ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

25 November 2002


1. Canada afraid to upset US with GM labels
2. 180,000 Canadians ask government to stop patenting of seeds


1. Canada afraid to upset US with GM labels

November 21, 2002
Western Producer
Barry Wilson

OTTAWA -- American hostility to the idea, and Canada's fear of falling out of step with the United States, are why Canada should not adopt mandatory labelling of genetically modified food, says the federal government.

An Agriculture Canada statement on the labelling issue, tabled in Parliament in early November without public announcement, insisted that it is best left to the industry to decide whether to label for GM content.

The department conceded that markets, including the European Union and Japan, are moving toward demanding mandatory product labels, but Canada's biggest customer is not.

"The adoption of mandatory labelling system by Canada could have a significant impact on its trade relationship with its largest agricultural trading partner, the United States, which does not support mandatory labelling of biotechnology-derived foods," said the departmental response.

"Not only is the U.S. Canada's largest agri-food export market but Canadian agri-food industries and markets are highly integrated with those of the U.S.

"A disjointed approach with the U.S. on voluntary versus mandatory labelling could place both trade and investment at risk."

For Council of Canadians biotech campaigner Nadège Adam, it was the most blunt government admission yet that the North American Free Trade Agreement has ended Canada's ability to develop independent domestic policy.

"It is an admission that because of free trade, we're not able to do a simple domestic policy decision like decide whether and how to label products," she said. "Yet all through the free trade debate, the government insisted we would always be able to make our own domestic policy. It's disgusting."

Some trade officials have warned that a mandatory labelling regime in Canada likely would be challenged by the U.S. as a new trade barrier that contravenes NAFTA rules.

In its report, the government said it continues to support voluntary labelling and will help fund research that continues to assess long-term health and environmental consequences of GM production.

But Adam argued that it will be impossible to do long-term studies on the health impacts of sustained GM food consumption because without labels, it is impossible to tell who is eating GM products and how much.

"How can you do post-market surveys if you can't identify the product in the market? It doesn't make sense."

Agriculture Canada said decisions about whether to label for customer demand, whether to segregate products and develop identity-preserved systems are marketing decisions and not health and nutrition decisions, since there is no evidence that GM products are different from conventional products.

"A voluntary labelling system will allow commodity organizations and companies to do their own analyses, make their own business decisions and develop their own strategies based on their buyers', and ultimately consumers', requirements."

The department also said a mandatory system would add costs throughout the Canadian food system that would put business at a disadvantage when competing with products from countries that do not require labels.

"On the other hand, as food exporters Canadian agriculture and agri-food companies must be sensitive to a range of constantly changing customer preferences," it said. "There are buyers in international markets who in response not only to their respective regulatory environments but to their customers' demands, want products to be differentiated based on whether the ingredients are or are not derived from biotechnology."



November 21, 2002
From a press release

TORONTO- As International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew tours Africa on a mission to promote trade as the key to solving Africa's problems, 63 boxes containing 180,000 petition postcards addressed to him were delivered to Parliament Hill today urging the federal government to take a public stand against the patenting of living organisms, especially seeds. The petitions are part of a Canada-wide campaign organized by the Canadian Catholic Organization for DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE (CCODP).

The patenting issue affects small-scale farmers in the African countries the Canadian mission will visit. These farmers' right to food security is threatened by World Trade Organization negotiations on intellectual property rights that could allow the patenting of life forms, including the seeds that traditional farmers have developed over generations. Canada's stand against the patenting of life forms could make a difference for these farmers.

DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE President Roger Dubois said today that Mr.  Pettigrew has repeatedly rebuffed efforts in recent months to allow CCODP to meet with him to accept delivery of the petition. Because of this several opposition MPs have undertaken to "symbolically table" the petition in the House of Commons during the coming weeks.

CCODP hopes that delivering the petition - both symbolically, to the House of Commons, and literally, to the parliamentary mail room - will encourage the federal government to announce publicly that it opposes patenting life.

Mr. Dubois said that he was very grateful to opposition party MPs for "their efforts to defend Canadian citizens' democratic right to be heard on this issue."

DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE says the concept of international property rights should not be applied to matters that are essential to human kind, such as farmers' right to own the seeds they use. CCODP fears that trade negotiations being conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade could undermine efforts by other government officials, such as International Cooperation Minister Susan Whelan, to develop agricultural initiatives in developing countries.

Canada is one of the four chief negotiators at a World Trade Organization meeting on international property rights in Geneva next Monday, November 25, 2002, involving the WTO's TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council. The other chief negotiators are Japan, the U.S., and the European Union. The Canadian representative is Catherine Dickson of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Mr. Dubois said that an estimated 1.4 billion people in the world depend on farm-saved seeds for their livelihoods. "For centuries these seeds have been freely saved, exchanged and sold. The WTO's TRIPS agreement currently endangers farmers rights to continue these practices," he said. Patents have already been taken out on the five main food crops: rice, wheat, maize, soya and sorghum. Six multinational corporations, Aventis, Dow, DuPont, Mitsui, Monsanto and Syngenta control almost 70% of these patents.

"Farmers who grow patented crops may have to sign contracts and pay royalties to the patent holder to use their seeds," Mr. Dubois said, "thus jeopardizing their livelihoods by restricting their traditional right to save, use, exchange and sell their seeds." Many farmers have already been sued in the U.S. and Canada for using farm-patented seeds.

The Canadian Catholic Organization FOR DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE helps people of all faiths through community development programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Launched in 1967 as Canada's official Catholic overseas development organization, it promotes awareness about the causes of poverty and underdevelopment through education and action programs in Canada and solidarity with people in the South.

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