Canada's first GM free zone honored

November 9, 2004, Isabelle Southcott, The Powell River Peak -- Powell River has been presented with the provincial agricultural achievement of the year award for being declared the first genetically engineered (GE) free crop zone in Canada.

Julie Bellian, manager of the Open Air Market and organizer of the Powell River Fall Fair, accepted the award on behalf of the community at the BC Association of Agricultural Fairs and Exhibitions annual conference held in Abbotsford last month.

"The fall fair made a presentation describing the success of a coalition of local Powell River groups who succeeded in having the regional district [board] officially declare Powell River Regional District as a genetically engineered free crop zone," she said.

Although Bellian accepted the award she said she did so on behalf of the Powell River Coalition for Safe Food which includes the Powell River chapter of the Council of Canadians, the Powell River Farmers' Institute, the Powell River and District Agricultural Association, Small Planet Whole Foods, the Sierra Club, local farmers and other individuals.

Regional district directors declared the Powell River area as a GE free crop zone on June 24. Being a GE free crop zone means the area is free of propagating, cultivating or raising genetically engineered organisms by people, firms or corporations.

The month before Powell River was declared a GE free crop zone, Percy Schmeiser visited the area to talk about his fight with Monsanto and how genetically engineered crops are affecting Saskatchewan farmers. He is credited with being instrumental in creating awareness about the issue.

As a result of Powell River's success a national campaign has been launched to raise awareness about GE issues, said Bellian. Powell River will also support other agricultural communities and areas to become GE free, she said, noting that other communities will look to Powell River for advice and information on how to proceed in this area.

New local enterprises including seed companies and permaculture (sustainable organic gardening and farming) have sprung up and are offering workshops and training opportunities.

Future plans for Powell River include a new community garden with a training component as part of the Open Air Market. As well, Powell River's local seed exchange has had an increase in membership this year.

At the fall fair in September, hundreds of people stopped by the Powell River Farmers' Institute booth looking for information on seed saving, said Bellian. "And at least 1,200 pamphlets were given out on GE free information."

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