Saanich council took a united stance Monday night in opposing the use of genetically modified seed crops in the municipality.
Councillors argued that the motion, which also included writing a letter to various senior levels of government asking for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods, was the best way to protect local organic farms.
“I do believe (genetically modified organisms are) a real impact to our organic farmers, and we need to try and protect that new sort of business entity as best we can,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff.
Coun. Dean Murdock, who chairs the Healthy Saanich advisory committee, which brought the motion forward, said there isn’t enough known about any possible health risks associated with consuming genetically modified foods, so he would rather err on the side of caution.
Labelling GMO products, he said, would at least give consumers the knowledge to make a choice.
“You’re going to be consumer, one way or another, of genetical modified foods, and that may or may not be your choice,” added Coun. Vic Derman. “We label whether food is kosher sensitive or not. That’s a choice, it’s probably not a health issue, it’s simply a choice.”
Saanich conducted public consultation earlier in October, and it was apparent from the turnout then that Saanichites overwhelmingly support the ban, except for one lone proponent of GMO crops who says Saanich made an uninformed decision based on unfounded fears.
“The councillors are not trained in the science, and they do not have the ability to differentiate between science and the pseudo-science,” said Robert Wager, who teaches at Vancouver Island University and has a background in biochemistry and molecular biology.
Wager argues farmers can benefit from using genetically modified seeds, which can be beneficial to the economy and can result in drastic reductions in the amount of insecticides and pesticides used to protect crops.
He says genetically modified crops that are drought and frost tolerant, and resistant to viruses and fungal infections. “There is so much research out there that rebuts any of the pseudo-scientific information (that informed council’s decision),” Wager said.
Coun. Paul Gerrard stressed Saanich should take the precautionary principle, and conduct more research to ensure council makes the most informed decision possible, which echoed the sentiment of the Peninsula Agricultural Commission.
While the Healthy Saanich committee sought advice from the agricultural commission, the report that came before council was worded much stronger against the use of GMO products, Gerrard noted.
Council supported the motion 9-0 to oppose genetically modified seeds crops and write letters encouraging mandatory GMO labelling.