GMOs: Protect Your Food Supply

October 1, 2010

By johnmac

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I recently learned that in the U.S.A., this October is the first official ‘Non-GMO Month’ (GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism). As I learned more about the initiatives that are taking place in the U.S., I thought it would be timely to share some information with you on the topic of Genetically Engineered foods and what is happening in Canada.

I’m sure most of you have heard of Genetic Engineering. Perhaps some of you may remember Dolly – the first genetically engineered (cloned) sheep? Maybe some of you thought that was pretty amazing. Maybe some of you thought that was pretty scary. Maybe some of you thought that it was a little of both.

Analysing the pros and cons of Genetic Engineering is incredibly complicated as there are so many social, health, and environmental consequences associated with it.

If you think that Genetic Engineering is confined to procedures and industries that won’t affect your every day life unless you specifically go looking for them, think again.

Genetic Engineering is affecting everyone of us, every single day, simply through the foods that we eat – and not in a good way. In fact, in many developed nations, genetically engineered food products are heavily restricted or banned completely as they have yet to be proven safe for the health of humans and/or the environment.

Because of this, I feel it is important to share some information on this topic and what you can do to minimize/avoid genetically modified foods.

In this month’s tip, you will get some basic answers to the following questions:

1. What is Genetic Engineering?

2. Why is Genetic Engineering risky?

3. What Genetically Modified foods are we eating?

4. How can I avoid eating Genetically Modified foods?

5. What else can I do about this?

What is Genetic Engineering?

Unlike conventional breeding which relies on, and is constrained by, the existing reproductive systems of plants and animals (as Mother Nature intended), Genetic Engineering is a laboratory process where genes from the DNA of organisms such as bacteria, viruses, insects, animals and plants, are extracted and then artificially forced directly into the genes of other, often unrelated organisms (typically plants or animals). Genetic engineering is commonly also called Genetic Modification or GM and results in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), also known as ‘transgenic’ organisms.

Why is Genetic Engineering risky?

Genetic Engineering (GE) is a complex new technology that can create new health and environmental risks. Contamination in our environment from genetically modified (GM) plants is a serious reoccurring problem that threatens organic farming (organic farming prohibits GE). GM plants are living pollution that cannot be controlled or recalled.

The science behind the health risks of GE foods is corporate science that has never been released to the public or assessed by independent scientists. Our government does not conduct its own health safety tests but relies on data presented by corporations (such as Monsanto) instead. There is an ongoing debate about possible health risks from GM foods including the question of potential new allergenicity caused by the process of genetic engineering.

GM foods are not labeled so there is no consumer choice and no monitoring and tracking of possible health impacts. Although the effects on humans of consuming GM foods have not been widely studied, some studies have linked GM foods to the creation of new toxins and allergic reactions, as well as sick, sterile and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals.

What Genetically Modified (GM) foods are we eating?

Many consumers believe that GM foods are everywhere – but this is only true in processed foods. You will not find any GM vegetables at your local farmers’ markets for example.

You may have heard the estimation that up to 70% of processed foods could contain GM ingredients – this is because the three major GE crops of soy, canola and corn are widely used as ingredients…and be aware that that many other ingredients that don’t even sound anything like soy, canola or corn, are derived from them (e.g. hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, xanthum gum, etc). Currently, there is also some GE sugar on the market in Canada made from GM white sugar beets.

The Canadian government has approved over 50 varieties of 12 different GM foods but only eight of these are on the market in Canada. Only four GE crops – corn, canola, soy and sugar beet (white sugar beet for processing into sugar) – are grown in Canada. GM cotton (cottonseed oil), papaya and squash are grown in the U.S. and can be imported into Canada. Other crops like GM tomatoes and potatoes are not currently grown anywhere.

How can I avoid eating GM foods?

Our government does not currently require labeling, but you can still avoid GM foods by making the following choices:

1. You can eat organic food. Genetic Engineering is prohibited in organic farming. This also applies to organic dairy and meat since ‘true’ organically raised animals are not fed GM grains. Look for the Canada Organic Logo.

2. You can avoid eating processed foods with corn, canola and soy as ingredients.

3. You can buy food directly from a farmer who does not plant GM seeds or use GM crops for feeding animals. For a list of where to shop in the Ottawa area, explore the ‘Where to Shop’ tab at www.http://nourishingottawa.com. Get other ideas by participating in ‘Organic Week’ which runs Oct 9th – 16th. For more information on this event and how you can make healthier and more environmental food choices, visit:www.organicweek.ca

What else can I do?

1. You can take action today to stop GM crops and GM animals. Check www.cban.ca for the latest actions.

2. Send a letter to the Minister of Health today to stop GM pigs and GM salmon from being approved in Canada www.cban.ca/enviropigaction

3. Donate today! Support the campaign www.cban.ca/donate

References

  1. Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) www.cban.ca
  2. Institute for Responsible Technology www.responsibletechnology.org
  3. Greenpeace www.greenpeace.org
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