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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, BC, Canada

 

January 10, 2008

 

Title: The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer: Canadian Media and Creating GE Free Zones

 

Producer/Host – Jon Steinman

Transcript - Heather Keczan

 

Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio program and Podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman, your host for the next hour.

 

Today's broadcast marks the continuation of last week's show titled The Colonization of the Canadian Farmer, with this installment being titled Canadian Media and the Creation of GE Free Zones. GE is the acronym for Genetically Engineered, and as was learned on part I of this series, organic farmers in particular are threatened by the presence of GE Crops in neighbouring fields, as cross-contamination runs the risk of organic farmers being unable to certify their crop as organic given standards prohibit the presence of any dna within the harvest that has been derived from crops created through the inserting of genes from one species or kingdom to another.

 

In the case of the Saskatchewan organic farmers featured on last week's broadcast, their response to such a threat resulted in the efforts to launch a class action lawsuit against the owners of these Genetically engineered crops, most notably the multinational agricultural corporations Monsanto and Bayer.

 

And so on today's broadcast we will explore yet another strategy that has and is being used by some Canadian communities to challenge the presence of these genetically manipulated crops, and that is through the creation of GE-Free zones, whereby the cultivation of such questionable technologies is prohibited by the jurisdiction itself. Now this isn't an easy process as GE Free zones are not regulated by federal or provincial legislation, and is essentially a way in which communities can stand up to protect the food security of their local area and send a message to the biotechnology industry, that GE crops are not welcome. This subject will continue into next week's broadcast when we will explore in more depth, the GE Free Yukon campaign that has made considerable inroads towards the creation of a moratorium on the introduction of GE Crops which do not yet exist in the territory.

 

Lending their voice to this broadcast and next week's will be Tom Rudge, an organic farmer in Whitehorse, Yukon, who has for the past two years, been working on the creation of a territory-wide moratorium on the cultivation of GE Crops. We will listen in on recordings from a November 2007 meeting held right here in Nelson when over 20 local residents and politicians gathered together to strategize around the creation of a GE-Free Kootenays region. These recordings will act as a resource for other communities wishing to launch similar campaigns.

 

And launching the show today we will also explore the media coverage in Canada throughout 2007 on the controversies surrounding genetically engineered foods and in doing so, deconstruct a few interesting examples of the confusing language that the Canadian public is receiving from some of the most vocal proponents of ge foods whose comments have been appearing in our newspapers across the country.

 

We'll also hear a short manifesto that was directed to farmers and created by last week's guest Marc Loiselle, an organic farmer located in Vonda Saskatchewan.

 

Increase Music and Fade Out

 

A few things to mention before we dive in to today's broadcast. This past week saw the launch of a new partnership between Deconstructing Dinner and the on-line news resource known as The Tyee. Since 2003, this independent electronic magazine based in Vancouver has been featuring what The Globe and Mail has called some of the best investigative reporting in the province. Most notably, The Tyee is the resource that propelled James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith to receive International recognition for their 100-Mile Diet column that appeared as an ongoing series on the site starting in 2005. And this new partnership between The Tyee and Deconstructing Dinner will similarily make our weekly broadcasts accessible on the site each week. I encourage you to check out this great web site at thetyee.ca

 

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I will state up front on today's broadcast that during the first half of today's show I will be speaking quite a bit on the culmination of quite a bit of research that has gone into addressing the role of Canadian media in covering the subject of genetically modified food that will be receiving extra attention as this 2008 season of Deconstructing Dinner moves forward. And I do want to preface this information by stating this, that throughout the next hour I will be speaking quite critically about two individuals, and one in particular, who have been the most vocal proponents in Canadian media on the topic of genetically engineering food. And I do want to justify such a decision as being in the public interest as both of these individuals, just as I do every week, have opened themselves up to such scrutiny by becoming as vocal as they do within Canadian media. I will also add that much of what I will share with you is simply my opinion.

 

And with that said, let's take a look at where Canada situates itself in the global arena of genetically engineered food. With North America being one of a few areas in the world that have embraced the presence of genetically engineered food on farmland, in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, it presents an interesting task to attempt to ask the question why. Why is it we here in North America have embraced these new and questionable technologies, while various bans and moratoriums do exist in places like Europe, South America, Asia, Australia and Africa.

 

Well one important source to look to when asking such a question is Canada's media, how has Canada's newspapers for one been covering the debate, and most importantly, how has Canada's media informed the public on the overwhelming presence of ge foods on grocery store shelves.

 

Well we pulled up the records of all coverage on this subject in Canadian newspapers throughout 2007, and came up with some interesting findings. Most startling is the number. Roughly 20 or so isolated articles appeared in Canadian english-language newspapers throughout 2007 on this topic of genetically engineered food (often referred to as genetically modified, GM or GMO). One of the most recent was an article in the Finacial Post section of the National Post when the approval of GM Beets in the US was covered with some depth. As half of the US sugar supply is derived from beet sugar, this was a major announcement. But nowhere in the article was any criticism of this technology, which is of significant concern given beets have been clearly proven to cross with wild species of beets.

 

Other publications covering the subject of GE foods have been the Daily Mercury in Guelph Ontario, the Edmonton Journal, The Montreal Gazette, The Moncton Times, the Calgary Herald, The Vancouver Sun, The Star-Phoenix and The Toronto Star. But of interest when looking at these instances, almost all of them were in response to two issues, one, when Member of Paliament and NDP Agriculture Critic Alex Atamanenko tabled a private members bill calling for a ban on terminator seed technology back in June 2007, and the other, when in January 2007, Greenpeace released the results of poll that found almost 80% of British Columbians wanted to see labelling of foods that contained genetically modified ingredients.

 

But stepping back and looking at how minimal the coverage has been on this contentious issue, it becomes far more clear as to why Canadians have so willingly and certailny unknowingly accepted the presence of these questionable foods in our food supply.

 

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Now in focusing in on a few examples of this media coverage in particular, we can remain right here in British Columbia where the vast majority of media coverage has existed. Starting out on Vancouver Island we come to one individual in particular who has received some of the most media exposure in Canada for his views on genetically modified food. And with such incredible media exposure, focusing in on him seems like an ideal start when trying to understand why Canada has become such a willing testing ground for genetically engineered foods.

 

And I'm referring to Robert Wager. Wager is a Laboratory Demonstrator in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Malaspina University College located in Nanaimo with the school also being home to CHLY, one of the many stations airing Deconstructing Dinner each week. According to an article posted on Monsanto's UK web site, Robert Wager is a "researcher in the field of genetically modified food". He also maintains a pro-gmo web site.

 

Now Robert Wager has been writing columns and letters to the editor in Canadian newspapers since at least 2000, and has received considerable exposure in one of Canada's most read newspapers, The Globe and Mail.

 

But questions have arisen as to whose agenda Robert Wager is working on. His articles are often posted on Monsanto web sites around the world, dating as far back to 2000, when one of his articles appeared on the web site for Monsanto's Chinese operations.

 

In April 2005, Wager authored an article in Saskatoon's Leader-Post that discredited Percy Schmeiser - the Saskatchewan farmer who became world-renowned following his court case with Monsanto. A response to the article was published and featured comments by Schmeiser himself. In it Schmeiser indicated that he is "continually amazed, but not surprised, at efforts of bio-tech industry supporters to completely misrepresent the facts of his case to further their own agenda." Schmeiser further added that Wager has "little or no understanding of Western Canadian farming practices."

 

Following these articles, some interesting comments appeared on a blog hosted by Canadian Content.net. Some of the comments appear to be made by Saskatchewan farmers. And while the following allegations cannot be verified, they're worth repeating. One comment referring to Robert Wager reads this, "He ignores inconvenient data, and hasn't got a clue about farming, but here's the coolest thing… he takes money from Monsanto to cover his travel costs when making speeches." Another comment reads, "Everyone knows he is a paid lakie of monsanto."

 

Now one irony that comes out of this page of comments is yet another comment that reads, "Anybody notice how quiet the media is about this stuff. They should be screaming about it". And so as Deconstructing Dinner will now do, let's scream about some of the comments that the Canadian public is exposed to when they read the words of Robert Wager.

 

In a letter to the editor printed in a February 2007 edition of Kamloops This Week, Wager responds to fears over genetically engineered food by stating this, "There has not been no single documented case of harm linked to food containing GM ingredients anywhere in the world."

 

In June 2007, following the announcement of MP Alex Atamanenko's private members bill calling for a ban on the genetically modified technology known as Terminator Seeds, Wager wrote a similar letter in Victoria's Times-Columnist, "In the last 10 years more than a trillion meals containing GM ingredients have generated zero documented health problems."

 

And again in August 2007, Wager made the very same argument in a column that appeared in the Nanaimo Daily News, the Vancouver Sun and the Times Columnist.

 

Now such a statement is a powerful one. It clearly is designed to dispel any fears that the Canadian public may have regarding genetically modified food. But there's a problem with such a statement. And here's the problem. If it's being suggested that since the time when genetically engineered foods first entered the food supply, there have been "zero documented health problems", then surely there must be someone somewhere conducting ongoing research on the dangers of GE foods. Otherwise, such a statement may be true, but is far from being scientific, and is certainly misleading.

 

And so I did what anyone would do, I contacted Robert Wager over email, and in it asked this, "I'm hoping you can direct me to the studies that have been undertaken in the past 11 years that are monitoring the possible harm of gm foods on human health that you imply exist."

 

Now here is where the dialogue got interesting. In his response was the following, "If you are looking for studies that monitor the general public for GM specific ailments, there are none, as there are no scientifically specific ailments unique to GM food that can be looked for."

 

Now based upon this response, it should have become clear that if there are no studies monitoring the public, then making a statement stating that there has been "zero documented health problems" is quite simply, a very misleading way to sway public opinion.

 

I did continue to emphasize this very point to Robert Wager, and even used the example of cigarettes, in that the tobacco industry did at one point use this very same argument. But, in a subsequent email to me, he wrote, "our diet is far too complex to screen for a single food or ingredient. The confounding variables make interpretation completely impossible." Now while Wager may have not recognized this at the time, his comment did answer the purpose of my initial question, that monitoring the impacts of genetically engineered foods on humans is next to impossible. And so, it does create quite the irresponsibility on the part of someone in the field of science to make the statement that no documented health problems have ever been reported.

 

And again, it's these comments that the Canadian media is printing and feeding to the public, and it's no wonder Canadians may be as confused as we are regarding the safety of genetically engineered food.

 

Audio Clip (1950s era, scratchy-sounding commercial voice): A responsible consulting organization reports this study by a competent medical specialist and his staff on the effects of smoking Chesterfields: a group of people smoked only Chesterfields for 6 months in their normal amount, 10-40 a day. 45% of the group have smoked Chesterfields from 1-30 years for an average of 10 years each. At the beginning and end of the 6 months period, each smoker was given a thorough examination including x-rays. The examination covered the sinuses, nose, ears and throat. After a thorough examination of every member of the group the medical specialist stated: "It is my opinion that the ears, nose, throat and accessory organs of all participating subjects examined by me were not adversely affected in the 6 month periods by smoking the cigarettes provided." Remember this report, and buy Chesterfields, regular or King-size. Premium-quality Chesterfields, much milder.

 

JS: Another interesting bit of information that I extracted from my dialogue with Malaspina University College's Robert Wager, were his efforts to direct me to the many studies he has listed on his personal web page – studies that supposedly support the safety of genetically engineered food. And while such efforts did not address the purpose of my question, I did nevertheless take a look at one of them published by the Union of the German Academy of Sciences and Humanities. And I was struck by two sections in particular, with this first one representing perhaps one of the most unscientific statements I've ever seen, and it read this, "There has been no scientifically founded report, which prognosticated a hazard to health, and not a single one that people had had health problems after consuming GMO food. The fact that there has been no successful consumer court claim in respect to the consumption of GMO products may be regarded as further evidence for the validity of this statement."

 

Another section in the report also caught my eye and it reads this, "there has been no scientifically founded report that the health or productivity of animals was impaired after being fed GMO fodder as compared to conventional fodder." Now this last statement is entirely untrue, and there have been countless scientific studies that have done just that, some of which will be linked to from the Deconstructing Dinner web site. When I raised these two instances to Robert Wager, I also referred to the recent book Genetic Roullette by author Jeffrey Smith. In it are numerous references to many of these studies that according to the resources on Wager's web site don't exist. Wager responded by indicating that Jeffrey Smith "sells pseudoscience", and that Smith should not be relied upon as a source of information on this subject. Well I did choose to look up the definition of pseudoscience and came across this one, "Pseudoscience may be characterized by the use of vague, exaggerated or untestable claims". It's that last reference that caught my eye, "untestable claims". Let's look back on Robert Wager's ongoing comments in Canadian media, "In the last 10 years more than a trillion meals containing GM ingredients have generated zero documented health problems." And then his subsequent comment during our dialogue, "our diet is far too complex to screen for a single food or ingredient. The confounding variables make interpretation completely impossible."

 

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In speaking of pseudoscience, I was also taken aback by some of the resources found on Wager's web site. One of them, was of a book authored by Steve Milloy. Steve Milloy is a frequent commentator for Fox News.com, and operates the web site junkscience.com. Who is Steve Milloy, well US federal lobbyist registration data for 1997, indicates that Steve Milloy, was at one point, a lobbyist for guess who, Monsanto.

 

And it gets even worse. According to the Centre for Media and Democracy, early in Milloy's career, he worked for a company called Multinational Business Services, a Washington lobby group that cigaratte manufacturer Philip Morris described as its "primary contact" on the issue of secondhand cigarette smoke in the early 1990s. Milloy then became executive director of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), an organization that was created by Philip Morris for the, now get this, express purpose of generating scientific controversy regarding the link between secondhand smoke and cancer. And again, Milloy's book is one of a small number of resources that Wager maintains on his web site, and Robert Wager has been one the most quoted scientific figures in Canadian media on the topic of genetically engineered foods.

 

And here's CropLife Canada President Lorne Hepworth speaking to the many agribusiness executives whom his trade association represents, and who I recorded speaking back in September 2007 in Saskatoon.

Audio of Lorne Hepworth:  The public on an almost daily basis are bombarded by negative stories that would naturally be unsettling for the average person. The public is fed a steady news diet of urban myths, junk science and downright lies when it comes to pesticides and plant biotechnology. The David Suzukis if I would submit the leader of the pack.

 

Audio Clip of circa 1960s tobacco industry-sponsored film: (Old, scratchy commercial narrator): About lung cancer, Dr. Langsten: (older male voice) I cannot point to anything that I would consider the cause of cancer of the lungs but with behaviours with disease does not support the idea of cigarettes being the causal agent in the production of this disease. Narrator : About heart disease, Dr. Seltzer (another older male voice) I think where we stand now, the best we can say, is we do not know whether or not there is a causal relationship between smoking and heart disease. Uh, neither does the, uh, the public health service know, nor do I.

 

Audio Clip of circa 1970s audio advert:: There is a message about the cigarette controversy from the tobacco institute. Guess work and controversy as they apply it to smoking and health are no substitute for the facts. Years of research financed by the tobacco industry and other sources have failed to provide clinic l or experimental proof that cigarette smoking causes human disease. Stat may show association but they do not show cause and effect. What's need is more research to learn the full facts about smoking and health.

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly one-hour radio program and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman, and today's broadcast is the second in a series of shows titled the Colonization of the Canadian Farmer. Today's episode is titled Canadian Media and the Creation of GE Free Zones.

 

We've been exploring the media coverage of genetically engineered food within Canada throughout 2007 with the hope of better understanding why Canada has become such a willing host of genetically engineered foods, when throughout much of the world, such technologies are receiving far more precautionary attention. It's suggested that 70-80% of items on grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients, and with the steady approval of new technologies, I think it's safe to say that if the media is referring to figures such as Robert Wager for scientific advice, then we can probably expect more of these foods to be approved for consumption here in Canada.

 

But the ongoing efforts by Robert Wager a Malaspina University College Laboratory Demonstrator to get his voice heard in Canadian media, does bring us to another interesting story that connects to right here in the Kootenay region of BC.

 

The federal riding of BC Southern Interior is currently represented by Member of Parliament and NDP Agriculture Critic Alex Atamanenko. In June 2007, Alex tabled two private members bills, one calling for a ban on the introduction of terminator seed technology (which if you'd like to learn more about you can check out our February 2006 show titled sterile seeds), and another bill calling for the mandatory labelling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. Now it's for this reason that when researching Canadian media coverage on this subject, we find an overwhelming number of articles, columns and letters to the editor that have appeared in newspapers in the BC Southern Interior federal electoral district. The region extends from here in Nelson down to Trail and across to the southern tip of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.

 

Throughout 2007, a series of ongoing debates appeared in regional newspapers, most of which were sparked by Atamanenko's columns that appear on a regular basis. CropLife Canada was one organization to hop into the debate, and among the flurry of responses was one from the newly-elected Conservative Party candidate Rob Zandee. His responses appeared in a number of papers here in Nelson and around the region. And how he responded is what caught my eye. In the Arrow Lakes Times Zandee responds by writing this, "As Robert Wager of Malaspina University College writes, "after 11 years of consumption of food containing GM ingredients, there is still not a single case of harm documented." So now we have evidence here of not only Canadian media using the misleading remarks of Wager, but now federal Conservative candidates are as well.

 

Listener Support Mention

 

But the connections begin to get even more interesting. Conservative candidate Rob Zandee of Oliver, BC was elected in March 2007 to represent the BC Southern Interior riding. And running up against Zandee was none other than Mischa Popoff, who for any listeners that tuned in to last week's broadcast, was the CropLife Canada conference delegate who posed a question to among others, Monsanto's Sean Gardner. That question was whether or not the industry should begin examining the creation of certified organic genetically engineered crops.

 

Now Mischa Popoff was an organic inspector up until 2003, as it was in that year, in an interview with the agricultural publication The Western Producer, that Popoff questioned the integrity of the organic industry. That landed him in hot water, and he was subsequently shunned from the industry. Some organic farmers now refer to him as "a trouble-maker".

 

Popoff, who clearly contradicts the status quo by supporting the inclusion of genetically engineered crops in organic standards, has joined his Conservative Party counterpart Rob Zandee in responding to Atamananenko's columns. And this is where we can begin to see how this region right here in BC, has seemingly become the Canadian focal point for media debates on this subject. In August 2007, Popoff authored an article that appeared in the Nelson Daily News, the Similkameen Spotlight, The Grand Forks Gazette and the Castlegar News, which contained titles such as, "Atamanaenko wrong about GMO crops" and another titled, "NDP Afraid of Technology".

 

In the September 10, 2007 edition of Macleans – one of Canada's most widely read news-magazines, Popoff is the quoted star in an article titled, "The Truth About Organic Food," in which he again questions the integrity and effectiveness of organic certification in Canada. Popoff's criticism of the organic sector and obvious support of genetic engineering, is similar to that of Robert Wager of Malaspina College referred to just earlier. Wager authored an article in August 2007 titled "How Organic Food Contributes to Climate Change."

 

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Now here is where the onslaught of media exposure by GMO proponents becomes rather incesstuous so to speak. As mentioned earlier trade association CropLife Canada who represents companies like Monsanto and Bayer among others, had also stuck their foot in the door of this GMO media debate being waged here in the Southern Interior of BC. CropLife's Denise Dewar was the voice of such opposition to Atamanenko's columns and as you may recall was also featured on last week's broadcast posing a question to a panel comprised of Monsanto's Sean Gardner.

 

Now I say incesstuous because here we have Mischa Popoff, Denise Dewar, Malaspina College's Rob Wager and Conservative candidate Rob Zandee all being at the forefront of the pro-gm food media coverage here in this region of BC, and all of whom are constantly quoting each other and doing so around the same timeframe.

 

In Popoff's article in the Grand Forks Gazette, he even quotes CropLife Canada's Denise Dewar.

 

But now the connections bring us back to the Saskatchewan Organic farmers who were also featured on last week's broadcast, because in September 2007, Popoff authored an article in the Western Producer – the most recognized publication in Canada's western agricultural sector. In it Popoff criticizes the call for GMO labelling by the NDP. Popoff writes this, "What Atamanenko and his leader Jack Layton fail to appreciate is that there's arelady a well-recognized label that allows consumers to avoid GMOs. It's called "certified organic". Now of course Popoff is right, and he raises a good point, but he clearly fails to recognize the topic of last week's broadcast that exposed the threats to certification posed by contamination from GE crops. But most importantly, his comments are an outright hypocrisy, as in one breath he extolls the certified organic label as a tool to inform the public that no genetically ingredients can be found within, and then in another breath, calls for the introduction of certified organic genetically engineered crops. And here he is again at the 2007 CropLife Canada conference.

 

Audio of 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 um, 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?

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner where we have been critically analyzing the coverage of genetically engineered food in Canadian print media throughout 2007. In further examining the article written by Mischa Popoff in the Western Producer, we come across one instance in particular where Popoff surprisingly quotes David Suzuki, long an opponent of Genetically engineered food. Popoff uses David Suzukis comments to suggest that even Suzuki himself, is slowly realizing the beenfits of GE Crops. Popoff writes this, "In Suzuki's own words, “a new meta-analysis of the effects of BT corn on non-target insects in the field has since found that these types of crops appear to be less harmful to insects than farming methods that use insecticides." Popoff draws upon Suzuki's comments and follows the sentence by suggesting that "clearly, fear over GMOs is rapidly diminishing the world over."

 

Now we all know David Suzuki doesn't support GM crops, and for Popoff to imply that he is beginning to support them and for the Western Producer to even print that, I did become quite skeptical. And so I took a look at the article authored by Suzuki that Popoff was referring to, and it was from the summer issue of Vista Magazine. And upon taking a look at the original article authored by Suzuki, it became clear that Popoff not only misquoted what Suzuki wrote but completely took his sentence out of context. What Suzuki actually wrote was that the effects of the genetically engineered crops in question appear at least on the surface, to be less harmful. Now it's this reference to "at least on the surface" that Popoff chose to omit from his quoting of Suzuki's comments. In fact Suzuki's article was not in any way supporting GE crops, but was instead being crticial of the research that has gone into their approval.

 

What Popoff failed to mention that in the very report that Suzuki is referencing the researchers concluded among all else that, "In the case of GM crops, scientific analyses have also been deficient. In particular, many experiments used to test the environmental safety of GM crops were poorly replicated, were of short duration, and/or assessed only a few of the possible response variables." Quite the convenient omission in Popoff's article.

 

It's important to note that The Western Producer is a publication that reaches 65,000 households each week, mostly farmers, across the country.

 

Audio of circa 1960s tobacco industry-sponsored film: (Old, scratchy commercial voice, music in background) In this marvelous mechanical age, in our pursuit of technological advancement, in our pursuit of pleasure, each step forward that we take raises new problems to be solved. Is our apparent progress worth the price we may be called on the pay someone else? Does what seems like progress create new problems to be solved? Is perhaps our very health involved?

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. In wrapping up this first half of Deconstructing Dinner that has been looking at print media coverage in Canada throughout 2007 on the topic of genetically modified food, I will end with one final interesting story from my trip in September 2007 to Saskatoon. It was there I attended the CropLife Canada conference which was host to almost all of the major agribusinesses operating in Canada. Of particular interest to this story of Canadian media coverage on this issue, was the final workshop that conference delegates had the opportunity to attend. The workshop was hosted by CBC anchorman Ian Hanomansing and was titled, the media today – an important partner in developing our vision. And here's a quick clip of CropLife Canada President Lorne Hepworth sharing his frustration with the media to conference delegates at the 2007 CropLife Canada conference.

 

Audio of Lorne Hepworth: Now it's easy to blame the media for all our problems and some days as my staff will tell you, I do. Media are part of the problem and they do have to bear some responsibility. However, we as an industry have to accept that it is our job, not theirs, to communicate and demonstrate that we are aligned with the public's values. Their values are our values. Our values are their values. We stand for safety, and we stand for innovation. Our technologies and our practices, past present and future, are environmental responsible.

 

JS: Here's a quick outline of what the media today workshop description read in the CropLife Canada conference program. "Media today have a broader scope and wider reach than ever before – and can play a key partnership role in helping to develop Canada's new bio-economy. Find out what we can do to help media deliver the most effective, positive information to Canadian consumers. CBC journalist Ian Hanomansing will lead the conference workshop." Now I did hope to record the dialogue that took place during the workshop, but as I was setting up to record, I was asked to refrain from doing so. But in short, following Hanomansing's presentation, the dialogue ended on an interesting note, and I can say quite simply, that based on the comments delegates were sharing with each other, the biotech and pesticide industry, absolutely despises Greenpeace and David Suzuki.

 

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For the remainder of today's broadcast, we will be exploring some of a collection of recordings that were compiled here in Nelson, BC back in November 2007. The recordings are from the first gathering of Nelson-area residents and politicians who share an interest in the creation of a region that will be declared free of genetically engineered crops. Now this segment will continue into next week's broadcast when we will hear more from The Yukon's Tom Rudge, who not only attended the Nelson BC gathering, but is also the lead in the ongoing efforts to create a Yukon that is too, free of GMOs.

 

But before we get to that, I would like to share with you a segment from my recent interview with Saskatchewan farmer Marc Loiselle, whom we heard from last week and who is part of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and their efforts to challenge the alleged damages caused to the organic sector by Monsanto and Bayer. Marc shared with me over the phone a piece of writing he authored that is somewhat of a farmer manifesto, and is directed to all farmers.

Here's Marc Loiselle, and accompanying him, the music of British Columbia guitarist Tassillo.

 

Marc Loiselle: (guitar in background) If you, as the farmers use GE crops, you are contributing to this biological pollution of our crops. You are also contributing to the increasing corporate control of our seeds and food by large transnational companies, and the subsequent distance-franchising of your fellow farmers. If farmers don't take a united stand for limits on how bio-technology is used and on seed- patenting, we risk losing market access, income, choice, as well as control over what we produce, how we produce it, what value it has, and who will buy it. For farmers it is deeply disturbing to consider that transnational companies with government support want to use genetic engineering to monopolize what we produce and how we produce it, and then hide the facts about GE-food's risks to the health and human environment. Adding to this, the corporations do not disclose their own studies, they have kept this GE food from being labeled, and strong-armed legislatures into providing them exemptions from liability. It has become increasingly clear that these corporations and their friends in government want us in the food system to conform and be uniform and don't seem to care about biodiversity and the rights of farmers and consumers. Unfortunately, many governments continue to support bio-technology with increasing fervour. We believe that if a significant portion of the expenditures made for fostering bio-technological agriculture, for funding in the area of responsible sustainable agriculture, farmers, the public and the environment would be much better served. Meanwhile, the biotechnology industry asks us farmers to trust them. How is this possible? When through their actions farmers are persecuted, have little or no input in deciding their future, and are pressured into giving up control of their land and seeds. How are we ever to believe that any good will come from biotechnology for food development after the track record we've seen over the past years? Shame on our governments, public agencies and institutions for not preventing the increased corporate takeover by such multi-national companies. And why is all this engineering of food and seed patenting happening? It's the old story of money and greed. They cloud the minds, blur vision, and play up positive efforts for the common good. In sum, the bio engineered agri-business approach to food production is totally incompatible with the food for life vision. It threatened to reduce farmers to serfdom, perpetuated the use of toxins and genetic engineering in food production, and offers little or no diversity for consumers. Some day the development of GE crops in foods has gone so far, that the only thing left to do is accept it, lick our wounds, and try to get compensation for our losses.  We say that's unacceptable and dead wrong. It's not too late to halt the genetic engineering and patenting of our seeds, but we'll all have to join together to stop it.

 

JS: And that was Marc Loiselle sharing a piece of writing that he authored for all farmers to hear. Marc is a certified organic farmer in Vonda Saskatchewan. And the timing of sharing his thoughts at this point in the broadcast provides a nice segue into this next segment that will continue into next week's show. Back in November of this year we aired the first of an ongoing series here on Deconstructing Dinner titled Heritage Foods: Preserving Diversity. One of the features of that show was a heritage variety of wheat known as Red Fife – a variety that fed Canadians between 1860 and 1900, long before the introduction of chemical agriculture and the transgenic forms of genetic modification. Marc Loiselle is one of a growing number of Canadian farmers who grows this variety of wheat, and it's for this reason that Marc has been communicating with an exciting initiative happening right here in the Nelson area. I mentioned this on a previous show that a model similar to those of Community Supported Agriculture is being launched for grains, in that nelson and creston residents will be putting money up front this coming year and will be asking Creston farmers to grow local, non-gentically modified, and naturally-grown grains. Now I won't get into too much detail as this project will form the basis for an upcoming show, but what this project represents, is an alternative for farmers who in the Creston area, are growing genetically modified crops – canola in particular. And it was at the first meeting of this project where I suggested that Red Fife Wheat be grown. And so it's this project that may very well plant the seed of a genetically engineered free Kootenays, which is exactly what 23 residents and politicians living in the West Kootenay region of the province gathered to speak about on November 10, 2007. The event was hosted by Community Food Matters – a coalition of Nelson residents who have been acting as the voice of local food security for over a year, and it was sponsored by GE Free BC, the BC Green Party and Greenpeace. Travelling to Nelson to share their experience and expertise in such an endeavour, were Vancouver's Tony Beck of the Society for a GE Free BC, Josh Brandon, an agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace, Jessica Stevenson, a Greenpeace researcher, Whitehorse Yukon's Tom Rudge of GE Free Yukon and who is also an organic farmer. Gabriola Island's Jenny McLeod of the District A Farmers Institutes, Kelowna's Angela Reid – the Deputy Leader British Columbia's Green Party, Ann Warren – an organic farming farming in the Slocan Valley, Nelson City Councillor Gord McAdams, Regional District of Central Kootenay Director Andy Shadrack, Federal NDP Agriculture critic and MP Alex Atamanenko, and a host of others representing environmental and food security organizations. BC NDP Agriculture Critic and MLA Corky Evans was too interested to attend, but was out of town at the time of the meeting. So needless to say, this was a meeting stacked with political interest on every level, and passionate interest by those carrying a wealth of experience on the issues that the creation of a region free of Genetically engineered crops would require.

 

Now we will learn more about what a GE-Free Zone could look like, if any working examples exist, and how communities can begin going about creating a region free of genetically engineered crops. But first let's jump back to last week's episode when we explored one way that Canadians are challenging the presence of GE-Crops, and that was the class action lawsuit attempt that Saskatchewan Organic farmers were hoping to launch against Monsanto and Bayer. While the class action lawsuit was denied, there was a number of important comments made by Madam Justice Smith that are now on record. Smith was the judge overseeing the May 2007 denial of class action status by the Court of Appeal of Saskatchewan. And the record says this, "In her view it was conceivable that the release of Roundup Ready and Liberty Link canola constituted the discharge into the environment of a substance having an adverse effect upon the environment, contrary to The Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2002. It was also conceivable, in her view, that the introduction of these forms of canola constituted a "development" within the meaning of The Environmental Assessment Act, a development that had not received prior ministerial approval and was therefore contrary to the Act." Now this is of course an important statement that will likely carry into the actions that Saskatchewan canola farmers may choose to now take against the two companies. But until such remarks may be acted upon in any legal forum, one strategy that communities can take is again, the creation of a GE-Free zone.

 

I did record this first meeting that took place here in Nelson and one of the most interesting moments of the meeting was the very beginning when those in attendance shared their thoughts. And here's a collection of recordings from the group introductions.

 

Angela Reid: So we are here today to talk about strategy for creating GE-free zones in the Kootenay regions and, we've got our great speakers here today to set the context a little bit. I'll ask Tony Beck to open it up once we've done some round the table introductions to set the stage and talk about where we are today and where we've come from and how we got to being here today then we'll bring up our speakers. We'll do some background on GE-free zones with Jessica from Greenpeace, we'll break for lunch. Then we're going to do some break-out groups, and try to do some group brainstorming, individual brainstorming and come up with what will hopefully be some very specific strategies and action items that we can implement over the next year as we work toward our goal of creating a GE-free zone in the Kootenays by 2008. I'll just introduce myself and then we can go around the circle so everyone if you can tell us who you are, if you're representing a group or organizations, and why you do this, what compels you to do what you do and why are you here today.

So I'm Angela Reid, deputy leader for the Green Party of British Columbia and I also have a company called Tigris Ventures I do environmental consulting, I'm a food security activist. I'm here specifically today because I am very gravely concerned about the privatization of natural anything, whether it's food or trees or animals, and I think we need to address the issue at home and abroad, and this is the perfect place to do it at home.

 

Ann Warren: I'm an organic farmer from the (Slocan) Valley, and I'm here because I think of all the issues that I feel very deeply about this is probably the most affecting.

 

Male voice 1: Issues around GMO and the privatization of our food resources, the industrialization of our food resources, assessing all the stuff really irks me. Certainly want to be advocating back to the earth, back to our roots, the importance of providing our own food for ourselves, and reducing the impact on the earth of the industrialization of the food industry, and many other industries, but it's a great way to start because if we can do that about many other things in our lives, food is not one of them.

 

Female voice 1: I've been concerned about the environment since I was in high school. I love the earth and I recognize that there are more species on this planet than humans and I'd like to ensure that everyone gets respected. I tried this summer the 100-mile diet for 2 months in Creston, and I thought, I mean Creston, we grow everything, and I'll have everything. And I found I didn't have grains and I didn't have any oils and because I'm mostly vegetarian and I wanted organic. And I was really disappointed and so I've started work on a Community Supported Agriculture project, a CSA around grain production in the Creston Valley. And I'm also a director on the Creston Food Action Coalition, which is a newly formed society working on food security issues.

 

Male voice 2: I've been involved in the GMO issue since about '95. I was the vice president of a pretty large org cert company down in the states. In 1995 I was part of the first organic trade association task force on GMOS. And also the certifiers for North America, I was the lead of the task force for that. I am right now the VP of a company called Food Chain Global Advisors and we're working with major food distributors in North America, and Whole Foods, a lot of the large manufacturers and 160 or so retailers that are involved in this program.

It came from the consumer side, where consumers, you could ask, you could just go down the street and ask people "do you eat GMOs?" and they go “no.” But in fact you are eating them probably today. Most people don't realize that. If you're eating anything with corn, soy, lecithin, any processed foods, and people don't think they are.  And so Alex (Atamanenko), the campaign that you're on with you know, labeling, that's really a key to get people to understand where we're at with this thing. 89% of the soy right now is GMO'd in North America. The project that I'm working with we do the technical side. The implementation the food chain does, of the non-GMO project. You can go to www.nonGMOproject.org and you'll see the people involved in that. Everybody from Eden foods and Lundberg, Whole Foods, United Natural Foods. And I was talking with the head scientist a couple days ago, he told us he said if we don't do something about this now, and stop this now,  in 3 years they're going to say "ok you want organic corn?", they're going to say "fine, here's your GMO seed, and you can grow it organically." That's the future if we don't do something about it now, we think we can.

 

Tom Rudge: My name's Tom Rudge I'm from the Yukon, Whitehorse, about 30 kilometres outside. I have to say that I'm absolutely humbled and in awe of the talent that's around this table, all the people that are willing to go about this. I'm part of the GE-Free B.C. group; I'm also sort of the spearhead champion of the GE-Free Yukon, one of the directors for the Canadian Biotechnology Action network, as a founding member of the FireWeed Community Market, I'm the leader of the Whitehorse Slow Food convivium. I've been around since the beginning of the organic movement in the Yukon. I'm a part of the Growers of Organic Food Yukon, the acronym of which is GOOFY for a reason. (Laughter around table) I'm a huge food advocate, I do have a degree in agriculture, I'm hugely optimistic. We don't have the First Nation at the table, that's something we really have to think hard about is inclusion. And one of their strengths is their ability to look at it and say this is not about us this is about our children, about the future.

 

Male Voice 3: I recently became a Canadian citizen; I used to work in a weed ecology lab down in Montana. At one point Monsanto tried to shut us down because we were thinking about non-pesticide solutions to weed control and agriculture and doing a really good job of it. I see this whole GMO problem as a way to co-op the whole organic movement.

 

JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner and that was a collection of recordings from the first GE Free Kootenays meeting that took place on November 10, 2007 in Nelson, British Columbia. The 23 Kootenay area residents and politicans gathered together to discuss how a region free of genetically engineered crops could be created. And these recordings will carry on into next week's broadcast when we will hear more from one person in particular, and that is Tom Rudge an organic farmer in Whitehorse who has spearheaded the efforts in The Yukon to create a legislated GE-Free Yukon, and his efforts to do so are certainly making headway. And we'll also listen in some of the strategic ideas that were brainstormed during the GE Free Kootenays meeting. But to end off today's broadcast titled the Colonization of the Canadian Farmer: Canadian Media and the Creation of GE Free Zones, we'll listen in on comments made by federal NDP Agriculture critic Alex Atamanenko. As the MP for the riding of BC Southern Interior, Alex attended the meeting as he has been at the forefront of tabling two private members bills in Ottawa that pertain to genetically engineered foods. And his comments stress the importance of Canadian communities choosing to develop their own strategies to secure a local food system that is controlled by local farmers and residents, because as you'll hear in just a moment, what can be achieved through political means is far from easy, and while Alex's efforts are nevertheless a critical component of challenging GE foods, the creation of GE Free Zones is far more localized and acts as a means to bring rural and urban communities together. Here's Alex Atamanenko speaking at the meeting in November 2007.

 

Alex Atamanenko: I can do as many private members bills as possible, means I do the research, all the legal work has been done, it sits there and has a name, theoretically it could be adopted. As a private member I only have, I'm one of 380 people and our names are drawn in a lottery and mine hasn't come up yet. I think I'm somewhere around 160 or so, so when and if my name is drawn during this session of parliament I can then choose which of the three private member's bills I have today, one is terminator (seeds) one is labeling and I've got one on school board reimbursement for 100% GST. Between now and any time I can put forward more private member's bills and I will be doing that in agriculture.

Going somewhere it doesn't really have the chance of going anywhere unless we can convince the government to do that, or our agriculture committee to do that. It doesn't seem likely that my colleagues on the agriculture committee from the Conservative party or the Liberals, I don't think they would do that. I could get support from the Bloc, with the exception of some individual liberals, I could probably say that Wayne Easter from PEI whom I work closely with, as an individual would do that but his party probably isn't ready to go that route. So these bills there are mainly as a point of focus they allow us as citizens to say look there is something developed, let's get the petitions, let's get the letters written, lets undertake a campaign, and myself and my assistant Jeana Petrackis (spelling unknown) we're working really closely with people on both of these campaigns. The whole area of GE foods as I think I mentioned earlier, Eric Darier (spelling unknown) from Greenpeace brought in Professor Seralini (spelling unknown) from France. One of our thoughts is to get Dr. Seralini to appear as a witness before the standing committee of agriculture to talk about the negative affects to health of GM foods. As a steering committee member of that Ag. Committee I can recommend topics and then once they're adopted we can bring in, just as we brought in Prof Steinbrecker, who as you may or may not know has done a lot of work in Germany and England on terminator seeds and technology. She's a world renowned expert on terminator seeds, and we had the privilege of listening to her in front of the standing committee. So, we can do that. It increases the work; we work with our friends in civil society to do that. That's where we're at right now, I'd like to say that this bill is being passed or being put forward, but in reality it's not. So we're just continuing to bring the issue forward, as I mentioned earlier on, and at this point in time it's up to us, myself and my party to do that because nobody else really wants to take this ball rolling. Ideally in an ideal world we'd have people fro the Green Party and others there to work with us but we don't right now. So this is a major focus for us, the whole area of gm food, we're just trying to develop strategy, but we're trying to work closely with civil  society, and I hope to work closely with all of  you. If you have any suggestions, I'm here to listen, and we can move this step by step.

 

JS: And that was federal NDP Agriculture Critic and MP Alex Atamanenko. And you can stay tuned for next week's broadcast when we will continue with more on how Canadian communities and regions can begin creating GE Free zones – that is regions free of genetically engineered crops. You can also expect an all-new segment of our ongoing series Consicientious Cooks, when we will visit with chef Daniel Walker of Saskatoon's Weczeria. I visited with Daniel back in September and his approach to sourcing his ingredients is worth checking out. And you can learn more about today's broadcast and the 82 broadcasts that have preceeded this one, by visiting our web site at cjly.net/deconstructingdinner

 

Audio Clip: (Old scratchy voice with music): It's an outrage! A man isn't safe even at his own dinner table! Something ought to be done about it! Why doesn't the government step in?

 

Theme Music

 

END OF TRANSCRIPT


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