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Organic Group Takes Up Arms

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On Oct. 12, 2001, Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD), announced the directorate's intention to take legal action against those responsible for introducing genetically engineered (GE) canola into Saskatchewan and to hold them accountable for crop losses and damages.

On Oct. 12, 2001, Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD), announced the directorate's intention to take legal action against those responsible for introducing genetically engineered (GE) canola into Saskatchewan and to hold them accountable for crop losses and damages. A press conference was held at Cedar Lodge on Blackstrap Lake, 55 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon, following a two-day conference during which the SOD board of directors finalized its plans. Taylor also said the SOD hopes to seek an injunction against the introduction of GE wheat.

Accompanying Taylor to the presentation were Debbie Miller, administrator of SOD and president of Organic Crop Improvement Association International, the world's largest organic certification organization; Marc Loiselle, co-chair of SOD's research and development committee; and the SOD's legal council, Terry J. Zakreski.

The Saskatchewan Organic Directorate is an umbrella organization representing six of the 10 voluntary certification organizations in the province, in addition to processors, marketers and individual farmers. Merv Ermel is president of the Canadian Organic Certification Co-Operative, which is another certification organization that presently does not belong to SOD. Ermel said, "We will certainly support SOD in the class action." It is very likely that the other three groups will join the class action, too.

There are about 1,000 certified organic farmers in Saskatchewan who farm about one million acres of land. They grow a wide variety of crops. Most of the cereal grains, oilseeds and legumes are marketed to Europe and the United States.

The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), which markets all wheat and barley grown on the prairies, did a survey of their international customers last year and found that over 80 per cent rejected GE wheat and barley. In July 2001, the CWB, the National Farmers Union, the Council of Canadians, 220 Canadian environmental and consumer organizations, 50 Canadian professionals (individuals) and 60 international organizations wrote a joint letter to the prime minister opposing the introduction of GE wheat. Nevertheless, federal energy minister Ralph Goodale and the Saskatchewan NDP government are pouring money into biotechnology in Saskatoon. They want to make Saskatoon the biotechnology capital of the world. Goodale is also federal minister in charge of the CWB and will not accept the advice to oppose the registration of GE wheat. It is reported that Monsanto had 40 to 50 secret GE-wheat test plots on the prairies in the 2001 growing season.

Saskatchewan Organic Directorate legal council Terry Zakreski told the press that in addition to the class action suit against transnational companies selling and promoting GE seed, the directorate will also be doing research to find out if federal regulatory agencies should be added to the list of those being sued.

The SOD has two friends in the federal cabinet now. Health Minister Allan Rock recently announced that he supports the compulsory labelling of all GE foods. Further, the Honourable Charles Caccia, chairman of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, recommended in his 2000 report on pesticides that all Canadian farmers should be subsidized to make the transition to organic agriculture. He also supports much more organic agricultural research. Sadly, the Caccia private member's bill to label all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was struck down in October 2001.

Unfortunately, when the Mulroney government passed the Plant Breeders' Rights Act in 1991, it gave transnationals like Monsanto the rights to develop and patent seed and to charge farmers a royalty for using it. As a result, farmers have lost their historic right to save their own seed and Canadians have lost political control of their agriculture. The main result of GE seed and the Plant Breeders' Rights Act is the rapid transfer of control of the family farm to the transnational drug and chemical corporations.

This is what the lawsuit is all about. Organic farmers have no alternative but to take class action to protect the family farm system of agriculture production and prevent corporate takeover of agriculture. Please support the class action suit initiated by the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate by sending your donation to the Organic Agriculture Trust Fund, Box 1, Lisieux, SK, S0H 2R0.

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