24 July 2002

Canadas growers count the cost of GM segregation

By Stephen Leahy

MANDATORY labelling for genetically modified products will add a huge cost to the food industry, according to Canadian farming sources.

Segregation, identity preservation, testing and labelling could amount to nearly C$1bn a year.

A study by consulting group KMPG estimates that a national mandatory GM labelling program would increase retail food prices by 9-10%,adding approximately $700-950m to Canadas annual food costs.

"If that is what consumers want, then they had better be prepared to pay for it," says Weldon Newton, an arable grower from Neepawa, Manitoba.

Officials at Canadas Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents the major grain companies, have said food prices and farm production costs would rise significantly. They cite an Australian study that estimated costs at C$300m-1.5bn a year.

"Farmers would be expected to absorb some of those costs," says Patty Rosher, Canadian Wheat Board spokesperson for biotechnology issues.

Establishing an elaborate system to ensure segregation from farm fields to export customers would be costly and time-consuming. "Millers tell us that a may contain GMOs label is the same as putting on a skull and cross bones on the box." They will not buy GM crops if there is mandatory labelling, says Ms Rosher.

The CWB, the worlds largest grain trader, favours voluntary GM labeling, so growers could claim a premium price for setting up a system that assures buyers their crops are GMO-free. A few soya farmers in Ontario have operated a similar system for several years.

Mr Newton, who also heads a large arable producer association, is firmly against mandatory labelling. Its too hard to get GMO-free maize, soy and canola seed in Canada and processing firms would buy elsewhere, he says.

"We cant live with the costs of a mandatory labelling system," says Don Bromley, who has an arable and beef operation near Brandon, Manitoba. Consumers wont get good information either.

He offers the example of margarine made from GM canola, which doesnt contain GMOs because the modified protein stays in the canola meal, which is fed to pigs. "Which will get the may contain GMOs label?" he asks.

GM testing equipment is another problem. It takes at least two days and C$200 to find out the percentage of GMO in a truckload or bin. "Were going to need accurate quality testing equipment at every local elevator and the technology does not exist yet," Mr Bromley says.

The Canadian General Standards Board is developing voluntary GM labeling regulations and its work has shown that the costs will not be high.

But talk of voluntary labelling rankles Stewart Wells, head of the Canadian National Farmers Union. "The consumer is not protected and neither are farmers by a voluntary system." &#42

Canadian farmers are concerned that compulsory GM crop labelling and segregation might add huge costs to the industry.