Most Canadians not informed about GMOs, experts say


Trinity, 4, holds up an anti-genetically modified alfalfa during a demonstration outside the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. While farmers and other interest groups rally against genetically modified organisms, does the average Canadian consumer really care what’s in their food? (John Rieti/CBC)

Thousands of products in Canada’s food chain contain some form of a genetically modified item or GMO’s — and because there are no mandatory labelling requirements, it’s difficult for consumers to know which ones do.

Ottawa has approved over 80 types of GM crops, including corn, canola, soybeans and wheat. Products that contain any of these items, including most processed and packaged foods, likely contain genetically modified ingredients. Many meats are also affected, since animals are often fed GM crops.

In fact, a survey conducted last year by the B.C. Growers’ Association found that 76 per cent of Canadians feel that the federal government hasn’t given them enough information on GM foods. Another nine per cent said they’d never even heard of GM foods.

Registered dietitian Christy Brissette, is working on a masters in nutrition at the University of Toronto.

“I think a lot of people have seen what happened in Europe, with a lot of lobbying to European governments demanding that these foods be labelled so that consumers can then make educated choices,” Brissette says. “I think Canadians want that same kind of transparency.”

In 2002 Canadians were cautioned about GMO’s. In an attempt to quell the growing public concern over GM food, the federal government commissioned a report from the Royal Society of Canada, the country’s top scientific body. A year later their report is out and the CBC’s Bob McDonald talked to Brian Ellis, the associate director of University of British Columbia’s Biotechnology Laboratory and co-chair of the report. The society blasts Canada’s approach to regulating GM food, concluding that government’s assumption that GM food is the same as conventional food is scientifically unsound.

• The Royal Society of Canada’s report, Regulation of Food Biotechnology of Canada, made over 50 recommendations. Some of the key suggestions include:
– testing of GM foods should be conducted in a transparent and open environment
– the outcome of all tests are to be monitored by an independent expert panel who report to the public
– clearer definitions of the types of toxicological studies required to ensure the safety of GM foods.

• The Royal Society of Canada was founded in 1882 to promote learning and research in the arts and sciences. The society has 1,700 distinguished Canadian scientists and scholars who have been recognized by their peers for their outstanding contributions.

• A 2004 study, authored by Dr. Peter Andrée of Trent University and the Polaris Institute, concluded that the Canadian government has failed to respond seriously to the 58 recommendations made by the Royal Society of Canada. The study accused the Canadian government of dawdling and being unwilling to butt heads with the powerful biotech industry.

Link to CBC News articles: 1, 2, 3, 4. Place mouse over number to see article subject.