You are What you Eat
Genetically Modified Food in Canada
It’s commonly said that we are what we eat. This seems natural enough, except when it comes to the genetic modification of our food supply, which is more widespread than most of us would imagine. The first GM crop was introduced in Canada roughly 15 years ago. Stats Can now estimates that almost all white sugar beets, and half of all corn, grain and soy crops grown in Ontario are genetically modified. In fact, these crops combined add up to 6 % of the planted ‘global acres’ of GM, herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant super plants. Canada (canola, corn, soy & sugar beets) and India (cotton) are ‘neck and neck’ at 6% of the world’s GM acreage.
I asked Toronto-based holistic Nutritionist Michelle Weir to weigh in on the GM debate.
So, what exactly does ‘genetically modified’ mean when it comes to food?
According to Health Canada, foods derived from biotechnology are referred to as GM or GE (genetically modified or engineered) and are classified as ‘novel’ foods. It is a 7 to 10 year process to research, develop, test and assess the safety of a new GM food. Although Health Canada seems genuinely concerned with regards to public health, food safety and nutrition, opinions vary widely on how we define safe and nutritious.
With genetic engineering, scientists work to break down or modify natural barriers in order to create food crops that are less vulnerable to disease or pests and assure higher yield. This process is very different from grafting or cross-pollination or breeding (in animals). I came across a statement on a website which illustrates the situation pretty graphically: “In traditional breeding, it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but it is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse” (www.nongmoshoppingguide.com). Can you imagine anyone wanting to mate a pig with a potato? I literally lost my appetite when I learned that arctic fish genes were spliced into tomatoes and strawberries to increase frost resistance and human genes inserted into corn to produce spermicide. Fortunately, the fish tomato never made it to market although I’m not sure about the corn.
So the question begs to be asked….what were the “folks in charge” thinking?!
The main arguments in support of GM foods appear to be economic, environmental and social. Supporters of GM foods argue that these super crops are required to feed the growing world population and that GM plants require less land and less water resources. They are also more profitable for the farmers, taking some of the risk out of the equation of man against nature. I’m more concerned about what happens to man when he eats food that nature never intended. CropLife Canada is a trade association representing manufacturers, developers and distributors of plant science technologies, for use in agriculture, urban and public health settings. Visit www.croplife.ca for a deeper understanding of the ‘pro GM’ position in this debate. CropLife Canada cites “increasing awareness, understanding and acceptance of the benefits, safety and sustainability of plant science innovations” as a top priority.
How can we avoid GM foods?
Unfortunately, GM foods have virtually invaded our grocery stores, both in the form of raw and processed foods. In Canada, canola oil, corn, soy and sugar beets are predominantly genetically modified. Pick up a package of virtually any non-organic product and you’ll run the risk of it containing a GM ingredient. Even if you steer clear of anything in a bottle, box or can, you’ll run the risk of a fruit or veggie not being as nature intended, Papaya, summer yellow squash and zucchini are examples of GM foods. Alfalfa is a GM crop on many people’s radar these days because of the impossibility of containing this GM crop to the fields it was planted in. If you’ve now decided to avoid anything packaged and anything grown, remember that livestock is often fed with GM grain!
Did you know?
- Austria, Bulgaria, France , Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg have all banned the use and sale of the MON 810 genetically engineered corn due to concerns about long term environmental and health effects.
- GE Seeds are referred to as ‘Terminator Seeds’ because they are sterile. A farmer must buy new seeds every year, a rather costly scenario. For centuries, farmers have sown seeds from previous crops, just as nature intended.
Kashka Kril-Atkins is a homeopath and owner of BLUEPRINT Wholistic Health Clinic, an integrative medicine clinic and shop in midtown. Michelle Weir is BLUEPRINT’s Registered Holistic Nutritionist.For more information, visit www.blueprintwellness.ca