Members of Parliament did a great service for Canadian farmers by recently voting down Bill C-474. This bill would have allowed critics to introduce an endless series of potential objections to any and all new genetically modified crops.

With 48 per cent of certain commodity crops grown in Canada being genetically modified, this bill could have done a great deal of damage. The president of the Canadian Canola Council, said: “The changes proposed in Bill C-474 would have only added ambiguity and uncertainty to our seed system, with the result being a loss of innovation and competitiveness for farmers.”

First, it must be made clear that genetically modified crops are as safe as, or safer than, any other type of food production. Decades of research have demonstrated the safety and sustainability of genetically modified crop technology.

A few months back, the European Union released a report called A Decade of EU-funded GMO research 2001-2010. They concluded, “There is no scientific evidence associating (genetically modified organisms) with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and animals”.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences released a 2010 report on GM crops and sustainable agriculture. It contains documentation of the first 15 years of GM crop contribution to sustainable agriculture.

These documents deal with the science of genetically modified crops. The politics of genetically modified crops are very different. While European science agrees with the rest of the world on the safety of GM crops and food, their politicians do not. Europe has been very reluctant to allow GM crop imports. In fact, only 17 out of 120 applications to import GM crops have been approved.

Some of the applications have been held up for over a decade. To date, only two GM crops are allowed to be grown in Europe. Bill C-474 would have moved our crop regulatory system much closer to that of Europe.

The European GM policy (best described as a non-tariff trade barrier) is an excellent example of how socio-economic considerations have been used to stymie trade. To suggest the introduction of the same socio-economic considerations would help Canadian trade, as suggested by the backers of Bill C-474, is simply false.

The world is adopting GM crop technology. As of 2009, more than 130 million hectares of GM crops are grown globally, with an annual increase of greater than 10 per cent. More than 70 countries have active GM crop research programs. It has been estimated that by 2015, half of all new GM crops will come from national programs in Asia and Latin America.

China has more than 1,000 GM crops ready for field trials and will not bother with European approval before commercializing them. Brazil has an active GM crop research and development program, and this year, approved three more GM crops without European approval. India has hundreds of GM crops in development. The world will not stop GM crop development because Europe is slow to allow them.

In 2007, Europe further restricted trade by adopting a zero-tolerance policy for imports of non-approved GM crops. This means, even if trace amounts of an unapproved GM crop are detected, the entire shipment is rejected. Coupled with the extremely slow approval process, this policy has led to extreme hardships for European farmers. Feed price increases of 400 to 600 per cent have hit European pig and chicken farmers. It has been estimated the present zero-tolerance policy could end up costing European agriculture 200 billion euros.

Canada has just recorded another record year for trade. Why would we want to introduce legislation that would reverse this economic news? Clearly, the goals of the European-style Bill C-474 were not to protect Canadian farmers, but to advance a particular anti-GM ideology. The Canadian public should thank their elected representatives for voting down Bill C-474 as it would have hurt the vast majority of Canadian farmers.

For decades, the critics of GM crop technology said there was not enough science. The science is now clearly siding with development of GM crops. This has caused the critics to move to political means to try to stop the technology. Fortunately, our elected representatives saw Bill C-474 for what it was, another attempt to block the development of safe, sustainable GM crop technology.

Originally published Calgary Herald Feb 15 2011