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
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
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
Led by the U.S., GM crops are now grown in more than 16 countries
In 2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of
land with GM crops.