Groups Welcome Ontario Environmental Commissioner’s Call for Action on GE Alfalfa

(Ottawa, Oct. 9, 2014)- The National Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network welcome a request from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), Gord Miller, for action over pending release of genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified or GM) alfalfa.

“We’re very pleased that the Commissioner is taking our concerns seriously and encouraging action from the Ontario government,” said Dianne Dowling, one of two Ontario farmers who filed a request last year asking the ECO for an environmental review of GE alfalfa. The provincial Ministry of the Environment denied the request but new comments from the Commissioner encourage the Ontario government to take action. “Now we need concrete action from our provincial government to stop GE alfalfa,” said Dowling.

In his annual report, released October 7, the Commissioner said he was “disappointed” that the Ontario Ministry of the Environment failed to address the farmers’ concerns about GE alfalfa.

He called the federal safety assessment of GE crops “narrow” and “severely lacking” in transparency and an opportunity for public participation.

Farmers raised the particular concern of environmental and economic problems related to contamination from GE alfalfa which is a perennial, insect-pollinated crop grown for hay and pasture across Ontario.

Commissioner Miller acknowledged that, “the applicants raised several valid issues that clearly fall outside the scope of the narrow federal safety assessment. Issues related to sustainable and organic agriculture, increased herbicide use, and related social and economic effects play no role in the federal approval process for GE crops.”

The Commissioner also said, “the ECO believes that the cultivation of GE crops in general raises important environmental issues that warrant attention.”

He encouraged the Ontario government “to play a more active role in regulating the sale and use of GE crops in the province, rather than simply following federal decisions that may not encompass provincial environmental goals and interests.”

“Since our federal government is not willing to look at the economic and social impacts of GE crops or to accept public input, every provincial government should assess the impact GE alfalfa would have on their farmers and food production,” said Ann Slater, Vice-President Policy of the National Farmers Union.

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For more information:

Dianne Dowling, (613) 546-0869;
Ann Slater, National Farmers Union, (519) 349-2448;
Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, cell: (613) 809-1103.
Environmental Commissioner of Ontario report, “Managing New Challenges