Council agrees to pursue GMO policies after lengthy debate

Courtenay council voted 4-3 in favour

  • Oct. 21, 2015 6:00 p.m.

After a lengthy debate at Monday’s meeting, Courtenay council voted 4-3 in favour of staff investigating options to pursue GMO-free (genetically modified organism) preferential and social procurement policies.

Erik Eriksson feels council doesn’t have the right to tell people how to eat, but David Frisch said the resolution — which he proposed — is more of a stance about labelling food.

“I’m really torn on this one,” said Bob Wells, who questioned why the two resolutions were combined. But he sided with Frisch, as did Doug Hillian and Rebecca Lennox. Mayor Larry Jangula, Eriksson and Manno Theos opposed the idea.

Hillian is familiar with the spraying of crops, having worked in orchards while growing up in the Okanagan.

“We learned through bitter experience it killed our birds of fowl,” he said. “From that, we know we have to exercise the precautionary principle.”

Hillian feels a staff report would help council make an informed decision about the issue.

Jangula, who has discussed the matter with members of the Farmers’ Institute, said a GMO-free policy would put local farmers and most dairies out of business.

“They are terrified at the thought of this,” Jangula said. “We will have to import milk. How will that make things better?”

He also notes the issue is a federal matter.

“How can we enforce it?” Jangula said. “It won’t be just a study. I know it won’t be and you know it won’t be.”

Hillian would like to hear from farmers who feel threatened by the proposed resolution, which he doesn’t feel is radical in nature. He also feels the food industry is ahead of council on the subject of genetically modified organisms.

“It’s a basic premise we want to be aware of what we’re putting into our stomachs,” Hillian said.

Frisch said he’s not trying to ban GMO foods from the Valley but is asking for a preferential policy. But Jangula feels some “nasty emails” he has received indicate the pressure council will feel if such a policy is implemented. Lennox hasn’t received the same emails but would like to hear from the other side — though Jangula notes this is not what she said at the Oct. 5 meeting. At that session, council defeated a motion to maintain the City’s purchasing policy, based on a staff report about a genetically engineered (GE) procurement policy. Voting was the same, though Wells was absent.

Theos suggests altering the conversation by supporting local farmers.

“How can we encourage local investment?” Theos said. “Maybe that’s where our energies can be best utilized.”

Climate change resolution

Council approved another Frisch resolution to acknowledge the reality of human contributions to climate change. Council also resolved to continue to take a leadership role to encourage and facilitate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayor Larry Jangula and Erik Eriksson were opposed.

Jangula says the issues do not fall within council’s mandate. He notes solar heat panels at the pool are an example of what the City has accomplished in this regard.

“We can spend all our tax dollars on this,” he said. “It doesn’t help us move forward with city business.”