ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

Date:  8 December 2000


Thursday 7 December, 2000.

Greenpeace Welcomes Canadian Farmers Call for GM Moratorium.

Greenpeace today welcomed a call by the National Farmers Union of Canada for "a moratorium on the production, importation, distribution, and sale of GM food".

Charlie Kronick, Greenpeace GM Campaigner said,  "For the last 4 years, politicians and the NFU in the UK have said that if we fail to adopt GM crops that we'll lose out to our North American rivals.  As the Canadian NFU has so clearly identified the environmental and economic drawbacks of GM, their call for a ban on GM foods sets exactly the kind of example that farmers, food producers and politicians should follow in this country".

At their Annual Convention, NFU delegates representing members across Canada passed a new NFU policy on genetically modified food.  The policy calls for "a moratorium on the production, importation, distribution, and sale of GM food". The policy is reprinted below:

NFU Policy on Genetically Modified (GM) Foods - Preamble:

The NFU believes that all Canadians--farmers and non-farmers alike must engage in an informed debate on the genetic modification of food. Citizens must examine genetically modified (GM) food in the largest possible social, historical, environmental, economic, and ethical context. After that debate, citizens - not the corporations that promote these products - must decide whether to accept or reject GM food.

Squeezed by falling incomes, farmers look to technologies that claim higher returns or reduced costs. Over the past decades, however, farmers have embraced a wide range of technologies, only to watch net farm incomes fall.

Between 1974 and 2000, gross farm income tripled. Net farm income, however, fell. Input suppliers were able to capture 100% of farmers' increased gross returns. Because fertilizers, chemicals, and other technologies failed to fulfill their promises of farm profitability, many farmers rightly question the economic benefits of genetically modifying crops and livestock.

While the benefits are questionable, risks and costs are real. Consumers are rejecting GM foods. Markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere are closing and domestic markets are likewise threatened. This is driving prices down.

Closing markets and falling prices threaten to overwhelm any small, short-term economic benefits that GM crops or livestock may offer. Further, the proliferation of some GM crops has effectively deprived many organic farmers of the option to grow those crops.

Further, GM seeds and livestock give corporations increased control over family farms. Any initial economic benefits will be quickly outweighed as farmers are drawn further under corporate control. More than any previous technology--such as fertilizers or tractors--patented seeds sold through contract and multi-page technology use agreements clearly erode farmers' autonomy.

Turning to human health, there has not been a systematic, scientific investigation of the health effects of GM foods. The unscientific assumption of "substantial equivalence" is insufficient reason to forgo
comprehensive, independent health testing.

There are also many unanswered questions about the environmental risks of GM crops and livestock. Genetic modification threatens to unbalance the biosphere, create "super-weeds," endanger beneficial insects, and erode bio-diversity. Bio-diversity is a vital source of raw materials for agriculture and an essential component of environmental well-being.

The NFU policy on GM foods recognizes that almost all of the questions surrounding this technology remain unanswered. The policy attempts to introduce precaution and prudence into a process of GM food proliferation driven by profit. Because this technology has the potential to threaten the environment, human health, and the economic wellbeing of farmers, Canadians should debate and study before we plant and eat.

General policy and action plan:

1.    The federal government must impose a moratorium on the production,importation, distribution,
       and sale of GM food until questions regarding consumer acceptance, human health,
       environmental implications, technology ownership, and farmer profitability are answered to the
       satisfaction of the majority of Canadians.

2.    Until the federal government respects the wishes of the people and introduces a moratorium,
       the following interim measures will help protectfarmers and other citizens.

Ownership and control of GM food technology

3.    All genetic resources and GM technology must be subject to democratic control, collective
       ownership, and not-for-profit distribution.

4.    Citizens through their governments, not corporations, must control genetic research and the
       development of GM products.

5.    Public money directed to agricultural research must serve the interests of Canadians. Such
       money must be spent on research into sustainable systems of agriculture which improve the
       nutrition and safety of food, the health of the environment, and the incomes of farmers.

6.    "Terminator", "Traitor", and similar Genetic Use Restriction technologies, along with the
        WTO's Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement, restrict farmers'
        right to save, trade, and reuse seed. Thus, they are unacceptable.

7.    Canada must work to end the export of GM foods and seeds to countries which lack
        adequate regulation, safety, and inspection regimes to deal with such imports.

Genetic Pollution

8.    It is unreasonable to allow genetic modification companies to privately reap profits and
        not require that they also assume all costs.  Genetic pollution is one such cost. Companies
        producing genetically modified seeds admit that some plants can "outcross" in an
        uncontrolled fashion. Genetic pollution seriously erodes the incomes of organic farmers and
        those who do not use GM seeds. Government must hold genetic modification companies
        accountable for the costs their products create for other farmers and the general public.

9.    The federal government must compel companies which own patents on GM seeds or livestock
        to set up contingency funds to compensate for product liability and legislate efficient and
        accessible mechanisms to enable liability claims to be effectively pursued.

Markets and consumer acceptance

10.    Food products which contain GM ingredients must be subject to clear, consistent,
        mandatory labelling.

11.   Labelling, information, and ready access to alternatives are the three essential elements of
        consumers' right to choose. Consumers and farmers must have access to non-GM food

12.   The federal government must establish and enforce strict and effective segregation programs
        for cropping, transportation, storage, and marketing of GM crops.

13.    No GM crops, livestock, or food products should be licensed or introduced until major
        domestic and international customers have indicated their acceptance.

Health effects

14.    Food--genetically-modified and non-modified alike--must be adequately tested, regulated,
        and inspected. These critical tasks must be performed by a sufficient number of
        adequately-funded, independent, publicly-paid inspectors.

15.    Independent scientists at publicly-funded and operated labs under the jurisdiction of the
        Federal Minister of Health must conduct exhaustive long-term human health testing on GM
        foods. The assumption that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM analogs
        is unproven.

16.    The Precautionary Principle must be the basis for assessing the human health effects of GM
        food. Where human health and safety are concerned, mere "risk assessment" is not

Environmental effects

17.    Prior to environmental release, GM seeds, animals, and organisms must be subject to
        environmental assessment. The Precautionary Principle must form the basis for assessing
        environmental effects.

18.    Given that the negative environmental effects of GM crops--super-weeds, displacement of
        species, destruction of habitat, loss of genetic diversity--may be huge, and that the existence
        and magnitude of these effects are largely unknown, the Precautionary Principle clearly
        indicates that we should not introduce GM plants, livestock, or other organisms into our

The NFU Convention ends Saturday.


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