January 23, 2005
CHARLOTTETOWN (CP) -- Hearings on whether Prince Edward Island should ban the use of genetically modified organisms in its agriculture industry has international experts on both sides of the debate digging in for a fight.
Requests to participate are coming in from as far away as California, mainly from the well-organized anti-GMO lobby, which regards genetically engineered food and crops as "Frankenfood.''
Nadege Adam, a spokeswoman for the Council of Canadians, says the public hearings next month could make the island an international trendsetter.
She says if the island goes ahead with a GMO ban, it will put the province ahead of the pack when it comes to responding to public concerns about genetically altered foods.
"What we have here is a very unpopular product,'' she says.
"Around the world, more and more countries are either closing their doors altogether to GMO foods, or they are putting in strict restrictions. So P.E.I., because it is an island, would have the advantage of being able to provide for this fast-growing niche market.''
But the provincial legislature's agriculture committee is taking a cautious approach, stressing that the hearings are meant only to provide insight into the science of genetic engineering.
The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture plans to make a presentation urging careful consideration of all the facts in the GMO debate.
"It's a controversial issue, and everyone has an opinion,'' says Mike Nabuurs, executive director of the federation.
"But we need to make sure that any decisions that affect farmers are based on truth and science. . . Right now, GMOs are legal crops in Canada, approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.''
Nabuurs says it has yet to be proven that there is a market for non-GMO products.
He says most island crops are exported to the United States, where there are not the same anti-GMO restrictions as in Europe and some parts of Asia.
"If the P.E.I. government decides it want to seriously consider a GMO ban, it had better make darn good and sure those markets really do exist for the non-GMO products, enough to sustain producers who are currently making a living on GMO products.''
Nabuurs says about 60 per cent of last year's soybean crop on the Island was genetically altered, as well as some corn and canola crops.
However, farmers have already agreed not to grow GMO potatoes, the Island's most important crop.
Processing giants such as McCain Foods and Cavendish Farms have said engineered spuds are too hot to handle, given the consumer backlash in some parts of the world.
Genetically modified foods have been touted as either cutting-edge technology or genetic pollution.
They are the result of gene-splicing technology that inserts part of the gene strand of one life form, such as bacteria or an animal, into another, such as corn, soybeans or canola.
GMO crops have been permitted by Health Canada since 1995.
Many European countries and consumers are worried about the possible health and environmental effects of genetically altered crops and foods.
There are strict GMO labelling requirements in Europe.
It's estimated that about 60 per cent of processed foods in North America contain some genetic modifications.
© Canadian Press 2005