The Inevitability of Contamination from GM Alfalfa Release in Ontario

The case for preventing the introduction of Roundup Ready Alfalfa

Report published by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), April 2013.

Executive Summary:

Alfalfa is an important crop in diverse farming systems, and is widely grown in Canada. In fact, alfalfa is one of the largest crops in the country by area. It is grown on almost 30% of Canada’s cropland, and 22% of the cropland in Ontario. Alfalfa is used to produce high-quality hay or haylage for dairy and beef cattle, and grown as pasture. It is also included in crop rotations to help build nitrogen levels and maintain soil fertility.

These latter uses are particularly important for organic farms, which do not use nitrogen fertilizers. Canada exports several alfalfa products, including hay, alfalfa seed, and processed products such as pellets, meal and cubes.

If GM alfalfa is introduced in Eastern Canada, contamination of non-GM alfalfa will be unavoidable. There are several ways in which this gene flow can occur. These may be broadly divided into three categories: seed escape, pollinator-mediated gene flow, and gene flow through volunteer and feral alfalfa. The biological characteristics of alfalfa conspire to present a particularly potent risk of gene escape and, outside of considerations relating to the biology of alfalfa, the role of human error/behaviour in handling GM alfalfa seed and hay is a known risk.

Existing experiences with GM flax and GM canola in Canada further warn of the inevitability of gene flow and GM contamination, including the risk of contamination in certified seed.

The unintended presence of GM alfalfa will have widespread and negative impacts on family farms in Ontario, and across Canada. The only way to prevent contamination from GM alfalfa is to stop the market release of GM Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada.