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