Monday, October 17, 2011

Critics barred from summit

Critics of Genetically Modified Animals Barred from Summit on the Future of Animal Agriculture
Press Release
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
October 17, 2011

Ottawa - On Friday, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) was informed that its registration to attend the “Feeding a Hungry World: Hunger Has No Boundaries – A Summit for Animal Agriculture”, which starts tonight with a keynote address from the President of the University of Guelph, was denied.

CBAN was told, via email and fax correspondence from Crystal Mackay, Executive Director of the Ontario Farm Animal Council & AGCare that, “The [Summit] Task Force has reviewed your group’s website and does not feel you meet the requirements for being an industry stakeholder who supports the Summit’s objectives.”

The first objective of the Summit is, “To provide a unique opportunity for leaders in the agri-food sector to collectively discuss the future for animal agriculture in Canada, within a global context.” The conference aims to start a process of building a “social contract” with Canadians, noting that the animal agriculture industry “needs to meaningfully address such issues as sustainability, animal welfare and food safety.” (See http://www.farmcarefoundation.ca/feeding-a-hungry-world-summit )

“The industry is deluded if they think they can manufacture a social contract by themselves, and without considering the issue of genetically modified animals. The industry would do far better if they engage Canadians first to find out what food system people really want,” said Lucy Sharratt, CBAN’s Coordinator, who was denied admission to the Summit.

“Despite some public funding and the participation of public institutions, we have been excluded,” said Sharratt “We can only conclude that the industry wants to shield its members from the depth of public anger over the prospect of genetically modified animals.”

The University of Guelph in Ontario has asked for approval for its genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered or GE) pig trademarked “Enviropig”, engineered to produce less phosphorus in its feces.

“We think it is vital that hog producers know the economic risk of allowing this genetically modified pig to be approved. Consumer backlash to the GM pig will cost farmers,” said Sharratt. “The industry can’t keep its head in the sand over the genetically modified pig. The industry needs to stop the GM pig before it’s approved in order to avoid a crisis of consumer confidence in Canadian pork.”

“It’s disturbing that Summit organizers would exclude an organization like CBAN which represents some of those very concerns which the conference is clearly seeking to address,” said Tom Rudge, a farmer in the Yukon. CBAN is a network of 17 groups including farmer associations, grassroots and environmental groups, and international development organizations.

“The Summit does a disservice to farmers by trying to shield them from the intense public alarm over genetically modified animals, including the GM pig from the University of Guelph,” said Ann Slater of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario.

“I was surprised to be barred because the registration form gave no indication that the Summit was closed to public interest groups,” said Sharratt. The categories for registration are: Primary Producer; Retail/Food Service; Agri-business; Industry Association; Government; Financial Institution; Student/Educator/Researcher; Other.

The Summit is funded by a number of corporations including Maple Leaf foods and Cargill but also received public funding from the Government of Ontario and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College.

The Summit is organized by the Farm Care Foundation which says it is a new charity that “funds educational and charitable programs that enhance public trust and confidence in Canadian Food and Farming.” The Foundation’s website states that, “The success of the Farm Care Foundation will be defined by the reach of agriculture’s voice and work towards ensuring public confidence in food and farming.”

“If this new Foundation wants to enhance public confidence in food and farming they need to face the problem of genetic modification rather than ignore it,” said Sharratt.

CBAN has requested a clearer explanation from Summit organizers, for the decision.

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