Alex Atamanenko: Biotech bullying in overdrive

Alex Atamanenko

Alex Atamanenko

I have long been convinced that big biotech companies such as Monsanto have been running a scam in regards to their genetically engineered (GE) crops.

Despite 15 years of failed promises to feed the world’s hungry, and more recently to save mankind from climate change, the Canadian and U.S. governments inexplicably continue to write all the rules completely in big biotech’s favour. As was recently revealed in WikiLeaks cables, U.S. ambassadors are even going so far as to advise Washington to start military-style trade wars against any European Union country who dares stand in opposition to GE crops.

Despite lengthy court challenges, which for a time kept the decision at bay, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has just authorized the nation-wide and unrestricted commercial release of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed.

After acknowledging that GE alfalfa poses many risks to organic and conventional farmers, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose ties to Monsanto are well known, has just imposed the impossible burden of keeping alfalfa seed free from GE contamination entirely on farmers.

The Center for Food Safety in the U.S. has already announced that they will again challenge this decision in another round of expensive court action.

One way or another, and regardless of the imminent threat this poses to all farmers and especially to our lucrative organic domestic and export markets, it is only a matter of time before U.S. Roundup Ready alfalfa will be found contaminating our fields in Canada. The silence from the Canadian government has been deafening. Monsanto could also decide to go ahead and register their GE varieties in Canada as they have already been awarded the necessary health and environment approvals by our government.

It was to prevent this very scenario that I moved to debate my Bill C-474, which would require that the government conduct an analysis of potential harm to our export markets prior to approving new genetically engineered seeds. The Conservative Party has sided completely with Monsanto et al. since the debate began. And although the Liberal Party initially supported the Bill they have since succumbed to pressure from the Biotech lobbyists and now say they will vote against it at the final reading.

As it is in the U.S., the one-sided mantra now is to preach co-existence with non-GE farmers and keep Canada’s regulations ‘science based’ and entirely free of any political or market considerations.

“Canada’s science-based approach works very well for the domestic marketers of seed, the Monsantos, the Syngentas, and the Bayer CropSciences, but what does it do for the producer? This approach does not take into consideration what the producers want, nor does it address what the market wants. These are the two most important issues and they are absent from the registration process,” summed up Kurt Shmon, president, Imperial Seed Ltd. in his testimony on C-474 before the Standing Committee on Agriculture. This was a powerful theme reiterated by several other presenters to the committee, which the government and the Liberals are willfully ignoring.

On Feb. 8, parliamentarians will engage in the final hours of debate on Bill C-474 with the final vote in the House of Commons to follow the next day.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture will be conducting a separate study that week by travelling to biotech research stations across Canada to see what can be done to assure ‘a thriving biotechnology industry’ in Canada. In my opinion, this will accomplish little more than assist the powerful biotech industry in its PR campaign.

I urge everyone who cares about this issue to learn more about the overall issue of the genetic engineering of our food supply and to take part in the action campaign prepared by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, whose information I trust and with whom I have worked closely, at www.cban.ca.