BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko was in the Village of Keremeos last Wednesday, September 21 to host a forum on Genetic Modification and the future of food at Victory Hall.
Keynote speaker Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) joined Atamanenko along with April Reeves of the Society for a GE Free BC and local panellists Lee McFadyen and Andrea Turner to bring residents up to date on the latest information on genetically modified crops and foods.
Sharratt was first to speak, emphasizing the concerns that the panel had with the relatively new science of genetic engineering.
“Genetic modification and genetic engineering mean essentially the same thing,” she told the gathering of roughly 25.
“We feel that it is too early to apply the science to food. Not enough is known about the impacts GM foods could have on our health.”
Sharratt noted that there was 15 years of history behind genetic engineering. The first GM crop was canola, introduced in 1995. Corn, soy, white sugar beets and papaya are GM crops grown in the U.S.; there are seven GM crops grown globally.
“Consumer backlash is slowing the spread of the science,” Sharratt continued.
“GM science has failed to fulfill its public promise.”
Originally, proponents of GM foods extolled such health benefits as a “cancer fighting broccoli,” but most of that message turned out to be public relations work, Sharratt said. Instead, the industry continues to lack labelling of GM products, there is continuing secrecy behind government decisions with respect to GM policy, and agriculturalists are finding herbicide tolerant weeds and insects growing resistant to toxins. Additionally, seed prices have soared.
“GM has certainly fulfilled its corporate promise,” Sharratt added, noting the corporate monopolies behind the movement were reaping immense profits – and power – from their application of the science.
“There is a growing movement amongst consumers to gain control of how foods are grown,” Sharratt said, “and the question, how does GM food fit in to the vision of food supply? is being asked.”
Three products are nearing commercial certification for genetic modification, alfalfa being one. There is fear over GM manipulation of the crop because of the huge risk of contamination to the non GM market.
Local panellist Lee McFadyen also noted that GM science had not lived up to its billing.
“High yields promised with the increased use of herbicides has resulted in herbicide tolerant weeds, and herbicide in everything,” she said. “Genetic modification is adding something into the environment that we don’t know enough about – are these substances detectable in human blood? Greater crop production hasn’t happened.
We should be insisting that GM products be labelled as well.”
Andrea Turner, a local orchardist, said local concerns over GM foods included a genetically modified apple that many growers were fighting.
We don’t want it,” she said.
Panellist April Reeves spoke of the introduction of GM plants that were modified to to produce toxins that would be fatal to insects that feed on the plant.
“Food shouldn’t kill,” she said simply, “there’s got to be a consequence to this type of manipulation.” She pointed out that earlier in the day, at a forum in Osoyoos, Area “C” Director Allan Patton resolved to bring the matter of creating a “GM Free Zone” to the attention of the RDOS board of directors.
Alex Atamanenko spoke of his efforts to bring Bill C-474 to passage in the House of Commons last spring. He told the group about Wikileaks’ exposure of a Monsanto based conspiracy with the U.S. government to force the science on the public.
“The corporate sector has powerful control,” he said, “and the research they have done is corporate science – not independent.
A lot of advances have been stopped because people have intervened,” he added, noting that a population’s voice, united in the matter could have a profound effect on the direction the science was going.
“GM alfalfa is the most important crop to be concerned about to date,” he concluded, “it’s becoming an issue of survival for our farmers.”
After messages from the panel were completed, audience members posed questions, with a focus of interest regarding the politics surrounding the defeat of Atamanenko’s bill.
Sharratt also went into further detail with respect to the engineering process that creates genetically modified food, describing it as “an invasive and violent process.”
“The debate is whether gene manipulation matters or not,” she said. “What are the side effects, if any – no one knows. One thing that is being focussed on is suppression of the immune system.
We are eating corn that contains toxins to kill insects. Is the toxin in our blood? The integrity of organisms is in question – or at risk.”