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Worried about Bill C-474? We all should be

April 20, 2010 – A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing but in the hands of a politician, a little knowledge combined with the ability to twist and manipulate small minds that are smaller than the politician’s is a recipe for disaster.


April 20, 2010
By Ralph Pearce


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April 20, 2010 – A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing but in the hands of a politician, a little knowledge combined with the ability to twist and manipulate small minds that are smaller than the politician’s is a recipe for disaster.
Alex Atamanenko, the Member of Parliament for BC Southern Interior, has pushed Bill C-474, a private member’s bill, through second reading during the week of April 12th, and passing with a vote of 153 in favour and 134 opposed. It will take one more step towards becoming a reality when it’s handed on to the Agriculture Standing Committee to be reviewed.
Now, I have not read the contents of the bill, instead, I have read comments from the likes of Dr. Lorne Hepworth of CropLife Canada, Barry Senft of the Grain Farmers of Ontario and a letter to the editor by Mr. Atamanenko.

I also reviewed an article I wrote nearly five years ago, which pointed to the slow pace of regulatory approval for novel genes and other scientific advancements in Canada. It was flagged then as a significant challenge to enticing companies from outside of Canada to invest in research and development within this country, and little has changed.
Mr. Atamanenko states emphatically in his letter to the editor that his bill is all about economics and not politics. He refers specifically to the loss of markets caused by the Triffid incident in the flax industry, earlier this year, then goes on to target genetic modifications being proposed to the wheat industry.
I will state this once and I will continue to state it often; this is not about protecting export markets, it has nothing to do with a politician’s pledge that this issue “is about economics, not politics.”
When a politician says it is not about politics, it’s time for everyone to check their pulse to make sure they are still alive and exhibiting some form of higher brain function (it might not hurt to check to make sure their wallets are where they’re supposed to be, too).

What this comes down to is a political body that has little or no understanding of what part of a plant’s DNA is involved in genetic modification, little or no understanding of the approval process for herbicides and little or no understanding that Canada is being left behind when it comes to attracting investment for research and development. In short, they know little or nothing of the concept of Sound Science.
In 2006, I wrote a story about Chinese investment in biotechnology. Denise Dewar, who was then with CropLife Canada, mentioned the challenges facing Canadian companies hoping to operate in Canada, yet being slowed by the unwieldy regulatory process for novel genes, traits and products. One company, SemBioSys, then based in Calgary, was ready to market its safflower enhanced to produce insulin but instead, pulled up stakes to move to the US.
Understand what was lost, folks: there are companies that can grow insulin for diabetics. No longer do life science companies need to harvest pancreases from hogs; we can grow insulin in plants.
Just not here in Canada.

As Dewar told me back in 2006, "To get multinational companies to invest their technology into Canadian crops that will be good for Canadian agriculture, we have to make it more attractive to do business here than it is south of the border. It’s not about working without regulations, it’s about working with the regulatory departments to help them understand the benefits to Canadian health, and we need to get these new technologies into the hands of Canadian farmers in a timely manner so they can be producing it and more importantly, profiting from it."
Dewar added that biotech companies often cited the US, Japan and Canada as their target markets for innovative products, but that it was Canada’s regulatory process that slowed the entire process.

And now, thanks to Mr. Atamanenko’s complete lack of vision, the agri-food and agri-business sectors in Canada have moved one step closer to hearing the sounds of silence in farmers’ fields, in processing plants and in research plots across the country. It seems that Mr. Atamanenko wants to bomb Canadian agriculture back to the Stone Age, or perhaps just to those bygone, sun-kissed days when a farmer tilled his fields behind a team of horses, sat on a three-legged stool to milk Bessie or Flossy and admired his dutiful wife, hand-feeding the dozen or so chickens in the yard (after she’s done baking bread and churning butter, no less).

Typical of the protectorate
This bill is insulting that it takes a moral high road in supposing that farmers need protection from the multi-nationals, as these “corporate behemoths” attempt to enslave the rural populace. It is insulting that farmers are viewed as simple-minded minions, incapable or undeserving of the freedom to choose, to say nothing of their ability to manage markets on their own.
And they do manage on their own. Oh yes, they manage their farms, their production, their sales –and their profits, all without the protection of either provincial or federal levels of government. They manage to develop markets, to nurture business relationships and make timely and profitable sales by making wise choices, selling produce and raw materials to customers who acknowledge their expertise and the resulting quality and consistency.
If Bill C-474 was really “all about economics,” there would not be so many holes in the statements made in Mr. Atamanenko’s letter to the editor (which can be read at alexatamanenko.ndp.ca/node/473).

Clearly, he does not understand the advancements in canola, corn and soybeans that have taken place within the past 15 years. He has not researched his claims about zero tolerance in Europe (knowing that while European buyers in the past have stated they will not accept GM soybeans, they have been importing soybeans from Brazil, which are, in fact, genetically modified). And he is patently incorrect about the economic realities surrounding GM wheat. Otherwise, he might have understood the consultative and wholly democratic process the wheat industry in North America went through more than 14 years ago, to deny genetic modification into the crop (a stand which, was reversed earlier in 2010, for the sole purpose of research and development of genetically modified varieties, under an agreement between Canada, the US and Australia).

The incident with Triffid flax was unfortunate, yes, but the reality is, our flax is still favoured in Europe, as are our lentils in India and our canola, worldwide. Why? Because of the quality compared to other regions, because of the tremendous job our farmers do, year in and year out, on a playing field that is anything but level.

C-474 puts sound science on a vacation, permanently
This bill, if passed, has the potential to be devastating to research and development, to the agri-food and agri-business sectors, and to the very group that Mr. Atamanenko pledges to protect, our farmers.
They do not need protection, as I have stated repeatedly; they need investment in agricultural infrastructure: in processing, in R and D, in developing export and communication protocols, in plant breeding and in education.
Again, this piece of legislation is not about economics nor is it about protecting export markets: it is about posturing for a general consuming population that is too-far removed from farming to understand what is at stake.

Worse yet, the author of this bill is simply foisting his personal fears and narrow-minded perspectives on an unwitting and ignorant electorate. And all to maintain that one political mandate that emphatically states, “Once in Parliament, do any and everything to stay in Parliament.” If it requires bending or stretching the truth, well, that is what the art of “spin doctoring” is all about.
In this case, Mr. Atamanenko is borrowing a page right out of the mainstream media’s playbook: “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?”
What I want to know is, when it comes to agriculture in Canada, who is there to protect us from the protectorate?