July 22, 2008
Is B.C. About to Become Free of Genetically-Engineered Crops?
Genetically-Engineered Free Campaigns Across B.C. Receive Glowing Approval From Percy Schmeiser.
The uncertainty surrounding genetically engineered (G.E.) foods has begun to take a strong hold on communities throughout British Columbia.
It is said that over three quarters of foods on grocery store shelves now contain G.E. ingredients. Most Canadians remain completely unaware of their presence. With the technology having not received any long-term safety studies, it is said that Canadians have become the product of one of the largest human feeding studies in history. The foods/ingredients that are most often genetically engineered are corn, soy and canola. These crops represent the foundation for most foods consumed today including soft drinks, breakfast cereals, oil-based foods, dairy, meat and eggs among others.
In response to such fears, regions around the world have declared themselves "G.E. Free", however, it seems Canadians are either unaware of G.E. foods or lack any concern of their presence. It was only a few years ago when the region of Powell River became the first in Canada to declare themselves free of genetically engineered crops.
A number of other areas are now hoping to join them.
Between July 4-10, world-renowned Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser was invited by the Society for a G.E. Free B.C. to help launch campaigns throughout the Province. Over the course of seven days, the 77-year-old farmer spoke at six events, with his last stop in the City of Castlegar located in the interior Kootenay region of the Province.
G.E. Free B.C. is the umbrella organization helping provide the support and funding for the province-wide initiatives.
The regional G.E. Free Kootenays campaign was particularly notable as the event likely drew the most concentrated media focus on genetically engineered crops any region in Canada has ever seen. Newspapers, newsletters and radio stations throughout the region covered the campaign in great depth both before and after the July 10 launch.
Despite power outages in nearby communities, close to 250 were in attendance to hear Schmeiser share some shocking stories of intimidation and guerrilla tactics used by one multinational agricultural corporation in particular – Monsanto.
Schmeiser's stories were ample evidence to convince the audience that preventing G.E. crops from being grown in the region was a critical step to ensure a secure food system in the region.
"I found it to be fantastically informative, terrifying and inspiring...quite an extraordinary combination," said one attendee who travelled from an hour away to hear Schmeiser speak.
Farmers' rights were at the top of the evening's agenda. Through the genetic modification of crops, corporations have been able to take ownership of food through patenting seed technologies. According to Schmeiser, when the property of the company (the seed) finds its way onto a farmer's field without the farmer having signed a contract, the company uses aggressive tactics to ensure farmers pay up. This 'genetic pollution' is commonplace due to wind drift and other methods of cross-contamination with conventional or organic crops.
Perhaps the most shocking moment of the evening was the information shared about Monsanto's aerial bombing of farms with chemical herbicides. Sound familiar? It should: Monsanto was one of the producers of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war, and their products are being dropped from planes yet again, however, this time on Canadian farms!
"One method [Monsanto] uses to check on farmers is not funny, although a lot of people laugh about it," said Schmeiser to the crowd. "If they cannot find the farmer at home, they'll take a small plane or a helicopter and drop a Monsanto herbicide spray bomb. After twelve days, they'll fly back, and if the crop hasn't died, they know the farmer was using Monsanto's product."
The audience gasped upon learning of such deplorable tactics.
The G.E. Free Kootenays campaign was encouraging those in attendance to recognize that the pressure being exerted on farmers across Canada's prairies could just as easily make its way to other regions. Most crops found on grocery store shelves are in the process of being genetically engineered and/or awaiting approval by regulators such as Health Canada. Wheat is just one crop that is not yet approved but the technologies do exist.
Campaign spokesperson Andy Morel assured the crowd that the G.E. Free Kootenays campaign will ensure that no such crops are grown in the Kootenay region. One of the methods that the campaign expects to use is through the passing of municipal resolutions. "This is the next stage of the campaign," said Morel. "We will be relying on campaigners throughout the region to work with their municipal and regional representatives to get such resolutions passed."
Instead of those in attendance walking out of the event feeling powerless, many felt inspired that such a proactive campaign is being launched in the region. Said one person to campaign organizers; "If your goal was to take food action and bump it up a notch, I believe you succeeded."
Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. Percy Schmeiser's talk has been archived at www.deconstructingdinner.ca
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