EVERY TWO YEARS, leading experts from around the world working in the field of agriculture meet to actively debate the policy, legal, economic and technical solutions needed to facilitate the coexistence of biotech, conventional, organic and specialty crops.
This year, Coexistence 2.0 was held in Vancouver, BC at the end of October and it was my privilege to represent Ontario on the agenda speaking on the topic of “the Canadian experience — over a decade of coexistence.”
Ontario has very successfully implemented a coexistence strategy, mainly for soybeans, that has resulted in the opportunity to pursue premium markets in Asia and Europe where segregation is paramount. When I first moved to Ontario, what struck me was how ideal this province is for identity preserved marketing. The great lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway surrounding Ontario act as a natural buffer around almost the entire production region while access to multiple elevators and other storage facilities ensures adequate capacity for segregation.
In my presentation, I highlighted the strengths of our identity preserved (IP) system including the nationally recognized Canadian Identity Preserved Recognition System (CIPRS) developed in a partnership between trade associations and government, a strong tie to the end user and a high investment in genetic advancement. CIPRS provides independent auditing and verification of IP practices through the Canadian Grain Commission to ensure that a buyer’s contract specifications have been followed. Once end users trust in our ability to segregate GM and non-GM varieties, a strong link with the customer is a natural next step and new variety development can be tailored to their needs to ensure a strong, long term relationship. Biotechnology also provides a solid revenue stream to the seed companies at the beginning of the value chain allowing for ongoing investment in the next generation of innovation and, additionally, reinvestment in non-GM breeding to create a full pipeline of varieties that deliver products that satisfy all market needs.
My presentation also discussed future considerations in the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops. Food grade GM soybeans are being produced in small quantities today and are not visually distinct from the non-GM varieties. As a result, testing and segregation measures will be enhanced going forward to ensure the quality of our Ontario crops is not compromised. GM wheat will one day be a reality in Ontario and since wheat is already segregated by variety, the infrastructure in the wheat industry will have to adapt to accommodate an even smaller lot size or greater specialization at the elevator level.
I believe that our province is ideally suited as a test market for new technologies as they are developed due to our existing infrastructure. Our farmers grow crops on a relatively small scale compared with other farms in the developed world — making Ontario farms ideally suited for the specialty crop production to fulfill a specific supply chain. Our grain handling system can segregate smaller lots and on-farm storage can be increased by our farmers to enable more scalable options. Overall, coexistence has strengthened the Ontario grain industry and will continue to drive value through better genetics and new opportunities for further specialization in the future.