May 23, 2013
Take Action / FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Genetic Modification?
- Is it called GM or GE?
- What GM Foods are on the Market?
- How Can I Avoid GM Foods?
- Isn't there a PLU (price look-up) code that tells me if a product is GMO?
- Are GM Foods Safe to Eat?
- What are the Environmental Risks?
- Who Owns GM Seeds ?
1. What is Genetic Modification?
Genetic modification (GM) is recombinant DNA technology - its also called genetic engineering
or GE. With genetic engineering scientists can change plants or animals at the molecular level by
inserting genes or DNA segments from other organisms. Unlike conventional breeding and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering enables the direct transfer of genes between different species or kingdoms that would not breed in nature.
2. Is it called GM or GE?
The terms genetic engineering (GE) and genetic modification (GM) are both used to describe recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology. GM is the term used in international agreements and in European regulation as well as in many other English-speaking countries. GE is the term used in U.S. legislation. Unfortunately, the Canadian government uses both terms while trying to avoid talking about the technology altogether: the Canadian government regulates "Plants with Novel Traits" and "Novel Foods" which include products of genetic engineering but also products of conventional plant breeding.
To add to confusion, the term GM is often used imprecisely to include other, older technologies. For example, industry often says that farmers have been "modifying" plants and animals for centuries. While farmer plant breeding is the foundation of our entire food system, farmers have not been using rDNA technology.
3. What GM Foods are on the Market?
Four GM crops are grown in Canada: corn, soy, canola and white sugar beet (for sugar processing). These are widely used as ingredients in processed foods. There is also now some GM sweet corn grown in Ontario and more could be grown in the future.
- GM cotton (cottonseed oil) and some papaya and a few types of squash are grown in the U.S. and can be imported into Canada, mostly as processed food ingredients.
X GM Tomatoes: There are NO GM tomatoes on the market anywhere in the world.
X GM Potatoes: Monsanto took GM potatoes off the market because of consumer
X GM Wheat: In 2004, Monsanto withdrew its request for approval of GM wheat in Canada and the US because of consumer and farmer protest. Monsanto has relaunched its GM wheat research.
X Most of the GM corn grown in Canada is hard corn used for animal feed or processed food ingredients. There is no GM popcorn on the market. There are a few varieties of GM
sweetcorn now being sold in Canada.
4. How Can I Avoid GM Foods?
Our government does not require labeling. But you can still make a choice:
- Eating certified organic food is one way you can avoid GM food because GM is prohibited in organic farming. This includes organic dairy, eggs and meat because animals in organic farming are not fed GM grains like corn or soy.
- You can avoid eating processed foods with corn, canola and soy ingredients.
- You can buy cane sugar to avoid eating sugar from GM sugarbeets.
- Support farmers who fight GM: buy food directly from farmers who do not plant GM corn, canola or soy or use GM grains for meat, dairy or egg production.
5. Isn't there a PLU (price look-up) code that tells me if a product is GMO?
Number “9” is Organic: PLU (price look-up) codes distinguish between organic and conventionally produced fresh fruits and vegetables. Organic food is produced without the use of any genetically modified organisms. Organic produce is identified with a number that begins with “9”. For example, 4011 identifies a conventionally grown banana and 94011 identifies an organically grown banana. (There are no GM bananas on the market anywhere in the world.)
Number “8” is not currently used in the market: The International Federation for Produce Standards has actually set aside a number (8) for identifying GM foods but it is not being used. With the possible exception of papaya from Hawaii, no one is using this number and the absence of the number “8” does not give you any information about GM foods.
More importantly, thereare no GM fruits or vegetables on the market in Canada except for the following:
- Some GM sweetcorn from the US and Canada
- GM Papaya from the US (Hawaii) (not papaya imported from Brazil for example
- Possibly some GM squash and zucchini from the US only
PLU codes are not mandatory but are usually present in large grocery stores. They are the small labels on your fruits and vegetables. For more information on PLU codes please see Canadian Produce Marketing Association
6. Are GM Foods Safe to Eat?
We don’t know what, if any, impacts GM foods could have on our health. There are many
unanswered safety questions.
Many scientists warn that:
- The process of genetic engineering could create new allergens.
- Foreign DNA may be able to survive in the human gut.
- Animal feeding studies indicate liver and kidney problems.
GM foods are approved for human consumption based on company-produced science. The
data is secret and is not peer-reviewed by independent scientists. Health Canada does not do its own testing. There is no mandatory labeling in Canada, and no tracking or monitoring of possible health impacts. Click here for more information on human health questions.
or see the strong 2012 report “GMO Myths and Truths, An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops”, by Michael Antoniou, PhD, Claire Robinson, and John Fagan, PhD, published by Earth Open Source. The report is 123 pages and contains over 600 citations, many of them from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the rest from reports by scientists, physicians, government bodies, industry, and the media.
7. What are the Environmental Risks?
Once GM plants are released into the environment they cannot be controlled or recalled.
Genetic pollution is irreversible living pollution that self-replicates. Contamination of other
plants is a major problem because the genes from any crop can move, via seed and pollen flow. GM crops are resulting in increased pesticide use, herbicide tolerant weeds, and the expansion of industrial farming. Click here for more information on environmental impacts.
8. Who Owns GM Seeds ?
GM technology facilitates corporate control because patents on genetic sequences mean that corporations can own seeds. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and
owns about 86% of GM seeds sown globally.