The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
August 6, 2009
Title: Genetically Engineered Sugar, Trees, Alfalfa and Wheat / Backyard Chickens VIII
Producer/Host - Jon Steinman
Transcript - Pat Yama
Jon Steinman: Welcome to Deconstructing Dinner produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY. I'm Jon Steinman.
As one of the clearest examples of the direction in which our food and agricultural systems are heading, Deconstructing Dinner has paid considerable attention to the evolution of genetically modified or "engineered" foods. These ever-present ingredients in our food supply represent one of the most controversial and debated shifts that have taken place among modern agricultural practices with these technologies having only been grown and consumed since 1995 - a very new technology.
With the product of this genetic engineering being a plant, tree or animal that could never exist through conventional breeding techniques or natural processes, genetic engineering leaves many farmers, eaters, and the majority of countries around the world quite skeptical of their known and unknown risks.
Major foods that have been genetically engineered consist of canola, corn, soy and cotton, cottonseed being used in many foods. And it has long been suggested that genetically engineering all commercially used plants, trees and animals, is the "future" of our food system. After all, when a company genetically engineers a living organism, they can then patent that lifeform and thereby own that lifeform. In a world where it seems everything is being privatized, some notable news in the world of genetically engineered food that has bubbled to the surface over the past six months should come as no surprise.
On today's episode we'll learn of the recent arrival of genetically engineered sugar into the North American food supply and we'll also learn of the steps being taken to introduce genetically engineered alfalfa, genetically engineered trees and perhaps the most controversial, genetically engineered wheat. Lending her voice to Deconstructing Dinner will be the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Lucy Sharratt, who I sat down with during a recent visit to Ottawa.
And at the end of the broadcast, another installment of Bucky Buckaw's Backyard Chicken broadcast.
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The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network or CBAN is perhaps the most vocal coalition of groups from across Canada who oppose the presence of genetically engineered food and the many social justice and food sovereignty concerns stemming from such technologies.
In June 2009, I visited the offices of CBAN and sat down with the organization's coordinator, Lucy Sharratt. Deconstructing Dinner last heard from Lucy in February 2006 on the topic of terminator seeds, otherwise known as genetic use restriction technologies. At the time, CBAN was in the midst of their "Ban Terminator" campaign.
Here again, is Lucy Sharratt.
Lucy Sharratt: My name is Lucy Sharratt and I work as the coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. We're in the Ottawa office. Someone has once called it "headquarters". It is the CUN office that is donated space from Etcetera Group, which is an international NGO that does tremendous work around genetic plant resources. And we have a lovely space in their office in Ottawa in close proximity to some of the other groups that are part of the network.
I've been working on the issue of genetic engineering for over seven years with various organizations and through volunteer work. I use to work for the Sierra Club of Canada on their safe food sustainable agriculture campaign and with the Polaris Institute when we were doing some research around bio-justice issues. And literally, it was the Ban Terminator campaign that brought me into this specific space working for that campaign with Etcetera Group. The Ban Terminator campaign was the first big campaign that the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network took on as a coalition effort and of course was hugely successful. So it was a fantastic way to bring groups together for the life of this new network.
JS: With biotechnology representing a broad spectrum of industries and products, Lucy explains just what biotechnology action means.
LS: At the moment, this means for us being actively engaged in critiquing genetic engineering; through the history of this work since 1999, it's meant, firstly demanding mandatory labelling, trying to make sure regulations were actually assessing the crops and foods' and of course in the early days, trying to stop all of the products all together. And the movement itself opposed bovine growth hormone because of the types of impacts that it would have on small farmers and various health and environmental issues, animal welfare issues and was successful. And that's an example of the types of concerns that farmers, consumers, people in civil society have had around genetically engineered products and the types of issues that sometimes bring us together or well, do bring us together. Like the current issues of genetically engineered wheat which is again being threatened by the industry but the different genetically engineered products, all of which bring unique risks. And then looking at the problem of genetic engineering itself, the issue itself, the technology itself, that we actually think there are some inherent risks to the technology and that there's an analysis needed of the type of democratic system that would actually address or assess this technology. It doesn't exist at the moment.
JS: As was alluded to earlier, the genetic engineering of the global food supply is a pivotal issue given the many social justice and food sovereignty concerns that arise from the proprietary ownership of these technologies and by extension, ownership of food and lifeforms. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is therefore not only an organization that addresses biotechnology concerns, but is one rooted in the rights of people and farmers around the world to have control over what they grow and what they eat.
LS: Well we look at the issue of genetic engineering and that's our mandate and that's our specific concern that we do so within a framework that's much larger and broader. One that is about social justice and about food sovereignty and explicitly our tagline is collaborative campaigning for food sovereignty and environmental justice. So in beginning to talk about alfalfa and other crops, there's actually a platform of values and discussions that CBAN has around agriculture globally, agriculture and Canada farming, farmer livelihood, the farm crisis in Canada, issues like agri-fuels, monoculture plantations. Our work ends up intersecting with some major policy issues, some huge environmental issues like climate change. So the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is actually placed within the larger, broader movement for environmental justice and food sovereignty.
There are 18 member groups and they're quite diverse. There's a number of farm organizations that are members like the Natural Farmers Union and the Saskatchewan Organic Farmers and Union Paysanne and Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. And then there are some environmental groups like Greenpeace and some grassroots community associations. There's coalition's like the Society for G.E. Free B.C. that brings together all kinds of grassroots groups. And then there are some international development organizations, groups like Inter Paris and USC Canada. And these groups also assist us in making partnerships with other groups internationally. So this is the diversity that CBAN has as a network allows us to really see the implications in all kinds of ways of genetic engineering.
JS: Lucy Sharratt mentioned alfalfa - one of the most important crops grown by farmers and in particular organic farmers. Alfalfa is yet another crop that has become at the forefront of controversy since global seed giant Monsanto began its efforts to commercialize a genetically engineered variety developed by the company. With the threat of genetically engineered alfalfa crossing with non-genetically engineered alfalfa in neighbouring or nearby fields, CBAN has become an active voice opposing any future introduction of such a technology and Lucy explains.
LS: The CBAN members group Saskatchewan Organics Directorate, they have an organic agriculture protection plan and this is the same group that took or well tried to establish their class action suit against Monsanto and Bayer for contamination of organic canola with genetically engineered canola and it's the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate or SOD, that actually as a member group of CBAN has the expertise relating to alfalfa and initiated the No To GMO Alfalfa campaign that CBAN is a partner in bringing forward and that we are currently working on a strategy to bring that campaign into a strong public campaign. And over 80 groups have at this point have signed on to that campaign; that was the first step of our work together. And it's a really important campaign because of course, alfalfa is really important for organic farmers and it brings a bunch of issues into light, one of which is of course - why does Monsanto care about alfalfa except of course that it's another threat to organic farmers which keep getting in the way of genetic engineering. It's going to be a really important issue for organic farmers and it's going to be an important issue for CBAN to work with people on because it'll also help make those connections between the need for groups and farm groups but others who are interested in protecting organic agriculture, why those groups and communities need to also be engaged in the issue of genetic engineering.
I think it was in 2005 that the Canadian government actually approved genetically engineering alfalfa for environmental release and for human health safety, but the product is not commercialized. It cannot be legally commercialized until it also has variety registration. Alfalfa is one of crops that requires variety registration before it can be placed on the market. And Monsanto has not yet requested variety registration for alfalfa. So it has been approved in Canada but it cannot yet be legally marketed. And so we have this strange window of time, an unlimited amount of time, it's not a timeline we would know. It's a timeline that's set by Monsanto. But we have this time where we can work to stop the introduction of GM alfalfa.
And alfalfa is another huge issue where it's very clear that farmers don't want or need alfalfa. It's also clear that the Canadian government has approved alfalfa and has no interest in re-assessing that, has no interest in incorporating economic and social questions into their assessment of alfalfa or any other crop. And Monsanto is also interested in the fact that the Canadian government has just changed the rules around variety registration. So there's really interesting and important questions raised by this whole issue of alfalfa. One is, if the Canadian government is interested in supporting organic agriculture as it says it is into the future, then it needs to make sure that crops like genetically engineered alfalfa are not introduced. And it raises questions around again, the ability of the Canadian government to address any kind of social and economic concerns that people have about new genetically engineered crops.
We also have this new issue that the National Farmers Union with CBAN and some other partners, had tried really hard to critique the new changes to variety registration that the Canadian government was putting forward. They've called this seed modernization and it essentially just makes it easier for companies to get their varieties registered. The variety registration assessment means that there are performance and agronomic assessments made around the quality of seed. And now there are different options for assessing the seeds through variety registration and one of these options is essentially just listing. So the new system potentially allows for the registration of varieties without any kind of additional testing. And so it might make it easier and quicker for Monsanto to approve GE alfalfa. But in the meantime, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network will be writing to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency asking them to reassess their approval for environmental release of alfalfa. And there are grounds to ask for that reassessment - there is a current injunction on plantings in the United States because of environmental problems, in particular the risk to organic farmers. These problems have been identified in the United States.
JS: This is Deconstructing Dinner where we're hearing from Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, or CBAN. I sat down with Lucy during my June 2009 visit to Ottawa.
On today's episode we're revisiting with an ongoing topic covered here on the show - genetically modified or engineered food and the proprietary ownership of lifeforms and by extension genetic resources. There are currently only a handful of cultivated crops that have been genetically engineered and commercialized. Those include canola, corn, cotton and soy, ingredients that are very prevalent throughout the global food supply. But the world's largest seed developers are certainly not just restricting themselves to only those foods. On today's episode we're receiving an important update on some of the latest developments in the world of genetic engineering.
Beyond alfalfa as an important source of soil fertility and food for livestock, yet another major food of which a genetically engineered version has been approved throughout North America and is already in the food supply is genetically engineered sugar, and in particular, sugar derived from sugar beets.
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network has taken an active role in Canada to oppose the introduction of this modified food.
LS: Sugar beet is a really interesting way that the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is learning about the processed foods that we all eat. Genetically engineered sugar beet, I mean when we look at sugar beet we can find out that in Canada actually, 90% of the sugar that we process in Canada comes from cane sugar, it's imported cane sugar, and 10% of the sugar processed in Canada comes from sugar beet. And these are the white sugar beets that are grown, quite different from the red table beets that people are use to buying in the grocery store and cooking for themselves. So we're not talking about beets that people would go and buy, we're talking about white sugar beets that are essentially - maybe you could call them industrial crop but they're grown specifically for sugar processing. The pulp can also be used for livestock feed, and of course now there's this discussion of using sugar beet for bio-fuels.
The interesting thing about sugar beet of course, it's another huge ingredient in our processed foods that at the moment we have genetically engineered corn, canola, soya and cotton - cottonseed that end up in our processed foods. And what's another major ingredient that we eat - it's sugar, it's in everything. And people say - ah well I don't eat sugar. Well anything that comes in a box or a can is likely to have sugar as an ingredient and people who bake and who can and preserve, sugar is a major consideration. And it's amazing what's happened with sugar beet because it was a number of years ago when the sugar beet industry in North America said together that they would not use genetically engineered sugar beet. They had no interest in genetically engineered sugar beet.
So, while Canadians and folks in the U.S. were protesting GE wheat and winning that victory against genetically engineered wheat, Monsanto was lobbying the sugar beet industry, well the sugar industry in North America. And lo and behold in 2007, the companies in Canada and the U.S. announced that they would accept GE sugar beet. And it is a crop that the sugar beet farmers had wanted to plant. And it's the herbicide tolerant genetically engineered sugar beet so it's more convenient for farmers if they're using chemicals, it helps them with weed control. It is a time-saving, labour saving technology. And faced with this new announcement that together all the sugar companies were going to use genetically engineered sugar beet we took another look at the major sugar processing company in Canada which is Rogers Sugar/Lantic - it's now merged into Lantic.
JS: Now while sugar derived from sugar beet comprises only 10 percent of the total sugar processed in Canada, in the United States on the other hand, 50% of the sugar processed there is derived from sugar beet and over 50% of that is the genetically modified Monsanto variety. In some cases, groups like the Western Sugar Collaborative, which represent 1,400 sugar beet growers in four U.S. States, have planted 90% of their crop with the genetically modified variety.
While there are a number of groups in the United States who have been opposing the recent introduction of genetically engineered sugar, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network launched its own campaign this year targeting the one company in Canada who will soon be processing the modified beets.
LS: The company Rogers Sugar/Lantic that's now just merged into this one company Lantic, they are quite powerful in Canada or they are the major sugar processor and they're actually the only Canadian sugar processing company that processes sugar beet. Other companies just process cane sugar. So if we are looking at sugar beet that's grown in Canada we're looking at sugar beet that is grown in Alberta for one plant of Rogers Sugar, which is the Taber plant in Alberta. So when we saw that Rogers Sugar/Lantic had removed their frequently asked question from their website which says, "we do not use any genetically engineered ingredients" we approached the company to ask what their position was and we didn't hear back from them. And then we approached the company to ask them to meet with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network to ask them what their position was and we would have offered them advice as to whether or not they should proceed with accepting genetically engineered sugar beet and we did not hear back from them.
So in early 2009 we launched a campaign whereby we asked Canadians to send valentines to Rogers/Lantic. It was coming close to February and of course chocolate features really largely in valentines and everyone's thinking about their lovely sugary treats. And so we thought that would be fun, and it was fun. People loved it and a lot of valentines were sent. I think 2,000 at that point - letters, cards were sent to Rogers/Lantic. No response. So we launched a second stage, which was around Easter or the springtime and sort of this idea of chocolate bunnies. And so by the time the campaign had wrapped up at the beginning of April which was the same time that Alberta farmers would be planting the sugar beet seed, over 4,000 Canadians had written to Rogers Sugar, this company Lantic and had not received a response.
To this date we have never received any kind of phone call or e-mail response to any of our inquiries or from consumers. Which is a major problem because at the beginning of April, Rogers decided to accept genetically engineered sugar beet even though it's less than 10% of their processing that most of their sugar - 90% of it comes from cane sugar and they've contaminated their entire brand for less than 10% of what they process. Not only that but the number of farmers that grow sugar beet is less than 300. So for less than 300 farmers in Alberta who wanted to plant genetically engineered sugar beet or most of them did, and for less than 10% of their commodity that they're going to process, they contaminated their entire brand.
JS: The recently approved genetically engineered sugar beets are also being grown by farmers in Ontario. However the harvested crop there gets sent for processing to a company in Michigan - Michigan Sugar.
But while Canadians and Americans who purchase sugar might be able to at this time discern between the sugar companies who do and do not use genetically modified sugar, sugar is of course a major ingredient in many processed foods. And it's the very same companies producing sugar products that also sell their sugar to other processed food manufacturers. CBAN has also taken an active role in addressing these concerns.
LS: Lantic/Rogers brands are in grocery stores across the country. Any community I think you can go into your grocery store, convenience store and buy a bag of sugar that has the Lantic brand on it or Rogers brand in west coast. But in addition, Rogers Sugar/Lantic provides sugar to huge companies like Cadbury's. And of course all of the customers for this company are confidential business information. We do know that Cadbury's receives Lantic Sugar. We also know that Cadbury's has said that they would not use genetically engineered sugar beet in their products. And I think the reason why Cadbury's can say that is because their plant is in Toronto. And so really, Cadbury's is receiving Lantic sugar that comes from the east coast. And it's in the west coast, it's in B.C. and Alberta where consumers are more likely to find some of the genetically engineered sugar beet in their sugar products. Of course the other huge problem is that the sugar companies across the U.S. are also accepting genetically engineered sugar beet. So our entire processed food chain of sugar is now all pooled together with genetically engineered sugar beet.
There is a similar campaign in the United States and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network is working quite closely with our partners in the U.S. and we have launched a registry whereby companies in Canada and the U.S. can register their pledge not to use genetically engineered sugar beet. And so this something that CBAN is supporting and advocating that companies do. And we're looking forward actually to launching another part of our public campaign around sugar because it's not too late for customers/consumers to try and establish some choice in the marketplace. And a company like Rogers/Lantic needs to know that there are consequences when they choose to accept a genetically engineered product against the wishes of consumers, which is what has happened in this case. And the reason why sugar companies and Monsanto could get away with introducing genetically engineered sugar in North America when consumers didn't want it, is of course because there is no labeling and because sugar is in so many foods.
So we really need to address this problem of consumers feeling like they don't have a choice. We need to take back some control in our food system this way. And this is also why CBAN is a part of these other types of work around food and farming.
JS: This is Deconstructing Dinner. A link to the website that Lucy mentioned will be linked to from the Deconstructing Dinner website at deconstructingdinner.ca.
Now of course one of the primary concerns among opponents of genetically engineered foods are the risks of contamination, that is the contaminating of genetically engineered plants out in the fields with those that are not genetically engineered. Organic standards for one prohibit the presence of genetically modified organisms.
And sure enough, those risks became quite real not long before this broadcast goes to air. It was only back in July, that genetically modified sugar beet plants were found in a soil mix product prepared by Pro Bark and sold to gardeners at a landscape business in Corvallis, Oregon. That means, backyard gardeners were unknowingly placing those genetically engineered plants into their gardens and thereby risking cross contamination with their own non-genetically engineered beets and/or related species like Swiss Chard.
In the United States there is a lawsuit that was filed in 2008 against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over their permitted introduction to GM beets, and this latest contamination incident acts as a pretty substantial example of risk to back up that case. Those who brought the case forward are hoping to halt the planting of GM beets until the USDA fully examines the impacts of the modified variety on the environment and on non-GMO and organic production. The lawsuit was filed by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds alongside the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club, the Organic Seed Alliance, and High Mowing Organic Seeds.
JS: And so with the North American sugar supply now being made up of a genetically engineered ingredient, it appears that the road has been paved for a less resistant introduction of genetically engineered sugar cane. And sure enough, in November 2008, Monsanto purchased a major Brazilian sugar cane company for $290 million U.S. The company is the largest private sugar cane breeding company in the world and maintains a division focusing on the development of biotech traits primarily for sugar cane.
Here again is Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
LS: This is the crazy thing about genetically engineered sugar beet, is actually when you look at this question well why would Monsanto be concerned about genetically modified sugar beet. It's a small crop; maybe in the U.S. it's 50% of their sugar but in Canada it's only 10% of ours. Two reasons but the first is that yes, Monsanto has plans to genetically engineer sugar cane. And of course, cane sugar is a huge product and the issue of bio-fuels has also increased the dreams of Monsanto in relation to increasing acreage of both cane sugar and sugar beet because these are two major crops for bio-fuels. Cane sugar is an established bio-fuels crop and sugar beet is more and more going to be a bio-fuels crop.
JS: Lucy Sharratt. This is Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one hour radio show and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman. Today's broadcast has been archived on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the August 6th, 2009 episode. On the site you'll also find a host of resources including information on how the public can get involved in the campaigns being waged by groups like the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network or CBAN.
We've been hearing from CBAN's coordinator Lucy Sharratt who I sat down with during my recent visit to Ottawa back in June. Lucy shared with us a number of developments that have taking place in the world of genetically engineered food. And yet another topic we discussed was that of genetically engineered trees, an issue that goes beyond just food, but is certainly one to pay attention to. There is already a commercialized GE variety of papaya being grown in Hawaii, and a plum variety known as HoneySweet that has not yet been commercialized but beyond those two technologies, GE trees are not developed or planted in any significant way. That might soon change though, and Lucy explains.
LS: GE trees are a major concern in North America for a few really important reasons. One is that the Canadian government actually is the funder of test plots of genetically engineered trees in Canada. There's one GE test plot of genetically engineered Poplar in Quebec and it's funded and conducted by the Canadian Forest Service which is a government agency under Natural Resources, Canada. It was years ago when all the hype around biotechnology was happening that the Canadian government made quite a substantial commitment to the idea of genetically engineered trees. And we now see the results of this in these ongoing experiments that are extremely dangerous to forests, ecosystems in Canada because the issue with GE trees is contamination - that contamination from pollen that flows so far with trees. A multitude of kinds of contamination risks are really serious and the Canadian government has no business researching genetically engineered trees.
In addition to this, actually there are a lot of field tests in the United States on different types of tree species for different types of genetically engineered traits. And this is becoming an extremely urgent situation because the company ArborGen, which is a joint venture set up by forest companies just to genetically engineer trees is now asking the U.S. government for approval for a cold-tolerant Eucalyptus tree that is genetically engineered and they're asking for increased field tests of flowering Eucalyptus. And this is a kind of experiment that ArborGen is pursuing in the United States and in Brazil. And the issues around contamination there are huge, not necessarily in this case for Canadian forests but this also raises huge issues around monoculture plantations, which is another social justice and environmental issue around the world. And the Canadian government is explicitly tied now to this industry agenda of genetically engineering trees. And we need to really make sure that the last of these genetically engineered tree field testing in Canada are shut down, that the Canadian government stops investing in GE tree research and that we ban GE trees. The major way this can happen is by provincial governments prohibiting the planting of GE trees on crown land. And that is something that needs to be seriously undertaken to preserve Canadian forest ecosystems from contamination.
JS: Lucy suggests that the efforts to commercialize the GE Eucalyptus variety in the United States would open the door to further GE tree technologies.
LS: The cold-tolerant eucalyptus will be used to open the door for other technologies. I'm not sure how viable the other technologies are but certainly in the U.S, ArborGen, the same company was experimenting low-lignin trees that would be more suitable or more economical for wood processing and bio-fuels. And again if we see the political power of bio-fuels as a new industry wave or hype, then we can see that actually where in the past a technology like a low-lignin tree would have been just scoffed at. Now it could be potentially commercially viable if in fact bio-fuels from wood is being taken seriously. And so with this new hype around bio-fuels it's making GE trees and some of the experiments unfortunately look far closer to reality than we ever thought that they would.
JS: In the past few years, it has become quite clear that the Canadian government is an active and aggressive supporter of genetically engineering the food supply and now, genetically engineering our forests. In May 2008, Lucy Sharratt attended the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Germany, and it was there that the Canadian government's position on GE trees was made quite clear.
LS: Last year the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network was involved in a very serious international effort to ban genetically engineered trees. We worked really closely with our partners in the U.S. and Brazil and other countries because the United Nations was addressing, through their meeting the convention of Biological Diversity, a specific agenda item on trees. The African countries altogether, all of the African countries had requested a ban on GE trees. And we were there to support that request by also asking the Canadian government to support that request. And unfortunately, that ban did not happen and the implications of course are this trans-boundary contamination that once GE trees are planted either in field tests or otherwise, the contamination risks are global because of the type of distance that pollen can travel from trees.
So this was the effort that the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network was involved in and continues to be involved in. But this was a major opportunity last year and the Canadian government did not concede to the very real concerns of African governments and other governments around the world. And this is why now we need to be fighting with our U.S. partners to stop the introduction of the first genetically engineered tree, which would be this cold-tolerant Eucalyptus.
JS: The last development in the world of genetic engineering that we'll focus on today are the recent announcements by farmers groups and the private sector to support and begin development of genetically engineered wheat. The prospect of genetically engineering the most widely planted and imported food crop in the world is, however, not new. It was back in 2004 that Monsanto gave up on its efforts to commercialize a herbicide resistant variety of wheat, and that was after public pressure around the globe forced them to back down. But as was introduced on our May 14th, 2009 episode, a tri-lateral statement by nine farmer organizations in Canada, the U.S., and Australia was issued in May calling for the continued research and development of GE wheat. The letter sent a strong signal that the biotechnology industry was ready to restart their wheat efforts.
LS: Yeah, that letter was extremely shocking and it was an industry initiative that actually pledged whereby industry groups in Australia, Canada, and the U.S. pledged to synchronize commercialization of genetically engineered wheat. So when we saw this industry statement, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network began drafting our own statement with counterarguments to their arguments. And we got in contact with partners in Australia and the U.S. And so on June 1st, CBAN launched with our friends in Australia and the U.S. a tri-national statement called the Definitive Global Rejection to Genetically Engineered Wheat which was exactly that. It was to remind Monsanto that actually the international market and the international community has already rejected GE wheat so it doesn't matter what these industry groups are saying about their pledged commercialized GE wheat, actually it's already been rejected, And they might pledge to commercialize the wheat but CBAN and these groups in Australia and the U.S, we pledge in our three countries to actually stop them from commercializing GE wheat.
So we launched this statement and at the same time we've asked groups from around the world to join us in that global rejection. Of course they've already joined us, we've already done that work together in 2004 when Monsanto withdrew their applications for approval of GE wheat in Canada and the U.S. It was because of the work that all of these groups have done. So we're just asking groups now to sign on to the statement that again rejects GE wheat just so we can make it very, very clear that we will not accept any efforts to reintroduce genetically engineered wheat or to restart the debate around genetically engineered wheat.
And CBAN has now also launched on our website an Instant Action where Canadians can write to the Minister of Agriculture and it also goes to leaders of the opposition parties. And we think this is really important just to make sure that the government and opposition parties remember that Canadians are really concerned about genetically engineered wheat. And all of this will mean a lot and CBAN will make sure it does mean a lot through to the end.
JS: The website for CBAN is cban.ca and the Stop GM Wheat campaign can be signed on to there.
Now sure enough only two months after that tri-lateral statement was released by the nine farmer organizations in the US, Australia and Canada, Monsanto shortly thereafter purchased Montana-based WestBred, a North American cereal research and development company specializing in the breeding of wheat varieties.
On July 13th, Monsanto hosted a press conference to announce the acquisition. Introducing the press conference was Monsanto spokesperson Lee Quarles.
Conference Operator: Good morning. My name is Jessica and I will be your Conference Operator today. At this time we'd like to welcome everyone to the Monsanto Wheat Announcement Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speaker's remarks there will be a question and answer session. If you would like to ask any questions during that time, please press the star (*) and the number one (1) on your telephone keypad. If you have already done so, please press the pound (#) sign now and press star (*) and one (1) again to ensure your question is registered. Thank you Mr. Quarles, please go ahead Sir.
Lee Quarles: Good morning and thank you for taking the time to join us on the call this morning. Earlier today Monsanto announced that we are expanding our Seed and Trade portfolio to now include wheat. In line with this announcement, we've taken several key steps as we work to re-enter this important crop. These steps include entering a definitive agreement to acquire Montana-based WestBred, a premier, private wheat germ plant and company that's supports variety development in all classes of wheat. Announcement two - announcing our intention to invest in both new breeding and biotechnology innovation for this crop. And three, forming a wheat product development advisory group, which we'll work with as we develop and apply new technology for wheat.
JS: Throughout the press conference only one question was asked that made note of the widespread opposition to the possible introduction of genetically modified wheat. That question was asked by Canadian reporter Al Dawson of the Manitoba Co-operator. Responding to Dawson's question is Monsanto's Executive Vice President of Strategy and Operations, Carl Casale.
Conference Operator: This question was from Allan Dawson with the Manitoba Co-operator. Your line is open.
Allan Dawson: Thank you. It's Manitoba Co-operator. I'm wondering what your plans are for your GM wheat in Canada and you mentioned the popularity of going with biotech route with the support of NAWG in the U.S. and the U.S. Wheat Exporters. But a recent poll in Canada found that both farmers, the majority were concerned about GM wheat still and our customers are as well. And the third thing I want to run by you is that with your advisory committee, with the Canadian Wheat Board be involved in that if you venture to the North?
Carl Casale: If you think about the asset that we've acquired in WestBred, it's the U.S.-based company that's focused on production in the United States, one of the reasons why we decided to go ahead and move forward in wheat right now, was what we saw come out of U.S. Wheat and NAWG in terms of their joint biotech committee recommendations and we think that represents a really good footprint in terms of how we move forward with the industry in bringing technology to American producers. If we sought similar alignment in other countries we'd more than willing to bring technology forward in those countries as well but I mean our focus is to work where we have that alignment of support such as we've had out of the U.S. and NAWG.
JS: Now while Monsanto's Carl Casale insists that the company's wheat focus is presently only in the U.S. there is much to suggest otherwise. For one, the joint statement by farmer organizations referred to earlier came from producer groups in Canada, Australia, as well as the U.S. And that statement was actually referenced on the Monsanto website, so clearly the company is aware of interest outside of the United States and in Canada.
Even more telling, is that in Canada, Monsanto Canada's spokesperson Trish Jordan has communicated that the company is ready to begin working with Canadian producers so Casale's suggestion that the company' is only focused on U.S. wheat only seems quite questionable.
As for Dawson's question on possible involvement of the Canadian Wheat Board as part of the company's new Wheat Advisory Council, well that question was not answered, and perhaps that's because the Wheat Board, who controls the marketing of all of the wheat grown in the Canadian west, has long opposed the introduction of genetically engineered wheat.
And this long-standing opposition of GE wheat does raise the question of why the nine producer groups in the three countries were so vocal in their support for developing genetically modified wheat. According to Lucy Sharratt's suggestion, the reason for being so public about this was intentional, and it appears that Monsanto needs to introduce GE wheat in Canada just as much as they do in the U.S. And this, of course, then being contrary to the comments made by Monsanto's Carl Casale at the press conference.
LS: There's a very specific reason why this industry statement from Australia, Canada, and the U.S. came out. And that's because a major obstacle to Monsanto introducing genetically engineered wheat was this problem of because it was so controversial, because contamination would happen, because farmers didn't want it, that well if Australia approves GE wheat ahead of Canada, then Canada could take the international advantage on GE free wheat. Or vice-versa, if Canada introduces it, then what about U.S. and Australia. So there was this very strange dynamic where you have three major wheat-producing countries who, well farmers were really concerned that they all three countries needed to approve GE wheat and commercialize it at same time otherwise the farmers were going down. And they're going down anyway but there was going to be this real huge chaos in the marketplace where farmers wouldn't know what the outcome would be. And this is what the industry statement tries to address; is to say - oh we're going to resolve these economic issues, these social issues for farmers by introducing GE wheat in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. all at the same time. But of course what that means essentially is that these industry groups are saying we're going to force GE wheat on the entire international community and on people in all of these wheat countries as well and no one's going to have a choice.
JS: Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. Lucy spoke to Deconstructing Dinner in June 2009 during my recent visit to Ottawa. More information on CBAN and their many campaigns and actions can be found online at cban.ca.
JS: One of the most important questions that we've asked here on Deconstructing Dinner on many occasions is why genetically engineer a plant or a tree or an animal for that matter. And it's a question that should be asked again in light of the most widely planted and consumed food crop in the world, wheat now being on the radar to receive some genetic tinkering.
On May 14th, our broadcast featuring the University of Guelph's Associate Professor E. Ann Clark helped answer that question and introduced what we believe is one of the most important pieces of information that the food consuming public and farmers should be aware of on this question of why genetic engineering.
Here again is a segment from that broadcast of Dr. E. Ann Clark of the University of Guelph sharing her thoughts on why global seed companies are so interested in genetically modifying a plant and in doing so, taking proprietary ownership over it.
Dr. Ann Clark: One thing that ag-biotech has done very, very successfully and that is it has totally consolidated control of the seed trade in a few very hands. It's important to recognize that because of this consolidation, this was an essential prerequisite to this happening, they are able to decide which genetics they will release with and without genetically modified traits. So if you have excellent yield, excellent standability, excellent characteristics of kernel strength or whatever it is you're looking at, you can choose to release those genetics only if fitted with a GM trait, or not. Whether you need the GM trait or not. So if you're a farmer and you want to get this excellent new genetics, all of which comes from conventional plant breeding, the only way you can access it and this is directly because they own the whole trade, the only way you can get those new genetics is if you buy it with a GM trade. Or more than one. And that's exactly what has happened.
By 2007 over half of the seed trade or 64% almost two-thirds of the proprietary global seed trade is controlled by just 10 companies. Monsanto alone controls 33% of the global trade and more than 20% of the global proprietary seed trade. So huge power is concentrated in the hands of very few companies. And they decide whether you're ever going to see conventional good genetics with or without a genetically modified trait in it and they can only do this is because they own the whole thing.
So is this actually true? Are they actually using this approach to prevent people from accessing good genetics?
JS: To answer Dr. E. Ann Clark's question, it appears that it is true in light of the comments made during Monsanto's July 14th press conference. The conference was after all hosted to announce their acquisition of one of North America's leading private breeders of wheat. When asked by a reporter what Monsanto's wheat development timeline will look like before they introduce a genetically engineered variety, Monsanto's Carl Casale responded.
Carl Casale: Now the thought on this is we acquire the nice operating model we want to internalize it within Monsanto, we want to grow the genetic base so we have a broader footprint to launch biotech from at some point in the future. It'd be kind of the hierarchy of chronology of our current thinking.
JS: So as Monsanto further consolidates its control over the global seed trade, they will now further consolidate control over the breeding programs and genetics of wheat. Once the best genes are isolated over the next 8-10 years, it appears that the company will then inject a genetically engineered trait or traits into those varieties and in doing so, only permit the best genes achieved through conventional breeding to be available to farmers who are willing to purchase the genetically engineered and patented variety.
JS: Of interest to this possible introduction of GE wheat is Deconstructing Dinner's ongoing coverage of a campaign in the interior of British Columbia that has, over the past year, been working on the establishment of a region that would declare itself free of genetically engineered plants and trees. With the region now being home to the innovative local grain project that we've also been documenting here on the show, The Kootenay Grain CSA, the establishing of GE Free Zones becomes even more important to protect genetic diversity, farmer's rights, and food sovereignty of the region.
The campaign was launched in July 2008 with Saskatchewan farmer and farmer's rights advocate Percy Schmeiser. Schmeiser will be returning to British Columbia this coming September and is scheduled to speak in five locations within the interior of the province. Schmeiser will be helping encourage those regions that he'll be speaking in to become GE Free. More information on the speaking tour will shortly be made available on the Deconstructing Dinner website, but we do know that he'll be speaking in the town of Creston on September 15th, the city of Grand Forks September 16th, the city of Salmon Arm September 18th, Vernon on September 19th, and Kelowna September 20th.
JS: And to bring us to the end of today's episode we'll be leaving you with another installment of backyard chicken tips and tricks from the entertaining Bucky Buckaw. Past episodes of our Backyard Chickens series can be found on our website and on this latest episode, Bucky shares some tips on preventing your flock of backyard chickens from ruining and eating your garden.
And here again, is Bucky Buckaw.
Bucky Buckaw's Backyard Chicken Broadcast theme music
Backyard Chicken Tricks
This is Bucky Buckaw with the Backyard Chicken Broadcast. The main theme of my broadcast and my work as a chicken advocate is straight forward. Everyone with a modest amount of outdoor space should be responsibly raising a chicken or three, or more depending, on the legal limit in your area in that space. The benefits to the backyard chicken are clear. Backyard chickens make extra nutritious and delicious eggs; keep your garden bug-free without chemicals; they're poop is a powerful composting accelerator and garden fertilizer; and of course, because they are so cute and loveable. And there's not a lot of moral complexity to my argument against buying eggs and meat from corporate grocery stores because they come from factory farms which are cruel, bad for the environment and local economies, bad for your personal health and are the reason we all have to worry about the spread of super-charged bird flu. I always assert that raising chickens is a basic skill requiring a modest amount of human brain power and minimal improvisational abilities.
But all that straightforwardness and ease isn't to say that the rewarding and enriching life of a backyard chickener doesn't include some challenges. But exercising ones brain has been linked to preventing Alzheimer's Disease. The perfect example is the fact that for all the good chickens can do for your garden they can also do quite a bit of damage if you don't have an effective chicken and garden co-existence plan in place. Chickens like to eat veggies as much as you do. What's more, they like to eat seeds, which means they could find and eat the seeds you plant in the first place before you even see a veggie. And for all the debugging they do, once they've eaten all the bugs out of your garden they keep on looking for more and that means scratching the dirt so persistently they'll start to dig up the roots of your prized plants. And finally, one of the adorable things chickens do to keep themselves free of mites is to dig a nice hole and give themselves a vigorous dust bath. Unfortunately, the base of a tomato or basil plant is a great place to do that so far is a hen is concerned.
There are many ways of having a great garden and keeping chickens. But unlike some of the other great chicken-keeping questions, this is one for which there are no universal or foolproof solutions. A common solution is to make or purchase a chicken tractor. These are mobile coops with several yards of chicken run attached so your birds can graze and stretch their legs a bit and can be moved around your yard for fresh grazing opportunities. There are clear advantages to this system for the gardener and I guess it's better from a chicken's perspective than being confined in a crowded factory coop. But many people, including me believe that keeping chickens in a coop all day pretty much defeats the purpose of being a backyard birder. We all like the joy of going out to the garden and communing with our fowl or looking out the window to delight in their activities.
What I find from personal experience and from other people with small flocks is that having chickens in a garden requires a combination of fencing, training, proper feeding, ingenuity, and patience, and a special device I'll talk about in a moment. And that the successful formula varies according to the particular chicken species or individuals in your flock. For instance, lots of people have had luck by simply enclosing their garden with a chicken wire fence, a few feet tall. This works with many full size hens because they can't fly very high. However, Bantam breed chickens, which are about half the size of a standard chicken, are much better flyers.
One of the chickens in the Buckaw flock is a particularly small breed. It's called a Sebright. Now she can fly over at least five feet of fence and probably even more because she has a special technique where she launches herself to the highest point she can, then grabs onto the holes in the chicken wire and climbs up what's left and over the top, all the while flapping her wings like mad.
Another one of my chickens is a slightly larger Bantam hen who couldn't get over fencing until she watched the Sebright do it and learned the technique. She's not quite as good at it but she's also been known to dig a hole in the bottom of the fence and squeeze underneath it to get to our vegetable patch.
The third in the Buckaw flock can't get past a garden fence at all. She does us a big favour though by complaining loudly and with a particular cluck we've come to know when the others achieve a break-in. So if we're home we can go outside and evict the trespassers and that works out great. Because the first thing a trespasser does is eat any bugs they can find. So long as they aren't in there long enough to move onto veggie eating and hole digging, the occasional garden visit is a good thing.
The small size of the Banties mean their less destructive then a full sized hen. Even if they are better at breaking and entering. The only time I don't want the chickens near our vegetable patches for even a moment is right after we've planted. It only takes a second for a chicken to find and eat a seed or seedling and destroy even a chance for a vegetable to grow. Once the plants are bigger and no longer tender, they don't interest the chickens so much except for grains and carrots and the like. We're fortunate so far in that we can prevent this by putting down row covers, basically a translucent blanket that traps the sun's heat and warms the soil a few extra degrees in order to get cool season crops off to an early start. And it also protect seedlings from bugs and in our case, chickens. And in the meantime the chickens can continue to do bug and weed control in the rows between our vegetable patches.
For awhile, the Buckaw flock didn't figure out there was dirt under that fabric but eventually they did and our solution was to reinforce the row covers with a ridiculous amount of garden staples. Fortunately, those are only ten cents a piece. A friend of mine has chickens that will trample on his row covers but can be dissuaded by even flimsy, temporary fencing. It's only a half foot or so high. You can also put additional hoops under the row covers for extra support. Checking daily that the row covers are securely fastened to the ground, especially on the ends will allow you to fix any weak point before your chickens take advantage of it.
Another preventive measure I take is to make sure I regularly bring meals out to the chickens to reduce their interest in what's in our garden. I find that chickens get bored looking at the same feed mix, no matter what's in it and that variety is a big plus for them. So I try to make frequent trips out to their feeding stations with their favourite scraps from my home cooking - cilantro stems, morsels of cooked rice or pasta, raisins, whatever's on hand. They also seem to appreciate the personal touch. On the other hand, hunting and pecking is still a large part of their day's activities so you're never going to put out enough food to stop that. I realize not everyone can be home all day to do this.
Now I am going to tell you about that special device that has worked really well for me in combination with other techniques of course and that's the motion-activated scarecrow sprinkler. I hesitate to make product endorsements on the show but this device sure has made a difference in my garden. It's just what the name says it is. A sprinkler that runs on a nine volt battery and when it sees movement within an adjustable range in your garden it makes a sudden noise and dramatic movement and sprays water in a dramatic arch, also adjustable. I'm pretty sure my chickens can find their way around the thing or get used to it. But when combined with fencing and my other methods, it's an important line of defense. And it also works great at scaring off local stray cats or dogs. It's available online and I link to it on my website at buckybuckaw.org.
I still have more to say on this important topic so be sure to keep tuning in for the continuation on an upcoming show. This is Bucky Buckaw. I had a good time.
Bucky Buckaw theme music
Bucky Buckaw's Backyard Chicken Broadcast is produced by The Sagebrush Variety Show with support from the Boise Community Radio and the Green Institute. For more information, visit buckybuckaw.org. B-U-C-K-Y-B-U-C-K-A-W.ORG.
JS: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner produced 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.
This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support from you the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at deconstructingdinner.ca or you can dial 250-352-9600.