Ontario misses the point in decision against Environmental Assessment of GM Alfalfa, says NFU

(October 7, 2013, St Marys, ON) - The National Farmers Union (NFU) says the Ontario Ministry of Environment has missed the point in its denial of the request for an environmental assessment of genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa. The application by two Ontario farmers on behalf of Ontario citizens under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights called upon the Province to step in with a full environmental assessment of GM herbicide tolerant alfalfa because the public interest has not been served by the federal approval and variety registration processes.

“The Environmental Bill of Rights was created to give Ontario residents a way to raise important issues regarding protection of the environment. Farmers have raised such a concern: the introduction of GM alfalfa would cause irreversible changes to the environment, causing social and economic impacts as well as ecological effects,” said Ann Slater, NFU member from St. Marys, Ontario. “We expected the Ministry to respond to the specific request made and, in a review, seek the evidence necessary for it to fully understand the implications of releasing GM herbicide tolerant alfalfa into the Ontario environment. We are very disappointed that instead, it has decided to stand aside from this important public question.”

The Ministry concluded that because GM alfalfa is already regulated federally by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the public interest does not warrant an environmental assessment review. However, the farmers’ application explicitly called attention to the regulatory gap resulting from the wide range of environmental issues not touched by the CFIA’s regulatory process, as well as its silence on social and economic impacts and its exclusion of the public from the decision-making process.

“The Ministry’s decision has denied Ontario citizens the chance to shed light on the full range of environmental, social and economic consequences of GM alfalfa,” said Dianne Dowling, one of the two farmers who requested the Environmental Assessment on behalf of Ontario residents. “The federal government approves GM crops in secret, behind closed doors and without any public input at all. By turning down our request, Ontario’s Environmental Ministry has decided to keep those doors closed.”

 “Farmers across Ontario have already protested the release of GM alfalfa. We don’t want it or need it, and we will not surrender to the interests of big seed and biotech companies,” declared Dave Lewington, who joined Dowling in making the official request.

“GM alfalfa threatens to contaminate our fields if it’s released,”” added Phil Woodhouse, President of NFU Grey County Local. ““If planted in Ontario, the losses and costs will be off-loaded onto people like us who don’t want GM alfalfa while the regulators, the sellers and the small number of potential buyers refuse all responsibility for their actions.”

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For more information:

Ann Slater, NFU Member, St. Marys, ON: (519) 349-2448 Email: aslater@quadro.net
Phil Woodhouse, NFU Grey County Local: (519) 599-5041 Email: pwoodhouse9@gmail.com
Dianne Dowling, Environmental Assessment applicant: (613) 546-0869
Dave Lewington, Environmental Assessment applicant: (705) 594-1823

Summary of Evidence submitted
Decision Summary
Primer on the Approval and Regulation of New Genetically Modified/Genetically Engineered Plant Varieties in Canada