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Farmers protest genetically modified alfalfa

Around 30 people gathered outside MP Ryan Leef's office yesterday to protest genetically modified alfalfa coming into Canada. Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds, a Monsanto product, could be approved for use in Canada this spring.

Around 30 people gathered outside MP Ryan Leef’s office yesterday to protest genetically modified alfalfa coming into Canada.

Roundup Ready alfalfa seeds, a Monsanto product, could be approved for use in Canada this spring.

Protests were held across the country yesterday.

In Whitehorse, protesters voiced their concerns to Leef, who met with them outside. They also presented him with a petition to take to Parliament.

The plant in question has been genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup, a brand of herbicide produced by Monsanto. That way, the crops can be sprayed with Roundup, killing all the plants except for the desired alfalfa.

But some farmers and other concerned citizens say the crop could destroy organic food markets and hurt the environment.

“One of the main arguments for letting the GMO seed in is farmers saying, well don’t take my choice away,” said Graham Rudge, a 21-year-old organic farmer, while he balanced on stilts. “But what a lot of folks don’t realize is, well if you take in the GMO seed, you’re taking all the organic farmers’ choice away. There is no way there will be zero contamination.”

Farmers worry that pollen from Roundup Ready alfalfa will get into their fields by pollinating insects or winds. If that were to happen, the crops could no longer be certified as organic.

And alfalfa is a weed that takes over cropland without any extra help from herbicides, said Rudge.

“It really doesn’t have a whole lot of benefits, making it into a super-weed.”

According to Monsanto’s website, the modified alfalfa plants are safe and there is little threat of contamination.

“Alfalfa flowers do not shed pollen to the wind. They are pollinated exclusively by only a few species of bees - which are deliberately introduced and managed by seed producers.”

Furthermore, the National Alfalfa Forage Alliance has developed extensive best practices for farmers using the seed, which can greatly reduce the chance of contamination, according to the website.

Leef was receptive to the protesters’ concerns, and promised to investigate the issue further.

“Invasive species are invasive species and we have to be cognizant of what those can do in a sensitive environment like the Yukon. I’m alive to that now and I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about the issue and I’m glad that you’re here today to bring this to my attention and give me an opportunity to learn as much as I am and where I can go to help out.”

He said that some sort of regional ban on GMO crops in the Yukon is a possibility, if that’s what Yukoners say they want.

“I think what will end up happening here in the territory is we’ll put the issue on the table, we’ll allow sound science to direct decision-making, we’ll find consensus and we’ll move forward with great solutions that are going to meet everyone’s needs. ... If the louder, resounding voice in the territory is that it’s not wanted, then that gives you a starting point.”

Barbara Drury, an organic farmer, says she is optimistic.

“People are starting to wake up,” she said. “People across North America, people across South America. People across India, people across the whole world! The whole world is starting to know that GMOs are terrible.”

The issue has also been getting some attention in Yukon’s legislature.

Resource Minister Brad Cathers responded last week to a petition calling for a complete ban on GMO crops and animals.

He said that the last time the issue came up, Yukon farmers were divided on the issue.

“We believe the appropriate action at this time is for government to facilitate discussions involving groups representing Yukon farmers and the broader farming community to discuss this issue again.”

Yesterday Opposition NDP MLA Jim Tredger asked the government to implement a temporary ban on genetically modified alfalfa seeds while that conversation takes place.

Cathers confirmed that he had met with Growers of Organic Food Yukon last week and that they, too had asked for a ban.

“That suggestion was made to me last week,” he said. “The government will give it consideration, but really, a good dialogue unfortunately often does not happen on the floor of this house.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at