The contentious issue of genetically engineered foods drew a divided response from Courtenay council, which debated the notion of a City-initiated GE-free procurement policy at its May 4 meeting.
Coun. David Frisch would like to hear more about the economic implications were the City to initiate such a policy. His motion for a staff report passed by a 4-3 vote.
The naysayers were Couns. Manno Theos and Erik Eriksson, and Mayor Larry Jangula, who feels it is hazardous to make a decision based on one side of an argument.
“In the end, it’s not our mandate. We can’t control what the federal, provincial government do,” Jangula said.
“Even if this thing passed and we had some sort of bylaw, how do we enforce it? It sounds good but in the end it’s fraught with peril, it’s just full of loopholes.”
Eriksson would prefer to let the matter pass.
“The proponents of this thought have a concern about the potential health and wellness effects of this, but more importantly they want the City of Courtenay to take sides with this issue…I think that’s problematic,” said Eriksson, who would prefer to debate the issue of patenting genes.
Coun. Rebecca Lennox realizes the GE question is a “hot topic.” However, most emails she has received following last month’s presentation from crop scientist Arzeena Hamir favour a GE-free procurement policy.
“Everything that we do here has a reaction,” Lennox said. “Looking forward to be in a position where we have some control over what happens to our agriculture for me is very important.”
Coun. Bob Wells said a staff report would provide “that sober second thought” that would enable council to make the best decision if those with opposing views present their side.
Coun. Doug Hillian also favours the motion because council is asking staff to report about implications, not to make a policy decision on behalf of council.
“I do know that many people expect their local government and other levels of government to take a stand on issues,” he said. “Sometimes those issues are unpopular. Sometimes, over time, you realize that you’re ahead of the trend and other times maybe you’re not. Ultimately, it’s a decision for council to make.”
Hamir hopes council will encourage farmers to abstain from cultivating GE crops.
“I recognize this is a divisive issue,” CAO David Allen said. “Getting into back and forthing with delegations on an issue that we really can’t have a final say over is probably not a good use of resources.”
A report, he notes, will essentially reiterate council’s discussion.
“We are not qualified to weigh in on the science,” Allen said.