GMO Food Fight: Canada vs. Europe

Mon, Feb 11, 2008 E-Bulletins

Dear supporter 

In our name, the Harper government is telling people in Europe that they do not have the right to refuse genetically modified (GM) foods. 

Canada has threatened the EU with WTO trade sanctions, if it does not cave in by February 11, 2008 and approve GM products, even though EU citizens do not want this (see article below).

Meanwhile, 33 Irish and British politicians “ including the former UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher MP…have denounced the activities of a Canadian Government agent, who has attempted to sabotage Ireland’s policy to keep the island of Ireland free of genetically modified crops”.

“This covert interference by the Government of Canada is an affront to Irish and UK sovereignty and to the Precautionary Principle which is a cornerstone of EU policy on GM food and farming,” says Kathy Sinnott, Member of the European Parliament. “I am calling on the European Parliament to investigate this scandal, as we have done regarding the CIA’s violation of European airspace for illegal torture flights. We need a full investigation into the extent of covert influence by foreign governments and corporations on the GM policies and decisions of the Commission, EU member states, and their regulatory bodies.” See “CANADA DIRTY TRICKS EXPOSED IN WTO DISPUTE ON GMOs.

And if you haven’t already done so, please send a letter to Prime Minister Harper, asking that he support a ban on Terminator technology, which causes seeds to become sterile after one harvest.

In solidarity and with appreciation to you,

Kathleen, Peggy, Pauline and Becky for

Food Fight: Canada vs. Europe
We’re forcing GMOs on people who fear them.

View full article and comments here 
By Murray Dobbin and Ellen Gould
Published: January 28, 2008

Challenging Europeans over their right to choose what food they grow and eat seems like a lousy way to make friends across the Atlantic. But this is exactly what Canada has done by giving the European Union a deadline of Feb. 11 to change its policies on genetically modified foods.

Canada wants to open up the European market to imports of Canadian genetically modified products, particularly canola oil.

The big stick Canada can wield is a November 2006 World Trade Organization ruling. The WTO decreed in a complaint brought by the U.S., Canada and Argentina that the EU had violated its WTO obligations by creating “undue delays” in the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

If the EU does not comply with the WTO ruling, it could have to pay the price in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in trade sanctions. Europe has been given what is considered a reasonable period to comply, but time is now running out.

Europeans won’t be bullied

Thirty three Irish and British politicians have denounced the activities of a Canadian Government agent, who has attempted to sabotage Ireland’s policy to keep the island of Ireland free of genetically modified crops 
read more

This is no minor issue in Europe. The European Commission has been surveying attitudes towards GMOs in all member states for 15 years now, and despite intense marketing efforts by international agribusiness, the opposition to GMOs only seems to be growing. The EU’s pollsters have discovered a “striking” decline in acceptance of GM foods over recent years even though Europeans are expressing support for other uses of biotechnology. 

Helen Holder, GMO campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe, told The Tyee that a triumphalist “We won!” North American attitude over the WTO decision will not wash in Europe. Holder argued the panel’s narrow ruling on technical grounds did not mean Canada and the U.S. could bully Europeans into accepting GM food. She pointed out that the WTO never concluded that GMOs were safe.

Holder said that if the spirit of the era was “the market must decide,” then the answer seemed clear: the European market had largely decided against GMOs. She pointed to consumer-driven decisions by major European food chains such as Tesco to not stock genetically-modified foods.

Sarkozy sides with Bove

The depth of feeling in Europe over this issue and the strange bedfellows it makes were evident in a surprise move by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Jan. 10. At the very time EU and North American trade officials were working out how Europe could conform with the WTO decision, Sarkozy’s government came up with a new ban on a Monsanto corn variety that had previously been approved for cultivation in France. Trade bureaucrats on both sides of the Atlantic must have felt like they were trying to herd cats.

Remember this is the same Sarkozy — nicknamed “Sarko the American” — who came into office as the right wing candidate promising to improve relations with the U.S. Yet there he was, apparently siding with the radical anti-GMO campaigner Jose Bove and throwing gas on the fire of a transatlantic trade dispute.

Sarkozy’s decision allowed Bove to end his eight-day hunger strike against cultivation of GM corn in France. It means the only GM crop currently being grown in France is now banned, a tremendous victory for Bove and France’s GM-free campaigners.

New studies, more European GM bans

Sarkozy’s ban came on the heels of a report by the French government’s scientific authority on GMOs. This report cited new scientific evidence that the GM corn might have a negative impact on insects and its pollen could be dispersed further than previously thought. The report also said new studies suggest it is impossible not to have cross-pollination between GM and non-GM fields.

The scientists advising the French government did not all agree with the conclusions the report drew from the new studies. Sarkozy acknowledged this scientific uncertainty but said “with the principle of precaution at stake, I am making a major political decision to carry our country to the forefront of the debate on the environment.”

Canada and U.S. trade negotiators working to expand markets for GMOs don’t only have a problem with individual European Union states like France. Although they can get a sympathetic ear from European Commission trade officials, the environment commissioner Stavro Dimas is proving to be a major headache for them. On Jan. 21 Dimas was accused of snubbing the U.S. trade representative when he declined to meet with her to discuss the GM dispute.

New science, leaked fears

Dimas is the EU’s point person in getting individual member states to conform with EU law on GMOs. That means in theory Dimas should be working to overcome existing bans on GM crops in Hungary, Austria, and now France. He seems headed, though, in the opposite direction. Dimas has proposed European-wide bans on two GM corn varieties that the European food safety authority had recommended for approval in 2005.

Dimas, like Sarkozy, is pointing to new science about the risks of GMOs to justify bans. In his leaked recommendations to the European Commission, Dimas refers to studies that suggest potential negative impacts of the GM corn varieties. These include risks for species like Monarch butterflies, problems for stream ecosystems, and variations in toxin concentrations that “may lead to unpredicted interactions with the environment.”

The European biotech industry immediately responded to Dimas’s recommendations, claiming that the studies he relied on actually favoured GMOs or involved “sloppy” research.

Canadians equally opposed

Despite the relative lack of news coverage of GMOs in Canada, the most recent survey done for the federal government on Canadian attitudes shows they are remarkably similar to those of Europeans. The 2006 Decima survey found: “The main aspect of biotechnology that engenders concern is GM food. Overall attitudes toward GM food tend to be more negative than positive.”

But unlike Europeans, Canadians have not had national governments willing to reflect their views in legislation. In sharp contrast with the EU’s tough regulations, Canada’s labelling standard for GM foods is voluntary, and has proven to be as ineffective as critics warned it would be. This despite the 2003 Decima poll showing 88 per cent of Canadians surveyed wanted mandatory labelling.

As well as the WTO case and other trade action Canada has taken to expand markets for existing GMOs, Canada is notorious internationally for trying to undermine the de facto moratorium on “terminator seeds” in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Terminator seeds have been hugely controversial because they are deliberately designed to be sterile after first harvest.

Ag Minister Ritz: ‘Terminator’ friendly

Gerry Ritz, Canada’s current agriculture minister, seems to be favourably disposed to Canadian approval of “genetic use restriction technologies,” the form of GMO that includes “Terminator” seeds. Ritz has responded to concerns about the technology by echoing the arguments made by the biotech industry. He has written that while it is true that this technology “could impact farmers’ ability to save seed for cultivation the next year” he argues that on the positive side “the same technologies could prevent the unwanted spread of seeds and pollen in the environment.”

Ritz dismisses worries about the monopolistic control the technology would transfer to transnational seed companies by saying anti-competitive behaviour could be dealt with by Canada’s Competition Bureau. Given the bureau’s track record this is truly faint hope.

Although it is a tough slog in this country, Canadians concerned about GMOs have found some champions for their cause. Some examples of organizational efforts are: CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action NetworkGreenpeace Canada’s campaign for mandatory labelling, and RightOnCanada’s online campaign for federal legislation to ban terminator seeds.

In Parliament last year, the NDP introduced Bill C448, which would have banned terminator technology. Despite this attention and Canadians’ convictions, both the Liberals and the Harper Conservatives are right where you would expect them to be: on the side of big business.

Murray Dobbin writes his State of the Nation column twice monthly for The Tyee. Ellen Gould is a researcher and writer on trade issues

13 Responses to “GMO Food Fight: Canada vs. Europe”

  1. Michael W MacQuarrie Says:

    PS The main party for big business is the Conservatives. Europe do have the right to refuse genetically modified (GM) foods. Even Sarkozy a Conservative hin self rejects GM foods. Harper Should flow Sarkozy on rejecting GM foods. Not soving down peoples throws ! and Yes Despite this attention and Canadians’ convictions, The Harper Conservatives are right where you would expect them to be: on the side of big business. Canadians do have the right to refuse genetically modified (GM) foods.

  2. Irene M. Wyka Says:

    I strongly oppose terminator seeds/technology and genetically modified foods. Canadians urgently require that their foods are labelled honestly…all of it. Farmers require strong (all kinds) support from all governments in Canada to grow organic, healthy food ….in rich, healthy soil and food not only free from pesticides. They should be given all sorts of incentives so that they will be encouraged to work as farmers so that the Canadian people can eat the food of their choice. What ever happened to our wonderful SMALL FARMS where healthy food was grown by hard working, caring farmers. What did Canada do to them? People must have the RIGHT to choose and not be forced to eat erradiated/dead foods, GMO foods and foods full of chemicals of all sorts, also the right to pure, clean water and air, etc…. Crimes against humanity are just constantly being committed in Canada and in the world! Enough is enough….people know and see what is going on….where are the politicians to help and support the Canadian people! Politicians, what are you doing to your health, your families, future generations and friends…your decisions will affect you also!

  3. Sylvia McDonald Says:

    I am in support of ensuring that the Canadian Government acts quickly to legislate changes to the Food Act regarding banning terminator seeds, enacting the identification of GMO and even the pesticides used in the process which are now in our processed food and certain fresh produce. Canada does need to properly identify food to ensure that we can make wise decisions in buying our food – what can be more important to ensuring our health than knowing what we put in our bodies is healthy, and being able to identify whether the food we are about to buy for consumption is GMO or not. I believe the majority of people will not buy any GMO foods if they are labeled as such. I am very leary of what the food companies are doing. They are using processed GMO corn in items like candy bars, breakfast cereals and the like. It is shocking that many foods (questionable) are not properly labeled and identified as GMO because if the majority of Canadians see that GMO label, I don’t believe they willl want to eat it. There’s a conspiracy going on in many ways – there has been a surge in cancer and other unexplainable diseases – there are huge profits being made by drug companies who are treating cancer (but never curing it) I believe the increasingly new GM food being put on the market which most people do not recognize as being GMO, creates sick people – If we don’t know and can’t recognize it, it ensures that the pharma companies will continue to make billions of dollars on people who get ill from eating it. The government has to do something about this. These are all sorts of statistics out that identify that pesticides are used to an extreme in creating certain genetically modified foods GMO but the information has not gone out because it would put such a fear in people. The truth needs to get out about Genetically Modified food. Our food supply will die out soon( and so will mankind fade away) – because real food will eventually not exist. – not to mention the disappearance of all the bugs, worms in the garden, and butterflies, bees and many birds already extinct or about to be extinct due to eating a small chain in the GMO link.

    It is urgent that people are made aware that the situation is very serious and that support come from all walks of life to ensure that our food in Canada has appropriate labeling. We have to be able to identify whether the food/crop is grown naturally, organically and if it is GM food, it has to be identified as such. Since I realized the seriousness of this and the number of people I personally know who have been fighting cancer, there needs to be a great campaign to have legislation on labeling. I want to know that when I do my grocery shopping that I am getting real food, not altered stuff that potentially is dangerous to my health. I work at being healthy on a daily basis. We need to support real life.

  4. Glenn Says:

    I am unable to use the link to send a note from your webite to the Prime Minister, so I’ll send it here.
    Mr. Harper don’t try to force gmo products onto the people of Europe, that is very rude. Also I have voted conservative most of my adult life but if you do not take immediate steps to clear the gmo products out of our food chain I will be voting green or something else. Chop Chop!

  5. Dianne Says:

    I am dead set against genetically modified seeds and products in Canada. I think that usage of such seeds and products results in higher healthcare costs as new weird and wonderful health issues come about as a result. I am appalled that our goverment is trying to force other countries to accept gmo products that are produced in our country. I am appalled that our government allows the growth and usage of these products in our food.

    I call on our government to act responsibly and assure that ALL products that contain GMOs are clearly labeled on the packaging, that the SKUs on all produce and goods indicate that they contain GMOs specifically for those of us who care what we and our children (The future of Canada)consume.

  6. Eileen Young Says:

    I totally agree with you Dianne. But, I want all GMO foods banned in Canada. The majority of Canadians don’t want it and I would like to know if there is a web site to sign a petition to ban any of these products. It is also our right to know what GMO products are now in our stores and get them labelled until they are banned.

  7. azereta Says:

    Canada, pLease label your GMO foods, as a consumer I like to know what I buy, and the choices I make. Also stay away from Europe with your horrible foods, we don’t want everyone in the planet sick and fat.

  8. Miguel Says: to protest on the use of gmos in canada you can sign the many petitions on this website

  9. Denise Says:

    If anyone hasn’t noticed as of yet our government, including harper have been bought a long time ago. Does it make sense that our own government who lied about why they wanted to pass gmo products to begin with; they lied and said that it was a way for them to stop starving people around the world, so why are they feeding it to us and in restaurants who by the way do not have to disclose this information, allowing them to be secret about it, why, if it is so healthy and safe is there soooo many laws protecting the big companies who choose the gmo products or novel foods specifically due to keeping costs down, inother words CHEAP!!!! There are so many studies, chemists, scientists and countries that are aware of the dangers of GMO and novel foods, but our government the bullies and liars are hiding the truth from us because there is much more than profit to be gained here, from making us sick and forcing us to receive medical (non-traditional), attention and treatments and pharmaceuticals, it goes a lot further than that, because it is not just about profit people…..WAKE UP CANADA, we have a lot more in common with the US than you think. Your future is not only threatened by the use of GMO products and novel foods, your future is being seriously threatened behind the scenes and youwill only know what they want you to know. If you think parliament and health canada care about you, then you are brain washed, which is what they rely on, not to mention fear, they ope wwe are all afraid to stand up,and the sad truth is, that most people just don’t want to know or want to trust what our government says as well as health canada. Well again wake up canada your government does not care about you AT ALL, we are all expendable to them, that’s why they feel they have a right to destroy our health through GMO products, novel foods, fluoride in our water, barium and aluminum in our air and poisonous toxic chemicals in our oceans and lakes, deadly ingredients in our vaccines, pharmaceuticals that have more fatality risks than healing properties etc……………………………..WAKE UP CANADA, they are not their to help you in any way shape or form. Short Education on GMO products: genetically modified organism are a MUTATION created by the bio process which takes a protein and changes it into what they have to call a “protin”, what is a protin? It is a mutated protein, in other word it’s end results are unpredictable and affect people differently depending on other consumptions, like how much GMO products are consumed, genetics, health, age, sensitivity, you name it. What you don’t know is that humans have been doing the testing by simpky eating the foods, yes ask health canada, how they cold have possibly tested the product before market and the answer is it was not tested on humans knowingly and in fact we are the guinea pigs, as they have said that many times the only way they can test certain things is by puttin it out there and testing it on unsuspecting citizens, so when one falls ill, they have no idea waht caused it, nor does the government, therefore how is it possible to even to s study, if there are not results attached to the suspected poison. Its on the marktet and we are all guinea pigs!! WAKE UP CANADA and do soem research and stop allowing them to dummy you down and taking advantage of your trusting souls!

  10. Jenna Says:

    I believe as a first nation peoples that Harper and his colleagues have held us hostage against our inherent rights. This isn’t a choice about what our government is supposed to do to protect our rights and environmental rights. This is a fight for life and sustenance. I am a mother and extremely concerned about our future generations and consuming these GMO crops. We are capsized by modern day slavery and its at our grocery store and dinner tables. The schools serve this poison to our children. When will they wake up and realize we cannot eat money. I would encourage people to wake up and do research. As consumers we owe it to ourselves to purchase GMO free and plant your own crops and go back to this old way of living. Sken:nen/Peace

  11. Donna Berg Says:

    There are lots of Petitions and information on the net calling to label and ban GMO’s in Canada. Try the news feeds .Unfortunately, there are a lot of lies and miss information. Monsanto’s just donated $ 4.5 million to stop GMO labeling in Canada.

  12. Donna Berg Says:

    That’s what is scary ! 70% of the food in Grocery stores world wide is Genetically modified.


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