Pros and cons of GMO foods

Pros and cons of Genetically Modified Orgamisms (GMO) foods

These days, one hears more and more about Genetically Modified Organisms or Foods (GMO’s).  GMO’s are defined as “… an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques”.  This involves inserting a gene from bacteria or a virus or other sources into another organism where it would normally not be found.  The purpose, of course, is to make the original organism more productive or resistant to pests.

However, everyone had differing opinions as to whether or not they are safe to consume.

The pros – this process allows farmers to spend less money to produce more food, use fewer pesticides and herbicides, and to do less tilling to remove weeds and thereby protect the soil.  All are worthy objectives.

The cons – this can create super weeds.  Also, the modified plant may now produce it’s own insecticide which can lead to bugs resistant to it (super bugs), and also means we end up eating those chemicals as they are now part of the plant and not just a sprayed on coating that can be washed off.  GMO plants have also been known to escape from their original farm and contaminate neighbouring fields… a problem that can potentially contaminate all such crops and leave us with only the modified version, with the original heritage plants no longer in existence.  Definite problems that should be dealt with (one would think) before proceeding further. To this end, people in various countries around the world are approaching their governments, trying to force food companies to mark their products as to whether or not they are modified, or contain ingredients that include GMO’s.  After all, I, and indeed most people, would prefer at least an option in whether or not to eat something that has been modified.  In order to have such a choice, food that contains GMO’s must be labeled – otherwise how can we tell?

Canada has one such bill listed on their web-site; Bill C-257.  When you look at the site, it lists this bill and notes that the last stage completed on the bill was it’s introduction and first reading in the House of Commons on June 23, 2011.

I wrote to the Minister of Health back in July of this year, asking the Honourable Rona Ambrose, P.C., M.P., what the status of this bill was.  I asked if it was being worked on by any committee, or if it had been tabled or defeated?

Last week I received a reply from Samuel B. Godefroy, Ph.D., Director General, Food Directorate, Health Canada.

In his reply he states, “Health Canada rigorously assesses the safety of all biotechnology-derived foods to protect the health and safety of Canadians.  They undergo a thorough pre-market safety assessment before they may be sold in the Canadian marketplace.  Canada’s approach to the safety assessment of GM foods is consistent with that taken by countries such as the members of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States.  Addition information is available on Health Canada’s website at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/index-eng.php.  Health Canada will not approve a novel food unless it can scientifically demonstrate its safety.

“Health Canada’s role is to identify the information that is required on the label of a food so that it can be used safely.  To date, it has not been necessary to require special labeling for health and safety reasons for a GM food.

“In Canada, while it is not mandatory to identify the method of production that was used to develop a food product, voluntary labeling is permitted, provided it is truthful and not misleading.  A national voluntary standard for labeling biotechnology-derived foods was adopted by the Standards Council of Canada and is available at www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/ongc-cgsb/programme-program/normes-standards/internet/032-0315/index-eng.html.

“As the issue you raise also falls within the purview of the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, you may wish to write to him at Gerry.Ritz@parl.gc.ca.”

I find it interesting that Godefroy says Canada takes the same approach as the European Union (EU)).  Within the EU there isn’t even agreement on the topic.  Spain, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Romania and Poland all have GM crops, with Spain being the largest producer.  Meanwhile, France and Germany are major opponents, although Germany has approve a modified potato for industrial purposes.  Other EU countries that have placed bans on the cultivation and sale of GMO’s include Austria, Hungary, Greece and Luxembourg.  Poland tried to institute a ban, but failed, and Bulgaria banned cultivation, but not the sale of GMO’s.

So… I guess the verdict is still out.  In 10 or 20 years, when our continued consumption of GMO’s have progressed for a long enough period of time for the ‘scientists’ to collect sufficient data to prove the issue one way or the other, we’ll then be able to make a scientifically based informed decision.  Mind you, I’d rather not wait that long.  They used to say that there was nothing wrong with smoking, until years later it was proven to cause cancer.  They should really have tested these foods out on some rats for 10 or more years before introducing them to the world.  Hard on the rats, I suppose, but better a few rats than the entire world.