Every year, Manitoba farmers grow over 2 million acres of alfalfa. It is a major staple for Manitoba’s beef, livestock and dairy industries worth over $300 million each year. It is also an essential crop in organic crop rotation. A new variety of genetically engineered alfalfa could put this crop at risk as early as this spring.
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Forage Genetics International, an American biotechnology company has applied Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready technology to alfalfa. Now, the company is a step away from receiving approval for selling GMO alfalfa in Canada. Conventional and organic farmers in Canada widely agree that GM alfalfa is an economic threat.
What is Alfalfa?
Alfalfa, popularly called the “Queen of Forages,” is an extremely important and widely grown crop in farming systems in Canada. It is perennial, and is pollinated by insects, mostly bees. Alfalfa is grown, usually as a mix with other grass species, to produce high-quality hay and haylage for livestock, and is a critical ingredient for the organic dairy sector. The hay bales we see across our rural landscape often include alfalfa. Farmers include alfalfa in crop rotations to fix nitrogen in the soil, and to build soil fertility and organic matter. It also helps stop soil erosion, controls weeds, and is an important export crop.
What is GM alfalfa?
A company called Forage Genetics International has applied Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready (herbicide resistant) technology to alfalfa. These GM alfalfa varieties have been cleared for the last step before they hit the market – all they need now is a final registration rubber-stamp by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This last step could be completed as soon as this Spring.
The GM Alfalfa Threat
Since alfalfa is a perennial plant that is pollinated by bees, GM alfalfa will inevitably cross-pollinate with non-GM and organic alfalfa, threatening the livelihoods of family farmers across Canada. Prairie farmers have already rejected GM alfalfa for these reasons, and now the industry is trying to introduce GM alfalfa in Eastern Canada. If it is introduced, GM alfalfa will ruin export markets for alfalfa products, contaminate family farms, make it more difficult for farmers to control weeds, and threaten the future of organic food and farming in Canada.