Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 20 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Thursday, November 8, 2001
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:30
a.m. to examine international trade in agricultural and agri-food products, and
short-term and long-term measures for the health of the agricultural and the
agri-food industry in all regions of Canada.
Senator Leonard J. Gustafson (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, as part of the committee's study, we
will hear from eight groups. The submissions of groups that are unable to appear
will be read to committee members.
We will hear from each group on the issue of genetically modified wheat, after
which we will have a general discussion on rural farm communities. Following
that, we will have an exchange of questions and answers.
I ask that all presenters to stay within the allotted time and that senators
keep their questions short.
We will begin with the National Farmers Union.
Mr. Stewart Wells, Board Member, National Farmers Union: Honourable
senators, I have some short introductory comments to make on behalf of the
entire working group. I will also read the National Farmers Union's message as
well as a statement on behalf of the Canadian Wheat Board, because they are
unable to attend this morning. Mr. Arlynn Kurtz will read the statement on
behalf of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.
Senator Wiebe: If I may make a suggestion, Mr. Chairman, there is an
excellent handout in our book, and rather than have the presenters go left to
right, perhaps they could follow the order in our book. Would that be suitable?
The Chairman: That will be fine. Mr. Wells, please proceed.
Mr. Wells: Thank you for inviting us to be here today. I am joined by the
other participants in a press conference that we hosted jointly on July 31 of
this year. After my few introductory comments on behalf of the group, the others
will introduce themselves and make comments on behalf of their own
Over the past months, and in some cases years, the organizations before you have
developed policy positions to deal with the new technology of transgenic plant
breeding. For our purposes today, and for the purposes of this working group, we
consider that genetic modification, transgenic and RDNA technology are one and
the same. That is our definition.
As the policy positions grew, so too did our unease with the prospect of
commercial production in Canada of genetically modified wheat within the next 36
months. After some informal discussions, we decided that we must make the
Canadian public and the Prime Minister aware of our positions on the subject.
Consequently, we held a joint press conference on July 31, 2001.
At that press conference, and here today, we represented an unprecedented
collaboration of farm organizations, civil society organizations, environmental
organizations and grain marketers. We represent diverse constituents from
farmers to consumers and all the links in between. We are here today because we
have concerns about the introduction of transgenic wheat into Canadian fields
In July, we tabled a letter that we sent to the Prime Minister. A copy is
included in the package. The letter was written by us, but we have had over 300
organizations and independent experts endorse the contents. In the last
paragraph of the letter, we asked the Prime Minister to: "act immediately
to prevent the introduction of genetically modified wheat into Canadian foods
and fields, unless the concerns of Canadian farmers, industry and consumers are
We then sent the letter to Mr. Chrétien and hoped for a response from him on
the subject. We realize that international events have overtaken ordinary
government business, but we are disappointed that the Prime Minister has not
acknowledged our concern in any way. I have to include a short update on that.
As a consequence of being invited to this senate committee, and our presence
here in Ottawa, we did have a meeting yesterday with a policy adviser from the
Prime Minister's Office. However, we still have not received any written
acknowledgment of, or response to, our letter of July, 2001.
We would like to take this opportunity to place four recommendations before the
Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. The first recommendation
is in respect of GM wheat. Farmers and grain industry participants are concerned
about market loss and risks to Canada's distinguished reputation for quality
wheat varieties. In addition, farmers are concerned about agronomic impacts;
consumers are concerned about food safety and regulatory adequacy; citizens are
concerned about environmental damage; organic farmers are concerned about
negative effects on Canada's successful organic sector.
Our organizations recommend that the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture
and Forestry insist that the Government of Canada take immediate steps to
prevent the introduction of genetically modified wheat in Canada, unless the
concerns of the Canadian farmers, industry and consumers are adequately
Second, we recommend that the senate committee ask the government to introduce
market impact analysis to the approval process for genetically modified crops,
including genetically modified wheat, and that relevant government departments
be directed to examine thoroughly all options to consider market impact. Where
they identify possible barriers, they should be asked to develop creative
solutions to overcome those barriers.
Third, we recommend that the senate committee ask the Minister of Agriculture
and Agri-Food for a description and accounting of the money spent by the federal
government for the promotion of biotechnology, or work in collaboration with the
biotechnology industry, since 1990.
Finally, we recommend that the senate committee ask the Minister of Agriculture
and Agri-Food for a description and accounting of money spent by federal
government on public/private sector research on biotechnology since 1990.
The other participating organizations will now make their statements. I believe,
if we go according to the notes, we will begin with the Agricultural Producers
Mr. Ivan Ottenbreit, Vice-President, Agricultural Producers Association of
Saskatchewan: Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today. Elected
representatives of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, APAS,
passed a resolution on June 14, 2001 to have government halt its approval of
genetically modified wheat with herbicide resistant traits. The introduction of
this GM wheat to Canadian fields will cause producers to lose existing,
conventional, identity-preserved and organic markets.
Our representatives have serious concerns about the agronomic impact of
glyphosate resistant wheat. This GM wheat as a volunteer crop in succeeding
years will require the use of more expensive chemicals. The GM wheat may
"outcross" with native grasses rendering glyphosate useless in the
control of weeds such as quack grass. The approval of this GM wheat will
facilitate the introduction of the "terminator gene" and hence control
of the wheat seed industry. Hence, APAS has two major concerns - market impact
and agronomic concerns.
Regarding conventional markets, to date, the Canadian Wheat Board, CWB, has
informed us that consumers representing two-thirds of Canada's wheat markets
have communicated directly to the Canadian Wheat Board that they do not wish to
purchase or receive GM wheat.
Regarding identity-preserved markets, companies such as "Warburtons of
England" have indicated that GM wheat cannot be used in their milling and
baking processes. If GM wheat is introduced in Canada, they will take their
Regarding organic markets, the organic grain industry is viable and growing, but
it will be seriously affected by the introduction of GM wheat. Other members of
this coalition will expand on this matter.
There are three agronomic concerns: The first is glyphosate wheat as a volunteer
crop. Western Canada has adopted conservation agriculture as a means of saving
the prairie soil. Zero-tillage and minimum tillage practices use glyphosate -
"Roundup" for example - as a means of weed control. The introduction
of glyphosate-resistant wheat will put these practises at risk.
Glyphosate-resistant wheat as a volunteer in succeeding crops will require the
use of tank mix chemicals that will increase the cost of soil conservation
programs. This increase alone will cause producers to consider exiting the
programs, thus halting their existence or their future growth. The net result
will be a detriment to Canada's Prairie soils and the environment.
The second concern is "outcrossing." Crop scientists studying the
"outcrossing" of the grass species have indicated the possibility of
glyphosate resistant wheat outcrossing with native grasses. Losing glyphosate as
a means of control for a problem weed such as quack grass would result in
producers having to use tillage as their only means of control, thus putting the
future of our prairie soils and the environment at risk.
The third concern is "terminator genes." Proponents of
glyphosate-resistant wheat can foresee the problems and thus have an American
patent and are working on a Canadian patent for tank mixes and premixes that
control volunteer plants resistant to glyphosate. These tank mixes will only
work under ideal conditions, temperature being the major one.
Spring planting conditions in Western Canada are not always favourable. Thus
control by these means is questionable. The industry has been approached with
this scenario that when these tank mixes fail to provide control, the only
solution will then be to introduce the terminator gene. This
glyphosate-resistant wheat with the terminator gene will only grow for one year.
Producers will have to source seed supplies from the industry every year. Since
only one company has the rights to the terminator gene, they would have a
monopoly and would inevitably gain control of the wheat seed industry. This
scenario has been neither supported nor denied by the industry.
In conclusion, our markets, conservation practices and environment will be at
risk with the introduction of glyphosate-resistant wheat. The Agricultural
Producers Association of Saskatchewan is opposed to the approval of genetically
modified wheat at this time.
The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan recommends that Canada,
the U.S. and Mexico work toward a continental agreement on the GM wheat issue.
North America has to be seen as a leader with one vision, working towards a
global resolve on all GMO issues.
Mr. Bradford Duplisea, Health Researcher, Canadian Health Coalition: Honourable
senators, thank you for having me here today. The Canadian Health Coalition,
CHC, is against the introduction of GM wheat due to concerns about inadequate
regulation and potential impacts on human health.
None of the GM crops today have undergone independent, long-term health testing,
and therefore, it is unclear whether these crops are safe. Endless claims of
"safety" by government regulators and the food biotechnology industry
are not scientifically founded. Endless preaching that GM food is safe will not
change this fact. The reality is that no one knows for sure whether this food is
safe. To compound matters, with no mandatory labelling and therefore no
traceability through the system, we cannot even scientifically observe what is
happening. Indeed, scientists at the prestigious Royal Society of Canada raised
these and numerous other health and regulatory concerns in their GM food report.
The Canadian Health Coalition believes in regulation based on the precautionary
principle, which is: In light of scientific uncertainty, precautionary measures
should be taken. In the case of GM wheat and other new technologies, such
precautionary measures would entail rigorous, independent, long-term testing
prior to approval. It would also entail using a more sophisticated risk
assessment than is currently practised by Canadian regulators. The process of
identifying GM food as being substantially equivalent to non-GM food is deeply
flawed. According to the Royal Society it should be replaced as a decision
threshold by "rigorous scientific assessment of [the] potential for causing
harm to the environment or human health."
Furthermore, scientific data submitted by Monsanto and other biotech companies
is confidential business information and not even subject to peer review. The
Canadian Health Coalition believes that such non-peer review data, supplied by
Monsanto and others, is simply not trustworthy. These crops need to be
independently studied and experiments need to be replicated. The process of peer
review constitutes the very foundation of science itself.
Canadians deserve better than a "trust-us" regulatory process. The
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CFIA, should be focussing its resources on
regulating these crops, not promoting them.
With many GM crops, the genie is already out of the bottle. While the CHC
believes the situation is not irreversible, let's play safe and reject GM wheat.
In conclusion, the Canadian Health Coalition recommends that the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry conduct public consultations on GM wheat
to examine the full range of concerns on this tremendously important issue.
Mr. Wells: The representative from the Canadian Wheat Board was unable to
be here today. They asked that their statement be read in their absence.
The Canadian Wheat Board recognizes the potential benefits that biotechnology
may provide to consumers and farmers. The CWB's ultimate goal is a positive
market entry for products that can be demonstrated to have benefits for farmers
Currently, customers in at least two-thirds of western Canadian farmers' markets
have expressed a reluctance to accept genetically modified wheat shipments. That
reluctance has been voiced through direct statements to the Canadian Wheat Board
and by the institution of government-imposed moratoriums or restrictive import
and labelling practices.
For example, domestic millers are, in most years, western Canadian farmers'
biggest customers. These customers are also exporters, and much of the wheat
flour produced here goes into what can be categorized GM-resistant markets.
Domestic millers have expressed concerns about the premature introduction of GM
wheat, and they are in favour of a market impact test for new products.
U.S. millers can be added to the category of markets worried about the
introduction of GM wheat. The U.S. is another large market for Western Canadian
farmers. The North American Millers Association has publicly expressed its
position that crops that do not have wide market approval, should not be placed
on the market.
Japan consistently rates in the top five of Western Canadian wheat customers and
is a premium price market. The Japanese concern about the introduction of GM
wheat in North America is well known. They have publicly and privately told the
Canadian Wheat Board and U.S. marketers that they will not buy GM wheat - plain
The list of other wheat customers that have policies or practices in place that
restrict GM food products is too long to cover at this time. However, the
Canadian Wheat Board has regularly asked for and provides letters of assurance
that there are no genetically modified varieties of wheat registered for
commercial production in Western Canada at this time.
It is evident that under these circumstances, the grain industry cannot afford
to rush a genetically modified wheat variety onto the market until it can be
assured that it will be able to continue to meet customer requirements for
non-GM wheat shipments, if necessary.
Two equal criteria must be met before the Canadian Wheat Board and the rest of
the industry would be satisfied that it is able to achieve a positive market
entry in this environment. The first criterion is net benefit to farmers. The
potential agronomic and market benefits of the technology must outweigh any
market risks and costs of segregation.
The second criterion is the ability to continue to meet customer requirements.
To achieve this there must be in place appropriate detection technology, tight
production and handling procedures, and a fair distribution of costs and
liability. There must also be internationally recognized sampling and testing
procedures and feasible tolerance levels.
There are a number of initiatives underway to meet both of these criteria.
However, a significant amount of work remains to be done. The Canadian Wheat
Board believes this work must be completed before transgenic wheat varieties are
made available for production in Canada.
The farm community agrees that in addition to the current slate of safety,
quality and agronomic evaluations, market impact and system readiness must be
considered before new crops become available for commercial production.
We would appreciate the Senate committee's support to encourage government
departments to generate creative solutions in dealing with market impact in the
regulatory decision-making process.
Ms Holly Penfound, Campaign Coordinator - Environment Health; Greenpeace
Canada: Thank you for having us here today. Greenpeace Canada is opposed to
the release of genetically modified organisms, including genetically engineered
wheat, GE, into the environment.
As a global organization with a presence in 45 countries and a worldwide
membership of 2.6 million people, Greenpeace is uniquely positioned to know that
people around the world are rejecting GE food. We also know that the
commercialization of GE wheat will harm our markets. Canadian wheat importers
have made this clear.
In a separate written submission to you today, we have outlined the multiple
problems associated with introducing GE wheat, including economic risks,
problems with segregation, harm to the integrity of the wheat varietal
registration system, agronomic impacts, health concerns, ecological hazards, and
inadequacies in the GE regulatory system in Canada.
Today, though, I will focus my remarks on the environmental impacts that we can
expect from GE wheat. The pathways that lead to ecological harm can take both
direct and indirect routes. Direct impacts on soil organisms and plants that
disrupt their populations or place in the ecosystem may themselves be inherently
characterized as harmful, but they may also trigger crop management changes by
farmers, which can have a ripple effect on natural eco-systems.
Let us look for a moment at two anticipated GE wheat scenarios: The first is the
outcrossing or transfer of herbicide- resistant traits of GE wheat to wild
plants, specifically quack grass in Canada. The second is harmful effects on
soil organisms, resulting from the increased application of the herbicide
glyphosate in Roundup Ready wheat.
Crop management responses to these problems such as increased fertilizer use,
shortened crop rotation and shifts in pesticide use that increase toxic loads in
the environment could have devastating effects on natural soils, terrestrial and
aquatic ecosystems. For example, they could cause shifts in food sources and
habitat for insects, soil organisms and birds and their predators. Or they could
result in contamination of soil and groundwater from pesticides. Ironically, as
the environment suffers, the biotechnology industry's promised economic and
agronomic benefits to farmers often fall short, or even, in some cases, increase
costs and complexity.
It is our position that GE food is not proven to be safe, and because it is
unproven, it is not wanted. The Canadian regulatory system for GMOs - driven by
a pro-biotechnology agenda - is fundamentally flawed, leaving consumers, farmers
and the environment at risk. Scientists like those at the Royal Society of
Canada have expressed similar warnings challenging the government's dual and
conflicting mandate to both promote and regulate genetic engineering. I refer
you to the RSC report entitled, "Elements of Precaution: Recommendations
for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada."
Greenpeace Canada makes four recommendations concerning GE wheat that we ask the
Honourable members of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
to support. First, we ask that you conduct a public consultation process - prior
to consideration of approval of GE wheat - examining the full range of concerns
on this issue.
Second, economic benefits should be embedded in the regulatory approval process
for GE crops, including GE wheat.
Third, the Canadian government should adopt the precautionary principle - which
essentially says that in the face of scientific uncertainty, precautionary
measures should be taken - and take immediate steps to implement the
recommendations of the Royal Society of Canada as they pertain to the regulatory
system for genetically modified organisms.
Fourth, GE wheat should be subjected to a full environmental assessment under
the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, CEAA. Relevant triggers for CEAA are
the involvement of federal lands, federal money or the requirement for a federal
Genetically engineered wheat is an inadequately tested experiment that has no
place contaminating our farms, food and wild ecosystems. Our government should
call the shots. The biotechnology companies should not be pushing GE wheat on to
Greenpeace is here today in solidarity with groups with different views on
genetic engineering. That is the strength in our message to you today. We
reflect the urgency of this issue by coming together on it. We all agree that it
is time Ottawa listened to Canadians. It is time for the Canadian government to
act. It is time for Canada to say, "no" to the approval of GE wheat,
and we humbly ask your assistance in bringing that outcome to fruition.
Mr. Don Dewar, President, Keystone Agricultural Producers: I am the
president of Keystone Agricultural Producers. We are democratically controlled,
producer funded organization that represents the interests of over 6,500 farmers
as well as all the major commodity groups, livestock, supply management and
special crops groups in Manitoba. I am here to speak to you on behalf of that
industry in Manitoba.
Before I state our case, I want to assure you that we are not against the
development of technology, including biotechnology, which could benefit
producers and consumers. Products of high technology have yielded great benefits
in the pharmaceuticals industry. We do not want to stop biotech research; by
doing so we could allow our industry and our country to fall behind our
However, Canada does have a good reputation for growing high quality wheat,
which is exported to many countries around the world. We are concerned that the
introduction of genetically modified wheat at this time will harm Canada's
markets. Many of our customers have told us, as we have already heard, that they
do not want genetically modified wheat. The customer is always right. Until
there are procedures in place, which are acceptable to our customers, we ask
that genetically modified wheat not be introduced into Canada.
Our membership has told us that they have two conditions that must be net.
First, we need an international standard for admixtures of genetically modified
wheat in shipments of non-GM wheat. There are currently no international
agreements stating what levels of admixtures are acceptable in export
commodities, including wheat. Domestically, we set tolerance standards for
impurities in virtually all products. The Canada Seeds Act allows for levels of
impurities in a seed lot to maintain genetic purity. In water, we set standards
for health reasons. However, we need an international standard, acceptable to
all, that will regulate the admixtures for all agricultural products, including
those that are genetically modified.
Second, we need to develop a segregation system here in Canada that will assure
our customers that the international standard levels of purity will be met. This
would require an effort of cooperation and agreement among producers, handlers
and marketers. We need to define clearly the areas of responsibility and
liability to ensure that our customers receive the wheat that they want to
process for their customers.
We presently have quality standards as part of the registration process for
wheat. We include this requirement, so that our customers will receive the
quality of product they want. Our customers need to continue to receive what
they want, and right now, they do not want genetically modified wheat.
If a genetically modified variety of wheat is introduced into Canada before
these two conditions are met, producers will lose markets, and producers will
suffer. If a genetically modified variety of wheat becomes registered, it will
not be acceptable in the export markets. Keystone is concerned that in the event
that the GM wheat is registered, it will be virtually impossible to guarantee
that future shipments of export wheat will be free of genetically engineered
We request that the Government of Canada, for the protection of our industry,
not allow the registration and general introduction of genetically modified
wheat varieties until the market acceptance for this type of wheat is assured by
both the exporting and importing agencies involved.
In closing, I ask that you consider the future of the agriculture industry and
the economy of grain production in Canada. We, as Canadian producers, are
struggling for market share. We cannot - and you, as Canadians - cannot afford
to jeopardize markets.
Mr. Arlynn Kurtz, Executive Director, District 1, Agricultural Producers
Association of Saskatchewan: It is my pleasure to present on behalf of the
Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. Mr. Bob Schulz who is unable
to attend due to problems with plane connections.
SARM is here today because we have concerns that the introduction and
registration of genetically modified wheat in Canada could have a serious
negative impact on producers. We represent all rural municipalities and the
farmers that grow the wheat in it. At the SARM annual convention in March 2001,
we passed the following resolution:
WHEREAS, the growing of genetically modified (GM) wheats, also known as
transgenic wheats, could seriously jeopardize present wheat markets; and
WHEREAS, GM wheat may be on the market as soon as 2003 and logistics and
segregation systems may not be in place to deal with the introduction of these
crops at this time; and
WHEREAS, testing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be carried out
by publicly funded research institutions;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that SARM vigorously oppose the registration of
genetically modified wheat in Canada; and.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that Canada ban the introduction of any and all GM
wheats into Canada.
As you can tell, SARM's principal concerns surrounding GM wheats are about
market access, not the soundness of the science behind the technology. If
genetically modified wheat becomes registered in Canada, we are in jeopardy of
losing some of our best export wheat markets. Producers cannot afford to lose
Wheat is an important commodity to the economy of Saskatchewan. It is one of
Saskatchewan's largest exports, and Saskatchewan is Canada's largest exporter of
wheat. In 2000, Canadian wheat exports were valued at $2.9 billion.
Saskatchewan's wheat production made up nearly half of this value at $1.4
billion. It is clear that a loss of export wheat markets would have a
significant effect on our producers.
Part of the concern and threat to wheat markets comes from the present inability
to quickly and easily segregate wheat. We need assurance that there will be
segregation and logistic systems in place that can identify and preserve GM
wheat. Until there are proven segregation systems in place, concerns about the
registration of GM wheat will remain.
The potential for market losses is clearly counter-productive to the federal
government's objectives of increasing Canada's share of world agri-food trade.
Not only would wheat markets be affected, but markets for other crops would be
upset as well. For example, Heinz, the largest European importer of navy beans
will not accept any beans that have come in contact with GM products. Heinz
wants guarantees that even the trucks in which the beans are hauled have never
carried a GM crop. Adding GM wheat to the crop mix would add to the potential
for this type of post-harvest cross-contamination.
Although SARM's primary concerns about GM wheat are related to market access, we
also have concerns about the potential agronomic impacts that transgenic
herbicide-resistant wheat may have. Producers, especially those using
conservation tillage practices, depend on glyphosate herbicides for weed
control. Because glyphosate resistant varieties of canola are already in
production, the addition of glyphosate-resistant wheat could create weed
management problems for farmers using direct seeding systems. Furthermore, the
possibility for cross-pollination between GM and non-GM wheat exists. In this
case, no amount of post-harvest segregation will be able to provide GM-free
In conclusion, we could support a consultation process for GM wheat; however, we
see very little justification for allowing the registration of a crop that has
more potential to do harm than good to the Canadian agri-food industry. Thank
Mr. Marc Loiselle, Director, Saskatchewan Organic Directorate: Good
morning Mr. Chairman and honourable senators. I have been an active farm
producer of certified organic food crops for 16 years.
The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate is unequivocally opposed to any further
introduction of genetically engineered, GE, and transgenic crops because of the
threat that they pose to the integrity and viability of organic food and fibre
production. Worldwide there is a zero tolerance level for genetically modified
organisms in certified organic food as outlined by product certification
standards and demanded by traders, processors and consumers. If a minimal
tolerance level were to be established, it would be impossible to maintain due
to the inevitability of steadily increasing contamination by GM crops.
Transgenic crops cannot be contained within specific growing areas, in research
plots and farmers' fields, as genetic drift of their novel traits will occur by
the spreading or outcrossing of pollen and seed by wind, water, animal and human
activity. Contamination from GE wheat will occur just as contamination by
transgenic canola has already resulted in the lost ability to fill the market
for certified organic canola.
Despite requests to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and provincial
agricultural departments for the location of GE wheat sites, they claim that
such information is confidential and location information will remain secret.
Yet they want to know where all the organic farms are located.
Government-approved secrecy surrounding the genetically engineered wheat test
plot sites within Canada has already infringed on our rights as producers.
The proposed commercial introduction of transgenic herbicide-tolerant wheat and
the consequent genetic contamination of other wheat varieties will make it
impossible for farmers to have a clear choice about the type of wheat they grow.
In addition, there are profound long-term implications for research and
development of future wheat varieties due to the contamination of wheat seed
stalks, seed collections, breeder lines and gene banks. There is no management
practice, detection technology or segregation system that will prevent
genetically engineered wheat from contaminating fields, food shipments and feed
Loss of certification for organic wheat, loss of market opportunity and income,
adverse effects on food safety and environmental impact, loss of choice for
consumers are all unacceptable.
Ultimately, the rights of consumers are paramount and must be respected. They
are the market and create the demand. Adoption of certified organic food
production to meet growing demands is being jeopardized by the uncontrollable
use of and contamination by transgenic crops.
Introduction of the GE wheat will do nothing to reduce toxic chemical usage, to
provide wholesome uncontaminated food or even to produce more food as is
claimed; but will profit the GE companies at the expense of farmers, consumers,
communities, and the common good of all Canadians. The right to farm and consume
food free of GMOs and GE wheat is being threatened. It jeopardizes Canada's
unique reputation as a producer of high quality food commodities. Because of the
large area sown to wheat in Canada, its valued importance as a staple food and
as an essential crop in maintaining necessary crop rotations; the approval of GE
wheat would be devastating.
The introduction of genetically engineered wheat would pose a grave threat to
the viability of the growing number of organic grain farms in Canada. Wheat is a
major crop in organic grain production because of three important features: its
relative drought tolerance, its competitiveness with weeds and its
The forced elimination of wheat from organic crop rotations due to contamination
by GE wheat would therefore jeopardize the agronomic and economic viability of
organic farming on the Canadian prairies. Organic agriculture is the fastest
growing sector of the global food systems. In Canada, it has both small and
large acreages, is diverse, is largely export oriented, and is successful
without government subsidies. The introduction of GE wheat in Canada threatens
this vital sector in Canadian agriculture, the brightest hope on the
Is the Canadian government acting upon the many good recommendations that the
Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology
delivered in their February 5, 2001 report entitled "Elements of
Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in
Canada" or is this important work being largely ignored?
Why has government moved away from public accountability?
Who will be held responsible for the biological pollution?
Will GE wheat be given comprehensive federal agronomic and environmental
assessment reviews under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act apart from
the standard regulatory system, which is fundamentally flawed? Governments have
demonstrated serious conflicts of interests as they simultaneously act as
investors in and regulators of GE food.
Will government continue to provide public resources for the biotech industry to
research GE wheat, then allow private companies to patent and then own it? In a
democracy, governments are to serve the common good, but increasingly we are
seeing the corporate agenda take precedence over the rights of farmers and
The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate recommends that this Senate committee
conduct a public consultation process - prior to consideration of approval of GE
wheat - examining the full range of concerns on this issue. Furthermore, the
Saskatchewan Organic Directorate believes it is imperative that the Canadian
government adhere to the precautionary principle and act immediately to stop
further development, approval and commercial release of GE wheat.
Ms Nadège Adam, Biotechnology Compaigner, Council of Canadians: I am
here today representing the interests of our members - 100,000 concerned
consumers across the nation.
Genetically engineered foods were introduced into our food supply without our
knowledge or consent. Today, they account for up to 70 per cent of processed
foods found in our grocery stores. Though Canadians have expressed clear
concerns over the lack of proper testing of these foods on public and
environmental health, this government seems determined to continue releasing new
GE products, such as GE wheat, into our food supply. Poll after poll has shown
the growing unease and bafflement at the fact that we are being forced to
consume foods that could potentially be harmful to our health.
On many occasions government officials have attempted to reassure Canadians
about the safety of these products, yet several reports commissioned by this
government, namely, the report of the Royal Society of Canada, have told us
otherwise. The Royal Society of Canada released a study which, at the request of
this government, thoroughly assessed the current regulatory framework for the
approval of GE foods and found it to be grossly deficient. They issued 53
recommendations and every one of them has been ignored.
Wheat is of particular concern to our members because of its pervasiveness in
our food. The thought of having our bread - the staff of life - genetically
engineered in the midst of such controversy and uncertainty is absolutely
unacceptable to us.
There is, for many in Canada, an undeniable mistrust of GE foods that must be
addressed before more products, such a GE wheat, can continue to be released
into our food supply. To ignore these concerns will serve to fuel a growing
indignation among Canadians. We need public discussion, a thorough analysis of
the implications with which we may be faced, and a democratic process wherein
the rights of citizens will be respected.
We want this government to understand that consumer confidence in these products
will not be established unless these concerns are addressed. Approving GE wheat
in Canada would not only be a commercial disaster for the wheat industry but
would exacerbate what is now becoming a general consensus among many, which is
that the government is willing to continue protecting the interests of the
biotech industry at the expense of that of the citizens it represents.
The Council of Canadians, therefore, joins with others in urging this government
to stop the introduction of genetically engineered wheat. We also ask that the
Senate committee conduct a public consultation process, prior to the
consideration of approval of GE wheat, examining the full range of concerns on
Mr. Wells: I am a board member of the National Farmers Union and a farmer
in southwestern Saskatchewan.
Some of you are well aware of the history of the National Farmers Union within
Canada. We are a national farm organization with members from coast to coast. We
are a direct membership organization, which means the members are farmers like
myself and our elected officials are, therefore, farmers.
The National Farmers Union is opposed to the introduction of genetically
modified wheat, based partly on our experience following the introduction of
genetically modified canola. Within a few years, canola fields all over western
Canada have been contaminated by transgenic canola, resulting in market loss of
the organic and European markets. As well, the unwanted transgenic canola plants
are themselves a new weed problem.
The introduction of GM wheat will result in similar problems of
cross-pollination and contamination and will put at risk our export wheat
markets around the world. Farmers could lose hundreds of millions of dollars per
year as a result of market loss following the introduction of transgenic wheat.
In addition, farmers will face extra weed control costs when trying to remove
the unwanted GM wheat plants from their crops.
Other organizations here today are highlighting the real prospect that
transgenic wheat will likely out-cross with other grassy type plants, creating
more problems and expense for farmers. In some cases, this will lead to more
soil tillage, something that most farmers are trying to avoid.
If GM wheat is introduced into Canada now, farmers will be left with the choices
of growing transgenic wheat, transgenic-contaminated wheat, or not growing wheat
at all. Consumers will have the options of eating products that contain Canadian
wheat contaminated by transgenic materials or locating wheat products made from
imported transgenic-free wheat. This scenario has grave consequences for anyone
trying to grow non-transgenic wheat, especially the organic sector. These are
not attractive options for farmers or consumers.
To avoid costly problems before they occur, much more thought has to go into the
approval process for additional biotechnology crops. Our approval process must
study each new proposal on a case-by-case basis and use the precautionary
principle as explained by the Royal Society of Canada in their report of last
spring. As was also highlighted in the Royal Society report, the National
Farmers Union believes that it is inappropriate to have the regulation and
promotion of genetically modified crops carried out by the same government
department. Surely, the public's trust and best quality science are both served
by rigorous, transparent and independent testing of genetically modified food
crops. As we have seen with Canadian canola and "Star-link corn" in
the United States, haste makes waste, and waste is something that Canadian
farmers cannot bear.
The promises of good news for farmers and consumers from biotech companies are
endless. The experience, however, has been different. The generation of biotech
products up to and including transgenic wheat are designed to create markets for
products like Roundup and to bring the control of the world's seed supply to a
few patent holders. Is this an appropriate use for such a powerful technology?
A likely scenario in the near future is a world in which over 90 per cent of the
food supply is genetically modified and controlled by a few companies. Is
anybody thinking about that likely scenario? You can bet that the biotech
companies are. What will this mean to seed availability? What will it mean to
the cost of food? What will it mean to national security?
There are a few pivotal moments in the evolution of society that appear in all
the history books. We think that the introduction of genetically modified crops
will be looked back on as one of those pivotal moments. We can either control
this new technology, or it can control us. The choice is still ours.
The National Farmers Union thanks you for your attention and urges the Senate of
Canada to make the questions surrounding the introduction of transgenic wheat a
That concludes the statements on behalf of the organizations and the working
group. I have some very quick closing remarks on behalf of the working group.
Mr. Chairman, as you can appreciate, our concerns in this issue are many and
varied. We sincerely hope that you will be able to act on the recommendations
that we as a working group are making. As mentioned earlier, those
recommendations include insisting that the government take immediate steps to
prevent the introduction of transgenic wheat into Canada, unless the concerns of
Canadian farmers, industry and consumers are adequately addressed. We recommend
that the market impact analysis be introduced into the approval system. We
recommend that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada be asked for an
accounting of the money that the Canadian government is spending on promotion
and work in collaboration with the biotech industry since 1990.
Mr. Chairman, we will be happy to answer any questions.
The Chairman: Genetically modified canola is being grown very
extensively. Have you any proof that Roundup will not kill genetically modified
canola? What is your experience in that regard?
Mr. Wells: I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, but I do not exactly understand your
question. It is clear that Roundup will not clear Roundup Ready canola.
The Chairman: Is there any chemical that will?
Mr. Wells: Yes, there are broadleaf herbicides that will kill Roundup
Ready canola, but those herbicides could not then be used on Roundup Ready
wheat, if it were to be introduced. That is because the wheat plant is in an
entirely different class than canola. Wheat is considered to be a grassy-type
plant while canola is considered to be a broadleaf plant.
The Chairman: For those around the table who are not farmers, I had phone
calls as recently as yesterday indicating that a certain farmer had tried to
kill Roundup Ready canola with Roundup and, of course, it would not work. As a
result, he had no other options. He sprayed his fields three times and had no
option but to take the Roundup Ready canola with the other crops.
Mr. Wells: Last night, several of the farmers here were comparing their
own particular problems on their own farming operations in regard to this. Would
you like to hear some of those stories?
The Chairman: I would like to hear a short example.
Mr. Ottenbreit: We have a unique situation on my farm where, three years
ago, I seeded a crop of Liberty Link canola, which is another GMO canola. In the
following year, I seeded barley. This past summer it was chemfallowed.
Chemfallow is a means whereby we use glyphosate two to three times a year to
control the weeds.
The Chairman: Was it Roundup that you used?
Mr. Ottenbreit: Yes. What happened is we burnt off the weeds in the
middle of May, with a half litre of Roundup, or glyphosate. Then, in the middle
of July, the volunteer weeds were growing were in full bloom, which is the time
you have to apply another shot of Roundup. We applied .7 of a litre. Two weeks
later, I noticed that the glyphosate had done a remarkable job except that for
every 30 feet there was a huge clump of this beautiful canola plant. As a result
of that, I approached the company Aventis to come out and have a look at it, and
they did. The technician who came stated the minute he got there, "I've
seen this before." So it is not unique.
I gave the technician two samples of the Liberty Link canola from Aventis. He
called back and said, "You have a canola that is resistant to glyphosate,
that is obvious. It is one of two things. It could be heterozygous, which means
that it is resistant to either one of the two chemicals, Liberty Link or
They checked the seed out and found out that the Liberty Link seed had Roundup
Ready seed in it. These are the two types of GMO canolas that are available
right now. I had bought certified Aventis Liberty Link seed, and I ended up with
Roundup Ready seed in it. I asked him how it happened, and he said that it could
have been one of two ways. The first possibility was that when the seed was
propagated it was too close to a Roundup Ready field and cross-pollination
occurred; or else the processor of the seed did not clean out the mill properly
and it got contaminated when it was bagged.
He told me that I might have a heterozygous canola that is resistant to both
chemicals due to gene stacking. I asked him who owns this technology now and I
told him that they should come and remove it. It so happens that a lawyer owns
this field, and he is proceeding from here.
The Chairman: I have one more question. I was a member of the House of
Commons when we fought for plant breeders' rights. I am sort of wondering if,
perhaps, it has backfired on us. I would like to hear your comments on that. It
seems to me that there is an awful lot of control on the part of some of these
large companies over the farmers. Of course, it is stimulated by the fact that
they strongly advertise greater production and, of course, clean fields. We have
experienced that; we have seen it.
I would like to hear your comments on the plant breeders' rights situation
because it seems to me that a lot of the smaller grain producers and seed
growers are now out of the picture.
Mr. Loiselle: Mr. Chairman, with regard to companies and their promotion,
it is particularly disturbing when you see advertising ahead of a product
actually being certified for sale. We think we saw examples of that with Clear
Field systems; that is, huge billboards around the countryside advertising
something that did not have the necessary go-ahead, and yet it was allowed to
happen. That is particularly disturbing.
On the plant breeders' rights, I always thought it was an improper thing to do.
I do not agree that the control of seed should be limited to an ever-shrinking
number of people. Seeds should belong to all people as a common good and the
farmer should have every right and ability to preserve his own seed.
Mr. Wells: I want to compliment the chair on being so honest with us and
taking some responsibility for the plant breeders' rights legislation. Mr.
Whelan expressed the same sentiment when I met him a couple of years ago. Back
in the early 1970s, the National Farmers Union was predicting this scenario.
They said this would happen. However, they did not know how. No one knew the
science, but they knew that this is where we were heading. Again, I compliment
Mr. Dewar: As a seed grower for over 30 years, and at the time of the
eight years of debate over plant breeders' rights, I was on the board of
directors for the national association. Through that organization, we were
supportive of plant breeders' rights. We were supportive of the fact that the
farmer could keep his own seed; we were supportive of a process of funding the
research, because we saw decreased funding coming from the government. However,
we were also assured that the government would maintain public research. We have
seen that virtually disappear.
They partner with companies, for example, with Monsanto. With the technology,
the new variety ends up in the hands of the company that they have partnered
with rather than in the public domain as originally started. CCAN association
was formed in part to distribute public varieties. They have a decreasing number
of varieties to distribute. It was initially government varieties; now they get
private varieties from other companies.
There is a big difference with the Roundup Ready canola. It is such a
broad-based chemical that they asked farmers to sign away their right to keep
their own seed. Liberty is another chemical and Liberty Link canola is resistant
to the chemical liberty. If you choose to grow that one, you can keep your own
seed because they get their money out of the chemical. They charge you $30 an
acre for the chemical, rather than $8 for the Roundup. They have their way of
getting their pound of flesh.
The Chairman: There is no question that research funding was a major
factor in the whole situation.
Senator Wiebe: It is difficult for me to resist from making a comment
about the chairman's admission, but I will hold back. I want to thank you all
very much for coming here this morning.
I agree with everything that has been presented here today and I congratulate
and thank you. From my perspective as a farmer, it is tremendously refreshing to
see a number of different farm organizations that are able to set aside some of
their petty little differences and come together for a serious issue. For that,
I want to thank you very much. We, as farmers, must start doing more of that if
we are to address the problems that agriculture faces in our country today.
In today's submissions, I heard three definitions: genetically engineered,
genetically modified, and transgenic.
Consumers are very confused about GM foods. The more different abbreviations we
throw out, the more confused they become. Is there a difference between the
three terms? If so, can you explain them?
Ms Adam: We deal a lot with consumers. We do info picket lines in front
of grocery stores and make presentations in all kinds of little fora, so we have
those kinds of questions. We at the council use the term "genetically
engineered" because of the confusion about the term
"modification." We have found that those who favour genetically
engineered foods are bent on trying to broaden the definition as much as
possible to encompass everything, for example, hybridization, mutagenesis, and
so on, to muddy the waters.
When we talk about genetically engineered foods, we specifically talk about
recombinant DNA or transgenics - that is, the crossing of species. That is what
we take issue with. The people with whom we have had contact are clear that what
is in question now is the new science that involves the crossing of species and
the manipulation of rDNA. They do not have a problem with mutagenesis; everyone
knows we have been dealing with this for a long time. Specifically, we are
addressing that. To be clear for everyone present around this table, we are
focussing on transgenic and the manipulation of rDNA.
Ms Penfound: I agree with that statement. I would add another aspect,
namely, the possibility of genetic engineering within a species. The
manipulation of the rDNA within a species also has the potential of causing
problems because of the possibility of the instability that could be rendered in
the particular transformation process that way.
Otherwise, I agree that the concern is not including all of those
long-established, broad types of technology that proponents of biotechnology
want to throw into the mix so that it is as if we are opposed to everything. We
are opposed to the manipulation of rDNA. For the most part, it is interspecies
Senator Wiebe: Everything we eat today has been genetically modified.
Mr. Loiselle: There has been a lot of debate about what exact standards
organic growers have and we have been asked if we are against everything. I
would like to read a quick definition. In the standards to which I adhere, it is
listed as "genetically engineered organisms." They are prohibited. The
definition states that "genetic engineering includes recombinant DNA, cell
fusion, micro- and macro-S encapsulation, gene deletion and doubling,
introducing a foreign gene and changing the position of genes." There is
then a proviso that states that, "This does not include breeding,
conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization or tissue
culture." It is very specific and very scientific. Even I have trouble
understanding what this means.
Mr. Wells: It is safe to say that the public relations battle over the
definitions and the terminology used around the world has been waged ever since
we got into the area of recombinant DNA.
The proponents of the technology first began by calling it genetically enhanced
production. They were pushed off that by the public relations battle that
ensued. This particular battle is ongoing, so the terminology is evolving.
Senator Wiebe: The new problem is genetically modified, engineered or
what-have-you, wheat that is now in test plots in our country. It is my
understanding that that kind of wheat will be resistant to certain herbicides.
We have done the same thing with canola. I heard the horror story that Mr.
Ottenbreit mentioned, and I would suggest that it would be tremendously helpful
to have more of those kinds of experiences documented and presented in a form
that we could use in the arguments that we will have. We do not have any
background on what may or may not happen with wheat. We do have some idea of
what has happened with canola.
Is there is some way that one could assess the cost factor to the individual
farmer - cost being a drop in market, a drop in price, the cost of having to
continuously buy seed every year? If you want to prepare a field for that
canola, what additional cost will be there to seed durum wheat in that field? Is
there some information like that that is available so we have some kind of
ammunition that can be used?
Ms Penfound: In that regard, Greenpeace has produced a farmers' video
with testimony from Canadian and U.S. farmers. We are arranging for the
distribution of it. I can certainly arrange for a copy of it to be sent to this
committee, although it is only in English, if that is acceptable to the
committee. It was produced in part for the international audience as well, so
that farmers around the world can understand the experience that is occurring
everywhere, in different regions.
Mr. Wells: It is a disgrace that Canadian citizens are not allowed to
know where these test plots are or what is growing in them. That became an issue
this past summer with provincial governments in Canada who find this offensive
As an organic producer or someone wishing to grow non-genetically modified
crops, theoretically I could have a test plot right beside my farm and not be
aware of it. We think it is a negative situation that should be changed.
As far as the gathering of information and testimony on behalf of farmers, many
farm organizations and organizations here today would agree that that could be
made possible if the Senate would conduct public hearings where farmers could
come and give their testimony directly.
The Chairman: I might explain for the senators who are not directly
related with agriculture that the seed is very small and it moves around in the
wind very easily. When we first grew canola - not genetically modified - my son
said, "Dad, I think we finally found a weed that will grow in this
country." Canola will grow anywhere. It is amazing where this plant will
Mr. Dewar: I think the experience with canola has shown that if people
choose to use the technology, you do have the problem with controlling the
volunteers, but it can be done because it is susceptible to a broad range of
other herbicides. If you are in conventional agriculture and using pesticides in
your rotation, you can probably control it. However, it is a real problem for
people who have chosen not to use it - whether or not they are organic or
One of our directors had a field of chemfallow that had never grown Roundup
Ready canola. He asked Monsanto to come out and look at areas on his field that
he could have swathed and harvested as volunteer canola. They attributed it to
either the ducks and geese that passed through or the 200 deer that had been in
the field that the winter. There is no reason to believe that the same would not
happen with the wheat. We know it would be a much more serious problem to
control the volunteers.
The agronomics is coming into it as a big problem, but the bigger problem in our
mind is the fact that our customers will tell us, "We do not want a
shipment of wheat if it has 0.001 per cent transgenic wheat in it." It is
the market. If wheat is grown in Canada, we have no way of guaranteeing that it
is pure as soon as there is one field some place. That is the disaster that we
will see in the marketplace.
I was asked an interesting question. Why is Monsanto not doing this with the
soft wheat in the United States, which would give them a much bigger market?
They have chosen to come to Canada and destroy our markets.
The Chairman: How do you see the American government moving in regard to
the Canadian government? What will happen down there will affect us.
Mr. Dewar: We know that the American farm bureaus, the American farmers'
unions and every wheat organization or farm organization is opposed to the
introduction of transgenic wheat in the United States as well. We all recognize
that if it is introduced into Canada, it will be in the United States, and vice
versa. That unprotected border is still unprotected. It is a serious problem. I
do not know what their government is doing about it, but we do know that the
producers in the United States are just as concerned, and they are also asking
their government to take action.
Mr. Kurtz: We zero-till over 4,000 acres every year. That is a process
you may not understand. We use no tillage. We go in the spring and spray off the
weeds and seed, and that is it, one pass. I have grown Roundup canola. This past
year we had 1600 acres in. It has been a good fit on my farm, but I have some
serious reservations because of the horror stories coming out about it. I do not
think that we can reverse that.
However, when it comes to wheat, I do not ever want Roundup wheat on my farm
because it is devastating to a zero-till operation like mine. Canola is a
broadleaf weed, as has been explained here. Wheat is in the grass family.
Chemicals to control the grass family are very expensive. It would probably add
to my operation $15 per acre per year each spring to take it out as a volunteer
crop when I want to seed.
We need to go a little further. Test plots are being allowed. The scientific
evidence that says outcrossing is possible. We could destroy the whole cereal
crop industry in Western Canada. If it outcrosses with wheat, barley, oats, rye,
triticale - and the list goes on - we could destroy the whole market. I urge you
to urge the government to ban even the testing of glyphosate-resistant wheat in
Senator Oliver: Today I want to ask a general question that goes to the
root of why you are here and what you are trying to say.
I was impressed that you all sang from the same song sheet. When I heard the
various presentations, I heard many identical sentences and conclusions in your
presentations. You said the Senate standing committee should conduct a public
consultation process. You have certainly gotten together to determine what you
wanted to say here. I wonder if that the right thing to ask us.
Ms Adam said that genetically modified foods account for up to 70 per cent of
the foods in our grocery stores. We know that the cows have already left the
barn, so there is no point in closing the door, because of what has happened
with canola and some of the test plots. We know the effects of genetic drifts,
birds, the wind, the rain and cross-pollination. It is already there.
We also know that the Royal Society of Canada has already done a study on the
regulations and that they are found to be wanting. Why are you asking us, as a
senate committee, to do yet another study? If I could go back perhaps to Mr.
Loiselle and Mr. Ottenbreit to ask a specific question that will help to explain
my general question. You said that contamination from GE wheat will occur, just
as contamination by transgenic canola has already resulted in the lost ability
to fill the market for certified organic canola. Could you quantify the value of
this loss in the organic industry?
Mr. Loiselle: At present, we are in the process of quantifying the loss.
Senator Oliver: It has not been done?
Mr. Loiselle: There are individual cases, obviously. This is a very
difficult thing to assess. Now, because of the fact that there is so much
genetic outcrossing happening with the canolas, it has been almost impossible to
find a source of pure seed. We need to have written, signed affidavits by the
seed supplier from our certification organization that attests to the fact that
the seed source is 100 per cent pure because we have zero tolerance for genetic
contamination. As demonstrated in the U.S. especially with the corn and soybean
issue, it has come to the point that no seed suppliers will sign those
affidavits. Then where are we?
From square one, I try to fulfil the market, and there is one because I was
offered a lucrative contract for organic canola. I just had to turn it down
because many of my neighbours are in the zero-till position and are using that
technology; I have a colony of honey bees on my land. It is obvious that those
honey bees will not restrict their movements to my quarter section of land, for
Senator Oliver: Do you not agree that the damage has already been done?
Are you really asking us the right question, in view of the damage that has
already been done in terms of the GE issue?
Mr. Loiselle: Senator, you mentioned that the cows have been let out of
the barn. In a sense, that is true in respect of wheat, but it has only been one
year of unconfined trials in a three-year process toward being approved. It is
safe to say, that if there has been any amount of contamination, it would be
minimal in comparison to what has happened with canola.
I feel confident that if the decision were made to regulate that testing in the
laboratory, where it could undergo extensive, long-term testing, for example,
that would be fine. However, do not put it into the environment. We have extreme
weather in Saskatchewan. Even with the existing regulations for outcrossing,
studies have shown that it can occur up to an extent of 27 metres.
Therefore, the regulation, which was updated by the Variety Registration Office
to 30 metres, is supposed to be adequate. We feel it is very inadequate. That is
probably under ideal conditions in an ideal scientific laboratory setting. If
this particular wheat were to be approved in a couple of years and put into
commercial production, my conventional neighbour, who would want to buy into
this technology, would be growing it with no restrictions.
I have a 25-foot border strip that my organic regulations require me to have on
my side of the fence in case I have accidental spray drift from chemicals by my
neighbours. Those regulations were put in place before the thought of a
genetically engineered crop ever arose. The regulations and everything else are
Senator Oliver: Again, it is addressed by the Royal Society. Instead of
asking us to have public hearings and consultations, why do you not have the
recommendations of the Royal Society enforced?
Mr. Loiselle: That was a scientific panel. We need to have a
cross-section of Canadian societies, from the consumers to the producers and
everybody in between. That is what is important about this issue; - we do not
want to leave anybody out of the loop.
Mr. Wells: I will try to respond to some of those questions. It is my
understanding that the Royal Society did not do any interviews with farmers and
that they concentrated on the science of the issue.
Again, with that procedure of public hearings, if any of the organizations had
the resources and the time, the human component, to go across the country to
collect, compile and present the data, I think we would be doing it now.
However, these are very tough times for farmers and for agriculture across
We were looking at the senate committee as a group that might have the resources
to do that kind of work and compile the data that Senator Wiebe was talking
On the issue of whether the cow is in or out of the barn, we are trying to
stress that that cow is out, in respect of Starling corn in the United States
and canola in Canada. We are hoping that we can learn from those two
experiences. The cow is not out of the barn on genetically modified wheat.
Senator Oliver: It is partly out.
Mr. Wells: On that point, which brings up the issue of liability, the
Saskatchewan Organic Directorate is talking publicly about the possibility of
having to take biotechnology companies and, perhaps, the federal government to
court over this next year to determine where the liability will be attached for
the problems that are incurred.
Putting the dollar value on the problems is extremely difficult. On my farm
close to Swift Current, we have dropped canola from our organic rotation. I know
that some of my neighbours, especially to the west, from which the winds
prevail, have grown genetically modified canola in the past. Therefore, we have
taken that from the rotation. We have taken it off the list of possible crops
that we can grow.
Since we have done that, I have had calls of interest from buyers around the
world looking for organically grown canola. I have to tell them that I cannot
supply it. It would be difficult for me to put a dollar value on that rotational
loss. Obviously, I have filled that spot with another crop. It is hard to
quantify the loss, but there is no question that it is a loss to our operation.
The Chairman: On the point you make, one thing should be explained. The
seeds, especially fine seeds, move around by drifting with the snow. Out on the
prairies, when that wind comes up and the snow drifts, seeds like Pigeon grass
will spread quickly. You may wonder where all the weed in your field came from.
It drifted along with the snow, and it will go for miles.
Mr. Dewar: There was an example last summer of a canola field that had
been freshly swathed near Wawanesa, Manitoba, and a tornado picked it up. It was
freshly swathed, but it was deemed that it was ripe enough that it would fully
mature in the swath. That was spread for who knows how far when it got sucked up
in the tornado.
Ms Adam: I would like to respond to your comment about the cow being out
of the barn, and why we are coming to you. It is important to note that we have
not had any form of public debate in Parliament on this particular issue. We
have had so-called consultations with stakeholders, recommendations have been
made to the government, and all of them have been ignored. The Royal Society of
Canada released their report in February, and to date, there has been no
acknowledgment by government as to whether they would even consider any of those
We are coming to you because we need to have this discussion in the public
setting, where Canadians will be able to have an input, or actually hear from
you, about ways to address this issue. As far as the cow being out of the barn,
we, at the Council of Canadians, do not want to accept that.
We understand contamination to be a pollution problem, and that you do not
accept it as a fait accompli. Have these companies made accountable and have
them clean up the mess that they made out there.
Mr. Loiselle: Mr. Chairman, may I comment on the point that Mr. Wells
made? I cannot discount the possibility of legal action because I am part of
that organization. I want to publicly state that it would be very unfortunate
that a policy decision could be made via the courts. We feel that would be very
irresponsible. However, if that is what it takes, those are the actions that
some of the producers are prepared to take.
Mr. Wells: We have had no acknowledgement whatsoever of our request to
the Prime Minister from last July. This statement as completely sincere:
Canadians and the organizations here trust the Senate.
Senator Oliver: I was trying to flush out and be more specific about what
they are asking.
Mr. Dewar: Not every organization here asked for public consultation. We
are a group that did not request it. We are asking the Senate to help stop the
introduction of GM wheat.
The Chairman: I should mention that our office receives more mail on
genetically modified grains than on any other topic with the exception of gun
Senator Hubley: I have a question for Mr. Loiselle on the subject of
organic farming. I come from the other end of the country, where we do not think
in the land scales that you do in the west. I would like to know a couple of
What is the number of organic farmers that have large operations? As your brief
indicated, organic agriculture is growing very fast in the global food systems.
What kind of growth is taking place in Canada, and perhaps globally as well?
Mr. Loiselle: I cannot say how many large organic farms there are. I
happen to co-own 960 acres with my parents. We also rent from two landlords. We
farm in total approximately 1,400 acres. That is under various grains, including
forage seed, alfalfa and pasture. In my estimation, that would be a moderately
sized organic farm. Some organic farms are as large as 3,000 acres or more.
Could you rephrase the second part of your question?
Senator Hubley: I wanted some indication as to the rate that organic
farming is growing within Canada and globally.
Mr. Loiselle: We are growing at approximately 20 per cent per year. There
were statistics done in Saskatchewan last year. I am also the president of one
of the farm certification organizations in the province. Indicative of our
growth is that we almost doubled in size in 2000. This year we had a moderate
size increase as well.
Much of this is being pushed by the fact that producers are in a position of
financial straits, and they seem to have no options other than to take some
action. It seems that the obvious action they can take is to drop the inputs. We
are talking about no or little fertilizer or pesticides. That puts them de facto
into the position of becoming organic farmers.
You must become organic over a transition period of three years. Those people
need to be thinking far enough ahead to think that you do not get an economic
benefit from the organic sales during the transition years, but there may
obviously be benefits from reducing and changing the methodology that you are
using in your farming systems.
Senator Chalifoux: I have been interested in this issue for some time.
First, if you could give us a copy of the letter that you sent to the Prime
Minister, the deputy chairman of our committee and myself will enquire as to why
you did not get a response. If you have a copy of that letter, I would
appreciate it very much.
Mr. Wells: It should be included in every package.
Senator Chalifoux: I have had this concern for a long time. Monsanto is a
big concern, especially with canola. They make contracts with the farmer. We had
one farmer in our Peace River country who wanted to break that contract because
he found that the canola seed was three fields down after a year. He wanted to
break the contract. Monsanto is taking him to court.
Are we going to end up having nothing but a bunch of sharecroppers because
Monsanto has a total monopoly on the seed in production and our farmers must
sign these contracts.
I would like some comments regarding the terminator gene.
Mr. Wells: It is not our intention to be picking on any one biotech
company. Monsanto happens to be in the forefront, and is currently the major
player in the industry.
As far as the conversation about communities and how we want that situation to
evolve, we are locked into a situation where we are moving toward totally
contracted production. A lot of people will tell you that is the way of
business, make a contract and everyone knows what is in there. It turns out in
real life contracts are not worth the paper that they are printed on unless you
are willing to take the opposite partner to court when they do not fulfil their
part of the contract. It creates this huge power imbalance between a single,
individual farmer and the contracting company on the other side.
There are an increasing number of horror stories coming from farmers who are
getting into difficulty with contracts that the user did not understand or
contracts that had implications for them down the line that they had not
Senator Chalifoux: When we did the study on rBST. We had Monsanto appear
before us. They almost threatened us. The arrogance of that organization was
terrible. They almost threatened that if we did not back off on that rBST issue,
that they would see to it that we were really penalized. How, I do not know.
It what concerns me is that when you get the private industry doing all of the
research and then bringing it back to the farmer, you are ensnared in this whole
thing. You could lose your farm or end up becoming a share-cropper.
I am very concerned about the terminator gene, and I would like some comments on
Mr. Ottenbreit: Our company met with Monsanto, and we discussed the
terminator gene. I approached them with the scenario that I presented to you
here today. They informed us that they were in a share arrangement with Delta
Pineland but are now the sole owners of the terminator gene. They say that they
are not going to use it, but why would they purchase an expensive technology
like that and put it on the shelf? If I were an official of Monsanto, I would
definitely not spend that kind of money and have it sit idle. I would intend to
The Chairman: We will cut this discussion off in five-minutes and go to
the discussion of rural life in Canada.
Senator Biron: I am not a farmer, but I found your presentation very
interesting. According to forecasts, in 2050 the world population will have
grown by 3 billion people, from 6 to 9 billion. This growth will come mostly
from the Third World. Is it not the purpose of transgenic grains to enable us to
face this population growth by reducing the cost of inputs and increasing
productivity to avoid future famines?
Ms Adam: Before working in the area of biotechnology, I was working in
the area of hunger. I can assure you - and all those who work in this area will
confirm this - that the hunger issue is not a production problem - there being
supposedly not enough food to feed the world - but one of access. There is
enough food produced all over the world to provide for everybody's needs. We are
talking about people who live on a salary of less than $1 a day. We can double
production but we know that they cannot afford to buy these products. So it will
not solve the problem. These comments are rather marketing strategies to promote
their products on the back of the poor.
Mr. Loiselle: It is supposed to cost less with these technologies. This
has not been documented. Studies made by the Universities of Saskatchewan and of
North Dakota demonstrate that, considering the technology and the production
aspect, there may be a negligible benefit. If we consider the risks for the
market and contamination, it is a disadvantage. It is an illusion to think that
we need biotechnology with its transgenic effects to produce more food. It is a
problem of access and distribution, Organic producers have a limited access to
seed varieties. These are varieties coming from conventional systems and the new
varieties are not designed for organic farming. We believe that older varieties
we could obtain a better return with would be better for organic farming. The
return is not the only criteria; the nutritional value would be as important.
You can feed as many people with the inferior quality seed which is productive
as with a large quantity which may be deficient.
Ms Penfound: I apologize that I must respond to your question in English.
Greenpeace has produced a booklet - I will leave a copy of it with the clerk -
called "Recipes Against Hunger: Success Stories for the Future of
Agriculture." It was funded by Greenpeace, Bread for the World, and the
U.K. Department for International Development and researchers from Essex
University. This undertaking is the largest-ever study of environmentally and
socially responsible farming. This study includes projects on more than 4
million farms in 52 countries. It explores how the world's poor can feed
themselves using cheap, locally available technologies that will not damage the
The three documented examples in this report from India, Kenya and Bangladesh
show how creativity and ecological understanding lead to an agriculture that
fosters biological and cultural diversity.
In closing I will say that I think there is an incredible arrogance on the part
of biotechnology to suggest that they are the solution in developing countries
when, in fact, they are the cause of absolutely devastating harm to farmers in
the developing world and in countries with emerging economies.
Mr. Dewar: We all know that the technology that Ukraine needs to feed
Europe is not biotechnology. I am told that Ethiopia with their rich soils could
feed all of the continent of Africa if they could stop fighting. Biotechnology
is not the answer to feeding the population.
The other side of this is that, since I was in university, we have talked about
having trouble feeding the world. We seem to be growing the supply, but we are
not getting it to the people.
Senator Day: I have resisted asking questions because, as a non-farmer
and as a humble consumer, I find all of this quite confusing. I had hoped I
would be assisted by the definitions given by our organic farmer friend of
"transgenic" and "genetic engineering" but I have not. I am
trying to come to grips with this as a consumer.
In talking about the wide range of products - not just wheat but the 70 per cent
of food products that already have some sort of genetic modification - do you
want to see that reduced? We have a chance to do something with respect to
wheat. Back on the East Coast, we are so far removed from you that we talk about
horses getting out of the barn, rather than cows. I am familiar with trees and
potatoes but there is not a lot of wheat or barley grown back our way.
Is canola a natural product? Is canola a rapeseed that had something happen to
Mr. Dewar: Canola was developed at the University of Manitoba in the late
1950s as an oilseed crop. It was called rapeseed at the time and contained high
levels of erucic acid which was a bad health quality. They kept breeding it
until the glucosinolates and the acid were reduced to double zeros; then they
changed the name to canola. It was called the "Cinderella crop"
because it was an economic boom for us.
Senator Day: Is canola then a genetically modified product?
Mr. Dewar: That was done through conventional genetic breeding.
Senator Day: Conventional genetic breeding? This is really helpful.
Mr. Dewar: They were using the genes from canola plants. They were not
bringing in fish or peanuts.
Senator Day: Does "transgenic" then refer to bringing in genes
from fish or some other species?
Mr. Dewar: Yes, or it could be from a different species of vegetation.
Senator Day: So we are not objecting to the science, but to the
transgenic type or the far out kind of science. You would not object to using
science to help improve the yield of a crop?
Mr. Dewar: You are hitting on some of the differences. My organization
does not challenge the science, but our customers are challenging the science
and that will ruin our marketplace. Other people at this table do challenge the
Senator Day: I have many questions left, but I will ask this one. Is
there a consensus that this is a market-driven as opposed to an anti-science
movement? From your point of view as a producer, is this a response to market
demand? The producers want to meet their customers desires?
Mr. Dewar: Our international marketplace is demanding it. As well, the
people at this table are customers and consumers. They are part of our customer
base, and they are questioning it.
Ms Penfound: I will take off my Greenpeace hat for a moment and try to
represent the diverse views of our organizations. We do have different views
about the merits of some of the technology that we talking about with GE. I do
not propose to provide you with the views of our particular organization in the
minute or two that we have left.
The strength of what we are saying to you here today is that despite that
diversity, we have unanimity on the issue of the introduction of GE wheat for a
variety of reasons that we have outlined in our presentations. That is the key
message that we are trying to convey to you today. Regardless of our differences
of opinion, we agree consistently across this panel that GE wheat must be halted
at the present time.
Mr. Wells: We are in a situation where the technology of the transgenics
or the recombinant DNA has completely outstripped the ability of our regulatory
and approval process. We are asking that our approval process be updated to
catch up to the new technologies, whatever they may be.
When it comes to various crops, there was quite a situation with potatoes in
Eastern Canada and a potato product called "New Leaf" potatoes. These
were introduced and grown. A researcher from Scotland did some work on them and
found significant medical problems with that product. Subsequently, the company
withdrew the product. Researchers have now told me that it is impossible to
replicate the research done by the initial scientist because the seed stock is
no longer made available by the originating company. They withdrew it. Research
cannot be replicated because they will not allow it. If that is true, then that
is a terrible situation.
Mr. Loiselle: Senator Day spoke about the 70 per cent thing. We must be
clear. I understand - perhaps someone can correct me - that we are not talking
about 60 or 70 per cent of our food supply per volume being genetically
engineered. Frequently, a particular food item, because of the processing, will
include something like corn syrup, cornstarch or flour. Essentially, many of
these products are processed south of the line in the U.S. and then returned to
us as the finished product. The enormity of the contamination with the corn and
the soybean issue indicates that a certain percentage of those 70 per cent of
the foods do have this, but we are certainly not at an unholy level of 70 per
cent of our volume. That would be horrendous. It is fair to say that certain
foods do have it, and of course we do not have any labelling to tell us that.
Our organization is very upset about that as well. I will leave that for another
Mr. Wells: Canadians are already in a situation where many of them have
been subjected to eating food that was not licensed or approved for human
consumption. This comes through the Star Link corn from the United States.
Canadians did not know it was in the Canadian food supply. When they found out,
it turned out that it has never been approved for human consumption, but we have
been eating it, or some Canadians have been eating it.
Senator Day: Or some derivation of that, such as an oil or something.
The Chairman: I assure you that the Senate committee as a whole will
certainly take your representations here today and discuss them. We will act
upon those discussions. I thank you for all appearing here today and for a very
worthwhile discussion in this area.
The mandate of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry is to
look into the short- and long-term situation of agriculture, which goes without
saying. We want to hear from you in that area.
I will ask Mr. Wells of the National Farmers Union to begin. I would then ask
each of you to make a short statement on how you view the agriculture situation
in the area you represent.
Mr. Wells: There is no question that we are in a new situation in
agriculture in my part of the world, which is Saskatchewan. From the end of the
Second World War, up until about 1985, farmers had a constant realized net farm
income that varied between $10,000 and $30,000 per year. It was relatively
constant. In those days, people talked about being in a "cycle" - for
example, a grain cycle, when prices would cycle up and down - but they were
always within a certain range.
About 1985, that cycling seemed to stop and become totally disconnected. In the
1990s and into the first part of this centure, we have been into an
unprecedented time of extremely low incomes for farmers. The so-called cycling
effect of prices, especially in grains and oilseeds, seems to have stopped. On
the one hand, we have enjoyed tremendous increases in exports out of Canada,
along with tremendous increases in production, but none of that money has gotten
back to the farm gate. Canada has met its targets for increasing production and
exports, but the money is not showing up at the farm gate. That money is being
captured elsewhere in the system.
The farmers union has spent quite a bit of energy and resources trying to
understand this situation. From our perspective, it boils down to a complete
lack of any market power on behalf of the farmers. We look at the whole of
agriculture as an industry that has the input suppliers to the farmers on one
side - banks supplying capital, and fuel, fertilizer and seed companies - and
the farmer is in the middle. Downstream from the farmers are the retailers,
handlers, processors and marketers.
It turns out that most players on both sides of the farmers are making a decent
return on investment. Some of them are making more than a decent return, but the
farmer in the middle is not receiving that return on investment. We have
extensive documentation on that for anyone who wants to look at it.
The only thing that explains that situation is the complete lack of market power
for the farmers and the huge market power that the other players in the industry
have. We have a situation where, in each of these sectors - fuel, fertilizer,
finance, marketing, handling and railways - between two to five players, usually
international, although they are sometimes domestic, who have a virtual lock on
In Canada, we have hundreds of thousands of farmers spread across the country
who do not individually have the kind of market power that the other players
have. Since 1985, we have constantly heard the so-called corporate players talk
endlessly about the need for increased competition. We have heard it over and
It turns out that those players do not actually compete with each other. They
have a rivalry, but if there is any actual competition in the marketplace, the
big players buy up the small ones. We have mergers and hostile or friendly
takeovers. We always end up back in the situation where that sector of the
agriculture economy is dominated by the two to five huge players. Until we
address that fundamental problem of the market power imbalance, it will be very
difficult to improve the situation for farmers.
I will take another minute to look at the policy framework we feel is driving
this. The agricultural policy framework under which the world, especially
Canada, is operating, is dictated by the World Trade Organization and
international agreements like NAFTA. Whenever our government goes to do anything
or look at how they can help farmers or programming for farmers, they first look
to WTO and then to NAFTA to see that things will be all right.
I have a question about those international agreements. If that truly is the
policy framework we are in, where in those agreements does it talk about the
need to have farmers in the countryside or towns or communities or schools or
hospitals? It is not in those agreements. Those agreements focus on many
factors. First is production for exports, and that is what we have been talking
about in Canada. There is a focus on cuts in government spending, and we have
been through that since 1985. They look at deregulation and we have been through
that and are still going down that path. They highlight the need for increased
foreign investment, and my province of Saskatchewan is thinking about changing
the land ownership restrictions as a method of trying to bring foreign
investment into the province. They focus on privatisation, which we have seen
that in every area. Finally, they talk about removal of subsidies and other
supports for farmers and the adoption of the free-floating currencies.
Until we address the underlying policy framework here, it will be very difficult
to resolve situation we are in now where each year we have fewer and fewer
farmers. The infrastructure cannot be maintained by the people we have out there
in the countryside. That is a good starting point for a long discussion.
The Chairman: Do you have any numbers on farm income and what the average
farmer's net income is?
Mr. Wells: I do not have those numbers here today. We have extensive
documentation on that. I will ensure that the committee gets a copy of that.
Mr. Dewar: Mr. Chairman, you will be receiving a version of what I will
present to you today. We are concerned with what we are seeing happening. This
complements very much what Mr. Wells has said.
In the early 1980s, the banks started consolidating and closing branches in the
small communities. A friend of mine bought a business in a small town in
Saskatchewan. There was a good set of books there, but he did not realize that
the bank had just closed. People had to go to Moose Jaw to do their business or
to do their banking because this was before ATMs. He bought the business and
ended up going bankrupt because people were leaving town to do their other
The banks were among the first, but they are an example of what happened. The
banks went into fewer communities. When they moved, the businesses, people moved
with them, which started the domino effect. This mirrors what has been happening
in rural community disintegration. As I said, when they left for banking, then
they would do their grocery shopping in the other town, so the grocery stores
ran into trouble, and then the hardware stores, et cetera.
Soon, people were gone, and the day care classes did not have enough kids. The
schools do not have enough to operate. "Making a day of it" became the
terminology, and the local community was virtually gone. All that was left was a
post office, and the few people who stayed in the town could not support the
community centre, the local church and the curling or skating rinks. Larger
business centres were more diversified and could provide the services. Now these
larger centres are going through the same process.
The stagnation of rural communities has roots in technology, federal policy and
the infrastructure. Technology has allowed farmers to do more. I might add, in
Western Canada, we do not farm all these acres because we want to; it is because
we have to. We farm more land, and we raise more livestock with the technology,
and we work more hours.
The technology debate in the late 1940s was whether they should allow tractors
to have lights because then man would just work forever and would not stop. We
know who lost that debate. Fewer people were needed to produce more. Now we do
our banking right at our home computer, no people required. It is easier to
travel quicker and farther, and virtually every job has become more productive
and efficient. Fewer hands mean less cooperation and bonding between neighbours,
which results in fewer volunteers. Ultimately, the essence of the small town
community is destroyed.
In our presentation to the Prime Ministers' Task Force on the Future
Opportunities in Farming, we included a graph that demonstrated the effects of
the federal spending cuts in farm supports. When I raised this with the
chairman, he said that agriculture paid the same as every other department in
the federal government. This one shows that in Western Canada, we shouldered the
brunt of those cuts. In the non-prairie region, federal support dropped about 30
per cent - about $250 million - between about 1989 and 1999. In that same
ten-year period, the Prairie region lost over 75 per cent of their support - $2
billion a year. That had an impact. Whether the policies were right will be
debated forever, but taking that much money out of the economy of rural, Western
Canada had a significant impact on how Canada developed.
With the transportation policy of the day, it was cheaper to move the grain than
it was to move the flour. It was cheaper to move the grain than it was to move
the animals. The further processing, whether it was livestock or food
processing, was done closer to population centres and not in the Prairie
provinces. Now we have trouble trying to move that back.
In Manitoba, we have lost $1 billion of equity in agriculture in the last five
years, and land values remain constant. That $1 billion was depreciation and
decaying rural or farm infrastructure. How are those farmers to invest in
something else to complement their present farming operation if they do not have
the capital base available?
The Western Canadian rural economies are based, for the most part, on crops.
Those crop farmers have had very little money to spend beyond their own basic
consumer necessities. Again, it has a spiralling effect. You cannot support the
communities. The tax base is there, but there are fewer people paying it.
Therefore, there is less money available for donations or time. The community
suffers, and this is what we see is happening.
With regard to the infrastructure, the roads in Western Canada are notorious.
Saskatchewan has the distinction of having the least desirable roads on which to
travel. However, we are also seeing our schools, hospitals, recreational
facilities, become rundown. The entire infrastructure and the amenities of life
in Canada are decaying. We are not able to support them.
Young people are not staying in town, or even the cities. We try to create
employment, but the farmer is taking the jobs. It is very often that the farmer
has a second job of pumping gas or working in the community. Those would
normally be the kinds of "starter" jobs for youth in the community
while they decided what to do in life. I know a town 20-miles down the road from
home had a graduating class of 12. Not one of them had any hope or desire to
remain in their own community. That is scary when you look at what it is doing
in the bigger picture.
Until the farms can again become self-sustainable, we have to get away from the
thinking that we have 20 per cent of the farmers doing 80 per cent of the
production. Therefore, we have to get rid of the remaining 80 per cent of the
farmers. I have heard that from some very influential civil servants in the
Department of Agriculture in Canada.
There will always be that 80 per cent; when we get down to 20 farmers, we will
have 16 too many. Where does it stop? What do we see happening unless there are
It is difficult to suggest what those steps are. However, we envision rural
Western Canada becoming similar to the Australian Outback because the
communities will not be there. Someone will be doing some production in some
areas, but it will be a very remote instance.
Having painted that picture, I would like to point out that south of Winnipeg,
east of the Red River, there is one grain elevator in that whole region. They
are feed deficient. They have industry, which is thriving. Part of it is
accredited to the ethnic background of the people in the area. It is also
contributed to a philosophy that they have developed.
They have small farms. They live with livestock. Their neighbour has livestock.
Yes, some of them are the bigger barns. Many of them are the smaller type barns,
cattle and feed lots that the family has diversified over time. You see when you
drive in that country, there are numerous farms and houses. Every quarter
section will have two houses, in some cases.
How can we do that with the rest of the Canadian Prairies? It is a real
challenge, but we need to have a migration of people. We need to have a
different mind set.
Mr. Wells talked about some of the problems. As soon as the producers get some
market power, it is considered wrong. Two of our Western provinces had a hog
marketing agency. The buyers had one place to buy. There were no production
controls. The governments decided to remove that so that they could attract big
industry. Has it helped the hog producer? It has helped the industry and the
province but has it helped the hog producer? Our hog producer would say no.
The Chairman: Could you tell us what the follow up would be in terms of
the loss of farmers with the drought and the economic situation that exists?
Mr. Dewar: In 1999, southwestern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan
had the equivalent of the drought because they had zero income and were unable
to seed their crops.
The Chairman: With the wet weather.
Mr. Dewar: The town of Souris has a net of minus 12 businesses. They had
one new one start and 13 close. That is happening in other towns. As soon as the
spiral starts, it is will keep going.
Our membership has been dropping by about 500 farmers each year. Crop insurance
has been losing about 500 contracts a year. That tells us that those people are
not on the farm any more.
Mr. Ottenbreit: APAS, from Saskatchewan, is perhaps, myself included,
more optimistic. I know that doom and gloom exists in Manitoba, but it also
exists in Saskatchewan. I am always optimistic. There is a ray of hope, and
there is a solution to our problems in Saskatchewan. We believe we have
identified some of those solutions.
Usually groups come to you and say we have nothing but grief and problems. We
offer solutions. One-third of producers in Saskatchewan have joined our
association. We decided that if we do not get youth involved in our association
and in agriculture, the industry is dead.
We have a solution for that. We have a START program with which you are
familiar. In June 2001 our association was here with a proposal. We have
submitted copies to the clerk. We have an update from Mr. Kurtz, who is one of
our executive directors.
Our START program - Strategic Transition and Agricultural Revitalization for
Tomorrow - is a viable program, and we hope you will look at it once Mr. Kurtz
has provided an update.
I must admit that Mr. Goodale in Saskatchewan, is probably as optimistic I am. I
am excited because the ethanol industry is a viable industry. If we update our
infrastructure and increase cattle production, then ethanol and cattle
production in Saskatchewan will have a fit. I see it as a bright spot. I must
commend Mr. Goodale for recommending that perhaps Saskatchewan could become the
ethanol capital in Canada.
The Chairman: If it did, would that solve all the ills of agriculture?
Mr. Ottenbreit: We must diversify in Saskatchewan. We will always have a
certain amount of grains and oil seeds, there is no way we can take all of our
land out of grain and oilseeds. We have 50 per cent of all of the cultivated
land in Canada. I want my products to leave the farm on four legs or be
slaughtered in slaughter plant and frozen. My grains should leave Saskatchewan
in a tank car or a pipeline as ethanol. I do not think that we have to ship the
grain out of Saskatchewan. The ethanol industry would be viable, but Canada
would have to come on board with a 10 per cent initial use of ethanol.
California could consume the first ethanol produced as well.
Senator Wiebe: The provinces have to dictate the level of ethanol in our
The Chairman: If the provinces buy in, they will have to take tax dollars
that they do not have. The Saskatchewan government is broke.
Mr. Ottenbreit: That is true.
The Chairman: We all know that.
Mr. Ottenbreit: Our program requires that the federal government fund
Mr. Kurtz: Thank you for allowing us to speak to rural development. I am
a mixed grain farmer from Stockholm, Saskatchewan. I am also an executive
director with the Agricultural Producers Association Saskatchewan, APAS.
Senator Oliver: What part of Saskatchewan is that?
Mr. Kurtz: It is in the Southeast near Esterhazy the potash capital. We
are just a few miles from there.
Rural development is the key to revitalizing Saskatchewan, a unique province
that has 47 per cent of the arable land in Canada and 20 per cent of the
Canadian agricultural producers. APAS, the largest agricultural producer-funded
organization in Saskatchewan has developed a program called Strategic Transition
and Agricultural Revitalization for Tomorrow, START.
START is a three-phased program, with Phases 1 and 2 recognizing the legitimacy
of the grains, oil seeds and pulse crops sector. Therefore, it proposes an
annual 20 per cent rotational set-aside of land transferring support money to
the producers, enabling them to continue producing grains and oil seeds for our
proposed value-added projects.
It also recognizes the value of the existing environmental grain, and would pay
landowners an annual environment rent of $25 per acre into perpetuity, thereby
stopping environmental degradation. This would also leave the control of these
lands in the hands of producers, who are the best stewards of the land, and with
a cost shared by all Canadians, who value our great environment.
START also promotes a transition of marginal and lower class land into permanent
cover by the planting of trees and/or grass. The year that the land is planted,
the producer receives $50 per acre. In the following four years, the producer
receives $25 per acre in a set-aside, and is eligible for a $50 per acre
Agricultural Diversification Bond, ADB. The bond would be available to the
producer when the set-aside is confirmed, and when the producer enters an
approved project, such as an intensive livestock operation, or a joint community
project, such as an ethanol plant. These bonds must be bankable, so that a
producer can borrow against them, thereby making available the 20 per cent
equity needed to start a project. Last winter, a survey conducted at more than
100 town hall meetings in Saskatchewan, indicated the start-up equity was the
obstacle stopping most producers from diversifying.
What would be the benefits of the ADBs, assuming that we took 10 million acres,
which is marginal land, out of production to a set-aside program in
Saskatchewan? This would allow primary producers to acquire the seed money, or
the 20 per cent equity, for capital diversification projects. Grants could be
available to producers who have already gone into the land set-aside program.
The balance of the capital portion could be filled by co-ops, corporations,
borrowed capital or Agri-Vision. Producers who have the technology and expertise
take control of the projects that will result in agricultural renewal and the
return of families to farms and to communities. The START program takes
producers further up the value-added chain.
We have also done some cost benefit analysis on large, capital projects. The
federal government's cost would be $0.5 billion. The producer investment would
be $2 billion. This would result in 216 large, community-based projects. It
would produce 6,846 primary jobs, and a payroll of about $29,000 for each job.
There would be 10,260 spin-off jobs, or 1.5 times each primary job. The yearly
payroll for primary jobs would be $204 million and the yearly payroll of
spin-off jobs would be $295 million, for a total payroll per year of $499
million. Total yearly revenue from such developments would be $2.4 billion, and
total yearly profits from this diversification would be $241 million.
The ADBs would also produce on-farm diversification with federal government
investment of $0.5 billion. Again, producer investment would be $1 billion. This
would create a total number of 23, 500 jobs, with the yearly accrued wages of
$470 million, averaging about $20,000 per job. Total taxes from payrolls and
profits would be $353 million. The total number of jobs created would be 40,600.
These projects would double our cattle numbers from 1.2 million to 2.4 million
in a six to nine-year process, barring severe droughts. That is only a 1 per
cent increase in the total number of cattle in North America - approximately 109
The feed grain consumption would more than double, because we would finish
cattle in Saskatchewan, thereby no longer sending calves, grain and young people
to Alberta. Our gross agricultural production would increase by 50 per cent,
returning $300 million in tax returns at a rate of 29 per cent.
START is the only proposal that keeps producers viable and in control of the
land, thereby ensuring a supply of grains and oil seeds. It stops rural
population decline and starts a transition program, which allows other
businesses to diversify in the community rather than die. The program adds value
to the agricultural industry with a one-term cash injection and rewards
governments with tax returns, because of a healthy 50 per cent gross
agricultural products increase. These initiatives would revitalize rural
communities in Saskatchewan and safeguard the habitats and existing greens.
START would push Saskatchewan agricultural production over the stalemated $6
billion and intensify the livestock operations, which are a good fit with
ethanol production as envisioned by the Honourable Ralph Goodale. Finally, the
program would and would thus make Saskatchewan the ethanol capital of Canada.
Representatives from Ducks Unlimited recently attended our board meeting to make
a presentation. I do not know if you have seen the presentation, but they have
funds to match the federal government, but they will take control of the land.
They are proposing to take about 25 per cent control in every municipality.
You asked for some numbers. I heard that in Saskatchewan a family will live on a
projected net farm income of $5,000. That indicates the severity of the problem.
If we were to have this kind of diversification, and if the spouse does not work
off the farm, consider the number of jobs that would then be available for other
The potential is far beyond what we have explained. We have done the research
and we have come up with this project, because of what was in the Throne Speech
last spring. We feel it is an area where the government may be willing to spend
some money so that we can finally kick-start Saskatchewan.
The Chairman: I thank you for your presentation. I have seen some of the
farm leaders here shaking their heads somewhat over this information because it
has not happened before and would be good to happen.
I just spoke to some cattle producers from Alberta where the opposite is
happening - there is still more cattle. The barley in our country is shipped
right off the farm to Lethbridge. It is not happening. The dream alone will not
make it happen. We are in a deep, serious crisis situation in the Prairies.
Mr. Kurtz, you were here with your wife two years ago. I entertained you when
your wife was on a hunger strike. Things have gotten worse.
Mr. Kurtz: Absolutely.
The Chairman: We should get $2 billion to keep the thing moving.
Mr. Kurtz: That would be over a period of 10 years. If you look at the
returns to the government in taxes, it would be money well spent. Agricultural
producers are the best business people in the world. The poor business people
are gone. They have been gone for some time. If we put the control back into the
producers' hands, and we give them guidance and expertise, we will not find the
projects fail as they do when someone is involved who has the wrong interests.
The Chairman: We have tried diversification with canola and other grains.
We have found that the commodity prices just are not there. I have a news
release dealing with the trade talks that are going on as we speak and the world
trade situation. There is a chance they might even undermine the marketing
boards of Ontario and Quebec. The government is saying in this release that they
will not allow that to happen.
If there are tariff changes, it will happen. The milk producers and the chicken
producers have had a pretty good run and have had government protection. We have
not had that in grains and oil seeds.
Mr. Dewar: Mr. Chairman, I must leave. May I make a comment before I go?
I thank you very much again for having us here today.
Some of the comments you just made are very important. If you are going to
produce the grain, whether it goes into an ethanol plant or directly into a hog
or a cow, you must be able to produce it at the margin. You must have a margin.
I was at a conference in North Dakota last week. They are talking about the
ethanol E-85, not E-10 because a $1.50 bushel of feed corn is worth $6.00 in
ethanol. A bushel of corn at $1.50 is not sustainable. Why would you even grow
Senator Oliver: What about growing corn for food, and not ethanol?
Mr. Dewar: We have lots of corn. Some places in the world think that is
We have been trying to fix rural communities with our agricultural policy.
Perhaps we should be looking at our rural development policy to fix agriculture.
I would hope that the ethanol plant would pay a higher price for that grain.
That is the key to it. I want to thank you very much for the time, and I am
sorry I must leave.
The Chairman: Thank your for your presentation and we appreciate you
Mr. Loiselle: I thank you for the opportunity to speak and I apologize, I
do not have any prepared documents but I will forward them to your clerk. This
presentation will be rather different. It is an overview and a critique as
compared to money and dollar figures. Perhaps that is just my nature. I have
been so engrossed on the genetically engineered issue that this was kind of an
afterthought, but it is a very important issue.
I have a quote from an unknown author hanging in my office. It says,
"Condemnation without investigation is the height of all ignorance."
That reminds me to be cognizant of the fact that you cannot critique something
until you really understand it.
My understanding of rural communities is that as an individual farmer, I am
inextricably connected to the people around me and influenced by them.
Conversely, they are influenced by my actions or inaction. The rural community
has as its base, the stewards of the land and the water, be they farmers,
fishermen, miners, foresters, hunters, trappers, gatherers, et cetera. My family
and I are connected to our local town, as are my neighbours. We consider that to
be the community.
Gains in agricultural productivity seems to always be the buzzword. We have to
get more yield, and I have a problem with that, as does our organization.
Gains in agricultural productivity come with costs that have largely been
ignored and externalized. However, we hope that institutions - from the United
Nations to national and provincial ministries of agriculture - are beginning to
recognize that we must rethink the way in which we have organized farming to
meet the new challenges of the future. Many trends in agriculture indicate that
farming is generally not sustainable. We were hearing this today. Many farms
have lost their economic viability. Many forms of environmental degradation give
cause for concern. Established social structures break apart, and society is
increasingly unwilling to support practices they perceive to be not in their
best interest. Consequently, young people leave their farms in rural communities
in which they see no future for themselves.
The current trends in agriculture are many. They will likely increase the
problems in the farming sector and contribute to the recurring farming crisis.
We will experience further demise of rural communities.
The major trends of the problem are economic, social and environmental. Under
economic, we have increased production and productivity. That is the trend.
There is a decline in farm gate prices, however. There is the decline in the
share of the primary production sector in the agricultural economy.
The market share that the primary producer received in the 1920s was much higher
than it is now. It is horrifying. It is incredible. Who is picking up the slack?
It is the person in the middle, the marketing system. The consumer is
essentially paying what we call a cheap food policy, but the farmer is not
benefitting. We have shrinking farmers' share of the consumer's food
expenditures. We have increased average age of farmers. We have decreased farm
In the social category, we have increase in farm size and decrease in numbers.
We have difficulties in attracting young people to farming. Under health, we
have increased stress in farm communities, which is being recognized more and
more. Environmental concerns include a number of species that are resistant to
pesticide, a decline in biodiversity and in water and air quality, and continued
Rural communities especially feel the impact of the recurring farm crisis, that
climate conditions notwithstanding, has its roots in the ever-increasing
economic and political powers of transnational corporations. Unless these trends
are broken and reversed, a revitalization of rural areas will be difficult, if
Fortunately, new trends are emerging. We have, for instance, international
organizations calling for a change in agriculture. The United Nations
Environment Program wrote in 1992 - Agenda 21, Chapter 14 - that:
Major adjustments are needed in agricultural, environmental and macroeconomic
policy at both national and international levels, in developed as well as
developing countries, to create the conditions for sustainable agriculture and
Although Canada is beginning to consider policies in the areas of sustainable
agriculture, via the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada document "Agriculture
in Harmony with Nature II - Agriculture and Agri-Food Sustainable Development
Strategy." This is a new report that outlines sustainable food policy for
the next four years.
Despite that, we have many thousands of farmers who have already adopted more
sustainable practices. They have done this without public support to become less
dependent on the input and marketing sectors, as well as to be less dependent on
financial supports from governments.
As farmers, we realize that sustainable agriculture presents a goal that many
want to attain. That would lead to positive things such as longer crop
rotations; more crop diversity; integrated livestock operations; drastically
reduced external inputs; improved knowledge of natural ways to enhance soil
fertility and crop protection, as a form of holistic management. There would be
new forms of cooperation - formal and informal - and innovative marketing
There would be all kinds of benefits to rural communities, such as improved
economic viability for the individual farms. The towns depend on the life-blood
of the farmers in its rural municipality. There would be improved economic
activity in rural communities through improved economic multiplier effect.
Additional improvements include improved quality of soil, water and air,
recovery of biodiversity, reduced stress levels, and improved social and health
conditions of people.
Our organization communicates with other groups about the sustainable issue, and
there is a fundamental principle throughout. Everyone in the world has a
fundamental right to pure air, water, land and food. Agriculture can play a
pivotal role in providing these basic rights. It can improve the quality of life
for all humankind.
We believe that certified organic farming in Canada is an agricultural system
that is currently successful, runs largely without government subsidies and
contributes to furthering community development. Part of the Saskatchewan
Organic Directorate's vision statement is "food for life." The SOD
takes this vision statement seriously.
Organic producers believe that in the process of making a living, we must treat
the land, the flora and the fauna with the utmost respect. We mean
"Life" in its most positive senses. We mean that the food we produce
must be life-giving and it must promote health and longevity. We also believe
that the system we use to produce that food must not be a threat to ourselves,
others or species. It must be sustainable, not just for the short term but for
the foreseeable future.
This is a direct link with our discussion here this morning. In agriculture, it
is recognized that there are independent systems in primary production: the
input sector, the processing sector, the marketing sector and the nutritional
needs for all people. These influence all aspects of the economy, the
environment and social interaction.
Farmers are recognized as the stewards of the resource base. Farming entails the
responsibility to manage one's life and environment with proper regard to the
rights of others. This is a stewardship issue. Farmers have modified the
ecosystems and they have a responsibility to manage them for the benefit of the
present and future generations. This task for society must be supported by
We also embody the precautionary principles, as well. This is our vision for
rural communities: Rural communities are safe and vibrant places that attract
businesses and people. They can rely on an infrastructure that is comparable to
that in urban areas. Sustainable development is linked to local and regional
resources, harmony with nature and improvement of quality of life. The emphasis
in all development is based on investment in people and based on the virtuous
cycle of education, increased innovation, increased investment, increased value
and higher wages. The improved quality of life and attractive opportunities in
these communities make young people want to stay, or return. They draw people
from urban areas to relocate and new immigrants to settle. Cooperation and
volunteerism are active ingredients of all communities.
When you consider sustainable agriculture in a global perspective or organic
farming more particularly, Canada is obviously falling behind. I have a document
entitled, The Copenhagen Declaration, which was signed on May 11, 2001, by the
majority of European agriculture ministers. Signatories to this declaration
include, the Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union, the
European Community of Consumer Cooperatives, the European Environmental Bureau,
and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. That
parallels what we are doing today. There are farm groups, consumer groups and
environmental groups. This is an impressive document that I reference.
Those farms that seem to be weathering the storm, seem to be smaller and more
diversified. They may have on-farm cleaning or processing and they most likely
have livestock. We have examples of that within the organic community. One that
comes to mind is the Bauml family at Marysburg where five families are dependent
on the same land base upon which only one or two families were dependent on 15
or 20 years ago. It is an interesting and impressive story. They have
incorporated livestock, cleaning and helping other people to build in their
Is the agriculture framework as developed by the International Monetary Fund, by
NAFTA, by the FTAA and by the WTO, leading to sustainable agriculture? Rural
citizens, as was noted before, are asking: "Where are the services our
community needs - the banks, the schools and the hospitals, et cetera? Where, in
the federal government's policy, is support of family farms and sustainable
agriculture in organic farming?"
There is plenty of talk. We have seen money coming out of Mr. Goodale's office -
$600,000 here and a little bit there - in a piecemeal approach. I am not
familiar with the sustainable policy that they have, but there is a disconnect
when you have policy decisions and when you actually pass to action.
Voltaire once said something to the effect that history does not repeat itself,
Ms Penfound: I had not originally envisioned that I would be speaking in
this section. I do not have prepared notes. However, it occurred to me as I was
listening to the other presentations, that it is important to say that in the
work we have been doing together on the GE wheat issue, there is tremendous
overlap and harmonization of some of the concerns of farm groups that represent
farmers, environmental organizations, health organizations and consumer groups.
The Greenpeace document I referred to earlier, "Recipes Against Hunger:
Success Stories for the Future of Agriculture," expresses some sentiments
that sound very much like some of the comments that were being made by the farm
groups in the last few moments. I will read a couple of short passages:
The time has come to recognise the false promise of GE and the agriculture
industry. It is finally time to support the real revolution in farming that
meets the many needs of local communities and the environment, restores the land
de graded by the agriculture industry and helps the poor to combat their own
poverty and hunger. To do this, it is also time to acknowledge that farming -
and the technologies that are now part of it - must belong to the communities
and culture in which it exists. Culture and agriculture are related.
Another part of this document states:
The challenge of the coming agricultural revolution is to help provide the
support to allow those farmers both to feed themselves and their communities and
to protect their environment.
There is a tremendous overlap in terms of an expression on our part, for
example, about the market impact concerns on GE wheat to the farm sector and the
environmental concerns expressed by the farmers. Mr. Ottenbriet has championed
the environmental concerns that I had expressed in my presentation.
Some critics, including one MP whose name I will not mention, have made an
unhelpful and irresponsible characterization of our initiative. Our work has
been characterized as the farmer being in bed with the enemy in being involved
with Greenpeace, the Council of Canadians and other organizations. It is an
affront to the farm groups and to groups such as Greenpeace, the Council of
Canadians and the Canadian Health Coalition to think that there is that kind of
divide between our interests and their interests. We have these shared
The Chairman: You have made a very good point has been made. Farmers are
environmentalists, if they have the wherewithal to do it. Farmers have had to
take every inch out of the land to try to survive and they have not been able to
use the kind of practices that they should have, simply because there has not
been the return.
I certainly could not agree more. We must look at this entire package.
Senator Tunney: I will take the transcript of the first two presentations
and put them in my favourite file for use in many places when I speak or have
Have any of you ever thought about trying to take a cue from the dairy and
poultry sectors in Canada, which operate under supply management? Have you taken
into account the cost of producing a bushel of wheat or grain when you are
pricing it to a broker or offering it for sale? I hope that you know more detail
about supply management than some people in the public. The price of milk is
determined by the cost of producing it with a small margin of profit that is
added on top of that actual cost.
It might be surprising to you to hear that, given the system under which we
operate in Canada, we hear a lot of criticism that we are controlling the market
to force the price up. That is not true. Dairy farmers do not want the price
increased. They want the board members to hold that price down and have a larger
If you go to a Canadian supermarket and purchase a basket containing the entire
range of dairy products, then make the same purchase in the U.S., you will find
that the price of that basket here will be slightly less than in the U.S. Why
should a producer of food not be granted a reasonable profit, enough to live on?
I have a neighbour who is farming about 1,500 acres. He is young, smart, and
hard-working. He was trying to buy an additional 50 acres or 100 acres each year
and renting as much as he could add to his cropland. Of course, he was obtaining
the machinery storage and drying facility that goes with more land. He is in a
horrendous financial position. He tells me that he can last, with government
programs, two more years. He will then be gone. To last that two years, he
traded a two-year old combine for another new one. Why did he do that? He did
that to save himself for another year. When he traded the used combine - still
as good as new - the deal paid up the payments on the two year-old, so he was
free of that. The deal on the new one was that he does not have to start making
payments until next September. That is a sick way of trying to run a business;
he is losing money on every single bushel of wheat, soy and corn that he grows.
This man is a good farmer.
Senator Wiebe: Is that a question or a presentation?
Senator Tunney: It is both. I hope that you will give this more study.
That is my point to you. We cannot survive as an agricultural industry on the
prices that we are getting for the major portions of our commodities.
The Chairman: That is an excellent presentation. I have some disturbing
news in front of me that came across my desk just this morning. This comes out
of the rural municipalities of Saskatchewan meeting this week. Apparently,
hundreds of Saskatchewan rural leaders voted in favour Tuesday of a bid to study
separating from the rest of Canada, and it was voted down. However, a third of
those who voted supported it. That is happening not because they are poor
Canadians, but they are desperate. That is how serious the situation is.
Mr. Wells: I would like to respond to Senator Tunney's remarks. The
Farmers Union has a long history of supporting supply management within Canada
for all of the reasons that you expounded on there. We have been chastized and
isolated in the larger political debate because of that position. The provincial
and federal governments have moved to the policy framework that I talked about
earlier, the WTO and the NAFTA.
The whole idea of increasing trade is paramount. The supply-managed industries
do not lend themselves well to operating under those types of rules because it
is considered production for domestic consumption. Your production can only grow
as fast as your population and your demand if you are to sign those agreements
and NAFTA. It presents a severe problem.
In these larger trade agreements, rather than promote or build the local
economies within the country, we have literally traded good Canadian markets in
Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg for markets in Tehran, Indonesia, or somewhere
else in the world. That has created this huge industry in transportation,
packaging and processing all over the world, but it has not done anything for
Canadians or Canadian farmers. That is the real disconnect there.
I have a quick comment on the SARM resolution. I was down here two years ago
with a farm delegation headed by Mr. Romanow and Mr. Dewar. At that time I made
the statement to the press that an increased sense of Western Canada alienation
was being sowed in the minds of the public. It is terrible that that is
Senator Wiebe: I have a bit of housekeeping. Some of us must run to
another meeting. I am interested in that the letter you sent to the Prime
Minister. I would like to have some idea of the response from those to whom you
copied that letter.
I would like to move that this particular letter become a part of our record of
our documents for the committee.
The Chairman: All in favour?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Carried.
Senator Wiebe: Do you have any idea of what kind of response you have had
from the others?
Mr. Wells: Yes, we have not had any response.
Senator Wiebe: You have had no response from provincial premiers, the
Minister of Agriculture, or the minister responsible for the Wheat Board?
Mr. Wells: We had a response from Ms Wowchuk, Minister of Agriculture in
Manitoba. However, I am not sure if her response was to our letter or to our
press conference. The minister sent a letter congratulating us on the position
that we took. She copied a letter that she had sent in May 2001 to Mr. Vanclief
regarding the agronomic, contamination and market problems. Her position is very
similar to the position that we took later without the knowledge of her
position. That is the only communication we have had in writing.
The Chairman: We will have to wrap this up. It has been a good morning.
We have certainly heard many views from a diverse group, if I may say that. Yet,
this group is quite unified on the need for change, especially in regard to
genetically modified foods.
The committee will certainly review your requests and try to respond in as
positive a way as we can. It is certainly an area of concern for the consumers
of Canada, which is evident by the mail that we received.
Mr. Wells: On behalf of our working group I would like to thank you. It
has been a pleasure to be here this morning.
Mr. Loiselle: I am sure that any of us panel members would be available
to address any further questions.