February 27, 2017

Twenty years of genetically engineered crops grown in Canada

Gary Stanford

This year marks the twentieth year that we have been growing genetically-engineered or “GE” crops here in Canada. During this time, farmers, like me and my family, have experienced first-hand the benefit that these new technologies bring to my business.

Ninety per cent or more of Canadian canola, corn, soybeans and sugar beets are now genetically engineered to provide better control of yield-reducing weeds and pests. This has reduced inputs across the board from lower fuel consumption to more targeted pesticide use – with direct financial benefits for consumers.

According to Farm & Food Care Canada, food purchases now represent only about 10 cent of annual family spending, down from 50 per cent in 1900. And today, for every dollar that you spend on food, the farmer earns 15 cents. It is thanks in part to advancements in biotech that farmers like me are still able to earn a reliable income and keep producing safe, affordable food for the country and the world.

I am most familiar with GE canola which we grow on our farm. The seeds I use (and there are a lot to choose from!) are specially formulated to work with some of the safest and most effective herbicides. The companies whose products I utilize are constantly updating the input specifications, which I follow to the letter. What this means for me is a safe work environment for my family and staff, reduced costs, and higher crop yields.

Environmentally, it has allowed us to practice no-till farming (tilling being the turning of the soil traditionally used for weed control), which means less soil erosion and better water conservation. This also leads to lower fossil fuel usage because I am not making as many passes over the field.

University of Saskatchewan data shows that GE canola adoption has led to 1.3 million kg less pesticides being used in Canada each year both through fewer required applications and increased use of conservation tillage. Research at my nearby Lethbridge Research Centre has shown that this also means better retention of organic matter and carbon dioxide in the soil – leading to a direct reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

New GE crops designed to improve drought resistance represent a huge opportunity to increase food productivity here and around the world. I see this first-hand on my own farm where my non-irrigated crop acres receive only 277 mm of rain annually, one of the driest farming areas in Canada.

Just as important are the benefits that GE crops and related improvements in farming technology have meant for my family. The higher farm profitability means that my children choose to farm with me, ensuring transfer of the farm to the next generation. Encouragingly, 97 per cent of farms in Canada are still family run.

I am proud of the small contribution I am making to a much larger objective of feeding a world, which has now more than 7.4 billion people. Incredibly we are expected to reach 9-10 billion in 35 years (about the time when my children will be turning the farm over to their kids).

Over the last two decades, consumers have eaten over a trillion meals containing GE crops without a single case of harm. I am confident that the safety of the products I grow is backed up by massive amounts of research (2000 global studies and counting) as well as a science-based regulatory system that is respected around the world.

As a farmer representative in industry groups I have been fortunate to have opportunities to visit countries that import Canadian agricultural products. I have never had a buyer in a developing nation ask questions about the safety of GE canola but customers are appreciative of the ample supply and reasonable prices which GE products permit.

Farming is a cherished profession that is passed down from generation to generation, improving along the way. I am proud of the new technologies are now available for my children to use, and am looking forward to seeing the advances to come. I am confident that our farm will continue to provide healthy, nutritious food for Canadians and international customers for generations to come.

Visit www.farmfoodcare.org or www.tablefortwenty.org if you want to learn more about where your food comes from – or better yet, ask a farmer!

Gary Stanford produces a variety of both GE and non-GE grains on his family farm in Magrath, AB. He represents the Alberta Wheat Commission on the GGC Board. Follow Gary on Twitter at @senatrstanford


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