The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Title: GE-Free Zones: A Community Response To Genetically Engineered Food
Producer/Host - Jon Steinman
Transcribed by James Braun
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 and throughout the next hour we'll be continuing on the same
stream that has been helping launch this 2008 season, and that is on the topic
of genetically engineered food, but more specifically, GE crops. Last week's
broadcast concluded with a collection of audio clips from a meeting that took
place here in Nelson, BC back in November 2007 when twenty-three local
residents and politicians gathered together for the first time to discuss the
creation of a GE-Free Kootenays region. And on today's broadcast we'll continue
in more depth and explore more of the dialogue that took place during that
meeting and in doing so, better understand how communities in Canada, and
really around the world, can begin working on the creation of GE-Free zones.
We'll spend quite some time hearing from Tom Rudge, an organic farmer in
JS: Just a quick note that on last week's broadcast I did mention that today we would air a short segment of our ongoing series "Conscientious Cooks", but because of timing, that segment will be postponed to a later broadcast.
The title of today's broadcast is "GE-Free
Zones - A Community Response to Genetically Engineered Food." Now, the
importance of today's topic was elevated after a recent event that took place
here in Nelson, and it was an event designed to raise awareness of the Security
and Prosperity Partnership (the SPP) being forged between Canada, The United
States and Mexico. The SPP is being referred to as "NAFTA on steroids", and
most importantly, is being discussed behind closed doors between the executive
branches of the three governments and a handful of corporations affiliated with
the North American Competitiveness Council. Now this was a topic covered during
And so the event that just took place here in Nelson was hosted by the New Democratic Party of Canada, the NDP. The NDP has taken on the SPP as a major issue, especially leading in to what appears to be looming federal elections, and has labeled the campaign quite clearly, "Stop the SPP". This information is front and centre on the NDP web site at ndp.ca.
Burnaby-New Westminster Member of Parliament Peter Julian was the primary speaker at the event as Julian is also the NDP Critic for International Trade, and his message was quite clear: that the SPP is undemocratic and infringes upon the rights of Canadians in literally every facet of our lives, and that the NDP agenda is quite clear in that they are working alongside civil society groups and labour unions to hold the Conservative government to account and to increase pressure on the Harper government to stop SPP implementation until there is a meaningful public consultation and a full debate and vote in Parliament.
A number of people throughout the region
Now, each country has launched working
groups, which in the
Now what about in
Common approaches for regulatory policies?
Well, what does that mean for
Now at the SPP event in Nelson, I used the
biotechnology example because as mentioned on last week's broadcast, Nelson and
Creston residents are teaming up with farmers this year to encourage them to
grow grains as part of a Community Supported Agriculture model. Now one of
these grains will be wheat, a crop that because of pressure from farmers and
the Canadian Wheat Board is not yet available in a genetically engineered form
And here of course introduces such an alternative - a GE-Free Kootenays zone, whereby residents are beginning to take matters into their own hands, and ensure that GE crops never make their way into the region. After last week's introduction to this topic, a stream of emails have even poured in from people around North America who are now, too, interested in creating their own GE-Free zones, and perhaps the comments heard on last weeks broadcast and those heard today, will provide a resource for communities wishing to do the same.
Hosting the event was Nelson's Community Food Matters, Greenpeace, The Green Party of BC, and the Society for a GE Free BC, and support also came from the Kootenay Country Store Co-operative.
One of those travelling in from out of town
Stevenson: GE-Free zones, now we've talked a lot
about the concept of implementing one here, but not really about what it means
to have a GE-Free zone. There was mention of Colin Palmer in
JS: While the idea of GE-Free zones is a rather foreign concept here in North America, in places like Europe where there are far more precautionary approaches being taken regarding such crops and food products, there are over 3500 municipalities that are GE-Free, and Jessica Stevenson describes how public opinion can help drive their creation here in Canada.
J.Stevenson: First and foremost why you should probably implement a GE-Free zone
is public opinion and support for it. In
JS: Now what is often the most difficult
concept to understand is the legal nature behind the creation of such a zone,
and in closing out these clips of Greenpeace's Jessica Stevenson, she uses
J.Stevenson: In 2004 the Regional Board of the Powell River Regional District declared a genetically engineered-free crop zone. And it should be understood that this GE-Free zone acts as a policy of the Regional Board which sends out a message and a signal to seed companies or farmers who have become contracted with them. If the situation deteriorates, the policy makes it legal for the Regional Board to pass by-law immediately. So that means that they have then the power to approach any contamination in a legal form. They can take it to the courts, basically; which is a good thing, because this is one way to safeguard biotechnology corporations from them contaminating any properties that are growing non-GMO foods. Everybody will know if they are in any kind of contact with the Powell River Region, that they are a GMO-Free zone.
JS: And that was Jessica Stevenson - a researcher working with
Rudge: So this whole thing that I want to do, it's
For several years a few other people and
myself worked to figure out a process by which to have the
The circulation began. We had envisioned about three thousand signatures on the form, an easy ten percent of the population. Looking back now, hindsight of course, it wasn't at all unreasonable but more advertising would have worked well in our favour. There is no minimum number of names for a petition to be accepted, as long as all the other critical pieces of the petition are in place. We spread the petition around town, to numerous retail outlets and also forwarded it to NGOs and hoped they would also sign up their membership and network of supporters. I think targeting specific retailers willing to support the initiative and advertising it accordingly would have been more successful. During the summer I took the petition to the Fireweed Community Market for fourteen weeks, and had it there for people to sign. This market has approximately thirty-five vendors, six of which are vegetable vendors, the remainder being artisans and crafters. Noticeably, people wouldn't sign or show interest unless someone was there to engage them in conversation and draw them in. So yeah, you have to go to the market, or wherever you are, and you have to be the busker. You have to be the champion for this, and you have to poke people in the chest and say "what do you know about it? Do you know what you're eating? Do you know what this is about? Have you got a second, can I talk to you about it?"
Along with the petition, the market booth was also selling cups of fair trade organic coffee from a local roaster. It was sold by donation, as well as information for organic growers, information about the market itself. It was an information booth with the petition front and centre. So everything went around, but this was the goal. I would talk about anything there, but they didn't leave until they signed. Throughout the summer the GE-Free petition and campaign was brought forward to as many gatherings as possible.
JS: And you're listening to Tom Rudge speaking of the initial process that he undertook to launch his GE-Free Yukon campaign. As he continued his presentation to the group in Nelson, BC, he stressed the importance of approaching farmers first, and why a moratorium was chosen to pursue instead of an outright ban.
TR: Early on, I presented the idea to the local Agricultural Association, and I used to be on the board for the Yukon Agricultural Association. It was received coolly, with the comment that they wanted more information before deciding to take a position on it. Even then, farmers believed themselves to be the epitome of independent people, and having anyone tell them what they should or should not do will not bode well. And it didn't. Although no one told them what to do, they did feel threatened by the idea of a petition. No follow-up from the Association came about, although they were given access to the most up-to-date information on GM crops. I think it possible the market benefits were explained with an equal emphasis on the possible downfalls, more conventional farmers would listen. The big one is: bottom line, never tell a farmer what they can't do. That's why I brought up at the beginning; there has to be inclusion, they have to be told that there's a benefit to this in marketing, and any other possible benefits. And then you have to leave it up to them and hope that peer pressure from their fellow farmers will eventually pull them in onside. But do not tell them they have to, do not exclude them.
It was following this that the idea came
that the petition needs to be consumer-driven, because I wasn't getting the
input from these conventional farmers. More work was put into talking to
individuals and environmental alternative health groups and other conventional
farmers. Some listened. Time is always better spent talking to those who are
willing to listen. The Organic Growers group signed on quickly and became an
excellent advocate. The Yukon Territorial Agricultural Department, a branch of
Energy, Mines and Resources, was informed of the idea of the petition early on.
And it was that initial conversation that led to the wording of the petition
itself. The Ag Branch openly said: "Ain't gonna happen. We're not going to
support an outright ban on the crops because they're legal in
There are two streams of thought when it
comes to dealing with the GE crops. One is to ban the growing of them for
social, environmental and economic reasons. The other is scientific, and it's a
tough one because once the GE crops are in the area, it's viewed that Pandora's
Box has been opened and cannot be closed. The choice here is to stop further
contamination of the areas and watch closely for long-term issues and possibly
find a way to record any environmental casualties or health issues. From the
standpoint of a campaign a moratorium might be good enough, but from the
purist's point of view the ban is the ultimate goal. In the
JS: While Tom Rudge stresses the importance of approaching farmers, he emphasizes that First Nations also be brought into the dialogue up front. In this next clip we also hear Tom speak of his efforts to involve the Chamber of Commerce, as a GE-Free zone can indeed, carry with it an economic benefit, as it sends a positive global message to those who oppose genetically engineered foods.
TR: Next I have to do a joint presentation to the Council of Yukon First
Nations about this petition, and to the possible impacts. Having witnessed a
recent court case in the
JS: And this is Deconstructing
Dinner. We've been listening in on recordings compiled in November 2007 at
the first GE-Free Kootenays meeting in Nelson BC. Now this meeting took place
two weeks before the GE-Free Yukon petitions were to officially be presented in
But in first wrapping up Tom's presentation
in Nelson, he cautions others to be wary of government interest to present what
he calls, middle-of-the-road information. And he uses one example of an event
hosted by the Agriculture Branch of the
TR: A month ago the Ag branch went through their five-year Strategic
Development Plan, and when it came to the Roundtable Planning Session with
industry I made sure the table was stacked in favor of sustainable farmers with
local ideas and strong support for a market: as in a local market and also a
physical market. The result of this was that in the final draft of the Ag
Development Plan presented last week, organic was on the list of priorities,
and so were local market initiatives; and the issue of GE crops within the
At the fall Ag conference and banquet put on by the Ag Branch, the afternoon session was set aside for discussion on the pros and cons of GE crops. And I was led to believe there would be people from both sides talking, and I would also join them in the panel discussion. And I honestly have to say be very wary of this, because what I ended up with were two provincial scientists from Alberta talking very middle-of-the-road with most emphasis being on weed suppression and examples of successes in that regard. There was zero discussion on environmental effects, long-term health studies, possible social issues, that have affected southern countries. All the issues stemmed from what research they had done; ergo I had nothing to argue against. I didn't have their papers; they wrote them, they know what they talked about, and that's what they referred to. By the end, though, the crowd listening to the speakers had seen through what was happening, and ended up being even more on the side of no GMOs, simply because the scientists failed to support any view outside of their own. They didn't sort of look at the audience and say "Yeah, I feel for what you're going through," not once. If I were to engage the public again it would be on my own terms, with independent industry talking about GMOs. Let the people decide, but give them all the information and not just what a government employee will say to protect their own job. I cannot blame the scientists nor the Ag Branch, they have a mandate to tell the middle of the road, and not to scare people. To tell the rest, that's my job.
With only two weeks
left until the petition goes to the Legislature, the last person I needed to
put in place was a Member of the Legislature to table the petition. I could not
ask a Minister to do this because of protocol; they can't present petitions. I
also went with the ruling party, the Yukon Party, because regardless of their
leanings the petition has to be perceived as non-partisan. If the party in
power won't table the petition then the game is wide open, and it will become a
partisan issue. Letters of support: they are great, but they do not form any
part of the petition, so they will be set aside from the actual petition and
that is what becomes the legal document. Last thing is after the petition is
tabled, in the
From my point of view, to try this I strongly believe you need a champion, or several, who are willing to learn about GMOs, about GE crops. There needs to be a focal point for people to go to. That has to be there.
The GE-Free Song
Phil Vernon (singing): Well it started in Ukiah
Just a little northern
Just a few determined people
And you know they brought the whole county 'round
Going door to door with their petition
Holding meetings and talking on the phone
That's how the
GE-free - safe food and strong community
GE-free - that's the way… that's the way it should be!
Now those farmers 'way Down Under
From what I hear, they're clear on what to do
They know they'd lose international markets
If genetic seed technology goes through
Put to the test in
The biggest farm state in that southern land
They got their government to pass a law
And now commercial GE crops have been banned
… and now they're
Peasant farmers in
Fight the pressure from Monsanto
This is our land - they tell their Presidente
Now Monsanto's plan is terminado
We're gonna be GE-free from coast to coast!
From the farm field to the kitchen table
Let's work together to protect what matters most (that's good food)
All the power behind technology
Cannot surpass what our grassroots can do!
And when we say "No!" to GMOs
Then our vision for the future's that much
closer to coming true! …and we'll be
…that's the way, Mendecino…
that's the way,
that's the way,
that's the way,
JS: 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.
And that was a tune by Phil Vernon - a
well-known musician based on
A quick reminder that today's broadcast
will be archived on our web site along with the previous two broadcasts titled
the "Colonization of the Canadian Farmer", both of which have led into this one
today. On today's broadcast we explore in depth the process that communities
and regions can take to create zones that are free of genetically engineered
crops (GE-Free zones). As was learnt on last week's broadcast, efforts to
challenge the presence of genetically engineered foods in
Angela Reid: We'll break into three groups of about seven people each, and what we're going to do is first of all come up with a list of potential allies who might be good allies in creating GE-Free or non-GMO zones in the Kootenay region. We'll take five minutes, just quickly brainstorming a list of allies. Then what we'll do is if each person in the group make a list if you can, think of five to ten strategies or ideas that will help lead towards creating GE-Free zones in the Kootenays. Then we'll move back into the group and I'll give another instruction, I don't want to go over it too much; but essentially what we're going to come up with: we're then going to cluster them as a group, organize them, come up with some blockages. And then we'll list the potential blocks to GE-Free campaigns, and then the next step will be how do we get around those blocks, what are the actions and strategies for getting around those blocks? And the hopeful outcome of this will be a list of specific action items or strategies or campaign ideas that the steering committee can then take and use as we develop a campaign, hopefully identify a lead person in the Kootenay region who can take on the campaign and give them this, probably, eight page document which we can then circulate to this group as well, all of the ideas that have come out of these groups.
JS: After the smaller groups had completed the brainstorming of strategies, the larger group reconvened and these ideas were amalgamated onto the wall in order to develop common themes.
AR: But for now we're just going to get them up on the wall, and kind of get an idea of what's up there. Champions for steering committee; education and awareness for government; education and awareness for farmers, and Scott, two ideas from your group. Clear definition of a GE-Free zone. and identify local champions. So we've got two identical ideas there, which is great. Usually the common themes will start emerging. Alternative crops--so is that educating farmers about alternative crops to GE? Educational strategies, schools and (indistinct voices in background) film. Promote non-GMO animal feed, so that would be for farmers. A survey?
Unidentified male: Public survey, yeah.
AR: "Coalition of the willing", support organic farming.
The next thing we're going to is go back into your groups, five minutes to brainstorm people who might block some of this stuff happening, and some of the ideas around creating GE-Free zones, who might block these. And then we'll take five minutes and do individual brainstorming around what some of the obstacles will be.
JS: And here's Angela Reid compiling the list of blockages and obstacles that a GE-Free campaign may run up against.
AR: Chamber of Commerce, WTO, NAFTA. I'm going to start clustering these, too, because there are some natural clusters that I think are going to form here, some of the larger organizations or things that could be used against us. Transport companies, feed and farm supply stores, losing focus with too broad a spectrum. So that might be an obstacle towards trying to do this. Bureaucrats advising that risks are greater than benefits. So is that risks of creating a GE-Free zone is greater than the benefit of creating a GE-Free zone? CFIA and Ministry of Health. A move to biofuels. They might come out and say "well, we're never going to be able to grow enough biofuel feed if we don't create higher yields" or something like that, that would be their argument. (indistinct voices in background) That is what they're saying right now. I'm going to put that under the large corporate interests; I mean, these are corporately-governed bodies, typically. You could even say our Ministry of Health is. But these are more specific entities, corporate bodies. Uninformed public, being caught or called out on misinformation—if we're not really sure that we're clear with our facts and our message.
Unidentified male: Human element, back with the apathy and the—
AR: City council and administrations, inflammatory extreme paranoid statements by allies. (laughter. Inaudible background comments) Fear of lawsuits. Farmers fearing losing independence regulation. So, farmers that are feeling like they're somehow--
Unidentified male: This is another regulation
AR: This is another regulation, now we can't do this. We're already being squeezed so hard.
Unidentified male: That's got to be its own category; this is who we're talking about—
AR: Yeah, I think that's true, like that's specifically to deal with the farmers who are going to be affected. Economic transition, GMO to non-GMO. Are we talking at the local level, or farmers? Okay. Scientific bafflegab. ***** [42:12] as corporately-funded science. Lack of peer-reviewed scientific study. Ag Department, provincial.
JS: Following this session of the meeting, all of this information
gathered helped the group end with a discussion on what roles any coordinator
of such a campaign would need to take on. And a full list of all of these ideas
compiled at the November meeting will be linked to from the Deconstructing Dinner web site at
cjly.net/deconstructingdinner, and will be posted under the
Now we can come back to
JS: Now we can come back to
TR: We did submit the petition. It was not a big deal; I think we had just over 1500 signatures on it. It was taken, and the government did have eight sitting days in which to respond. We were in the legislature the day they did respond, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Archie Lang responded, and I would say it's kind of a perfunctory "thank you very much for your petition, thanks to all the people that signed it, we look forward to looking into the issue," sort of a "thank you very much". So needless to say, we were sort of disappointed in the fact that they relied on outside facts and figures, and they didn't really pay attention, I don't believe, to how important this is and how many people were really signed up and concerned about this issue.
JS: The presenting of the petition also gave the opportunity for other political parties represented in the legislature to comment, and Tom outlines these responses and the position of the Agriculture Department itself.
TR: The other thing that happened during that period as well; Todd
Hardy, the leader of the third opposition, the NDP here in the
Subsequent to the petition and Archie's response, we've had a
couple of articles in the newspaper and a radio interview. The GE-Free Yukon committee sent several
letters or emails in response to the petition, to Minister Archie Lang and also
to the Agriculture Department Director Tony Hill. Archie Lang has written back,
but it's more or less reiterating what he already responded to in the
legislature. Tony Hill has responded, saying "Yes, let's have a meeting and
let's talk about this." He is interested in looking into a consumer or an
industry-driven solution to this. Basically the government seems to be
refusing, at any length, to create any sort of legislation; they really don't
like doing that. So it really sounds like they would like the industry to come
up with a solution, saying "Why don't you guys just not grow the stuff?" And to
me and to our group, that's sort of a "pass the buck, we don't want to deal
with it," but it's also stating that they don't want to face off against any of
the big guys. They really don't want to have anything to do with the big
companies on this; they would like the people to just choose amongst themselves
not to do this. But I think we're going to move farther with it, we're going to
push a little bit harder yet. There was a one page commentary that was put in
the Yukon News, which is online, and it responded to Archie's reply to the
petition; and the article essentially refutes everything that Archie said in
his response, so the people of the
JS: Now while the responses were enough to ensure more dialogue on the issue would continue, there was one fork stuck into the process by the Yukon Agricultural Association - a group made up of members of the agricultural community. Some members of the Association are organic farmers, and as we learned from previous broadcasts, the ability to grow certified organic crops is threatened by the presence of those that have been genetically engineered.
TR: We have an Agricultural Association, sort of an industry group, up
here in the
JS: And this is Deconstructing Dinner where we we've
been listening to Tom Rudge - an organic farmer in the
Now there is an interesting inner conflict among agricultural groups like the one just referred to and government itself when it comes to the issue of GE crops. We currently live in a time where there is rapidly rising interest in the health, environmental and economic benefits of organic food, and with it has come the creation of policies and wording within governments that encourage the growth of the organic sector. As mentioned on our January 3 broadcast, the organic sector is threatened by genetically engineered crops as cross-contamination can lead to an entire organic harvest losing its ability to be certified as organic, and so it appears that any support of GE crops is contradictory to this rising support for organic agriculture, and hence the conflict.
Now this can become an important tool to stress when working with any level of government on the banning of GE crops. Because while science will always butt heads over health concerns, the cross-contamination argument involves little debate, it's a simple eventuality that was stressed by farmers Marc Loiselle and Arnold Taylor on our recent January 3 broadcast.
JS: Now while the
TR: Well one of them was an excellent one; it came from Dag Falck from
Nature's Path, and they are
Another one was, a lot of people know about
the independent research group in the
The whole deal behind this whole petition
was the fact that earlier on I did go to the government, the actual party in
power, and I asked about these issues and how I should go about looking for
change. And it was suggested that "You know, Tom, if you're going to do stuff
like this what you really need is support of the people, because nothing hurts
harder than a vote. Get a petition, maybe, that works really well. Get the
science behind the stuff and get some of the big players on this, and get them
together and let's see what we can do." Well that was two and a half years ago
that I talked to them, this has all been followed up now. So I've mentioned it
to Minister Lang that, yes, we did follow all your suggestions about this. We
had some really great support from people across
JS: During my conversation with Tom I was curious to learn of other efforts perhaps here in Canada that have attempted similar campaigns to launch GE-Free Zones, and he spoke to me about Prince Edward Island where such a campaign was launched but failed. And it was an important example as it stresses the threats such campaigns can be up against - which in this case, were multinational corporations and governments who choose not to respond to public opinion.
JS: It was highlighted on last week's broadcast how farmers are of
course the most important group to be involved in the creation of a GE-Free
zone, and perhaps of greatest importance is the ability to present farmers with
alternatives. Now this is exactly what's happening here in the Nelson area
where local residents are banding together to encourage farmers in the
TR: So to talk to the farmers, if they need to be a part of the community, the community needs to go to them and say "Listen, this is what we're looking for." It has to be a supportive move towards something else. To just go and rant at them, saying "what you're doing is bad" doesn't work. Because all they're doing is growing something to feed their family—I mean, not directly, but by selling it to whoever, that's how they're making their money.
If it could be instilled to these people
that the community doesn't support it, they support the farmer but not what
he's growing. So if they can offer alternatives to what he's doing, and offer
alternative markets, because that's probably the largest issue is that for
whatever they were previously growing there isn't any market, so they were sold
on this new technology. So you almost have to go back and try and sell them
back again, to keep them in. They're only human; I mean it's pretty evident to
me, anybody that's growing this stuff really hasn't seen all the paperwork, and
all the issues from around the world and how this affects everyone. I mean,
around the world it is just frowned upon. And yet in
JS: And in closing out today's broadcast, here again is Tom Rudge.
TR: As far as I'm concerned, John, on your show I'd declare the whole
JS: And that was Tom Rudge - an organic farmer in
And in closing out today's broadcast, I'll quickly mention that along with our recent partnership with The Tyee, is the ability to comment on our weekly broadcasts and engage in dialogue with other listeners. And you can link to this feature on the Tyee by visiting the specific broadcast pages on the Deconstructing Dinner web site. This broadcast is archived under January 17.
And I'll also leave you with one more clip from the November GE Free Kootenays meeting that took place in Nelson. And this one is of Nelson City Councillor Gord McAdams, who advises on the importance of educating local politicians on the basics of genetically engineered foods, and he uses the example of the recent push here in Nelson to ban the cosmetic use of chemical pesticides.
Gord McAdams: When we did pesticides in Nelson, what made it work for me was I had some champions like you out in the community, and they gave me good examples of other places that did it. So it took away that threat of what's going to happen to all the shops in town that sell these pesticide products? How am I going to deal with them? And they walked me through what other communities did. Frankly, it gave me, and politicians love this, an opportunity to look good. So I could solve the other side, and move, and segment the side I wanted to segment. Really what you—and you got it—is that you make it easy for them to look good, and that's what you did. And so (indistinct voices in background) other examples of other communities really, really helps; because then I'm not cutting new ground all by myself.
was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at
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