Salmon Arm is now among the more than 60 B.C. communities and electoral areas trying to move towards a GMO-free future.
Last week, city council agreed to write the federal and provincial governments, encouraging the former to legislate mandatory labelling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in food sold in Canada, and both move towards a ban of all GE crops and animals. In addition, council agreed to encourage Salmon Arm’s land base becoming free of genetically modified organisms.
Council made its decision following a presentation by city environmental advisory committee members Hugh Tyson, John McLeod and Warren Bell. Tyson provided the preamble, Bell the historic and scientific background and McLeod perspective as a retired farmer.
Regarding the term GMO, Bell said what the committee is specifically speaking to are GE or “transgenic” organisms, where genetic material from one organism is transferred to a completely unrelated organism.
He focused primarily on crops that have been modified to be resistant to herbicides or pests, providing highlights from a series of scientific articles that suggest such crops are proving to be a failed experiment in terms of the economy, the environment and human health.
In summary, Bell said GMO crops are not providing greater yields over their non-GMO relatives, and they can be more expensive to produce. Also, the use of GMO crops has resulted in an increase in the use of pesticides, while the use of herbicide-resistant crops, and the related use of herbicides containing glyphosates, has in fact resulted in a growing epidemic south of the border of herbicide resistant “super weeds” such as Palmer amaranth or “pigweed.”
“For the first time there’s actually evidence of economic losses in North America because of growing plants of this nature,” said Bell. “Initially, they were brought in to reduce pesticide use and make farming easier and technically more profitable. Now it’s turned out, because of this resistant weed problem, for some farmers they’re actually taking more time, more effort and more money to deal with the problems they’ve created.”
In terms of human health, Bell first referred to a two-year study where rats were fed herbicide-resistant corn. In short, the study, led by scientist Gille-Eric Séralini, found the GMO product caused numerous health problems, including liver and kidney damage. Later in the meeting, Bell referred to a recent political drama in Sri Lanka where extensive use of the herbicide Round-up and Round-up resistant crops, is being blamed for an outbreak of chronic kidney disease (approximately 400,000 cases and 20,000 deaths).
As for labelling, Bell said that without it, we can’t “see if the hypothesis about genetically-modified foods, which is, they’re just as safe as regular ones, is actually true.”
“So we are actually part of this giant scientific experiment…,” Bell commented.
McLeod said he’s used a variety of herbicides including DDT, Agent Orange and Round-up.
“I don’t think any of them have done me a whole lot of good. Every one of those with the exception of Round-up are now banned, they kill people. Do we have to wait until we kill some people to prove it was Round-up? I want you to keep that in mind please,” said McLeod, who made the recommendation that council consider following in UBCM’s footsteps, and those of 61 other local governments, in calling for an end to the use of GMO crops, and for the labelling of foods containing GMOs.
Council was especially amenable to the idea of labelling.
“I like the idea of the consumer having the opportunity to say, ‘yes, I’m OK with that – I’m going to eat it… I think that’s an important consumer choice that we should have, and if it means legislating it, I think that’s an important part,” commented Coun. Ken Jamieson.
As for Salmon Arm becoming GMO free, McLeod acknowledged it’s beyond the city’s jurisdiction to ban the use of GMOs by agricultural operations. Nonetheless, council was supportive of taking a step in that direction.
“I’m not saying our support is going to be anything more than a start or symbolic support, because we really have no influence over it, but I hope that it does happen, and why not make Salmon Arm a little more unique…?” said Coun. Chad Eliason.
“I think it’s a great symbolic motion and I think it’s somewhere we need to be going, especially if we want to support local agriculture.”