A farm group is arguing Canada will lose access to European and Japanese export markets if it allows genetically modified alfalfa to be grown in Canada.

Members of the National Farmers Union protested outside a meeting of the Canadian Seed Trade Association in Quebec Monday.

The CSTA, a group that includes Monsanto Canada, Pioneer and Forage Genetics International, wants to introduce GM alfalfa into the Canadian market.

The danger for farmers is contamination of non-GM crop by GM seeds, says Terry Boehm, president of the National Farmers Union, in an interview with CBC News.

He argues Canadian farmers could lose access to a $48-million export market because the EU and Japan will not accept a GM crop. Meanwhile, the non-GM crop sells at a premium, he said.

 "It is a marketing disadvantage to Canada if we lose our foothold, offering non-­GM product. It’s not worth risking contamination. In fact, U.S. companies are coming here to grow alfalfa because the U.S. crop is almost exclusively GM now," Boehm said.

Corn and canola producers have already had the experience of GM seeds taking over non-GM fields – blown by the wind or transported by birds or bees.

The CSTA argues it can prevent cross-contamination and put forward a "co-existence plan" aimed at releasing GM alfalfa seed during its two-­day annual general meeting in Quebec City.

It says individual farmers should have the choice of GM or non-GM products.

Genetically modified alfalfa was approved for health and environmental release in Canada in 2005, but any variety must be registered before it can be commercially released. To date, no genetically modified alfalfa varieties are registered with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Boehm argues there are disadvantages to farmers in using GM seeds, among them:

  • Inability to save seeds.
  • Relying on one company for seed stock.
  • Loss of market opportunity because the alfalfa cannot be market as non­GM product,