February 1, 2015
For vegetable growers: Identifying and Avoiding GM Sweet Corn Seed in Canada, December 2014
GM sweet corn is on the decline, thanks to your action!
Significantly less genetically modified (GM) sweet corn was grown in Canada this year, as many farmers and grocery stores started working to remove GM sweet corn in response to consumer concerns. CBAN has tested samples of fresh sweet corn, and talked to seed dealers, farmers and grocery stores. CBAN tested 137 samples of fresh sweet corn in 9 provinces this year and only found one GM sweet corn (sold in a Metro grocery store in Quebec).
The Canadian government (Statistics Canada) does not track how much GM sweet corn is grown in Canada. CBAN continues to work with you to ask farmers and grocery stores to remove GM sweet corn. Please continue to ask at the Farmers’ Market, roadside stands and grocery stores, and know that your actions are making a difference.
Press Release: December 3, 2014 - Groups Provide New Tool to Encourage Farmers to Choose Non-GM Sweet Corn Seed
Stop 2,4-D and dicamba tolerant GM crops
Canada has approved 2,4-D-tolerant GM corn and soy. On October 15, 2014, the US government also approved Dow's 2,4-D/glyphosate herbicide mix, to go along with GM 2,4-D tolerant crops. Now Dow AgroSciences has all the approvals it needs to start marketing these GM herbicide tolerant crops in Canada and the US.
- Click here to send an instant letter to the Minister of Health.
- Click here for some background information on 2,4-D and 2,4-D crops.
“Get GM Sweet Corn Out”
Is your sweet corn genetically modified? The only way to find out is to ask. You have a powerful voice when you ask your local farmer or write to the head office of your grocery chain.
1. Ask your farmer at the roadside, farm gate, or farmers’ market if they are selling GM sweet corn. You can even ask the Farmers’ Market to check for you.
2. Write to the head office of your grocery store and ask them to remove GM sweet corn from their store. Tell them you don’t want to buy it. Click here to for grocery store contacts.
3. Buy organic sweet corn – organic farming prohibits GM seeds and synthetic pesticides.
Your consumer action is very influential!
Resources on GM sweet corn
- Identifying and Avoiding GM Sweet Corn Seed in Canada, December 2014 Information for vegetable growers
- "GM Sweet Corn in Canada: Information for Action" August 2014 Details on GM sweet corn. Get your questions about GM sweet corn answered here.
- "Genetically Modified Sweet Corn" a printable sheet of info with some more basic info, for distributing in your community.
Tests Find Unlabelled GM Sweet Corn
November 14, 2013: Following tests conducted in Canada by CBAN, Friends of the Earth US released the results of their tests on sweet corn samples. Tests of sweet corn purchased in the U.S. did not find any GM sweet corn except for two samples, one from Ontario and one of unknown origin. “We were alarmed to find a significant amount of GM sweet corn in Canada, and are shocked that Canada could actually be a source of genetically engineered sweet corn to U.S. consumers," said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of CBAN. New study: GMO sweet corn rare in U.S. supermarkets
October 23, 2013: The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) tested sweet corn samples from across Canada and found unlabelled genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) fresh sweet corn in grocery stores, roadside stands and farmers markets. CBAN testing clearly shows that consumers across Canada could be unknowingly buying GM sweet corn. Press Release - October 23, 2013: Tests Discover Unlabelled GM Sweet Corn in Canadian Grocery Stores and Farmers’ Markets
GM Sweet Corn in Canada
There has been a small (undetermined) amount of GM sweet corn, from Syngenta, on the market for over 10 years in North America. However, in late 2011 Monsanto launched a line of GM sweet corn varieties as well.
GM sweet corn is the only vegetable and whole GM food that is grown in Canada - as opposed to GM field corn, which is widely grown in Canada and used for processed into food ingredients, animal feed and biofuels.
GM sweet corn is the third possible GM fruit or vegetable in the produce section of Canadian grocery stores. There could be some GM papaya (from the U.S. and China only) and some varieties of GM squash (from the U.S. only) that end up on grocery shelves in Canada.
The sweet corn is genetically engineered to be both insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant.
Farmers may be planting GM sweet corn without knowing that it is genetically engineered because seed catalogues do not clearly label GM varieties.
GM corn is engineered to be toxic to particular insects. The GM technology transforms the corn plant into a pesticide. In fact, the toxin, from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, is expressed in every cell of the plant including the corn kernels. If certain insects, including the European corn borers, corn earworms, fall army worms and corn rootworm larvae, try to eat the corn, they will die. The Bt toxin attaches to receptors in the gut of some insects, rupturing the gut and killing the insect.
"GM Sweet Corn Kils Bugs But is it Also Tasty on the BBQ?" by Lucy Sharratt, CBAN Coordinator, September 2012, Common Ground Magazine
"SmartStax" Eight-Trait GM Corn
The GM SmartStax corn produces six different insecticidal toxins and is tolerant to two herbicides. It was allowed onto the market in Canada without a safety evaluation from Health Canada.
Background: Health Canada did not assess the safety of “SmartStax” GM corn. Health Canada does not classify “SmartStax” as a “Novel Food” because it has previously approved the eight single GM traits in “SmartStax”, individually in earlier crops. Health Canada says that combining eight GM traits together does not create any new risks and does not need any safety evaluation. Health Canada did not even bother to rubber-stamp “SmartStax” – it was approved for release by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, without Health Canada.
Summary: On July 15, 2009 Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences announced that they received approval to introduce their new eight-trait GM corn 'SmartStax' in Canada and the US. But Health Canada did not assess 'SmartStax' for human health safety and did not even bother to authorize it. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency authorized the environmental release of 'SmartStax' but never conducted an environmental risk assessment and actually substantially weakened its environmental stewardship rules for the crop. Because the eight traits were previously approved in separate crops, Canadian regulators do not see anything new in combining the eight together - despite the fact that the Codex international food safety guidelines that Canada helped to negotiate clearly state that stacked traits can lead to unintended effects and should be subject to a full safety assessment.
More Resources on "SmartStax" Corn:
- June 28, 2011: German group Testbiotech released a critical new report that exposes unstudied questions in confidential industry documents from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences on their genetically modified (GM) eight-trait corn called “SmartStax”, approved in Canada in 2009.
- Read the CBAN article in Alive Magazine. February 2010.
- CBAN Opinion: Stacked traits lack assessment, Western Producer, October 15, 2009.
- Monsanto response: Stacked Traits good for growers, Western Producer, November 5, 2009.
- Full Analysis: Why did Monsanto's latest foods get a free pass from Health Canada? rabble.ca article
- Press Release: No Safety Assessment of GE Corn by Health Canada: Canada Ignores International Food Safety Guidelines. July 29, 2009.
- Press Release: CFIA ’s Irresponsible Rubber-Stamping of New Genetically Engineered Corn No environmental risk assessment, and reduced environmental stewardship requirements for new Monsanto/Dow “SmartStax”. July 24, 2009.
- CBAN letter to Health Canada. July 28, 2009.
- Response to Health Canada: ‘SmartStax’ Genetic Corn Really Safe? Montreal Gazette, CBAN Opinion Letter, July 30, 2009.
- CBAN letter to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, August 3, 2009.
- UN Codex Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants.
- CBAN Briefing Note on GE regulation in Canada.
Failure of Government Regulation
CBAN demands that:
- Health Canada immediately request that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency rescind its authorization of the genetically modified (GM) eight-trait corn called ‘SmartStax’ (Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences)
- Health Canada initiate a full food safety assessment of the GM corn as set out by the Codex Alimentarius Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants.
- Health Canada request the Canadian Food Inspection Agency halt any further approvals of stacked trait products until Health Canada has reviewed its Novel Foods Regulations and initiated a system-wide review of the entire regulatory system for GM foods and crops ("Novel Foods" and "Plants with Novel Traits").
- Click here to read the full letter from CBAN to Health Canada. July 28, 2009.
- Read the Minister of Health's response.
- Click here to read CBAN's letter to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, August 3, 2009.
- Read the CFIA's response to CBAN.
The UN Codex guidelines for GM food safety assessment state that “unintended effects in recombinant-DNA plants may also arise through the insertion of DNA sequences an/or may arise through subsequent conventional breeding of the recombinant-DNA plant.’’ (this is how stacked trait GE crops like ‘SmartStax’ are produced – through the conventional breeding or crossing of GM plants) and that such crops should go through a full safety assessment (para 14, CAC/GL 45-2003).
The international Codex Alimentarius Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA Plants clearly recommends safety assessments of stacked trait GE crops. The Guideline clearly states that unintended effects can arise not only from genetically engineered (GE) plants, but can also arise when those GE plants are crossed via conventional breeding (as in the case of stacked-trait crops such as ‘SmartStax’): “Unintended effects in recombinant-DNA plants may also arise through the insertion of DNA sequences an/or may arise through subsequent conventional breeding of the recombinant-DNA plant” [bold added] (para 14, CAC/GL 45-2003). Furthermore, the Guidelines also state that such crops should go through a full safety assessment: “The assessment for unintended effects takes into account the agronomic/phenotypic characteristics of the plant that are typically observed by breeders in selecting new varieties for commercialization. These observations by breeders provide a first screen for plants that exhibit unintended traits. New varieties that pass this screen are subjected to safety assessment as described in Sections 4 and 5” [bold added] (para 17, CAC/GL 45-2003).