There is currently no legislation in Canadarequiring labelling for foods containing genetically engineered (GE) products. Unless you buy certified organic food, or know and trust your farmer, there is no way to tell whether your food has been genetically modified. However, given the commitment to Roundup Ready technology in North American food system, there is virtual certainty that all foods containing corn, soybean, canola, or sugar grown in North America contain GE foods.
Genetically modified seeds can contaminate organic and heirloom seed varieties, even to the extent that some organic growers can have their certification jeopardized. Genetically modified alfalfa has been approved in the USA, and is currently pending approval in Canada. If this happens, there is a chance that buying organic milk, cheese, and other dairy products may no longer be possible, since organic dairy farmers rely heavily on alfalfa.
Related to GE foods, is the issue of the presence of glyphosate (Roundup) in food. The predominant reason farmers use GE seeds is because the resulting crop is glyphosate tolerant. Almost all corn, soybean, canola, sugar beet, potato and wheat grown in North America today is routinely sprayed with Roundup. The inevitable result is traces of glyphosate in all conventionally grown foods. There is no routine testing of foods for traces of glyphosate, so the only way to avoid ingesting glyphosate is by avoiding GE foods, ie. choosing organic foods.
While the picture may seem devastating, the reality is that consumers maintain more control over our food system than we often realize. When we refuse to buy foods containing genetically modified organisms, we send a powerful message to food processors and seed distributors. To find out more about how to avoid genetically modified foods, download the Greenpeaceshoppers guide How to Avoid Genetically Engineered Food and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network's Quick Guide to Genetically Modified Foods.
We can also influence our political representatives to prevent alfalfa and other new forms of genetic engineering, and to ensure that genetically modified foods are properly labelled. Write a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or send an email to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz. Ask your federal and provincial governments to put a moratorium on all new genetically engineered crops, and demand mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods.
It is widely acknowledged that the data on the long term health effects of GE foods is not entirely conclusive. Hence organic standards, based on the Precautionary Principle, preclude genetic engineering. The European and Japanese response to the incomplete knowledge, is to place significant restrictions on the use of GE foods. Canadian and US regulators, on the other hand, have very few restrictions.
In May 2014 the OFCM sponsered a lecture about GMOs by Dr. Thierry Vrain. Dr. Vrain is a genetic engineer and soil biologist. Now retired, he was formerly employed by Agriculture Canada as Head of Biotechnoilogy at the Summerland Research Station. At that time he supported GMO development. He has since changed his mind. His argument is well contained in a briefing he gave to Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health in November.