It shouldn’t be up to industry to decide whether it will tell me what’s in the food I’m eating.
But that’s how it works in Canada when it comes to genetically modified (GM) foods — we have no way of knowing what products contain them because there’s no requirement to include that information on the label.
Given the trend to include more details on food labels so consumers can make informed choices about their purchases, this is odd. As of August, for instance, the federal government made it mandatory for manufacturers to list ingredients that could cause allergic reactions, including peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, tree nuts, soy, sesame seeds, seafood and sulphites.
Yet when it comes to GM foods, the food industry argues that mandatory labelling will both drive up costs and send consumers fleeing from the products.
But isn’t that our decision as consumers to make, rather than government’s and industry’s?
Health Canada, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have said GM foods pose no threat to human health but a recent French study suggests that may not be so.
Published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the study followed lab rats for two years. A hundred males and 100 females were fed NK603 (Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant corn), the herbicide itself and regular corn. Half the male rats and 70 per cent of the females fed the GM corn or Roundup died prematurely and developed two to three times more cancerous tumours.
The majority of the tumours emerged between four and seven months into the study, of note because Health Canada (and other regulatory agencies around the world) use only 90-day studies, done by industry, to assess the safety of such foods.
At last week’s UBCM conference, a motion from the Sunshine Coast Regional District was endorsed, asking the federal government to implement mandatory labelling of GM products. The issue has come up in private member’s bills several times in the House of Commons and faces California voters next month.
NK603 corn is not the type of corn on the cob you throw on the barbecue. Rather, it’s a feed corn, but can also be found in a raft of processed corn products — from tortilla chips, cereal and corn oil to ice cream, cake, jelly, pop, ketchup, juice, yogurt, salad dressing, mayonnaise and more in the form of corn syrup (fructose).
But corn isn’t the only GM food on the market in Canada; GM soybeans, potatoes and tomatoes have also been approved. In total, 81 GM foods have the green light for sale in Canada.
GM foods may be safe, but the lack of long-term studies leaves me uneasy. Health Canada and Monsanto say they will carefully evaluate this latest research, so I suppose we’re supposed to trust that all will be well.
Some argue that if people really want to avoid eating GM food, they can buy organic.
Not good enough. We have a right to know what we’re eating, whether industry likes it and government feels we need to know it or not.