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Farmer Knowledge and Risk Analysis: Postrelease Evaluation of Herbicide-Tolerant Canola in Western Canada

Authors

  • Ian J. Mauro,

    Corresponding author
    • *Address correspondence to Ian J. Mauro, 303 Wallace Bldg., Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada, ian_mauro@umanitoba.ca.

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      Environmental Conservation Lab, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba.

  • Stéphane M. McLachlan

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      Environmental Conservation Lab, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba.


Abstract

The global controversy regarding the use of genetically modified (GM) crops has proved to be a challenge for “science-based” risk assessments. Although risk analysis incorporates societal perspectives in decision making over these crops, it is largely predicated on contrasts between “expert” and “lay” perspectives. The overall objective of this study is to explore the role for farmers' knowledge, and their decade-long experience with herbicide-tolerant (HT) canola, in the risk analysis of GM crops. From 2002 to 2003, data were collected using interviews (n= 15) and mail surveys (n= 370) with farmers from Manitoba and across Canada. The main benefits associated with HT canola were management oriented and included easier weed control, herbicide rotation, and better weed control, whereas the main risks were more diverse and included market harm, technology use agreements (TUAs), and increased seed costs. Benefits and risks were inversely related, and the salient factor influencing risk was farmer experiences with HT canola volunteers, followed by small farm size and duration using HT canola. These HT volunteers were reported by 38% of farmers, from both internal (e.g., seedbank, farm machinery, etc.) and external (e.g., wind, seed contamination, etc.) sources, and were found to persist over time. Farmer knowledge is a reliable and rich source of information regarding the efficacy of HT crops, demonstrating that individual experiences are important to risk perception. The socioeconomic nature of most risks combined with the continuing “farm income crisis” in North America demonstrates the need for a more holistic and inclusive approach to risk assessment associated with HT crops and, indeed, with all new agricultural technology.

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