The meeting welcomed two special guests – incumbent MP for the riding of BC Southern Interior Alex Atamanenko and Organic Program Manager for Nature’s Path Foods Inc., Dag Falck were both invited to share their knowledge of the organic food business and some of the problems faced by industry.
Area “B” Director George Hanson welcomed Atamanenko to the audience of more than 30, expressing appreciation for Atamanenko’s work on behalf of the organic industry in the Similkameen.
“He’s a man who believes in our cause,” Hanson said, “and his actions indicate that.” Atamanenko discussed his fight to introduce Bill 474, a private members bill designed to support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.”
“There is a debate raging in which some, like multi national chemical manufacturer Monsanto claim that in order to feed the world, we must develop genetically engineered seeds – and others who say that is not the case,” Atamanenko told the audience.
He saw the opportunity to introduce the bill – a rare one for many MP’s – as an opportunity to attract some mainstream attention on the issue.
“Companies admitted to me that they did not want to see the bill discussed,” Atamanenko said, describing how the multi national corporations leveraged and lobbied for attention in Ottawa.
“I saw how powerful multinationals are,” he said, describing how the bill passed second reading before being referred to committee, where the ruling Conservative government effectively shut the bill down under the expectation that an election call would kill the bill, which it did.
Atamanenko had hopes that the bill was starting to call attention to the issues surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO’s, noting that comments from Liberal Members of Parliament suggested that, even though they had presented opposition to the bill, had come to the conclusion that perhaps more should be done to prevent contamination through the release of GM seed. Atamanenko noted a recent class action pre-emptive suit against Monsanto over cross contamination of genetically modified seed into a farmers crop.
Dag Falck, Organic Program Manager for Nature’s Path Foods, Inc. spoke to the audience about the organic food industry and its recent struggle in the marketplace to compete with so called “natural” products.
“The organic industry has come a long way,” Falck told the gathering, noting that use of the word natural in the marketplace was designed to create consumer deception.
“‘Natural’ products are not regulated and do not have the same benefits as organic, but consumers are led to believe otherwise,” Falck suggested. He said that the best way to increase sales or organic products is simply to inform people that “natural” is not organic.
Falck also discussed the advent of nanotechnology in food production pointing out several areas where the science has been used in the industry, as well as the technology’s potential for good and bad.
Nanotechnology involves research and development of elements at the atomic level. The small size of particles at this scale changes the physical properties of a substance, which can be controlled or manipulated to produce new and enhances products. The science is seeing increasing use in food packaging, personal care and agricultural products, and heavy research is being done by such multi national corporations such as Kraft, Unilever, Nestle, Cargill, Heinz, and Pepsi.
Falck gave the audience some examples of nano technology “improved” products, including antibacterial toothpaste, supplements and chocolate being enhanced this way.
It is predicted that nano food packaging alone could become a 30 billion dollar industry, with Kodak currently leading the way in this field.
Concerns over nano technology in the food industry involve such things as safety issues surrounding the small particle size, and their ability to cross biological barriers. To date, there is no regulation of the technology, and even though manufacturers assure the public the improvements are safe, that data is confidential.
Falck also spoke about the threat posed by GMO’s to the organic food industry, noting the difficulty the industry had in preventing contamination. Adherence to a “best practises” standard would be preferable to edicts establishing minimum standards would be difficult to implement because some regions have higher baseline levels of environmental degradation than others, as well as the fact that baseline thresholds would be constantly changing over time.