Congratulations to the Richmond Food Security Society and GE Free BC! On May 28, the city of Richmond passed a ban on crops grown from genetically engineered (commonly known as "GE", "GM" and "GMO") seeds. Richmond joins seven other BC GE-free zones: Salt Spring Island, Denman Island, Powell River, Kaslo, Nelson, New Denver, and Rossland. As the largest agricultural municipality in the Greater Vancouver / Lower Mainland area, Richmond's declaration against GE-based agriculture is a significant victory.
The details of the resolution are on the City of Richmond website.
Crop Life, an industry lobby group for agricultural corporations such as Dupont, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience and Monsanto, sent a representative to the Richmond council meeting where the motion was approved. While Crop Life argues that GE crops are safe, opponents disagree.
People opposed to GE agriculture argue that the risks of GE agricultural are not being honestly evaluated, given that the research into their safety and side-effects is funded by the companies that make the GE products and that the research is largely closed to outside scrutiny. (The agriculture corporations claim that their intellectual property rights would be compromised if they allowed access to their research.)
The opponents of GE agricultural are often lobbying simply for labeling requirements on products that contain GE components so that consumers can choose whether to ingest GE materials. Many countries in the world (including the European Union) have this kind of labeling program, but Canada and US do not.
This is not a small issue. It is estimated that at least 60% of processed foods contained genetically engineered ingredients. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2010, as much as 86 percent of corn, up to 90 percent of all soybeans and nearly 93 percent of cotton grown were GM varieties.
Aside from consumer concerns, many people are concerned about the impact that GE agriculture has on the environment. As an example, one of the purposes of genetically engineered crops is to increase their resistance to pesticides containing glyphosate. Glyphosate is linked to a variety of health impacts on mammals, birds and amphibians. Even the recommended household dosages are fatal to frogs and damage soil.
GE agriculture damages farmers by locking them into a feudalistic relationship with agricultural corporations, legally binding them to use only the seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides provided by those companies. Farmers are not allowed to save seed or to develop their own regionally-appropriate hybrids.
GE agriculture damages the environment by enabling factory farming methods, where large crop monocultures reduce biological diversity and soil fertility. Farmers must rely on artificial methods (approved and supplied by the agriculture corporations) to compensate for this damage.
Farmers who do not use GE products are also impacted. Famously, Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued in 1997 by Monsanto when more than 320 hectares of his land were contaminated by Monsanto's herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready canola that was being grown on neighboring farms. Unlike many farmers who cannot legally defend themselves against litigious and deep-pocketed Monsanto, Percy Schmeiser fought all the way to Canada's supreme court.
While the court decided on appeal in 2004 that Schmeiser was not required to pay Monsanto as he did not profit from the presence of Roundup Ready canola in his field, they upheld Monsanto's patent rights, declaring that regardless of how the GE seed ended up on the farmer's land, the farmer was infringing unless he or she was in a contractual relationship with Monsanto.
By tackling the GE agriculture problem at the source - the farm and the municipality where is is located - the Richmond Food Security Society and GE Free BC! have scored a major victory against GE agriculture, showing that local citizens understand the impact of GE, the benefits of being GE-free and that people have rights over their local environment.
However, the real battle is at the federal, not municipal level. GE crops are federally regulated, and Richmond has little legal power to enforce its ban. Instead, it must concentrate on lobbying provincial and federal levels of government and adding its support to other anti-GE organizations.
You can support non-GE agriculture by buying organic (and preferable local) food.
If you are a gardener, buy seeds and plants from non-GE sources. For example, Westcoast Seeds (based in Ladner, BC, but also offering a catalog / mail order service) offers non-GE seeds. If you know of a place to buy organic or non-GE bedding plants and vegetable starts, please add it in the comments.
If you are interested in starting a group in Maple Ridge / Pitt Meadows that lobbies local government to ban GE agriculture, the Golden Ears Transition Initiative would be happy to have you in our family. Leave a message in the comments and we'll help you get set up.
Local groups interested in similar issues include: