GMO at a farm near you

Loss of bee colonies is hitting beekeepers and farmers across Canada but the this model of agriculture is deeply unsustainable A new farmer who plans on growing soybeans, using wheat for crop rotation — is discussing setting up shop along the Gloosecap Trail in Nova Scotia. Although not a lot is known about him yet, it appears one of his main associates is someone who worked previously for a farm where they grew only organic crops. He intends to buy or lease unused farm fields along the shoreline communities. Fewer breeding programs for non-GMO soybeans are reducing supplies despite strong demand.

Unfortunately, the decision of whether or not to use products of plant biotechnology is a choice individual farmers make for their businesses in this province. Ontario seems to be leading the way to becoming more environmentally friendly than us. In an article on the CTV website, June 9th, 2015, titled” Ontario seeks to cut use of neonicotinoids, known to be toxic to bees” it shows they are “introducing new regulations to dramatically reduce the number of acres planted with corn and soybean seeds coated with a relatively new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which are highly toxic to bees.”

We applaud this decision because most of the corn, canola, soybeans and the sugar beets used to produce white sugar, sold in Canada use plant biotechnology — which is another name of genetically modified organisms (GMO), such as Roundup Ready Soybeans — which gets sprayed with a herbacide that are nicotine-based insecticides, including midacloprid, thiamethoxam or clothianidin. These are commonly referred to as neonicotinoids, and contain glyphosate which has been in the news quite a bit lately. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated it’s probably carcinogenic. From an article on it says:

“… glyphosate exposure damages or reduces the population of many animals, including beneficial insects, fish, birds, and earthworms. In some cases glyphosate is directly toxic; for example, concentrations as low as 10 parts per million can kill fish and 1/20 of typical application rates caused delayed development in earthworms. In other cases, (small mammals and birds, for example) glyphosate reduces populations by damaging the vegetation that provides food and shelter for the animals.”

If the soybeans are not destined for human consumption, class ‘a’ biosolid fertilizer produced by N-Viro is perfectly safe to use according to the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). The N-Viro class ‘a’ fertilizer is about one-quarter the cost of regular fertilizer which can translate into thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the farm, in lowered production costs and savings.

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, called for a for a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides in 2014 saying that the Canadian Honey Council was reported to say:

“The disturbing trend of bee deaths, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, has led to mass die-offs of pollinators in recent years and could cause an agricultural disaster. Without pollinators, many fruits and vegetables, such as apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions and almonds, will also disappear. …There are dozens of neonicotinoid pesticide products, and they are used on approximately 75 percent of all acres planted with food crops – commercial and residential – in the U.S., and on 95 percent of all U.S. corn.”

One bee keeper who learned about the gentleman who will be growing the soybeans maintained that even if it was some form of GMO soybeans using neonicotinoids, it likely wouldn’t pose much risk to him. Maybe so. There isn’t a lot of farming activity around, and we certainly don’t have farmers crops butting up next to other farmers crops like they do in some places in Ontario and other places. Then there is a serious lack of education in Canada about GMO products.

Academic self-censorship, lack of research funding, government stone-walling all play an important aspect in the lack of information. An article published June 10th, 2015 in NOW, which is Toronto’s weekly news and entertainment voice, titled “The Twisted Truth On Gmos” looks at these issues of why the information isn’t available to us. It says:

“In Canada we are in a crisis situation in terms of funding for science,” Barry Micallef, a plant physiologist and biochemist at the University of Guelph, writes in an email. “In my department at Guelph, some of the most highly funded researchers are those getting money from chemical companies like Monsanto.”

The article is a great read to learn why there is a serious lack of information. But it isn’t the same everywhere. Fact is, in 2013, the European Union and a few non EU countries restricted the use of certain neonicotinoids. The union includes Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

An article on Wikipedia shows how they decided whether to approve or disapprove any GMO product.

The European Union (EU) may have the most stringent GMO regulations in the world. All GMOs, along with irradiated food, are considered “new food” and are subject to extensive, case-by-case, science-based food evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA reports to the European Commission, which then drafts proposals for granting or refusing authorization. Each proposal is submitted to the Section on GM Food and Feed of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. If accepted, it is either adopted by the EC or passed on to the Council of Agricultural Ministers. The Council has three months to reach a qualified majority for or against the proposal. If no majority is reached, the proposal is passed back to the EC, which then adopts the proposal.

Still, there is more than one bee keeper in Nova Scotia. There are around 230 active beekeepers in Nova Scotia accounting for approximately 19,300 hives. Each hive should have about 50-60,000 bees at its peak in midsummer so there are just over 1 billion potential bees.1

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry created a report after a fact finding mission titled, ” The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food Production in Canada” — if you’re interested in looking at the 70 page report, you can download it as a pdf file by clicking here. In short, it says, ” The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.” From the article on the CTV website we could see it says, “Over the last eight years, Ontario beekeepers experienced unusually high losses over the winter months, reaching 58 per cent in 2013-14.” It’s imperative that this loss be reversed which is why they want to reduce neonicotinoids use by 80% over the next two years.

Unfortunately the damage isn’t limited to just the bees. A lot of people along the shore grow their own gardens so they would be at risk of contamination as well as other beneficial insects, fish, birds, and earthworms.

If you would like to learn more, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network produced a report in May of this year (2015) called , “Are GM crops better for the environment?” You can download the report as a pdf file. It’s 46 pages long and goes into a lot of detail.