GMO a no show; make it a no go

We may be eating toxic chemicals and genetically-modified foods without even knowing it

Organic options are readily available to students.
Organic options are readily available to students.

Justin Andrews

During my time in culinary school at St. Lawrence College, my eyes have been opened to aspects of our food system that I’m unhappy about.

When I started to hear about genetically-modified foods and the lack of current regulations we have in place, I was appalled. The terrors farmers have to deal with is heartbreaking, and it isn’t something many people are aware of.

What I write about is far from the full picture, but instead a small piece of a very complex story I encourage everyone to read into. Picture this. You’re staring at the apples in the produce section of the grocery store: 99 cents a pound. Then you turn to the organic apples, which seem the same, but come at a higher cost: $2.99 a pound.

The cheaper option may be more favourable, but do you really know what you’re buying?

GMOs (also known as genetically-modified food, or genetically-modified organisms) are defined by the World Health Organization as organisms whose DNA has been changed in an unnatural way.

If something you were about to eat had its DNA altered in some way, wouldn’t you want to know? Right now there are no labelling laws in place in Canada to tell us what has been done to our food.

Recently, there has been some concern about the safety of consuming GMOs. While some research has linked the consumption of GMOs to health complications, the true long-term health effects are unknown, because these foods are relatively new.

However, most GMOs are sprayed with a variety of toxic pesticides. Many crops grown today have been genetically modified to remain unaffected by pesticides, leaving them to thrive while all weeds and insects die.

Although the long-term dangers of GMOs are still up for debate, we do know that many of the pesticides used today are toxic, and rinsing our produce under the tap doesn’t remove them.

GMOs are also leaving their mark on our already struggling environment. Unforeseen ecological risks are coming to light, such as soil deterioration and adverse effects on other crops or wildlife.

The pesticides and chemical fertilizers are damaging the soil, hurting natural bacterium necessary for healthy plants. Soon, we won’t be able to grow crops in it without the use of chemical fertilizers.

There are also concerns about cross contamination. If one farmer is growing an organic crop, and a neighbouring farmer chooses to grow a genetically-modified version, the organic crop, through cross-contamination, can also become genetically modified. This has led to several international export bans on large amounts of food, where the buyer didn’t ask for a GMO crop, but got one. In many instances, the farmer selling the crop had originally planted an organic crop, which was later found to be contaminated by GMOs.

In addition, research has suggested the use of pesticides and cross-pollination from GMOs have contributed to the declining bee population. The large decline we’re seeing could have dramatic impacts on our food system in further years.

Without bees and other insects, we don’t have pollination, and therefore don’t have crops. This is a bigger problem than many realize. Bees and other pollinating insects are a necessary part of our ecosystem and, without them, our food system will suffer.

There are clearly issues surrounding GMOs, as 26 countries have banned them. There are also 62 countries that have made labels mandatory on anything genetically-modified or with genetically-modified ingredients. Unfortunately, Canada isn’t on these lists.

Here in Canada, it seems our government is strongly supportive of them. In 2011, Bill C-474, which would require the Canadian government to study the harm of GMO crops before exporting, went before Parliament and was voted down by the Conservative government before it could even be discussed. It was put forward in the hopes that our farmers wouldn’t face export bans due to potentially harmful GMO crops.

During a campaign speech in 2007, American President Barack Obama said he supported non-GMO and GMO labelling activists, and promised to push legislation on labelling GMOs. This promise was never kept, and seven years later, the fight continues.

Last year, a US Federal Farm Bill (Bill S. 954, which would have helped states pass new laws to have GMO labelling) was voted down by the Senate. Bill S. 954 would have made it easier for bills like California’s Proposition 37 to pass. Proposition 37, which didn’t pass, would have required food producers and retailers to label any and all products containing GMO ingredients.

I encourage everyone to be more mindful of what they’re eating, and where their food is coming from. If enough people demand GMOs be removed from shelves, our government will have no choice but to take them away.

Buy organic whenever possible. Every time you buy GMO food, you’re telling the grocery store to continue stocking that item. On the flipside, every time you buy organic, you’re voting for change — for a system that supports organics.

With over two dozen countries banning GMOs, why haven’t we? If our government won’t get rid of GMOs, why won’t they at least label them, and grant us the right to know?

Until enough people come together to fight for the removal of GMOs, all we can do is buy organic and vote with our fork, one person at a time.

Justin is a second-year Culinary Management student at St. Lawrence College.

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