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September 15, 2009


Deconstructing Dinner


New Denver Goes G.E. Free

Local Governments in B.C. Continue to Adopt Genetically Engineered (G.E.) Free Policies


Jon Steinman


With countries around the world maintaining active opposition to genetically engineered (G.E.) food, local governments in British Columbia are responding to this opposition in a unique way.


On September 8, the Village of New Denver joined a growing list of British Columbian communities who are adopting policies that oppose the cultivation of genetically engineered plants and trees.


Since July 2008, G.E. (Genetically Engineered) Free Kootenays (GEFK) has been working towards the establishment of a region that can become and remain free of G.E. crops (often referred to as GMOs or genetically modified organisms). GEFK is a sub-group of the Society For a G.E. Free B.C. and the Kootenay Food Strategy Society.


Genetic engineering continues to remain a relatively unknown development in the world of food, and mostly due to these foods not requiring special labelling in North America as is required in Europe and other parts of the world. Opposition to G.E. food has nevertheless remained strong in Canada and the United States and government bills calling for the mandatory labelling of G.E. foods have been debated in the House of Commons on many occasions over the past decade. Two private member bills which propose mandatory labelling are currently tabled and awaiting possible debate.


G.E. foods that are currently engineered and increasingly-present in the North American food supply consist of canola, corn, soy and cotton (cottonseed oil being a popular ingredient in processed foods).


The larger debate over genetically engineered foods has also heated up in the past few months since industry and farmers groups reintroduced their interest to develop and commercialize genetically engineered wheat - a major global crop that has not yet joined the list of those already engineered. In 2004, agribusiness giant Monsanto abandoned their efforts to commercialize a variety of G.E. wheat following heavy opposition from Canadian farmers. That opposition was in part over fears of losing vital markets overseas where countries have taken action to restrict and/or ban the importation of G.E. foods. The most recent case in point was the September 10 announcement by the European Commission's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed who confirmed the contamination of Canadian flax exports with a genetically modified (GM) flax. This puts Canada's lucrative flax exports into jeopardy and was exactly what farmers feared in 1998, when a G.E. flax variety was approved for use in Canada. The Flax Council of Canada convinced the Canadian government to remove registration of G.E. flax in 2001 and this latest contamination event (now eight years later) confirms how pervasive seeds of any kind can be when permitted to enter the food supply.


For reasons such as this contamination, G.E. Free Kootenays has been engaged in an active campaign to encourage local governments to adopt policies that oppose the cultivation of G.E. crops within municipal borders. GEFK believes local governments maintain the responsibility and right to protect their communities from the known and unknown risks of these foods. Collectively, GEFK believes region-wide G.E.-free zones can be established as they have been in other parts of the world. The Village of New Denver now joins five other local governments in B.C. who have passed similar policies. Those include Nelson (2008), Rossland (2009), Kaslo (2009), the Regional District of Powell River (2004) and the Southern Gulf Islands (2004).


The campaign will continue to work with local governments in the Kootenay region of the province, however, there is an interest to establish more zones in other regions including recent interest in the Okanagan Valley. Between September 15-20, Saskatchewan farmer and farmers' rights advocate Percy Schmeiser will be speaking to audiences in the cities of Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm following talks in Creston and Grand Forks. Schmeiser has become one of the most vocal critics of genetically engineered food since his ten-year-long series of legal battles with Monsanto. Schmeiser helped launch the GEFK campaign in July 2008.


To coincide with Schmeiser's visit, a coalition of groups from across the province will also be meeting to strategize on how the concept of G.E. free zones can be further applied throughout the province.


More information on Schemiser's tour can be found at


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