Across British Columbia, more and more communities are pushing to become free of genetically modified plants and trees within their local boundaries and in Invermere, one man has petitioned council to join the growing movement.
“I think there should be a full-on moratorium on any use of genetically engineered crops,” Invermere resident Ray Vowels told The Valley Echo. “I’m not opposed to genetically modified crops. I’m just opposed to the current safety measures that we’re taking and the science behind it.”
Becoming a community free of all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a near impossible task — some scientists estimate nearly 80 per cent of processed foods contain some sort of GMO. What Vowels is proposing, and what other communities such as Richmond and Nelson have done, is become a community that doesn’t allow GMOs to be grown within district boundaries. The reasons are varied, but for Vowels the motivation comes mainly from the potential environmental impacts caused by GMO production, in addition to biochemical giant Monsanto’s practices with respect to GMO seed production and patenting.
“That’s one of my major concerns, is the environmental influence,” Vowels said. “Having been in industrial agricultural use for the last couple decades, it’s now showing signs of producing super pests, super weeds, and now the results of human side effects as well.”
Vowels acknowledges that while Invermere has hardly any agricultural land, there are at least two companies that deal in producing GMO seeds in the Columbia Valley. One such company, a private enterprise which asked to remain unnamed, said they have been operating in the Columbia Valley for over a decade and deal in both conventional and GMO seed production. One GMO seed they produce in the valley is canola, since the lack of any other commercially grown canola in the region makes it ideal for testing new strains, a company spokesperson told The Valley Echo.
“To me, we’re jumping the gun on slamming the stuff into the ground as fast as we can, and we have it here in the Columbia Valley and nobody really knows about it,” Vowels said. “I feel like there’s not enough scientific data to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The independent studies which are coming up are coming up at a very high risk to peoples careers and funding, but because it is of such importance in regards to public safety, people are feeling that it is integral that everyone know.”
When asked to weigh in on the possibility of Invermere becoming a GMO free community, Oliver Egan, the manager of Windermere-based Winderberry Nursery, said he would definitely support the idea. He said that while the production of GMOs in the valley doesn’t necessarily affect the nursery directly, one can’t be too sure about what kinds of seeds these types of companies are producing. One seed he noted in particular is known as the “terminator seed” which prevents any plants grown from it from producing viable seeds of their own. While it’s unlikely that the terminator seeds are being grown in the valley, Egan noted that should pollen from a plant with the terminator gene somehow spread to other plants, the ramifications could be extremely far-reaching.
“I think there are some major impacts that people aren’t even aware of yet,” Egan said. “If you can grow a tomato that has a fish gene in it that makes the tomato tougher for transport, well that’s great for the people who are transporting tomatoes, but who knows what that’s doing to the person that’s eating it.”
On July 10, Vowels approached Invermere council with the idea of becoming a GMO-free community. The reasoning behind this request, he said, is that while Invermere likely doesn’t have any GMO crops within its boundaries, it would set a precedent for surrounding communities to potentially follow. At the meeting, council requested that Vowels give a presentation at a future date about other communities that had implemented the program, and Vowels said he is thankful council is asking for more information.
“I have two kids, and I just feel something needs to be done,” Vowels said. “To me, it’s what I can do, it’s an action that needs to be taken and no one else seems to be aware of what’s going on. I just feel like I need to start some momentum and an initiative that could be a positive for everybody.”
Vowels will be available for any questions at a booth at the Invermere farmers’ market on Saturday (July 25). The aim of the booth is to provide further information and education about the issues with GMOs in the Columbia Valley.