Canadian growers warn UK farmers of GMO crop risks

LONDON, England, November 5, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- Reuters, 11/03/03: Canadian farmers with first hand experience growing genetically modified (GMO) crops say the technology will damage Britain's booming organic food sector and leave fields strewn with "super weeds" grown from stray, leftover seeds.

"I took the decision to stop growing GM canola (the Canadian variant of rapeseed) because it was impossible to stop it spreading to other fields -- the seeds cling to the machinery and are easily transferred, even with intensive cleaning," David Bailey, a Saskatchewan-based farmer told Reuters on Monday.

"My neighbors all had the same problem," he added.

But suppliers of GM seeds say the majority of Canadian growers are not complaining.

"Conservative estimates indicate that 65 percent of the Canadian canola crop in 2002 was genetically modified. It can only capture this portion of the market if it offers significant advantages to Canadian farmers," a spokesman for the London-based Agriculture Biotechnology Commission (ABC), which represents major biotech firms like Monsanto, said.

Bailey, who grew herbicide-tolerant rapeseed on around 350 hectares (865 acres) in the late 1990s, said he also found few economic benefits in growing the gene-spliced variety.

"The only party to profit was the chemical company that charged me a license fee," said Bailey, who was invited to Britain to tell local growers of his experiences by the pro-organic UK Soil Association.

Jim Robbins, a Canadian grower who is converting from conventional to organic farming and who is also talking with UK farmers this week, said GMO crops would ruin the livelihoods of organic farmers.

"You can't grow organic canola in Canada anymore, simply because the GM variety exists," Robbins said.

"The potential problems with GM crops have been well documented in the UK -- our experiences bear out these concerns."

A group representing 1,000 organic farmers in the Saskatchewan province has already taken out a class-action suit against two major manufacturers of GMO crops for making it impossible for them to grow rapeseed on their land, since they can no longer guarantee that it is GM-free.

GM wheat worries grow

But David Bailey said Canada's farming sector is now facing an even bigger GM threat, this time from wheat, which U.S. biotech giant Monsanto is keen to introduce.

"With GM canola, we lost a C$300-400 million (a year) market share because Europe stopped importing it. If Canada grows GM wheat, we stand to lose much, much more than that. It will shut off even bigger and more important markets for us," Bailey said.

Monsanto has been conducting field trials in western Canada to develop GM "Roundup Ready" wheat for around three years. The plants are genetically altered to be unaffected when the herbicide "Roundup" is used on the fields to control weeds.

The U.S. agricultural sciences firm has said it will not move to commercially release GM wheat until concerns about segregation and market acceptance are fully addressed, although it still argues that GM wheat will cut costs and increase yields by simplifying weed control.

The UK government has said it will decide whether GM crops should be commercially grown in Britain once it has weighed up all the scientific and economic evidence it has at its disposal, as well as the results of a recent public consultation.

However, research papers published last month by scientists who carried out the government's three-year-long GMO crop trials failed to show GMO crops in a positive light, concluding that two crops were harmful to the environment, while another was not.

And in two separate studies, UK researchers have found that bees carrying GM rapeseed pollen had contaminated conventional plants more than 26 kilometers (16 miles) away and that if farmers grew GM rapeseed for one season, impurities could stay in the soil for up to 16 years if not "rigorously controlled."

Britain's public are also highly skeptical of GM crops.

There are no GM crops in the ground in the UK at present and no imminent plantings.

Led by the U.S., GM crops are now grown in more than 16 countries outside Europe.

In 2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of land with GM crops.

wl_canada_nm/canada_food_britain_gmo_col_1 11-5-03

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