Crowd grows to 200 at GMO meeting

North Okanagan residents say there were more questions than answers at the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) office this week.

“It was a giant fail for CropLife,” says Carolyn Fletcher, one of 200 concerned citizens who attended a biotechnology presentation at the Regional Agricultural Advisory Committee (RAAC) meeting on Wednesday evening. 

“The overall feeling in the room and the looks on people’s faces indicated there were still a lot of questions,” Fletcher said.   

The RAAC has been considering the issue of genetically modified crops (GMOs) since 2012, following pressure from local groups in Cherryville and Lumby. Wednesday night’s invited presentation by CropLife Vice President, Janice Tranberg, was an attempt by the committee, they say, to hear all sides of the debate.   

Tranberg’s presentation focused on statistics and projections, such as population growth and available agricultural lands, that she says support the need for biotechnology to meet the world food demand.

“What I really am trying to get out of this is a discussion, and a discussion that really involves two sides and not one side. That’s my goal,” said Tranberg.

When it came to the hard-hitting questions, however, most in attendance felt that Tranberg fell flat.

“A lot of her comments were weak, particularly with regard to labelling,” says Judy Katalinic, who studies permaculture and alternative food production methods.

“Several Western European countries are saying no to GMOs, and if the products are allowed, they are clearly labelled,” she said.

Tranberg described labelling as a “very difficult question” due to lack of agreement in the scientific community about what is and is not a GMO product.

“Labelling on the surface sounds like a really easy solution, it sounds like let’s just put a label on it and this contains a GMO and that doesn’t. There’s a little bit more to it because it’s a bigger issue than that,” she said.

Those in attendance were also disenchanted with Tranberg’s continual reference to science and her seeming inability to defend the science when pushed on important questions.

“She didn’t really address the questions, she kept telling us to have faith. I’m not going to just blindly believe everything I’m told,” said Katalinic.   

Tranberg says that food is more scrutinized than ever before and that, today, we have the safest food in history. The processes in place with regulatory bodies such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, she says, would protect the public from GMOs if GMOs were unsafe.

She says countries around the world have all reviewed the products and have endorsed their safety. According to Tranberg, over 500 projects with academic institutions and organizations globally have done studies and have endorsed the safety of GMOs.

“Do you really think this many people around the world in this many organizations are purposely trying to harm us?,” said Tranberg.

The response from the room was a resounding and emphatic, “Yes.”

Wendy Aasen, committee member at large, concluded the question and answer period by asking when consumers would be brought into the discussion.

“I think we have a room full of consumers here that probably don’t agree with a lot of the arguments that were made, and probably realize that there’s counterarguments to everything that was said tonight,” said Aasen

“The bottom line for all of us is nobody ever asked the consumer whether or not they wanted to consume these technologies.”

Tranberg says that people have a right to their opinions and that there is choice in the market, by purchasing organic, for those who do not wish to consume GMO.

“Public policy needs to be based on science and not on opinion….and I think it is the responsibility of a public politician to base their [decisions] on solid science,” said Tranberg.

CropLife Canada is a trade association representing the manufacturers, developers and distributors of plant science technologies, including pest control products and plant biotechnology, for use in agriculture, urban and public health settings.

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