Someone Call the CFIA!

Posted by Lisa Lundgard on August 14, 2014

Peter Lundgard checks on Leaf Cutter Bee nesting boxes at Nature's Way Farm, Grimshaw Alberta

By Lisa Lundgard.

“Hi, I really need to talk to a top official!  My neighbor has planted the new genetically modified (GM) alfalfa crop next door.  I’ve been saving alfalfa seed for the past 30 years now, a non-GM variety, and I’m afraid to go on.”

We just put out our leafcutter bees yesterday, you know what they are, they are bees unique for their size and ability to pollinate alfalfa.  The alfalfa blossom has a tripping mechanism similar to a petal, which hides the nectar and pollen, and when this petal is tripped it smacks the bee in the head.  The leafcutter bee however, knows the ways of the alfalfa’s trip mechanism and can successfully access pollen and pollinate alfalfa without getting hit.  The act of pollination by the leafcutter bees causes a dramatic increase in seed production for that year. 

Back to the real problem, you won’t believe what happened next!  I saw this leafcutter bee, a rogue if I must say, fly over to our neighbor’s field and land on a GM alfalfa plant.  The bee slipped past the alfalfa trip mechanism and covered itself in that GM pollen.  The little guy was obviously enjoying himself, he appeared to be lingering in the pollen and I swear I saw a smile on his face.  Then he flew off the GM alfalfa plant, back over to our field and landed on one of my girls, this pure non-GM alfalfa plant. 

I can’t express my horror.  I tried yelling, pleading for Mr. Bee to get off of my poor girl, but it was too late: GM pollen everywhere.

I’m afraid it’s going to catch and we are going to have a hybrid GM alfalfa seed arise from this travesty with traces of the GM trait within it!

I want to lay charges on that bee! Help me.”

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Photo: Lisa Lundgard participating in the April 2013 national day of action against GM Alfalfa

The truth is, this really isn’t a joke.  My family has been raising leafcutter bees for the past 30 years and we have beenharvesting, storing, saving, and selling alfalfa seed. Sadly, this basic farmers’ right to save seed year after year and sell it to our neighbor or make a small business out of it is at risk of extinction.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) registered a GM alfalfa variety that is now allowed to be sold and planted in Canada. One of the main problems is that Monsanto has patented the GM trait for round up resistance in the alfalfa plant; therefore, Monsanto owns the right to the GM trait within that GM alfalfa variety.  If an individual wants to grow or save seed that contains this GM trait they have to buy the right from Monsanto.  But what happens when a farmer has been saving seed for 30 years and Monsanto’s GM trait starts showing up in their seed?

Alfalfa is pollinated using bees.  There is nothing stopping a neighboring farmer from growing GM alfalfa right next door to a farmer who has been saving non-GM alfalfa seed. Bees naturally pollinate alfalfa fields.  When the bees fly between two flowering fields, one GM alfalfa and one non-GM alfalfa there will be cross pollination; meaning, the seed that is produced on the non-GM farmer’s side will contain the GM trait to some degree.  If the farmer saves and re-plants that seed, the genetic contamination continues to be multiplied through cross-pollination that occurs each year.  If a farmer growing the seed that originally did not contain traces of the GM trait sells the seed that is now contaminated with the GM trait, he is at risk of being sued, by the company that owns the ‘patent’ to that GM trait.  Worse yet, just for having the GM trait growing on their land, the farmer can get sued by Monsanto or whoever owns the patent to that seed.  The farmer will most likely lose everything from resulting legal fees and the cost of royalties the company owning the patent would be claiming.  When there are no farmers saving and selling seed the corporations will control the seed system. Lose control and we lose security.

Another main problem with GM alfalfa is that once alfalfa is planted, most any farmer would tell you, it’s hard to kill.  If you plant GM alfalfa and decide the next year you don’t want it on your farm the following year, it’s going to keep coming back.  If it’s GM alfalfa it will contaminate surrounding non-GM alfalfa fields growing nearby. 

I don’t want GM alfalfa in my food chain!  Unfortunately due to the fact that alfalfa is the main forage fed to cattle, sheep, bison, and dairy animals; I find that it will be hard to avoid in the future.

If you want to learn more about GM alfalfa read some of the links below.  And start talking about this issue, because it’s never too late to get out there and try and stop the spread and contamination of alfalfa or any other crops.   

Lisa Lundgard is the Youth Vice President of the National Farmers Union.  She farms at the Veggie Patch, an organic market garden/CSA on her family's farm in Grimshaw, AB.

National Farmers Union: http://www.nfu.ca/issues/stop-genetically-modified-alfalfa

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network: http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/GE-Crops-and-Foods-Not-on-the-Market/Alfalfa