Thank you very much for inviting us.
First, I apologize very much if I lose my voice. My directors kindly shared their cold with me when they were in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and they refused to take it back.
On behalf of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, I'd like to thank the committee for the invitation to meet with you to talk about low-level presence in seed. This is one of the highest-priority issues for our members at this time.
Just as a little background on the Canadian Seed Trade Association, we represent 130 member countries that are involved in all aspects of seed, from research and development and plant breeding, to production, processing, marketing, and trade. Our members work in 50 different crop kinds. We supply the domestic market, and we export on average to about 70 different countries around the world.
Our membership is very diverse. It includes small, single-producer retailers and large multinational companies. We represent marketers of vegetable and herb packet seeds, and we also have the large grain handling companies in the west. We also represent organic seed producers and suppliers and the world's biotechnology developers. As you can see, we have a very diverse membership. But our diverse membership comes together in support of CSTA's mission, which is to foster seed innovation and trade.
Agriculture Canada estimates that nine out of every ten bites of food taken around the world start with the planting of a seed. Seed is the foundation of the world's food supply, and it's an important contributor to its supply of fibre, fuel, and industrial products. Seed is also the driver of the innovation that the world's farmers are going to need to feed, fuel, and clothe a world population that's forecast to reach over nine billion within the next 40 years.
Almost every week there is another announcement of a significant achievement in plant breeding and research and development by the world's private and public plant breeders and researchers. Advances are being made in drought and heat tolerance, insect and disease resistance, efficiency of water and resource use, and in the quality and health benefits of plant products. These advances are being made through traditional plant breeding, with the use of recombinant DNA technology and through new and emerging breeding techniques. All of them are focused on greater productivity, a smaller environmental footprint, and improved quality.
In 2012, 17.3 million farmers in 38 countries planted 420 million acres of genetically enhanced crops. Canada was the first country to commercially produce GE crops, and we're now the fourth-largest producer of these crops, with almost 29 million acres planted to GE canola, corn, soybeans, and sugar beets.
Given that scale of production, the fact that production is for the most part done in large, open biological systems, and given the scale and nature of transportation and trade, it's well understood that low levels of GE material in non-GE shipments—a low-level presence—is likely.
While many countries have embraced the science and approved GE events, many have not yet and others are unlikely to ever fully approve the technology. Zero tolerance in these countries does and has resulted in the rejection of shipments, and the impact on trade is substantial.
Canada has taken a leadership role to develop a science-based, predictable, and trade-facilitating domestic low-level presence policy that we hope will serve as a model for countries around the world; however, that policy does not apply to seed.
Canada is a significant producer and exporter of seed. In 2012 seed was grown on 1.2 million acres across Canada, and as I said already, much of that seed is exported, some to countries and regions that maintain a zero tolerance for GE material.
Unlike with grain, seed production, handling, processing, and trading systems are subject to very strict regulations to ensure purity, quality, and trueness to type, but seed is produced in the same regions and often in the same fields as grains and oilseeds, including those that contain GE events. For example, 75% of Canada's certified seed acres are in the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. As well, 98.9% of the canola that's grown, is grown in those provinces, and 98% of the canola that's grown is genetically engineered.
So despite the very stringent control practices in the seed industry, there is a possibility that there could be a very low-level presence of GE material in seed lots, and that does impact trade. It's impacting trade most significantly for our forage seed exporters, whose second-largest export market is the European Union. Exports of forage seed to the EU countries were valued at about $31 million in 2012.
Since most EU countries—not all, but most—have a zero tolerance for GE in seed for planting, our members are now facing existing contracts that are being modified, and new contracts are requiring legal declarations that the seed is 100% GE free. Some of our members have lost sales as a result of that because they cannot make that guarantee, and others have had shipments rejected. One shipment of timothy seed was actually rejected for the presence of .00009% GE, which is very, very, very small dust.
Given the large commercial production of GE crops around the world, the potential for trade disruptions and loss of markets is growing. The best solution for all of this would be for all trading countries to implement science-based timely approval systems for GE products. The next best solution would be for trading countries to recognize and accept the science-based approvals of other countries. While we're working toward that with our industry and government partners, in the more immediate term, and if those two objectives cannot be reached, we need an international low-level presence policy.
In the seed industry, we define low-level presence as the unintended presence at very low levels of genetically engineered seed that has been approved in at least one other country but not in the country of import.
As I said, Canada has taken a strong leadership role to develop a low-level presence policy domestically that can be used as a model around the world for grain, but it does not include seed. It is a very high priority for our members, given all of the impacts that we've already been facing and continue to face on trade.
We're working with our government to start the process to design a Canadian LLP policy for seed, and we hope it can, like our grain policy, serve as a model for other countries. We're also working closely with the international seed industry and with the industry and regulators in the Americas on the issue.
Our goal in the short term is to have seed trading in the Americas where over 90% of the GM production is. We'd like to have seed trading in the Americas under a common LLP policy. We support an LLP policy for seed that acknowledges that it's not practical or achievable to require a zero presence; that it's science-based, practical, and transparent; that it's proactive and predictable; that takes into account the safety and risk assessments of other countries; and that it takes into account the rigorous requirements to maintain seed purity and trueness to type, and the international standards that govern that and that govern seed trade.
Thank you very much. I'd be pleased to answer any questions.