Leaders of regional and municipal governments from across British Columbia have adopted a resolution asking the provincial government to declare B.C. a genetically-modified organism-free area with respect to all plant and animal species.
The resolution was brought before the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) 2013 annual convention Thursday in Vancouver.
The resolution asks for a ban on importing, exporting and growing plants and seeds containing genetically engineered (GE) DNA, and raising GE animals within B.C.
The motion generated extensive debate from the floor. Among those supporting the ban was Richmond city councillor Harold Steeves, who raises grass-fed cattle in the B.C. Interior and Lower Mainland.
"A growing number of B.C. ranchers have switched to grass-fed beef and are direct-marketing. We are making way more money than we ever did when we shipped our cattle to Alberta to be grain-fed, but we depend upon alfalfa," he said.
"We simply do not want to be in a position where we are marketing beef that has been fed alfalfa that is contaminated," he said, referring to Monsanto's glyphosate-tolerant variety.
"We are asking for B.C. to be the first major jurisdiction in Canada to follow suit with Europe and all the other countries that have banned GE crops," Steeves added.
More than 60 municipalities in B.C. passed similar GE-free resolutions prior to the UBCM convention. The discussion has stepped up the rhetoric on both sides of a debate that is as divisive within B.C.'s agricultural community as it is among the consumer public.
"Legally, municipal governments have no jurisdiction over regulation such as this, and the Right to Farm Act would supersede it," said Jen Woike, councillor and large-scale egg producer in the Municipality of North Cowichan on Vancouver Island.
The B.C. Farm Practices Protection Act, commonly known as the Right to Farm Act, protects the rights of farmers to conduct their business within the parameters of "normal farm practice." The definition under the act includes the use of innovative technology in a manner consistent with proper advanced farm-management practices.
The B.C. government is required to provide a written response to UBCM on each of the resolutions that pass.
The official response from the ministry of agriculture is expected in the coming weeks. The response is expected to outline any steps the provincial government will take, and allows the government time to consider and discuss the resolution.
-- Tamara Leigh is a Vancouver writer and communications consultant. The full version of this article will appear in the Sept. 30 edition of Alberta Farmer.