Canada's Farmers Call for Moratorium on GE Food & Crops

December 2000

SASKATOON, Sask.--At their Annual Convention, NFU delegates representing
members across Canada passed a new NFU policy on genetically modified food.
The policy calls for "a moratorium on the production, importation,
distribution, and sale of GM food". The policy is reprinted below:

NFU Policy on Genetically Modified (GM) Foods


The NFU believes that all Canadians--farmers and non-farmers alike--must
engage in an informed debate on the genetic modification of food. Citizens
must examine genetically modified (GM) food in the largest possible social,
historical, environmental, economic, and ethical context. After that
debate, citizens--not the corporations that promote these products--must
decide whether to accept or reject GM food.

Squeezed by falling incomes, farmers look to technologies that claim higher
returns or reduced costs. Over the past decades, however, farmers have
embraced a wide range of technologies, only to watch net farm incomes fall.
Between 1974 and 2000, gross farm income tripled. Net farm income, however,
fell. Input suppliers were able to capture 100% of farmers' increased gross
returns. Because fertilizers, chemicals, and other technologies failed to
fulfill their promises of farm profitability, many farmers rightly question
the economic benefits of genetically modifying crops and livestock.

While the benefits are questionable, risks and costs are real. Consumers
are rejecting GM foods. Markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere are closing
and domestic markets are likewise threatened. This is driving prices down.
Closing markets and falling prices threaten to overwhelm any small,
short-term economic benefits that GM crops or livestock may offer. Further,
the proliferation of some GM crops has effectively deprived many organic
farmers of the option to grow those crops.

Further, GM seeds and livestock give corporations increased control over
family farms. Any initial economic benefits will be quickly outweighed as
farmers are drawn further under corporate control. More than any previous
technology--such as fertilizers or tractors--patented seeds sold through
contract and multi-page technology use agreements clearly erode farmers'

Turning to human health, there has not been a systematic, scientific
investigation of the health effects of GM foods. The unscientific
assumption of "substantial equivalence" is insufficient reason to forgo
comprehensive, independent health testing.

There are also many unanswered questions about the environmental risks of
GM crops and livestock. Genetic modification threatens to unbalance the
biosphere, create "super-weeds," endanger beneficial insects, and erode
bio-diversity. Bio-diversity is a vital source of raw materials for
agriculture and an essential component of environmental well-being.

The NFU policy on GM foods recognizes that almost all of the questions
surrounding this technology remain unanswered. The policy attempts to
introduce precaution and prudence into a process of GM food proliferation
driven by profit. Because this technology has the potential to threaten the
environment, human health, and the economic wellbeing of farmers, Canadians
should debate and study before we plant and eat.

General policy and action plan

1. The federal government must impose a moratorium on the production,
importation, distribution, and sale of GM food until questions regarding
consumer acceptance, human health, environmental implications, technology
ownership, and farmer profitability are answered to the satisfaction of the
majority of Canadians.

2. Until the federal government respects the wishes of the people and
introduces a moratorium, the following interim measures will help protect
farmers and other citizens.

Ownership and control of GM food technology

3. All genetic resources and GM technology must be subject to democratic
control, collective ownership, and not-for-profit distribution.

4. Citizens through their governments, not corporations, must control
genetic research and the development of GM products.

5. Public money directed to agricultural research must serve the interests
of Canadians. Such money must be spent on research into sustainable systems
of agriculture which improve the nutrition and safety of food, the health
of the environment, and the incomes of farmers.

6. "Terminator", "Traitor", and similar Genetic Use Restriction
technologies, along with the WTO's Trade-Related Intellectual Property
Rights (TRIPs) agreement, restrict farmers' right to save, trade, and reuse
seed. Thus, they are unacceptable.

7. Canada must work to end the export of GM foods and seeds to countries
which lack adequate regulation, safety, and inspection regimes to deal with
such imports.

Genetic Pollution

8. It is unreasonable to allow genetic modification companies to privately
reap profits and not require that they also assume all costs. Genetic
pollution is one such cost. Companies producing genetically modified seeds
admit that some plants can "outcross" in an uncontrolled fashion. Genetic
pollution seriously erodes the incomes of organic farmers and those who do
not use GM seeds. Government must hold genetic modification companies
accountable for the costs their products create for other farmers and the
general public.

9. The federal government must compel companies which own patents on GM
seeds or livestock to set up contingency funds to compensate for product
liability and legislate efficient and accessible mechanisms to enable
liability claims to be effectively pursued.

Markets and consumer acceptance

10. Food products which contain GM ingredients must be subject to clear,
consistent, mandatory labelling.

11. Labelling, information, and ready access to alternatives are the three
essential elements of consumers' right to choose. Consumers and farmers
must have access to non-GM food alternatives.

12. The federal government must establish and enforce strict and effective
segregation programs for cropping, transportation, storage, and marketing
of GM crops.

13. No GM crops, livestock, or food products should be licensed or
introduced until major domestic and international customers have indicated
their acceptance.

Health effects

14. Food--genetically-modified and non-modified alike--must be adequately
tested, regulated, and inspected. These critical tasks must be performed by
a sufficient number of adequately-funded, independent, publicly-paid

15. Independent scientists at publicly-funded and operated labs under the
jurisdiction of the Federal Minister of Health must conduct exhaustive
long-term human health testing on GM foods. The assumption that GM foods
are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM analogs is unproven.

16. The Precautionary Principle must be the basis for assessing the human
health effects of GM food. Where human health and safety are concerned,
mere "risk assessment" is not acceptable.

Environmental effects

17. Prior to environmental release, GM seeds, animals, and organisms must
be subject to environmental assessment. The Precautionary Principle must
form the basis for assessing environmental effects.

18. Given that the negative environmental effects of GM crops--super-weeds,
displacement of species, destruction of habitat, loss of genetic
diversity--may be huge, and that the existence and magnitude of these
effects are largely unknown, the Precautionary Principle clearly indicates
that we should not introduce GM plants, livestock, or other organisms into
our biosphere.

The NFU Convention ends Saturday.

-- 30 --

For More Information:
Cory Ollikka, NFU President;
Peter Dowling, NFU Ontario Coordinator; or
Darrin Qualman, Executive Secretary.
All three can be reached at the Confederation Inn, (306) 384-2882, Saturday
and Sunday, or by calling the NFU National Office, (306) 652-9465.

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