More than 250 people crammed into city hall Monday night to witness council formally opposing the use of genetically engineered crops.
It was standing room only as the crowd — many sporting home-made signs reading “No, no, GMO,” and “Stay out of Canada” — lined up to vent their opposition and state health fears about the use of GE crops.
The audience of all ages and backgrounds were organic farmers from across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island; local seniors and students, some of whom were moved to tears; food safety advocates and even a chef, all warning of GE crop manufacturers’ greed for profit ahead of safety.
Their number was no doubt swelled by the presence of Croplife Canada — an association representing manufacturers, developers and distributors of GE crops, such as Monsanto — whose Western Canada vice-president Janice Tranberg turned up in a bid to dissuade city council.
After more than three hours of often emotional speeches, however, city council stood firm, plowing ahead unanimously with its resolution to oppose the use the GE crops, trees or plants in Richmond.
Although widely accepted the city has no power to enforce a ban — the use of such crops is federally regulated — lifelong dairy farmer Coun. Harold Steves insisted the city does, in fact, have some power.
“We do have the authority to do exactly what we did to the puppy mills (city-wide ban on sale of dogs in stores),” said a clearly excited Steves, who proclaimed he’d be 75 years old at midnight.
“We can ban the sale of GM (genetically modified) seeds in Richmond. If we need it, we can do it.
“That’s my birthday message to Monsanto.”
In reference to B.C. ranchers’ fight to keep GM alfalfa out of the province, Steves added that companies such as Monsanto are trying to “solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“We’re defending the whole of the province here with (this resolution). There’s a lot at stake here and I thank you for supporting this.”
Steves’ animated stance was echoed by most on council, including Evelina Halsey-Brandt, who, in reference to the city’s call to have GE foods labeled, said she has the right to know what she’s feeding her children and grandchildren.
“When I heard about Roundup ready crops, crops that are genetically engineered with Roundup, I realized that if I eat that crop, I will have Roundup in my body,” she said.
“It may take generations (for health risks) to come forward. And then there’s asthma; more and more people becoming intolerant to things, where are all these allergies coming from?
“The one thing we all do is eat, but right now, we don’t know what we’re putting into our bodies.”
Coun. Bill McNulty told city hall how he got an early-morning Facebook message, questioning whether city council has the courage to stand up to Croplife Canada.
“We’re sending a message here and erring on the side of caution, this is about safety,” he said.
As well as the formal opposition to the GE crop use, the city will be writing to all levels of senior government requesting the use of stronger labeling of foods made from GE crops.
Croplife Canada’s Tranberg said in her presentation to council, however, that such labeling would cost up to $280 million per year to administer — a cost that would eventually be passed onto consumers.
Tranberg told the audience she “appreciated” their passion, adding that she has an equal amount of passion for what she does.
“I truly believe GM crops are safe; I’m a scientist at heart and a mother,” she said.
“But decisions should be based on science, not on emotion. A lot of what I’ve heard tonight is not true.”
Tranberg said that GM crops are regulated by Health Canada, pointing out it takes three years for the regulatory process to conclude. The World Health Organization has also deemed the products to be safe, she added.
“There’s no public health reason for a ban.
“We’ve been using these products for more than two decades and there’s not been once case of documented harm.
“Good policy is based on science, not emotion. This bill will deny farmers the right to choose.”
Tranberg implored city council to speak to the food regulators and farmers first before making its decision.
It was a move she reiterated Tuesday morning, when speaking to the News about the outcome.
“I wanted to really bring forward the science. I’m disappointed (council) didn’t take the opportunity to review the scientific literature out there,” said Tranberg, noting that the allotted five minutes for every delegation wasn’t really enough time to get her full point across.
And of any concern that other cities will now jump aboard the bandwagon now set in motion by Richmond, Tranberg challenged them to weigh up the facts before jumping on.
“I would encourage all cities to do their research.”