dialogue” is a smokescreen. Yukoners deserve more than empty promises when it comes to food security.

Jim Tredger

MLA for Mayo-Tatchun