October was non-GMO month. It was an enlightening time - full of vibrant controversy and dialogue. One of the hottest topics was - and continues to be - non-GMO food labelling laws.
Here in Canada, we have no mandatory labelling laws for products made with GMO ingredients. To give some global context here, 64 countries have mandatory GMO labelling laws, and some even prohibit the cultivation of GM crops. Check out this interactive map of global policies. Ten years of polling show that over 80% of Canadians want GMO labelling transparency. Although we do have strict safety evaluations required for the approval of new drugs and supplements, GMO’s are considered safe (first) until science proves otherwise. And although it does exist, there is currently no consideration of, or call for third-party evidence as to the impact of GMO’s on our health and environment.
Did you see the debate between teen Canadian GMO-labelling activist, Rachel Parent and Dragon’s Den magnate, Kevin O’Leary? YouTube-it...it’s the stuff of John Hughes’ movies that makes you want to jump up and cheer for the impassioned, youthful underdog – regardless of your stance on the topic. ‘Great fun.
GMO is an acronym for “genetically modified organism”, used alongside GE (genetically engineered). These are created in laboratory settings by artificially inserting DNA (part of an organism’s blueprint) from one species into another species to create an entity with a desired trait. GM crops in Canada include corn, canola, soy and sugar beet. From the U.S. we import GM cottonseed oil, Hawaiian papaya, squash, as well as certain U.S. beef products (cows are fed GM alfalfa) and milk products (U.S. dairy cows are injected GE hormone rBGH or rBST to increase milk production). Over 80% of all GMOs grown worldwide are engineered for herbicide tolerance which allows mega-corporations like Monsanto (producer of Agent Orange, DDT, and PCB’s) to sell patented herbicides alongside their companion GMO seeds.
There are provocative arguments galore on both sides of the GMO debate which will likely continue for some time. For those wishing to minimize GMO intake in the meantime, here are some tips:
Favour non-GMO or organic (which implies non-GMO) products. (Moms: for baby food, there is not typically a big price differential).
Check Ingredient Lists particularly for soy, corn, canola, cottonseed oil and sugar. Look for “non-GMO” or “organic" adjectives (e.g., “Ingredients: non-GMO soy, organic corn…).
Eat your produce. Be wary of conventional corn, Hawaiian papaya, edamame (soybeans), zucchini and yellow summer squash. TIP: The PLU (price look-up stickers) on fruit and vegetables mean something: the 5-digit ones starting with “9” mean organic. GMO produce can be stickered with a 5-digit code beginning with “8”, but you will not see that kind of voluntary labelling here. Instead, GM produce will sport the same 4-digit code as conventional products.
Favour organic milk products, organic or grass-fed beef.
Support your local organic and non-GMO farmers.
For more resources, check out www.nongmoproject.org
Perhaps we will find safety in GMO’s, perhaps not. In the meantime, productive dialogue and the ability to make better informed choices is likely valuable.