Organic Farming in Saskatchewan

The following is the text of a presentation made by Marc Loiselle, an OAPF committee member, on an August 2002 European tour.

Loiselle family on their organic farm I am Marc Loiselle, and my wife Anita is also here with me today. We are part of the approximately 1,000 certified organic farmers from Saskatchewan, Canada. I am also one of the directors of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate and a committee member of the Organic Agriculture Protection Fund that is facilitating the class action lawsuit against Monsanto Canada and Aventis Cropscience Canada. (Aventis of course has now been bought by Bayer and once a court order is done we will likely be referring always to Bayer Cropscience.)

Marc Loiselle standing in field of wheat

Marc Loiselle in his field of Red Fife heritage hard red spring Wheat in 2003, sown between hand planted field tree shelterbelts.

This image represents the miracle of growing food from seed. It represents hope in that we can continue to provide pure food in the face of threats by genetically engineered crops and control of the food production systems by transnationals. It represents farmers' rights to save and grow their own seed without having the threat of plant breeders rights and patent infringement threatening this time honoured tradition.

Red Fife was the first wheat grown on the Canadian Prairies in the late 1800s.Red Fife wheat has been named to the Slow Food Movement's Ark of Preservation and is the wheat being promoted by the Canadian Heritage Wheat Presidium.

Organic farming

My family and I live on the farm at Vonda in central Saskatchewan. We started farming organically in 1985, and currently manage 530 hectares (1,300 acres) with cereal, oilseed, pulse (legumes), forage crops and livestock. More specifically, we grow or have grown, Hard Red Spring wheat, malting barley, milling oats, fall rye, canola, yellow mustard, flax, dry peas, alfalfa and clover seeds and hay, and we raise goats, laying hens and roaster chickens.

Our farm motto is 'Holistic Stewardship for Abundant Life', and we strive to uphold these principles and values in our family life as well as the farmland we manage. The attraction to this method of farming came primarily from our desire to be better stewards of the land and resources, without the use of toxic substances and genetic engineering. We believed that is was morally and ethically unacceptable to continue to grow food in such a way that could threaten our health, the health of others, and the environment at large.

Organic farming has provided us with an enriched way of life in many ways, including economic benefit. As part of the growing number of organic farmers, we believe that our agricultural system must be economically viable, environmentally sound, socially just, and meets the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations. Therefore, as a whole, organic farmers reject the philosophy that we must poison our environment or use radical genetic engineering of plants and animals to produce enough food for us all to eat.

Genetic engineering is not about feeding the world, it's about feeding the companies that are the promoters!

Organic certification

Organic certification is a system of institutionalized trust, allowing consumers to identify and reward conscientious stewards of our natural heritage. Certification is a stringent process that includes adherence to set standards, annual inspections, detailed audit trailing of all aspects of production, processing and transactions.

Organic certification standards are developed to adhere to consumer demand. These standards prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The organic market depends on being able to supply food that is produced /without/ toxic pesticides and genetic engineering. If we cannot grow crops free of unintended genetic contamination, we are not able to service those markets, resulting in the loss of our ability to be financially sustainable and resulting in loss of choice for you the consumer.

In Saskatchewan we are directly affected by the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) herbicide tolerant canola and possibly wheat in the very near future if it is not stopped soon. As has been demonstrated, GE canola and other GE crops cannot be contained within specific fields because of the genetic drift of their novel traits (such as the Roundup Ready gene) that happens as a result of the spreading of pollen and seed. GE wheat would be no different. To date there is only preliminary research and data on just how extensively wheat pollen travels.

Let's not forget that we can be subject to extreme climatic activity in Saskatchewan. An example of genetic drift happened at harvest time in 2001 in southern Manitoba (the neighbouring province to Saskatchewan) when a tornado (or twister) lifted swathed (cut) transgenic canola high into the air then dropped the seeds like rain over a large surrounding area. The flooding in Europe this summer demonstrates another way that unintended spreading of transgenic material cannot be prevented by any laws, regulations and segregation schemes. There is also the fact that fraudulent acts occur (such as the southern Germany maize farmer illegally growing transgenic maize...) and can go undetected until it is too late to contain the gene transfers.

Organic farmers, along with other farmers, marketers, researchers and consumers are saying that management practices, detection technology, or segregation systems will not prevent GE wheat from contaminating fields, seed and feed supplies and food shipments.

Risks presented by GE contamination

We cannot put faith in a segregation system for GE wheat or other GE crops, when they can not be segregated in the field when they're growing! The buffer zones, or isolation strips, that we certified organic producers maintain adjacent to neighbouring fields, are intended to buffer and warn against pesticide drift, not drift of genetic material from other plants, especially GE plants! If farmers don't take a stand on limits to patenting and how biotechnology is used to alter seeds such as wheat, we risk:

  • the loss of market access,
  • loss of income,
  • loss of choice;

as well as

  • loss of control over what we produce,
  • how we produce it,
  • what value it has, and
  • who will buy it.

This would also be an unacceptable situation for consumers who are ultimately the market for the food that we produce. It is difficult to believe that any good will come of biotechnology for food development after the track record we've seen over the past years. In the quest and rush to provide genetically engineered food, efforts towards the common good and democratic process and freedom are being shunned.

Lack of regulatory change for GE crops

We have formally asked the Canadian federal government to do a full environmental assessment that considers the overall socio-economic impact of GE wheat. A letter to that effect was sent to our Canadian Agriculture Minister, Lyle Vanclief when we registered our claim against the companies. Despite concerted efforts by Canadians concerned about GE crops and foods, on-going lobbying efforts to get full public hearings on the issue of GE wheat, including efforts to have changes in the grain variety registration process, overhauling the regulatory process, and enacting a moratorium, to date there has been no action. We hope that does not remain so.

Saskatchewan organic farms take legal action

Organic farmers in Saskatchewan said that the time had come for this legal challenge, and on January 10 of this year, we let the world know that. We filed a legal statement of claim that the two companies, Monsanto and Aventis (Bayer), are responsible for GE contamination on multiple grounds, and we're confident that will be proven in the court of law.

In our statement of claim we explain and list the multiple grounds we are suing:

  • Pollutant

    That the genetic modifications inserted into the canola are pollutants within the meaning of the Saskatchewan Environmental Management Protection Act.
  • Failure/Negligence

    on the part of the companies to ensure that their GE canola would not infiltrate and contaminate farmland and that growers were not warned about cross-pollination and what could be done to limit the spread of their GE canola.
  • Liability

    That the companies were engaged in non-natural use of land and allowed something likely to do mischief and damage.
  • Nuisance

    That the companies created a nuisance that has interfered with certified organic farmers' use and enjoyment of their land, by introducing GE canola as an unconfined release in the Saskatchewan environment.
  • Trespass

    That the GE canola has trespassed onto certified organic land.
  • Test plots of GE wheat are illegal

    because Monsanto did not conduct and submit an environmental impact assessment, nor obtained ministerial approval according to the Saskatchewan Environmental Assessment Act.

Therefore the claim seeks compensation for damages because of the loss of canola as a crop within regular rotations and/or because of the loss of opportunity to participate in the certified organic canola market. And furthermore, that there be an injunction prohibiting Monsanto from conducting further confined field trials of GE wheat without conducting and submitting an environmental impact assessment for ministerial approval; and also an injunction prohibiting Monsanto from releasing its GE wheat on an unconfined and commercial basis into the Saskatchewan environment.

[It has been reported that Monsanto stands to gain about $7 billion from GE Roundup-Ready wheat. It is clear that this would be from sales of its herbicide; the RR wheat itself is only the vehicle by which the company would make a profit, just as it and Aventis (Bayer) have profited from herbicide sales because of their transgenic canola.]

We ultimately want the present growing of transgenic canola to stop and an environmental cleanup to occur so that we may possibly once again grow organic canola. We in Saskatchewan and Canada want the freedom to grow what we want and what the consumer demands, without GMOs. We want to be able to continue to farm organically, and we want our children and generations to come to have that same opportunity. We want to see the success story that is organic farming continue to flourish in Saskatchewan and elsewhere. We believe many other people also want this and will support our efforts.

The right to farm GMO free, the right to eat GMO free - that is what's at stake here.

Contact us

Arnold Taylor
Chair of OAPF Committee

Marc Loiselle
OAPF Communications and Research Director

Saskatchewan Organic Directorate
Organic Agriculture Protection Fund
Box 32066
RPO Victoria Square,
Regina SK S4N 7L2