On July 24, an article by Megan Ogilvie appeared in the Toronto Star titled "Canada's New Nutrition Labels: Five Things to Know." When I read this, I was discouraged to find that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) were not mentioned anywhere in our country's new food labelling system, and even more discouraged because the absence wasn't pointed out anywhere in this article.
When Ms. Ogilvie informed me that she had no future article planned on the topic of GMOs, and their food reporter Michelle Henry (who had recently written an article on genetically engineered salmon) did not respond to my queries, I decided it's time to tackle this important and urgent issue myself.
GMOs Affect Everything and Everyone On This Planet
The topic of genetically engineered crops is not new. They were first introduced into Canada 15 years ago, with four crops -- canola, corn, soy and sugar beets -- which now dominate the food industry. Today it's estimated that more than 70 per cent of the products you purchase at your local grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients.
So if you've been eating GMOs for the past 15 years, why is it so critical to include them on Canada's food labels?
As of 2014, more than 60 countries around the world (including the entire European Union), either ban, restrict, or label GMO ingredients. But not Canada. What do these other countries know that we don't? Why, with the topic of labeling GMOs being the very thing that everyone is talking about these days, is our government excluding this information?
Health Canada Ignores GMO Labeling Feedback
In early January 2014, our Minister of Health asked Canadians for their input in developing new labels that would provide consumers with the information they wanted. Below are some of the results of those consultations:
In the Health Canada Report by Rona Ambrose, published in June 2014, consumers report that they use one or more parts of the label to meet health, dietary, environmental, cultural needs or social needs, such as where a product is from, or how it is made. To help meet these information needs, consumers suggested:
• Including more information on labels about how the food was made, including animal welfare claims, such as "cage-free," "free-range" and "grass-fed."
• More complete country-of-origin information.
• Labeling genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredients in food products.
• Declaring the presence or use of pesticides, agricultural chemicals, antibiotics or growth hormones.
Meanwhile, consumer suggestions about Canada's food labelling regulations, policy and program development process and service delivery included:
• Balancing the participation of consumers, industry and other stakeholders to ensure consumer protection and more transparent processes.
• Having clearly established and effective rules and guidance to prevent misleading labelling claims and to facilitate compliance.
• Enforcing food labeling rules and applying policies consistently and transparently, including through more training for inspectors.
Unfortunately, in July 2014 when the latest Report from Health Canada was released, nothing was mentioned about labeling GMOs, despite the fact that the vast majority of Canadians feel they should be! Canadians want to know what's in the food they eat.
Demand Transparency. Tell Rona Ambrose to Address GMOs.
In the past few months, I've sent two letters via courier asking our Minister of Health, Rona Ambrose to meet with me to discuss the health risks associated with GMOs. Unfortunately, there's been no response. So I started a petition on Change.org to get Ms. Ambrose to meet with me, and have a "Take Action" page on my website detailing additional ways to contact Ms. Ambrose.
The issue of GMOs is extremely important and urgent. Our country is behind the rest of the world -- in fact, as things currently stand, Canada is dead last!
Our citizens are unknowingly consuming and feeding their families GMOs because they're not labelled. Many independent, peer reviewed studies point to the health risks of consuming GMOs. If the health of Canadians is being impacted by consuming GMOs, won't this increase the burden on our health care system?
If Health Canada is truly moving forward on "transparency" and "truth" in labelling, shouldn't they also include if the food is "farm" grown, or "pharm" made in a lab? If the sugar is from GMO sugar beets rather than real cane sugar, how is this any different than people wanting to know if their salmon is "wild" or "farmed," or if their juice is from "concentrate" or "fresh squeezed"?
A Quick and Simple Way to Take Action
The Government's Online Survey for public opinions on labeling is now open! The deadline is September 11. Here is the link to express your opinion.
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