Canadian farm organizations representing a diversity of farmers and production systems are asking the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lawrence MacAulay, to take immediate action to stop any further release of genetically modified (GM or genetically engineered) alfalfa seed, following an announcement by the company Forage Genetics International (FGI) that it has sold a limited quantity for spring 2016 planting in Eastern Canada.
This is the first time that any GM alfalfa has been sold in Canada. A letter signed by 15 farm organizations calls upon the Minister to remove variety registration for all GM alfalfa until a full economic impact assessment is conducted, and to establish a protocol for testing all imports of alfalfa seed grown in the US.
These measures would stop the sale of GM alfalfa seed in Canada and prevent the inadvertent importation of GM alfalfa via contaminated seed from the US where it has already been introduced. “It’s imperative that the government take urgent action to stop the commercial introduction of GM alfalfa, to prevent irreversible contamination,” said Marcel Groleau, President of the Union des Producteurs Agricoles, which is the Union of Agricultural Producers in Quebec. “So many farmer livelihoods will be threatened by proliferation of this one GM crop,” said Peter Eggers, an alfalfa producer in Alberta and National Farmers Union Board member. “Alfalfa is an amazing crop for so many farmers. Losing alfalfa to GM contamination would be devastating for many farmers and consumers.
Contamination from GM alfalfa would have serious negative impacts on many different types of farmers and farming systems, both conventional and organic.” Alfalfa is grown on almost 30 per cent of Canada’s cropland. Alfalfa is used as high-protein feed for dairy and meat animals (hay and pasture). It’s also used in crop rotations to build up the nutrients in soil, making it important for growing grains and vegetables.
Canada is the one of the world’s top five exporters of alfalfa pellets and cubes, and exports over $50 million of alfalfa seed every year. However many of Canada’s export markets have not yet approved GM alfalfa. “The introduction of GM alfalfa could mean we lose some valuable export markets,” said Heather Kerschbaumer of Forage Seed Canada which represents all forage seed producers in Canada, “The risks and costs are just too high for our industry.”
The risk of GM alfalfa spreading to where it is not wanted is acknowledged as particularly high because alfalfa is a perennial crop that is pollinated by bees, it often grows wild in uncultivated areas, and it has tiny seeds. “Canada’s growing and high-value organic sector could be seriously harmed by GM alfalfa,” said Lisa Mumm, board member of the Canada Organic Trade Association and a farmer-owner of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds which grows and sells organic spouting seeds for the consumer market, “Many farmers rely on alfalfa to produce a range of organic foods for Canadians.” GM alfalfa is a major concern for organic farmers because the Canadian Organic Standard prohibits the use of GM seeds.
FGI has approval to sell alfalfa with two genetically modified traits licensed from Monsanto, for glyphosate-tolerance and low-lignin