Pemberton Valley lawmakers and producers say they’re unsure if a province-wide ban on genetically-modified crops and animals would be a positive step for B.C., even if the impact would be minimal in the Sea to Sky.
During last week’s Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention, a resolution was passed requesting that the provincial government enact legislation to prohibit importing, exporting and producing genetically-engineered (GE) plants, seeds and animals.
Area C director Susie Gimse said she attended the late stages of a passionate debate on the topic during the UBCM gathering, but ultimately felt she didn’t have enough information on the issue to cast a vote. Even though the resolution passed, Gimse said she didn’t think she was the only delegate who felt uncomfortable taking a position on the issue.
“What I got from the end of that conversation is that there needs to be more information,” said Gimse. “People were having a hard time deciding whether it was a good thing or a bad thing because they just didn’t know.
“I would like to know what our farmers think.”
In terms of local impact, it doesn’t appear that much would change for Pemberton Valley farmers if the province decided to place a ban on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
“I don’t really think it’s an issue for Pemberton Valley producers,” said Roxy Kuurne, president of the Pemberton Farmers’ Institute. “We don’t grow soy or much corn or things that are GMO.”
Pemberton Mayor and Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy, who is also a local farmer adhering to organic practices, said he’s also unaware of any local producers using GE products, but recalled one example from recent years that ended up being a poor investment for the farmer.
When it comes to an official village stance on the issue, Sturdy said there currently isn’t one.
“I’d hesitate to speak as though we have a position at this particular point, because we’ve never actually brought it to council for discussion,” he said.
GE crops are created by taking genetic material from one species and splicing it into the DNA of another, with the altered genetic code often making them more resistant to pests and pesticides. The Society for a GE-free B.C., which supported the resolution put forward by the District of Metchosin, argues on its website that “we don’t know whether GE foods are safe because there is no independent testing and … until we know for sure they are safe, GE crops shouldn’t be allowed.”
A handful of municipalities in B.C. have already declared themselves as GE-free areas, including Powell River, Richmond, Saanich and others. Speaking personally, Sturdy said he could see there being a positive impact for Pemberton identifying itself as a GE-free zone from a marketing perspective.
“To say that we are GMO-free would be an interesting approach in terms of developing a brand for the Pemberton Valley,” said Sturdy. “I suppose as a marketing tactic or niche that a GMO-free valley is something that is certainly worth considering and looking at the implications for us and whether it makes sense.”
However, Sturdy also said he thinks enforcing such a policy would be a difficult task. The federal government is ultimately responsible for regulation of GMOs.
“I just don’t think there’s a mechanism there to enforce that type of position,” said Sturdy.
And while such a move wouldn’t likely impact any local producers, Kuurne cautioned against making a sweeping change to B.C.’s agricultureal industry without knowing all of the consequences.
“Genetically-modified stuff, I thought, was supposed to be a tool for farmers so we don’t have to use so many chemicals. Governments keep taking away tools from our tool box, and pretty soon it’s going to be hard to grow enough food to feed ourselves — not that I agree with genetically-modified (practices), but we have to come up with solutions to control pests and protect our crops,” she said.
“It’s not a black-and-white issue. I don’t know enough about it myself to know if it would be a good thing or a bad thing, but when you close doors, it’s pretty hard to open them again if you need to.”