The case for a GMO-free PEIAnti-GMO campaigners from across North America have been congregating on Prince Edward Island for the last month to voice their opinions in favour of legislating PEI as the first transgenic-free province in Canada.
Anti-GMO campaigners from across North America have been congregating on Prince Edward Island for the last month to voice their opinions in favour of legislating PEI as the first transgenic-free province in Canada. After several years of pressure from island citizens and lobby groups opposed to growing genetically modified crops on PEI, the provincial government has begun public hearings to decide whether or not GMOs should be banned. If the ban does become law, PEI could be a trendsetter worldwide.
In 2004 Premier Patrick Binns, a small-scale farmer himself, announced that a standing committee on agriculture, forestry and the environment would begin public hearings in February 2005 on whether or not PEI farmers would be allowed to grow GE crops. Such an enormous turnout of both those in favour and those opposed to the idea has forced the hearings to continue through March. Simultaneously, an economic analysis of the viability of PEI going GMO free has been undertaken and results will be announced in May. While an overwhelming number of people and organizations are speaking out against GMO crops being grown on PEI, the provincial government maintains it is taking a cautious approach and its decision will be market-driven.
Proponents of the ban point out that as a GMO-free island, PEI will be able to corner a growing part of the international market that does not want GMO-contaminated food products. More and more countries worldwide are implementing strict regulations on transgenic foods and an increasing number of North Americans have made their own decisions not to eat GE foods, thus creating a niche market for both conventional and organic foods. These consumers feel the health and environmental problems are too many and we should not gamble with something so risky.
As an island, PEI has a natural advantage that it has a great buffer zone from other areas that do grow GM crops. It is believed that most pollen cannot be carried that far on the wind.
PEI is small potatoes on the international food market. Island farmers have a hard time competing with the large-scale producers who benefit from economies of scale, and not all of their crops even make it to market. Some sort of change needs to happen. Progressive thinkers are encouraging a shift toward more diverse crops of a higher quality that garner a higher price in the market and would not be as easily undercut by the big producers.
According to the Prince Edward Island Certified Organic Producers Co-op, “… the production of certified organic products and high quality processed products in a GMO-free jurisdiction is the best way to ensure the future of PEI’s agriculture industry.”
Co-op members also say a GMO ban on PEI will benefit tourism on the island. With ecotourism on the rise, a GMO-free PEI could attract those tourists who value dining on locally produced transgenic free foods in restaurants and B&Bs.
Others who spoke out against GMOs have reminded the public that biotechnology companies are in it only for the money. How can these companies do any good with the inherent health and environmental risks of their products? Furthermore, the anti-GMO side points to Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer who was successfully sued by Monsanto for having its GM canola growing on his property even though he had not planted it. Some came from spilled seed along a main road where tests showed the highest contamination. Other fields were hit with transgenic pollution from wind-blown pollen.
Of course, some PEIers are in favour of planting GM crops. Those opposed to the legislation note that most produce grown on PEI is exported to the USA where there is no anti-GMO legislation and so feel there is no threat to their market. They see GMOs and attendant dangerous chemicals as a tool to keep them competitive in their market and deny any health or environmental risks.
There is no middle ground in the debate. It is heated, it is personal and it is emotional. The public hearings will continue until all opinions have been heard and then the issue is expected to go to the legislature in the fall of 2005. If the GMO ban is implemented, PEI will quickly become a world leader and an example for other areas wishing to keep their land and air GMO free.
Marya Skrypiczajko is the author of BC the Organic Way – Where to Find Organic Food in British Columbia