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For too long the dialogue around genetically engineered foods and crops has been around the issue of labelling. Given the unattended consequences of this technology, and the emerging science related to its hazards, coupled with the global commitment to the precautionary principle, it becomes imperative to institute a complete ban on genetically engineered foods and crops. The essence of the precautionary principle is that where there is a threat to the environment and to human health the lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone measures to prevent the threat. Too often governments wait for harm to occur before acting and consequently we are living in the wake of years of negligence related to practices and substances introduced into the ecosystem.
Government and industry are again being negligent with the introduction of genetically engineered foods (euphemistically called "novel foods" ). These genetically engineered foods have been approved in Canada at least since 1994: insect-resistant corn, high oleic acid canola, Glufosinate tolerant corn, Glyphosate Tolerant canola, Colorado Potato Beetle resistant potato etc. Once approved using Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods (Health Canada, 1994), growers can buy seeds from anywhere. In additon to the foods and crops already registered for use throughout Canada, there are field trials of genetically engineered foods and crops. The whereabouts of these trial fields is withheld because of fear of vandalism.
The federal government and all provincial governments have been promoting and facilitating the registration of genetically engineered food and crops euphemistically called "novel foods" in Canada.
Agriculture Canada along with other government departments has prepared an open-for-business brochure, Investing in Canada's Dynamic Agricultural Biotechnology Sector, including a map of Canada with Promo from each province. In this brochure the governments boast that "Thousands of field trials of ag-biotech products are already in process, more than in the entire European Union."
In this brochure the governments are offering the following enticements:
- "the access to a NAFTA market worth 8.5 trillion dollars (US) in GDP ...."many international companies are locating operations in Canada because it offers secure access to the richest marked in the world, North America.
- "succesful partnerships with universities, industry and governments; ...the agriculture sector benefits from more than 10,000 new post-secondary graduates in agricultural and biological sciences each year...and that investors in Canada's ag-biotech sector will find: a staff of approximately 30,000 including 10,000 specializing in ag-biotech";
- "comprehensive financial incentives" such as "best R& D tax credits among leading industrialized countries" "large companies can qualify for a federal tax credit of 20% on eligible R&S spending. That credit can be enough to eliminate federal income tax for some companies. It cuts taxes significantly for many others". Small Canadian-controlled companies can qualify for a federal tax credit of 35 % on their first $2 million in R&D. That tax credit is also fully refundable".
A job creation program: but at what cost!.
Citizens must Call For Banning Of Genetically Engineered Foods And Crops: The First Grassroots Gathering on Biodevastation: Genetic Engineering took place in St Louis, USA on July 17-19 1998. This international conference brought together over 200 scientists, NGO representatives, political parties and other citizens. I attended the conference for the purpose of encouraging the groups and individuals opposed to genetically engineered food and crops to unite in calling for the banning of genetically engineered food and crops.
In my session I presented the Biodevastation Declaration calling for the Banning of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops which I had drafted prior to the conference and then had expanded during the conference by adding the strong statements made by other participants such as Vandana Shiva. The Declaration was approved in principle by the plenary and resolutions were passed related to measures against genetically engineered foods and crops and related issues. Text of the revised final St. Louis Biodevastation Declaration.
At a press conference on Tuesday September 29 in the Parliamentary press Gallery, in Ottawa, I presented a formal petition calling for the Banning of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops to the media. This petition calls upon the Federal government to do the following:
- To ban all genetically engineered foods and crops;
- To require a formal survey of Canadians in which the proven and potential health and environmental hazards are disclosed and that unless there is a consensus in Canada to retain the existing foods and crops all existing genetically engineered foods to be taken off the market;
- To require growers, food wholesalers and retailers to immediately and fully disclose the proven and potential health and environmentally hazards of genetically engineered foods and crops currently in production and for sale, and only thereafter to obtain a formal and written consensus from their consumers as to the future presence within the main stream Canadian food supply of existing genetically engineered foods and crops;
- To require a formal across Canada survey in which the proven and potential health and environmental hazards are disclosed and that unless there is a consensus in Canada to retain the existing foods and crops all existing genetically engineered foods must be taken off the market;
- To disband the human genome diversity project and put an end to the colonization of the genes of indigenous people;
- To cease all involvement with "biopiracy" and misappropriation of the knowledge of indigenous peoples;
- To ban "terminator" seed technology and to cease all "terminator" tests and ban its application.;
- To lobby internationally for the banning of all genetically engineered foods and crops;
- To discontinue all funding to universities for research into the development of genetically engineered foods and crops;
- To prohibit all corporate funding for genetically engineered food and crops of universities;
- To keep forests, farms and food safe, and opposing the genetic engineering of all plants and animals;
- To abolish patents of genetic sequences and living organisms in the form of "intellectual property rights";
- To encourage smaller-scaled organic farming, local food systems, home-scale gardening, and ecosystem restoration, and oppose the consolidation of corporate and monocrop farming and their reliance on genetic engineering and toxic herbicides and insecticides.
One of the opposition health critics in Parliament has undertaken to put this petition on the floor of the House of Commons. The Green Party of Canada has set up a "Banning Genetically engineered foods and crops" fund where citizens can contribute money and receive tax receipts.
The Green Party Canada was instrumental in forming an AdHoc Coalition for the Banning of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops which co-ordinated the October 15 "Global Day of Action Against Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops". On October 15, we donned lab coats and went in front of 8 supermarkets congratulating clients for being part of a global experiment. The Coalition also put together two street theater skits on the "terminator gene" and the "transgenic cafe". Both of these were performed in front of the Federal government office in Victoria and in front of the legislature of British Columbia. Also in front of the legislature,the Raging Grannies -the infamous singing activist group- poured simulated milk into a container to demonstrate against BGH and rBST.
At the institutional level in Canada the Senate of Canada held a series of hearing investigating rBST and the tampering with a gap analysis report which had been prepared by government scientists. This Committe meeting was well publicized particularly about the pressure from Monsanto on the scientists and about the shredding of documents.
I attended the first rally against Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-one of the major seats of genetic engineering in Canada. I visited the local office of Monsanto at the University of Saskatoon. On November 25, I gave a public lecture in Saskatoon at the library on the need to call for the Banning of Genetically Engineered foods and Crops.
The Green Party of Canada is circulating internationally the draft Biodevastation Declaration against Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops with the hope of moving the dialogue opposing genetically engineered foods and crops from calling for labelling only to calling for outright banning.