Biotech foes keep up the pressure for GMO labelling

By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun, Posted March 22nd 2015

Lucy Sharratt envisions a world in which consumers know where every ingredient in every food comes from and how it was grown, from farm to fork.

The coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology ActionNetwork — a collaboration of 17 environmental and social justice groups — believes existing voluntary food certifications provide a template that could be applied to mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods, popularly known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

Every ingredient in certified organic and non-GMO verified products is traceable to its origin and segregated from conventional foods, though such efforts likely contribute to reduced economies of scale and higher prices.

“Companies already (trace their ingredients) and many commodities have been this way for a long time,” she said. “GM crops and all foods need to be traced from fork to farm, because people want to know where their food comes from.”

Multinational food companies often produce non-GMO versions of their most popular products for export to Europe, said Courtney Pineau, associate director of the Non-GMO Project.

“It’s not just feasible, it’s something they already do,” she said.

When prompted, nearly every Canadian will tell a pollster that foods created through the manipulation of an organism’s DNA should be labelled, but federal authorities in the United States and Canada have shown little interest in mandatory labels. Sharratt reckons the European Union’s resistance to genetically engineered crops is a triumph of democracy and the Canadian government’s reluctance to label GMOs as an impediment to transparency and consumer choice.

Anti-GMO activists refer to GMOs as “Frankenfoods” and label the industry’s big corporate players evil, the sort of heated language that Sharratt avoids lest her reasoned arguments seem less reasonable.

Shoppers who want to avoid foods derived from the direct manipulation of plant and animal DNA can choose to buy certified organic products or foods with the newer Non-GMO Project verified label. Sharatt says it is those systems — which can include product testing regimes and farm-to-fork traceability — that should become the standard for all foods.

It’s a big job. Testing would be required for every product on every farm, in addition to segregated transport and processing to limit cross contamination.

A U.S. study on the feasibility of mandatory GMO labelling estimated that more than 250,000 products would be affected, which could easily translate into millions of ingredients all in need of testing, segregation and traceability.

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