By John Clement
April 8, 2011
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario has had a number of long, focused conversations about the role of Genetically Modified Organisms in agriculture. It’s a lightning rod of an issue, with most people either being for or against the use of the technology. Few individuals or groups seem to be comfortable being somewhere in the middle.
And yet that middle ground is precisely where many CFFO members find themselves feeling most comfortable. Our members started their conversation in 1995 with a seminar series, continued it in 1999 with a position statement and revisited it again just last month at a meeting of delegates. The main discussion points that showed up were how to blend farmer’s natural entrepreneurial tendencies with a stewardship ethic that takes creation care seriously.
In 1995, the CFFO hosted 18 seminars across the province with a focus on exploring the potential benefits and drawbacks of biotechnology. The impact on the family farm’s viability and the ability to control or regulate biotechnology’s development and impact, along with spiritual and ethical questions about the limits of human activity and crossing species distinctions, were the most important concerns. Yet many also recognized the potential benefits of biotechnology for themselves and society generally, particularly in less controversial areas. The bottom line message from the participants in that seminar series was “proceed if you must, but with caution.”
In 1999, CFFO members progressed the discussion by adopting a position statement that carried “proceed, but with much more caution” in the title. That position statement carried important components on stewardship, along with an analysis about the benefits and cautions regarding the use of biotechnology. It called for separation and identification of GMO foods throughout the food chain, as well as mandatory labeling and a call for farmers to exercise caution in the use of biotechnology. The statement said “we expect this new production and management tool will create a flood of new opportunities and challenges. They will also challenge our stewardship of God’s creation. New patterns for stewardship will need to emerge.”
Our members opened up the discussion again at a recent meeting of CFFO delegates from across the province. After reviewing our past statements, members again expressed their satisfaction with the stand the organization has taken in the recent past. But I’m guessing that the conversation is far from over and will continue to pop up on a regular basis in the coming years.
A statement from a report on the 1995 seminar series says it best: “In the end, strong principles, a limited sense of control, a society with an often contrary agenda, combined with a desire to succeed and participate, appears to lead to a cautious acceptance of biotechnology’s basic direction. In practice, farmers are prepared to examine its products on a case-by-case basis. Yet, this mixture of ambivalence and conviction may prove to be a volatile one. Virtually any response to particular applications of biotechnology is possible --- depending on the issues that surround its production and use.”
John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham , Belleville , Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston . It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.