The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, BC, Canada
January 03, 2008
Title: The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer: Saskatchewan Organic Farmers vs. Monsanto/Bayer
Producer/Host Jon Steinman
Transcribed by Heather Keczan
Jon Steinman: And welcome to the first 2008 broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner, produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY. It was two years ago this week that Deconstructing Dinner first aired here in Nelson, and today's broadcast marks the 82nd one-hour show produced here in our studios and the topic for today is certainly an important one to launch the new year with.
It was only a few weeks ago on December 13, that a group of Saskatchewan organic farmers received word that their efforts of almost 6 years to bring two of the most influential agricultural corporations to court under class action status, has failed. And what these Saskatchewan farmers had been attempting, could have, if successful, set a precedent that would have changed the face of agriculture around the world. Now their efforts are farm from over, as the denial of class action status does not eliminate the merits of the case itself. And it's for this reason why it's so important to launch this year with this topic, as Canadian media has yet to pick up on how important of a case these Saskatchewan farmers have raised, and we're going to learn more about this over the next hour. The voices you are about to hear on the program consist of Monsanto Canada's General Manager Sean Gardner, who I interviewed back in September 2007 in Saskatoon at the CropLife Canada conference. We will also hear segments from my phone conversations with Arnold Taylor, who among his many roles is the President of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate. We'll hear from Marc Loiselle, the Communications and Research Director for the Directorate's Organic Agriculture Protection Fund Comimttee. We will hear the voice of Mischa Popoff, a former Organic Inspector who attended the CropLife Canada conference and posed a shocking question to a panel of presenters. And we will hear a question posed to that same panel by Denise Dewar, the then Executive Director of Plant Biotechnology for CropLife Canada.
Today's show marks the first of a series of broadcasts, with future episodes exploring, in depth, the threats that genetically engineered crops pose to farmers. We will listen in on recordings of the first meeting here in the Kootenay region of British Columbia whereby residents began discussing the creation of a region that will be free of genetically engineered crops. We will look back on the media coverage across the country throughout 2007 on the topic of genetic modification and make some interesting links between what is happening in Saskatchewan and here in the Kootenay region of BC. This series is titled, The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer: And this part I titled Saskatchewan Organic Farmers versus Monsanto and Bayer.
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In introducing today's topic which will feed into next week's broadcast as well, it's first important to look at how the Canadian and North American persepctives of our food have changed since this program first began airing in January 2006. Two years ago, it seemed far more necessary to constantly reemphasize during broadcasts the importance of eating locally that eating locally supports local economies, it reduces our impact on the planet and on ourselves and it increases access to healthier and tastier food. But Deconstructing Dinner was launched before the wave of interest in local food hit the mainstream, and since the widespread acceptance of climate change and the tremendous success of books such as The Omnivore's Dillema and The 100-Mile Diet, there seems to now be much less of a need to introduce the importance of local eating it has, in many cases become common knowledge.
So as perspectives have indeed changed since Deconstructing Dinner first aired two years ago, I've chosen to Iaunch today's broadcast with a rather blunt and terse introduction as to what today's topic represents.
For the past two years, having now researched food issues well over 40 hours a week, I've come to recognize not only what some of the most important and foundational topics are with respect to the sustainability of our food systems, but what major barriers threaten the future of a food system that is, as we speak, taking a tremendous toll on our environment, animals and on human health and well being.
And one of these barriers that we face is ourselves. And as we enter into 2008, I do want to strongly suggest that we indeed begin taking food more seriously in this new year, and I don't propose that such a task is an easy one. As has been stated on numerous occasions here on the program, it has been the very conveniences that our food system has afforded us over the past 50 or so years that has allowed for an easy yet dangerous level of apathy and lethargy towards what and how we eat. Quite simply, eating food today does not require much thought.
But this lack of energy and passion towards our food system has most importantly, made it very difficult to know just how we can go about becoming more responsible eaters. On the other side of the coin, those who are profiting most from our food system are taking full advantage of our apathy towards our food. And one of the outcomes of this apathy and one that has not nearly been covered within the media as often as it should be, has been the very recent abilty to possess ownership of lifeforms through most often, genetically modifying plants and animals. Now, this is an ongoing topic here on the program, genetic modification, and it will continue to be because of how new these technologies are and how prevalent genetically engineered foods have become on grocery store shelves and in restaurants.
For those listeners who are new to the topic, genetically modifying plants through transgenics involves inserting genes in a lab from one species or kingdom to another. Most often these new seed technologies are then sold to farmers along with chemical pesticides designed to specifically be used on the plants. By creating these new varieties, it has now become not only possible, but permissable to own a lifeform through the patening of these genetically modified seeds. Now this is of course among many concerns, an incredible issue of ethics, should lifeforms be allowed to be owned.
Now I know I wouldn't feel the need to cover this topic as much as we do here on Deconstructing Dinner if it weren't for the sheer lack of exposure this topic receives within Canadian media. In less than 12 years, the majority of some of the most widely cultivated crops in North America are now genetically modified, including corn, canola and soy among others. But on today's broadcast we will be examining a case that has been put forward by Saskatchewan organic farmers who are essentially challenging the ownership of lifeforms, and this case may very well mark the most convincing argument that lifeforms cannot be owned, unless, the owners themselves, are willing to compensate for the damanges that their property has caused others, which in this case, have been organic farmers. And if it's the future viability of organic farming and organic food that is of importance to you, then this case, I would suggest, is the most important one to pay attention to, and should you miss any of today's broadcast, it will be archived on our web site, at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner
If you were told, that organic farmers are giving up growing organic crops, would you be concerned. If you're answer is yes, then it's important to note that that is exactly what has been happening in places like Saskatchewan, where organic canola is hardly being cultivated anywhere. And the reason is quite simple. Organic standards prohibit the presence of genetically engineered organisms within the harvest, but since outcrossing between plants is unavoidable in nature, genetically engineered canola is so easily crossing with non-ge varieties being grown organcially, that these crops are unable to be certified as organic. And so for organic farmers, it's not worth the risk. And so while organic canola has all but disappeared from the Canadian prairies, an even greater concern is what could happen to Canadian wheat. Genetically engineered wheat does not yet exist in Canada, but the technology does, and one company, Monsanto, had been, up until just a few years ago, attempting to bring it onto the market. It was this that spurred farmers to action, and in particular, the Saskatchewarn Organic Directorate or SOD an organization operating since 1991 as an umbrella group for all organic producers, certifiers and processors in the province. SOD maintains a membership of 6-700 members.
Now Monsanto has long been at the forefront of the controversy around genetically engineered plants, and most notably, when they began trespassing onto farmers properties, taking samples, and then accusing farmers of stealing their technologies. One farmer who has now become world-renowned for his defiance of such actions, was Percy Schmeiser whose field of non-genetically engineered canola became the unwilling host to Monsanto's patented GE variety known as Roundup Ready Canola. Monsanto demanded that Percy pay the company for infringing on their patent, and he refused to settle out of court as most farmers had chosen to do. But it was this case, that eventually set the precedent that a company can indeed own the lifeforms (the plants) that inadvertently make their way onto a farmers field whether through seeds travelling in the wind, blowing off a passing truck, or from a contaminated bag of seed purchased from a supplier.
But if it's the nature of the case that has failed to recognize the ludicrousness of what is happening to Canadian farmers, then perhaps nature itself will help drive this idea home, because it's nature that farmers have begun to realize is working in their favour. And this is the most important point to stress on today's broadcast, that so long as a company maintains ownership of the seed and hence the plant, that that company should therefore maintain responsibility for the damages that their property causes to, in this case, farmers.
The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate has since 2002 been seeking compensation for the damages caused by the property owned by two companies, St.Louis Missouris Monsanto, and Germany's Bayer and their division Bayer CropScience. A class action lawsuit was chosen, as the issues raised by the two plaintiffs named in the case, are no different than those faced by any organic farmer operating in Canada. In May 2005, the lower court in Saskatchewan denied the group such class action status, and subsequent appeals were also denied in May 2007 and then again in December 2007 by the Supreme Court of Canada. This exhausted all legal avenues for such a case. But while the denial of acquiring such status is a blow to the farmers, it's far from being the end to their fight, and some remarks made by the judge in the case provide quite the ammunition for these farmers to challenge these companies individually instead of as a class.
To learn more about the case, I spoke with Arnold Taylor. Arnold operates Taylor Organic Farms in Kenaston, Saskatchewan where he farms on 3,000 acres with his son. He has been certified organic since 1992. He is the President of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and the Chair of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund that was launched to challenge Monsanto and Bayer. Arnold is also the President of the Canadian Organic Growers and the Chair of the Organic Federation of Canada. How he has time for all of this I don't know, but he is certainly one of the most well-known figures within the organic agriculture sector in Canada. Arnold spoke to me over the phone, and explained the first of the two major concerns that organic farmers face in Saskatchewan.
Arnold Taylor: If you're a certified organic farmer, you're inspected every year by an organic inspector for your certification body. So it's a process-based standard. Organic standards world-wide, including the new Canadain standards, transgenic technology or genetically-modifed or GMOs are prohibited as a method. So if you get any kind of GMO in your sytem whether you're a procesor or whether you're a producer, you have a problem; you have a certification problem, you have a clean-up problem: like if you were a canola grower wanting to grow canola and your seed got contamintated, it's a very simple test to see if that DNA is in there or not. First of all, in the standards that I live under which are OCA International, you would not be able to grow canola or any other crop that is related to that on that soil for as long as that seed is in the soill plus one year. As long as that seed is viable in the soil plus one year, so that could be as long as 5 years or 7 years, depends how long that seed is in the soil, and how long that seed is viable. So that's what you're looking at. I can grow wheat or some other crop, but I can't grow radish, I can't grow mustard, you know things that are related to Canola.
JS: The second major concern facing organic farmers are the clean up costs that must be incurred when their fields are contaminated with genetically engineered varieties. And Arnold Taylor explains.
Arnold Taylor: And then there's the other issue of clean-up costs because this stuff physically blows around the country because canola is in the mustard family and the mustard family is your typical tumbleweed and that's how it spreads its seeds, it breaks off at the root and blows around the country in the wind. So that's when it's swathed, and we've had cases where, well one of our plaintiffs actually, both of them actually had canola blown into their fields, physically from a neighbours swath, because we get big winds in this country. And it blows out there and then the seeds drop on your land so your land is contaminated. Then if you're growing a crop, any crop, you have to go out there physically and pull it up which is called roguing, which is time consuming and very hard work. You'd have 300 acres and you've got to go out and pick those weeds out of your crop, you know, and then Monsanto suggests that they will do that, but they don't do that in every case, it's all just smoke and mirrors. They did come out and take some out of Marc Loiselle's land, he's not a plaintiff but he was one of the guys on our committee. So there's clean-up costs that are associated with that technology. We had another guy that was about 3 years ago, he was from over here by Nakomis somwhere and he had a field of flax and a field of potaotes that had a whole bunch of GMO canola and this is all certified flax and certified seed pototoes and he had all this canola sprinkled throughout his crop. Now it's pretty hard to clean canola out of flax.
JS: Now it's these costs incurred by organic farmers that were the basis for seeking class action status in a lawsuit against Monsanto and Bayer the two companies who own most of the GE canola being grown in Saskatchewan. Back in 1988, the first ever patent was granted to a lifeform in the United States, in what is now known as the Harvard Mouse case. Canada meanwhile did not issue the patent until 2003, two years after the Federal Court of Canada ruled in favour of Monsanto during the Percy Schmeiser case, which determined that a company does indeed own the rights to a lifeform in that case a plant. And Arnold Taylor explains how it was this case that laid the groundwork for organic farmers to seek compensation for the damages caused by Monsanto and Bayer's legal property.
Arnold Taylor: In the U.S., it was said yes, it is patentable. In Canada, the Supreme Court said no, higher life forms aren't patentable. You can't own a patent on a higher life form. Then, Monsanto during all that process they sued Percy Schmeiser for patent infringement, that's what that case was about. And so the Supreme Court in that case said well yes, in the case of a plant, you do own the cell and by extension, you own the whole plant. So we know that from that decision that Monsanto and Bayer and anybody else who has those patents on lifeforms like that, they own it. We're saying ok, if you're the owner and you cause damages, you're responsible and just like if your bull was out in my field and he was tearing up my garden or whatever, you're responsible for what you own. You see that's fundamental common law. So our case comes along and says ok, you're the owner and we want damages cause you've caused damages to us, see, and that's the whole issue is the liability if this technology, they've got the best of both worlds, they have ownership rights without responsibility. They can put it out here as many as they want under the system right now and cause damage to anyone else unless we or somebody else can assign some kind of liabilty to them for the damages they cause, then that would be a significant issue on wheter or not they would want to introduce any new types of crop or whatever.
JS: Now stepping away for just a moment from my conversation with Arnold Taylor, we can look back to September 2007, when I attended the CropLife Canada conference in Saskatoon. CropLife is the trade association representing companies who specialize in genetically engineered crops and agricultural technologies such as pesticides. It was there that I met Sean Gardner, the general manager of Monsanto Canada, and following his presentation to an audience of mostly large agricultural corporations, I requested to sit down with him and ask him about the many controversies that surround his company. Now this was a rare opportunity, rarely do Monsanto executives speak to the press.
As the theme of the conference itself was, quote, the power of partnerships, Sean spoke to the audience about the importance of partnerships but did not address the seemingly poor partnerships that the company is forging with organic farmers. And so I chose to pose this very question to him. Take a listen.
Jon Steinman to Sean Gardner: I think one of the urban perceptions by many is that there is this gap in between the industry and farmers, and that there isn't so much of a partnership. And one of these cases that a lot of people talk about was what happened with Percy Schmeiser, that, you know, here was a company that was going after farmers as opposed to working with them. And I was actually just recently on your website. I noticed there's a poll on the main page of your website which is asking the public, visitors, to answer yes or no, is this sort of action by a company like Monsanto welcomed or not, and I found that an interesting step within your company. I don't know if you are familiar with this initiative on your website, I can imagine it's a big company and you probably have people doing this work for you. But this seems like a different step that the company is taking, can you speak to that?
Sean Gardner: Yeah, I mean I think one of the biggest dangers for a company like ours is, you know, pride and over-confidence. And one of the things we're trying to do is be a bit more humble and have a few more conversations and ask people's opinions. You know, you talked about the Schmeiser case which is part of our history. But the interesting thing is, the majority of customers who chose to buy our products and pay for them, are the biggest advocates of us trying to prevent a very small minority from stealing technology. And so, you know the paradox is that growers are the greatest advocates for that kind of grower action on behalf of Monsanto.
JS: Now I did send this clip to Arnold Tayor of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and asked him to comment on Sean Gardner's response. And here's Arnold Taylor, pointing out that his response, was in fact, a lie, and that Percy Schmeiser was never charged by Monsanto for stealing anything.
Arnold Taylor: He just told a blatant lie. Because in the Schmeiser case, Monsanto withdrew the allegation that he had stolen the technology. The case hinged on whether or not they had the right, that their patent was valid. They withdrew it in a Saskatchewan court of appeal, it's in the public record. The allegation was that he had brown-bagged the seed, got it from one of his neighbours or whatever, and started the seed. They withdrew that charge, because the issue was whether or not their patent was valid.
JS: Now it's far from surprising that the one person in charge of Monsanto here in Canada would suggest that Percy Schmeiser stole the company's technology even though that was never the premise of the case. Monsanto has a long history of stretching the truth, and using one case in point, was their attack on yet another Saskatchewan farmer, Carlyle Moritz. It was Moritz who testified on behalf of Percy Schmeiser in 2001, and it seems far from a coincidence that in the same year, Monsanto hired the same undercover investigation company that trespassed onto Schmeiser's farm to once again, trespass onto Moritz's farm. The company took a sample from his field and in January 2002, Monsanto's Aaron Mitchell sent Moritz a letter. A link to the exact letter is linked to from our web site, but most importantly it read this, "Monsanto has concluded that Roundup Ready canola was improperly planted on 140 acres on the following land locations: NW 16 38 26 W2. Please contact either myself or Rob Chomyn within 30 days, so that we may discuss this matter and your options for settlement." Now it was clear to Moritz that Monsanto had simply chosen revenge following Moritz's testimony, and so he quickly invited the local agrologist to obtain samples from his farm, he invited Crop Insurance to do GPS measurements of the fields, and he then hired a lawyer who responded to the Monsanto letter dated February 12, 2002. That letter read this, "Monsanto might be interested to know that the NW 16-38-26 W 2nd had only 34 acres seeded to canola, and 50 acres seeded to wheat. Please be assured that any further attempts to obtain payment or litigation will be met with full legal defences, including a claim for punitive damages based on the apparent disregard for any factual basis for the claim."
Now this story, is quite illustrative that Monsanto, has essentially declared war on Canadian farmers. And while it shouldn't matter where this company is based, I think it's important to note that Monsanto is an American company going after the farmers who are growing food for Canadians. And as the urban populations have become so disconnected from where our food is coming from, this is an important point to make that Canadian farmers are, out in the countryside, fighting what is essentially a war, by themselves, and it's about time the majority of Canadians living in cities become aware of what is happening in our rural communities.
Having spoken to many Saskatchewan farmers over the past two years, one of the greatest changes that has taken place in Canada's farming communities, has been the breakup of the social fabric that once held these communities together. Canadian farmers have now been pitted against each other, not on their own accord, but because companies like Monsanto, set up hotlines that farmers can call to rat on their neighbours who may be growing their patented technologies without a contract. As we heard Percy Schmeiser once share here on Deconstructing Dinner, the prize for ratting out your neighbour, was at one point (and perhaps still is), a leather jacket.
But here's the most surprising side to this seeming war and colonization so to speak being waged on Canadian farmers, the corporate side of the industry is actually complaining about the "divisiveness" in the industry that they themselves are seemingly creating.
When I attended the CropLife Canada conference in Saskatoon, I recorded this very concern being posed to a panel of speakers, and posing the concern was CropLife Canada's Denise Dewar, the then Executive Director of Plant Biotechnology.
Denise Dewar: I'm Denise Dewar with CropLife Canada. And I appreciate all your presentations this morning on partnerships; I certainly believe that is the way that we need to go in agriculture. And since I only have a few weeks left here I'm going to ask a controversial question because maybe I can get away with it. In Canadian agriculture I would say we still have a fairly divisive industry. We have those that are supportive of innovation and moving forward and those who are tied to the past I would say. And in many ways that is, I think, inhibiting our ability to move forward quite quickly on the global stage like we will need to in the new era of globalization. And so I'm interested in views from the panel on that topic. How do we create partnerships with those who don't necessarily support the same views as us in this room, to move the agriculture industry as a whole forward? And I think of recent regulatory consultations on seed variety registration and regulatory reform, where it was very fractious in the room. And it handcuffs the government and their ability to move forward with new policy and new regulations, and so I'm interested in all of your viewpoints on how we overcome what I see as a limiting factor to Canadian competitiveness in agriculture.
JS: Now I did send this clip to both Arnold Taylor and Marc Loiselle of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD). Marc is the Communications and Research Director for SOD's Organic Agriculture Protection Fund and a certified organic farmer in Vonda Saskatchewan. Marc is one of a few growers in Canada growing Red Fife Wheat, a heritage variety that we featured here on the program back in November 2007. Marc is particularly concerned with the possible introduction of genetically engineered wheat into Canada and his future ability to grow a heritage variety that once fed Canadians long before the introduction of chemical agriculture. Here's Marc, commenting on Denise Dewar's question.
Marc Loiselle: In regards to Denise Dewar's comments on this one section where she talks about those being tied to the past. She talks about recent seed and variety registartion, regulatory reform consultations being fractious and handcuffing the government and their abilty to move forward. Well, I guess I would argue that what she's conerned about in that statement is handcuffing her own interests or the people that she's serving and that's the agro-chemical and seed giants from gaining control versus people's and farmer's rights.
JS: Sitting on the panel at the conference was Monsanto's Sean Gardner, and here's his response to her question.
Sean Gardner: I need to be careful here as an English guy who's been in Canada for less than two years. There seems to be an association or a group to represent every micro-segment of Canadian agriculture. Of course they all have a unique and rather parochial perspective. Of course the one thing which is so obvious which we forget to realize is that the one thing that everyone has in common, is that they're Canadian. I remember being at a farmer meeting in Edmonton about six months ago and I shocked the audience by telling them that their biggest competitor was Malaysia, and palm oil. For me, the kind of key to unlocking collaboration in some of the segments of our industry which tend to enjoy taking different postions is to continue to make the point that agriculture is global. It is competitive between nations and between crops, and it is really not about whether you're going to do better in Northern Saskatchewan than Southern Manitoba. It's about whether or not your crop can survive versus Malaysian palm oil. And, you know, if I had one request to everyone in this room it would be keep talking to farmers about the global structure of agriculture, and make them understand that they're Canadians in common, in a nation, in a world of different nations who are competing against each other. If we keep stressing those kinds of components, then we have some chance to bring people together in partnerships.
JS: In light of the attempt by organic farmers to launch a class action lawsuit against Monsanto, Gardner's comments come across as rather hypocritical, in that it has been Monsanto's very products that have destroyed a key market for organic canola products both here and abroad, yet he suggests that what will bring farmers together, will be recognizing their place in the global marketplace. It seems organic canola farmers have already realized this the hard way.
Marc Loiselle: To start with I would say that the following response by Sean Gardner was kind of a stupid answer that seemed to mostly evade the purpose of the question which was the aspect of divisiveness. Instead he was focusing more on his narrow view of competing in the global market place, you know bringing up this thing about Malaysian palm oil, I found it kind of laughable. But, that competitiveness thing, you know, you've got large international buyers that are looking to purchase organic canola seed or oil and finding that they're kind of running up against a wall here because the Canadian Prairies has pretty much dried up as being a source for organic anything, organic canola, anything. It leaves those particular buyers having to source elsewhere. You know, so we're really losing out on a huge potential for the market in that regard, and it impacts not just farmers, it impacts the processor that would be pressing that canola oil, etc.
JS: SOD's president Arnold Taylor did also respond to the clip of CropLife's Denise Dewar and Monsanto's Sean Gardner, and he raises a pretty important point, that in an age of finite resources and global warming, both Gardner's and Dewar's comments have become rather dated. As you may recall, Dewar suggested that the biotechnology and pesticide industry is moving forward, and that those who oppose their fossil-fuel dependent technologies are "tied to the past". And putting aside the globalization of organic agriculture, it has become increasingly obvious that today, the most modern and innovative forms of agriculture, are those that rely on fewer if any fossil fuels, and that form of agriculture is organic and more localized.
Arnold Taylor: Well first of all, he's talking globalization and the events of the past year are gonna put great strains on globalization, but globalization is totally dependent on cheap oil. Whereas one of the fundamentals of organic agriculture is local food and local food prodcution and consumption. And that's one of the problems of organics right now is the question of food miles. I mean, the fact that you can get bananas from South America or oranges from Austrailia and crate it up here by airplane and call it organic is an issue in the organic sector. They call it going backwards but it's not. Organic agruculture is as modern and probably as cutting-edge as their vision of the world.
JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. Today's broadcast will be archived on our web site at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner under the show titled The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer. On today's part I of this series we look at the details of a class action lawsuit that on December 13, was denied any class action status by the Supreme Court of Canada. The case involves organic farmers from Saskatchewan who are seeking compensation from two multinational companies Monsanto and Bayer, both of whom own the rights to two of the most widely planted canola varieties in the province, both of which are genetically engineered. Because of cross-contamination and because organic standards prohibit the presence genetically engineered organisms in the harvest, farmers in Saskatchewan are unable to justify investing in growing organic canola, with many farmers having found out that their harvest could not be certified. The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate represented by two farmers are seeking compensation for the damages the two companies are alleged to have caused.
Now we see that the agribusiness side of the food system believes that those farmers who choose to not support genetically engineered crops are "tied to the past". But what else does the industry think of these farmers who are trying to ensure that they grow food as environmentally responsible as possible. Well Monsanto refers to them as "activists". A May 2007 press release issued by Monsanto, commenced as follows, "The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan has dismissed an appeal sponsored by the activist group Saskachewan Organic Directorate." Now this isn't the only case whereby agribusiness refers to farmers not in support of GE crops as activists. As has been mentioned before here on Deconstructing Dinner, NDP Agriculture Critic and MP for BC Southern Interior tabelled a private members bill in 2007, calling for the mandatory labelling of foods containing genetically engineered organisms. Atamanenko proceeded to author opinion pieces in many of the regional papers here in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of BC, and sure enough, Denise Dewar chose to respond to his column that appeared in the Trail Times in August 2007. In it she wrote this, "Any consideration of mandatory labeling for genetically-modified food crops must be based on facts and not the rhetoric of activists opposed to technology and innovation".
I asked Arnold Taylor of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate what he thought of an organization representing farmers being referred to as made up of activists. He describes in particular, the lives of Dale Beaudoin and Larry Hoffman the two farmers who were named in the attempted lawsuit.
Arnold Taylor: It comes probably more from the world situation where organizations like Greenpeace, like in France and Europe and whatever, where they go out and rip out their test plots. We don't do that, we're not , like if you met Dale Beaudoin or Arnold Taylor or anybody on our committee we're just ordinary farmers protecting our postion in the market place. Larry Hoffman is former mayor of the village of Spalding, Dale Beaudoin is a well-known farmer and on the board of dierctors of old School Community Mills or Mainmont Community Mills in Mainmont. We're just ordinary farmers who have been damaged by their technolgy and who are taking legal action. They basically are suggesting, they've suggested also that we have been funded by these other organizations, which is absolutely not true. Actually this has been funded primarily by the organic farmers of Saskatchewan, and their producer organizations that put money into this fund. You know, but they've always suggested that organic farmers couldn't possibly do this by themselves, which is not true. We have been able to sustain this lawsuit, and we have a fund that has been built up and we have support right across the country from all kinds of supporters. But primarlity it's been funded just by farmers putting in a hundred bucks here and a hundred bucks there.
J.S: I would like to come back to the title of today's broadcast as it's this last segment that in part led to naming today's show "The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer". And we can first look back on the more common instance of colinialism that Canadians are familiar with, and that is of course the very colonization of the native populations of Canada by European settlers. And there's a striking similarity to what companies like Monsanto are doing today to that which the European colonizers did hundreds of years ago. In an essay written by the University of Western Ontario's D.M.R. Bentley titled Savages and Relics, he refers to the perception by most European settlers that "native peoples of Canada were rude and uncouth savages who would greatly benefit from refined or polished European civilization." This idea that natives were savages was sold to the European populace and certainly played a role in the eventual destruction of most of Canada's native populations. Now this differs very little from what exists today with respect to Canadian farmers. Here is, an American company, Monsanto, who similar to European colonizers, has spread it's control of lifeforms around the world. Those who oppose such control, are instead of being called savages, referred to as "activists", and then, the association representing them indicates that these activists are tied to the past, not in support of innovation, or what could be called, the refined and polished technologies of the colonizer, Monsanto.
And it's at this point that Canadian's need to ask ourselves. If those growing our sustenance, our food, are being colonized, are we as eaters of this food, so too, being colonized.
My intention upon attending the CropLife Conference in September 2007, was to walk in with an open mind and if anything, an intention to give those within the industry an opportunity to quash any "misperceptions" that the Canadian public may have of industrial agriculture and biotechnology. I presented this very intention to Sean Gardner, and as Monsanto is one of the most reviled companies in the world, I would have expected that the General Manager of the company would be able to respond to such a question.
Jon Steinman to Sean Gardner: Now coming back to the perception of the public and how they view genetic modification and bio-technology and this industry, what would you perceive as being one of the greatest misperceptions among the public when it comes to these technologies that your company produces?
Sean Gardner: I don't know whether I have a good feel for that, I mean I think that what I would say is that there are great examples around the world of where this technology is improving people's lives and often you have to look outside of North America to see this. Women farming cotton in India now have the opportunity to grow crops of cotton with one, maybe one and a half applications of insecticide because you have biotechnology insect-resistance in the cotton. Five years ago they might have been spraying those crops five or ten times, probably without the kind of protective equipment that we would be used to in North America. So, you know when I get involved in discussions like this I would say look to the benefits and don't necessarily look to your doorstep because they're shedding a much clearer light in some other places.
JS: I did pass a clip of this response off to the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate's Marc Loiselle, and here's his response.
Marc Loiselle: That's the one I seem to have responded to the most because it really raises the hair on my neck when I hear anything that has to do with BT cotton in India because I've seen enough documentaries. Some of the particular ones that I've been involved with really do a very good job of highlighting what's happening with Monsanto's products in India. He's suggesting for example that an Indian woman would be spraying one and half times or one times the insecticide versus five or ten times and this and that, you know, totally neglecting the hard fact that Monsanto's BT cotton in India has caused great distress and hardship. Now, number one, their so-called insect-resistant cotton is not resisting the bollworm, I saw that clearly on some video coverage where you've got the bollworm in the BT cotton just working his merry way around eating up the crop. Number two, the cotton yields, regardless of any potential insect resistance, are less than this Monsanto's BT cotton. I don't know if this is across the board but of course you've got Monsanto that's really promoting this through these glitzy advertisements, you know you're going to make a fortune; you're going to be able to send your kids to college and have a dowry for your daughter and all these kinds of things. It's just incredible. You couple that with the seed costs for the BT cotton, which is quite elevated of course, and the need to purchase from Monsanto each subsequent year. That's the catch. Monsanto's going to put something out there, but they're going to catch you not just the first time, they're going to want you to relinquish all of your production, come back the next year and buy some more seeds. One of the more dramatic results of this whole scenario in a place like India is that the cotton farmers have been ruined financially, and they've been forced to give up their land to financiers, and of course they're faced with this incredible dilemma, and unfortunately many of them choose to commit suicide instead. So you know, to have somebody like Sean suggest that this is something that's beneficial because it's going to reduce the amount of pesticides, you know that's the line. But the reality on the ground is so much different.
JS: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner and today's broadcast titled The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer. The foundation for this show has been the unsuccessful attempt by organic farmers in Saskatchewan to launch a class action lawsuit against agricultural giants Monsanto and Bayer. As organic farmers in Saskatchewan of lost the ability to grow organic canola as a result of contamination of their farms by Monsanto's and Bayer's genetically engineered canola varieties, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD) attempted to seek damages from these two companies over the loss of their ability to do so. Now what would eliminate any conflict between these two sides, would be if the organic sector embraced genetic engineering. It was this very suggestion that one delegate at the September 2007 CropLife Canada put before the panel on which Monsanto's Sean Gardner sat. What may come as a shock, is the following question is posed by Mischa Popoff, a former organic inspector who was shunned from the industry following his public criticism of the way in which organic crops were being certified. And we'll learn more about Mischa Popoff in just a moment, but first, here's his question, and an answer from Monsanto Canada's Sean Gardner.
Mischa Popoff: But I want to predict that it's not going to stay in its current activist form. In fact I foresee the day when you will see certified organic, genetically modified crops. And it's only a matter of time. And my question for the panel is: should we wait for that time to elapse? Should we wait for the organic activists to fall by the wayside or grow old and die? Or should we seize the opportunity right now and come up with our own value-added branding for such a product?
Panel Moderator: Who'd like to leap on that one? (Laughter) I think Sean does. (Laughter) Sean Gardner's been volunteered.
Sean Gardner: Oh my God, into the lion's den (laughter). You know, I think my personal posture and the posture of Monsanto is that we are happy to coexist with as many different forms of farming as can do so around the world. And the paradox, as you well understand, of some of the technologies of the type that we produce is that they have significant environmental benefits and pesticide reduction benefits which ought to be attractive to a certain segment of organic growers. So I would be delighted to see the day when we have certified organic GMO produce on supermarket shelves. I think it's a long and winding pathway to get there and we will support that kind of initiative in any way we reasonably can.
JS: I did send the audio of Sean Gardner's response to the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate's Marc Loiselle, and here's his response.
Marc Loiselle: What got me interested right off the start was Mischa Popoff's initial statement which suggested, and I quote "I predict the day when we will see certified organic GMO crops". You know, coming from a person of his background that seems like quite a stament to make. And then the question of course about, you know, should we be waiting or seizing the oppurtunities now to come up with value-added branding as in a certified organic GMO crop; a very provocative question of course, and you can tell by the response from the moderator, that you know, who's gonna handle this one type of thing you know. And Sean Gardner's response talking initally about wanting to coexist, that buzzword keeps coming up all the time. And of course we know that coexistence is just a ploy to try and appease anybody that has some opposition to Monsanto's plans. And we hear it all the time from spokespersons like Trish Jordan. You know we have to be able to accommodate everybody, coexist with the conventional, the organics, those that want to use GMOs. And of course we know the coexistence model really isn't going to fly. There's just absolutely no way that you can have GMO crops grown freely in open air experiments and fields without any type of restrictions. And even with restrictions it's just an eventuality before cross pollination, cross contatimination, it does happen. It starts small and it just builds. His idea, Gardner's, you know he would be delighted to see this happen, of course sooner than later to see this on supermarket shelves. I mean, it makes my stomach turn to think that such a prospect could even happen, that we'd be talking about organics and GMOs in the same breath, and being one and the same. It's very clear, and if you look especially at some of the European literature written for some of the larger conferences that have happened in regards to organic seeds and organic seed breeding, there is very clear statements stating why genetic modification is not going to be part of organics. And I won't go into details but you know, there's a very strongly documented reason behind why there should never be any kind of marriage between the two.
JS: To better understand why the organic sector does not embrace genetic engineering, here's Arnold Taylor, also of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate.
Arnold Taylor: What they are missing out there is why is there a ban on GMOs in organic agriculture. It goes back to two things, first of all, it never has been tested, that technolgy has bever been tested except one or two instances, on human feeding trials. And so that's never been tested because they've got this sham called substantive equivalence, where they basically say well it looks like a duck, it walks like a duck therefore it must be a duck. In Canola, they use a virus and they insert it into the plant, the BT corn and the BT cotton has a insecticide that's inserted into the plant, so all the corn you're eating has insecticide built into it. So they haven't done the science, they've bypassed the system because they have power, you know, and so we end up with what is a colossal fraud, as far as I'm concerned. And I'm not just the only one who says that. Micheal Meecher is the former environment minster in England said that's fraud. So they've been getting away with that. So if they did the testing and it proved that the stuff is safe, then the organic industry might embrace it. They probably wouldn't have any use for the technology as it's put out now because it's basically not about feeding the world it's about selling Roundup.
JS: Roundup is of course referring to the line of pesticide products developed by Monsanto that are designed to be used with their seed technologies of the same name.
And this is Deconstructing Dinner. As we near the end of today's broadcast, it's important to come back to what had initially launched the attempt by Saskatchewan organic farmers to challenge Monsanto and Bayer through a class-action lawsuit, because while canola was the focus for the case, the impetus for the case was in response to the looming introduction of GE wheat. And here's Arnold Taylor.
Arnold Taylor: Really, what the impetus to get it started was really the imminent introduction of GMO wheat. And we were in a postion where we had lost canola as a crop, we knew we couldn't grow it. And this is the second biggest, at that time, the second biggest crop in Saskatchewan next to wheat. Now it's probably bigger than wheat I'm not sure. But anyway, we'd lost canola, we were very close to having flax as a GMO crop but the flax growers and others quashed that because of market concerns. And then they were about to introduce GMO wheat. And we lobbied the provincial governemt to do something about it and they didn't. We checked with our legal counsel and we decided that we had to take legal action. So as a result between our lawsuit and considerable lobbying by the national farmers' union, wheat board, others, Monsanto withdrew their GMO wheat application. That's about three years ago. So they were due to introduce GMO wheat. But part of our intial lawsuit in class action was an injuction to stop the introduction of GMO wheat.
JS: And that was Arnold Taylor, the President of the Saskcatchewan Organic Directorate and a farmer in Kenaston Sasksatchewan. Now Marc Loiselle is an organic wheat farmer, and I spoke to him about such a threat to the future of his farm, and he explains how quickly GE wheat could contaminate Canada's wheat supply.
Marc Loiselle: There's been studies done, for instance, a very notable one done by a professor at the University of Guelph. He has done a study on the potential contamination event that would happen should Monsanto's wheat be introduced. The way he explained it, in a very succint fashion, is if you start off very slowly by having an initial seed of genetically modified wheat, that a sparrow may have picked up from the field of this particular genetically modified wheat, and dropped it in the middle of a field of non genetically modified wheat. If that particular seed would grow, and produce grains, and any volunteer seeds from that particular plant would continue to grow in subsequent years without being eradicated through culitavation or other methods, and of course if the farmer was using Roundup in his rotation to burn off weeds and other unwanted crops prior to growing these particular crops, well of course this Round-Up Ready wheat is going to proliferate. If I'm not mistaken, his conclusion was that at the end of a five year period, you would have approximately 50% of the wheat grown in that field, would be genetically modified and Round-Up ready resistant. It's quite a shocking thing to think that one tiny little event, as you would say, would contribute to that.
JS: Marc further added that he is aware that there has already been a case of GE wheat contamination right here in Canada, originating from one of Monsanto's test plots.
And as we near the end of today's broadcast, here's one more clip from my interview with Monsanto Canada's GM, Sean Gardner. The day after our conversation in Saskatoon, I had intended to visit Marc Loiselle's farm to learn more about the class action attempt, but because Marc was in the middle of harvesting, I never did make it to his farm. But I did ask Sean Gardner about what he thought of the concerns posed by organic farmers, and what came as quite a shock, was that Sean proclaimed that he knew very little about this case, one that has clearly been a major concern to the company since it was first announced in 2002.
Jon Steinman to Sean Gardner: Now one of the interesting questions that came up over in the Q and A there just in the last session was in regards to organic agriculture; whether or not organic agriculture is going to start to embrace genetic modification, now that could be years away if ever. But right now what we're seeing is a sort of rift at least between organic agriculture and conventional agriculture. Tomorrow I'll be heading out to Marc Loiselle's farm and Marc is with the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate. And his concern among many canola farmers is that they're not able to grow their products and get them certified because of these risks of cross contamination between different crops. Now in working on developing partnerships with farmers where do you see this issue going, and is this a concern in trying to build these partnerships with farmers?
Sean Gardner to Jon Steinman: So I think it's always a concern when there's a group of growers who feel frustrated for whatever reason because that's not anyone's objective. I can't comment on the specifics of the situation in Saskatchewan because I'm just not familiar with what the rules and regulations are. I think what I would say, which is positive, is that my observation as an Englishman, is that the Canadian regulatory government structure is almost as good as any around the world on trying to balance the interests of the various different groups that want to produce and have a business in the countryside. So I'm not trying to abdicate responsibility for this but I do think that there is a role of government to balance the interests of all the different stakeholders.
JS: And here's Marc Loiselle, commenting on the remarks made by Monsanto's Sean Gardner.
Marc Loiselle: Well I've got a couple things written here. Two in response to that. He talked about the case and the rift between organics and GMO's and not being able to certify crops because of cross contamination etc. He spoke about the need to balance the interests of all stakeholders, and my eyes roll every time I hear that because of course it's reminiscent of the numerous times I've heard Trish Jordan in print, on television or on radio, suggest this. You know, having this coexistence amongst all Canadian agriculture players. And point blank there can be no balance once you introduce a genetically modified crop like I've mentioned before. The nature of that plant is to spread and if you have the scenario that I had with the Round-up Ready wheat, where a particular farmer's actually using that particular product, glyphosate in its generic name, in his crop rotaion, he's going to end up with a tiny little thing that should have never been a problem blowing up to be a massive problem. This could be another situation where you have a situation like Percy, all of a sudden this farmer discovers half of his wheat crop that he's harvesting is Roundup Ready and all of a sudden Monsanto is at the door with a letter saying you owe us $30,000 or we're taking you to court. That's exacly what happened to many of these people.
JS: And that was Marc Loiselle, an organic wheat farmer in Vonda Saskatchewan. Marc grows a heritage variety of wheat known as Red Fife and he is the Communications and Research Director for the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate's Organic Agriculture Protection Fund.
While the December 13 announcement by the Supreme Court of Canada denied the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate class action status in their efforts to seek compensation for the damages caused by Monsanto and Bayer's canola technologies, the organization is now exploring how the case can be challenged on an individual basis. You can be sure that Deconstructing Dinner will follow the progress of this case, because as was stated at the beginning of today's show, any success that may come out of the efforts by SOD, may indeed set a precedent that will end the ability for anyone to own a lifeform, or at the very least, cause the owners of these lifeforms to pay for the damages they have caused to those farmers in Canada who are trying to farm with the least environmental impact as possible.
You can learn more about the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and their legal battles by linking to them from the Deconstructing Dinner web site, or by visiting www.saskorganic.com.
Tune in next week to the second part of this series titled the Colonization of the Canadian farmer. Part II will continue where today's broadcast will end. We will look into the frequency of media coverage in 2007 of genetically engineered food. We will explore the newfound connections between the efforts of Saskatchewan organic farmers, and the efforts right here in the Kootenay region of British Columbia to create a region free of genetically engineered crops.
And in closing out today's broadcast, here's Arnold Taylor, the President of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and a farmer in Kenaston, Saskatchewan.
Arnold Taylor: Our position is that every organic farmer in Saskatchewan, there's about 1200 of us, has the right to grow canola. Even if we don't grow it or haven't grown it ever, we still, canola is grown in every corner of Saskatchewan. Monsanto and Bayer advertises their seeds and chemicals and everything else in every corner of Saskatchewan. They do grow it all over the provice so any farmer that wants to grow canola as an organic farmer takes the risk of being contaminated. Most likely you might get away with it in the right area for a while, but most times you'll end up being contaminated. There's virutally no organic canola being grown in Saskatchewan, just the odd farmer and I don't actually know of any. But maybe in the forest fringe area where there's no other canola being grown where you may have some old seed or something but... nor in Alberta, nor in Manitoba. That would even extend to the Peace River country where there's very little organic canola being grown, certified organic canola.
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That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.
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