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BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Debate should aim higher
It’s not unusual for residents to turn to municipal or regional district politicians when they believe more senior levels of government are indifferent.
After all, civic leaders are closer to home, more approachable and may have more of a sense of what is going on in their communities.
But the reality is that expectations may exceed the ability of local officials to respond.
Case in point is the pressure of some citizens on the Regional District of North Okanagan to take a formal stand against genetically modified crops, such as corn.
As part of that pressure, the RDNO board instructed its agricultural advisory committee to review the controversial issue and determine what action, if any, could be taken.
It was decided recently, though, that any direction must come from the regional board itself.
“We are only an advisory body and we weren’t tasked to come up with a recommendation. We were asked to just consider the matter,” said Mike Macnabb, committee chairperson and BX-Silver Star director.
Pitching the debate back to the regional board wasn’t unanimous among committee members, but Macnabb insists it’s a reasonable move.
“Some people want a complete ban on GMO crops but we don’t have the authority to do that,” he said.
Even if RDNO did try and ban or restrict genetically modified organisms, the rule wouldn’t stand as policies regarding what foods can enter the market are made by the federal government. It is also Ottawa that dictates all research and approvals into food safety.
The provincial government also plays a critical role when it comes to agriculture within B.C.
The bottom line is that municipalities and regional districts cannot ban GMOs within their boundaries.
All that can be done is to express reservations about GMOs and their potential impact on food supply and farm economies.
And such motherhood statements have already occurred in Cherryville and Lumby where the official community plan is being amended to specifically reference GMOs.
“We are not saying GMOs are good or bad. We are just trying to reflect the community’s vision,” said Eugene Foisy, Cherryville director, in a June interview.
Foisy went on to say that the regional district does not have the authority to ban farmers from using genetically engineered crops.
Now that the agricultural advisory committee is sitting on the sidelines, anti-GMO advocates will turn their attention towards the main RDNO board and demand that their interests be represented. And these individuals deserve some praise, as the long-term impacts of genetically modified organisms on humans and the environment are unknown.
But those opposed to GMOs are barking up the wrong tree.
There is nothing formal the regional district can do to stop genetic modification in the North Okanagan no more than it can prevent the wind or birds from blowing seeds around. All our local leaders can do is join the chorus of opponents, but the real force is with bureaucrats and politicians in Ottawa and Victoria.
The anti-GMO crowd must also remember that RDNO also attempts to represent the broad interest of the entire community, and there are some residents, including farmers, who see a benefit to genetically engineered agriculture.
If the debate over genetic modification is to become meaningful, it needs to shift from the regional district office in Coldstream to those who are in a position to actively get involved. That means taking the conversation to our MLA and MP.