The NFU believes that all Canadians—farmers and non-farmers alike—must engage in an informed debate on the genetic modification of food. Citizens must examine genetically modified (GM) food in the largest possible social, historical, environmental, economic, and ethical context. After that debate, citizens—not the corporations that promote these products—must decide whether to accept or reject GM food.
Squeezed by falling incomes, farmers look to technologies that claim higher returns or reduced costs. Over the past decades, however, farmers have embraced a wide range of technologies, only to watch net farm incomes fall. Between 1974 and 2000, gross farm income tripled. Net farm income, however, fell. Input suppliers were able to capture 100% of farmers’ increased gross returns. Because fertilizers, chemicals, and other technologies failed to fulfill their promises of farm profitability, many farmers rightly question the economic benefits of genetically modifying crops and livestock.
While the benefits are questionable, risks and costs are real. Consumers are rejecting GM foods. Markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere are closing and domestic markets are likewise threatened. This is driving prices down. Closing markets and falling prices threaten to overwhelm any small, short-term economic benefits that GM crops or livestock may offer. Further, the proliferation of some GM crops has effectively deprived many organic farmers of the option to grow those crops.
Further, GM seeds and livestock give corporations increased control over family farms. Any initial economic benefits will be quickly outweighed as farmers are drawn further under corporate control. More than any previous technology—such as fertilizers or tractors—patented seeds sold through contract and multi-page technology use agreements clearly erode farmers’ autonomy.
Turning to human health, there has not been a systematic, scientific investigation of the health effects of GM foods. The unscientific assumption of “substantial equivalence” is insufficient reason to forgo comprehensive, independent health testing. There are also many unanswered questions about the environmental risks of GM crops and livestock. Genetic modification threatens to unbalance the biosphere, create “super-weeds,” endanger beneficial insects, and erode bio-diversity. Bio-diversity is a vital source of raw materials for agriculture and an essential component of environmental well-being.
The NFU policy on GM foods recognizes that almost all of the questions surrounding this technology remain unanswered. The policy attempts to introduce precaution and prudence into a process of GM food proliferation driven by profit. Because this technology has the potential to threaten the environment, human health, and the economic wellbeing of farmers, Canadians should debate and study before we plant and eat.