Anti-GE move will harm Island farmers

It would likely put their livelihoods at risk by making their farms uncompetitive

I have a lot of respect for Morgan Ostler and the work she has done to make our community a better place. I also enjoy reading her column and have learned many interesting and useful things.

However, I have concerns with her latest column (“Anti-GE movement hits Campbell River,” Feb. 19, 2014).

My greatest concern with her column is that I believe advocating to make Vancouver Island a “GE free zone” will harm many farmers and their families from Black Creek to Saanich. There are a lot of dairy farms on Vancouver Island, and GE corn is commonly used for cattle feed. Why? Because with GE corn, farmers have fewer problems with pests, use less pesticides, have less wastage, use less water and use less land than with other varieties.

Forcing Vancouver Island dairy farmers to abandon GE corn seeds would force them to use more land and resources to grow the same amount of feed for their animals, and would drive up their costs. It would likely put their livelihoods at risk by making their farms uncompetitive, and I do not believe this should be taken lightly by Vancouver Island politicians. Pitting organic farmers against conventional farmers is inappropriate. There’s a place for both products in the grocery store.

Another concern is that the very first sentence in her column is false: it is not true that genetically-engineered (GE) seeds have been banned from all countries in Europe. In fact, there are a wide variety of GE seeds approved by the European Union, as shown in the EU Register of Authorised GMOs.

And while it is true that there are worldwide concerns about GE foods, just because people are concerned about something doesn’t mean it is bad. Crops have been genetically modified for thousands of years using conventional breeding, hybridization, mutagenesis, and selection. Genetic engineering is taking a gene that offers a desirable trait — such as resistance to drought — and inserting it into a seed’s DNA. It’s an evolutionary shortcut that actually has few undesirable side-effects, compared to other seed modification processes.

Even though some scientists disagree about the safety of GE foods, the majority of scientific research shows that GE crops are safe. An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research (nearly 2,000 studies), published in October 2013, concluded that “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops.”

Grant Warkentin

Campbell River