Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) have been given a lot of attention lately, due to an increase in media attention and citizen action. You might know very little about it or a lot about it or like me, you might have a natural curiosity to know what all the hubbub is about, as Richard Dawkins once stated.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think I’m a radical, anti-science kind of gal. That being said, I don’t have enough information to make a proper decision about the whole business. And when I say business, I mean with a capital “B”.
Despite my belief in science, I am equally skeptical about big business, namely agri-business in this particular situation. So what does this mean to a consumer and why should we care? I’m not here to make you care. If you don’t care, then there’s very little I can do, and frankly I wouldn’t bother. I am writing this piece to give you, the consumer, options when navigating the grocery aisle.
So what are your options as a consumer? Most of us shop with some sort of preference. You might prefer one particular brand over another, or only buy items on sale. You may prefer organic or locally sourced food. You may prefer to shop at a large supermarket or at your local green grocer. Whatever your preferences are, you do have them.
Now, I can only speak for myself, but I like to know what I’m buying. For instance, if I go to McDonald’s, I know for certain that most items on their menu will be riddled with salt, sugar and fat. But it’s fair, IMHO, because McDonald’s is transparent about it, listing their nutrition facts on their website and on the back of their tray liners. So no one can say, “What! Nobody told me that a Bic Mac has as much fat as my entire daily requirement.”
Why is that perfectly okay in my mind? Because the consumer has been informed, and if they want to eat a calorie laden meal, high in salt and fat, that should be their right, no?
So this is why I think that GMO’s should be labelled, a requirement that is not standard practice in Canada or the United States. In fact, despite over 60 nations making it mandatory for food companies to label their foods if they contain GMOs, there is a huge lobby by the agri-business industry to avoid it at all costs. They cite costs as the reason for not wanting to label. But any rational person knows, that the cost of labelling is a drop in the bucket given their enormous profits.
So instead of the label which companies like Monsanto and others have thrown millions into lobbying against, these same companies have gone on a “GMO’s feed the world” type campaign. These feel good stories include the story of golden rice preventing stories of children of the world from growing blind. OMG, can I call bullshit on that?
I’ll state for the record that I am not a scientist, nor am I an expert in the area of GMOs. But this reminds me of a story from when I was in college. I worked at a family restaurant that served a brunch every Sunday. After the brunch, I mentioned to the “Chef” that the soup looked spoiled. He ridiculed me, asking me what I knew about food and such. Looking at the frothy, smelly soup, I told him that while I wasn’t an expert on preparing food, I was in fact someone who eats food, and that made me an expert. Needless to say, he went ahead and offered the soup that night to patrons. I in turn, told everybody not to order the daily soup, which they all offerd their thanks to me for being honest.
If the very industry that feeds our nation will not voluntarily state that their products contain GMOs and continue to fight any legislation forcing them to label indicating whether their products contain GMO’s or not, I can, as a consumer, decide to use my buying power to only support food businesses that label their foods Non GMO’s.
I’m going to tell you, this all won’t happen overnight for us as consumers, because the Non GMO labelling is a somewhat recent movement, and it takes time to grow legs. But there are a few major things that we as consumers can do right now to get started.
- Sign a petition! Here is one for the US:
and here is one for Canada:
- Avoid the following foods, mostly likely GMO’s unless organic: Alfalfa, Canola, Corn, Cotton, Papaya, Soy, Sugar Beets, Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash. These foods are hidden in many processed foods such as baked goods and soft drinks. Dairy often contains Bovine Growth Hormones (although not in Canada) and livestock such as pigs and cows are often fed GMO corn feed and other products.
- Stay away from processed food. This is a big one. Seriously, if you do nothing else but this, you will avoid the majority of GMO’s which contribute about 70-80% to the processed food industry. A dietitian once said (and I’m sorry I can’t recall who it was) that you should shop only the perimeter of the grocery store: Bakery, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. It’s all of the aisles in between that house all of the salty and sweet snacks and highly processed foods.
- Shop organic. It’s not always 100% certain, but Canadian Organic Regulations require that organic foods be non GMO. Here is some info about organic labelling from the Canadian Organic Growers:
and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:
I know it is more expensive, and I did up a chart comparison shopping to show you the difference in pricing. I used two on-line retailers for the pricing: Grocery Gateway, a division of Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Inc.: http://www.grocerygateway.com/ and Mama Earth, a local organics delivery service: http://www.mamaearth.ca/.
- Shop locally. Willie Nelson, the founder of Farm aid is a huge supporter of local farming, and rightfully so. Buying local through farmer’s markets and basket programs puts more money in the hands of the farmers, unlike large supermarket chains that take a large cut from the farmers. Local farming is often smaller and more sustainable than big farming.
- Grow your own food. I have very little space in my backyard, but in the last year, I have grown tomatoes and a variety of herbs. Next year, I intend to grow more. If you don’t have a balcony or a yard of some sort, you can also grow food in a community garden. Use organic or heirloom seeds when possible and don’t use products like Miracle Grow to feed your plants as it is full of chemicals. Use organic alternatives such as Milorganite:
- Do some investigating to see if your favourite brands are GMO free. The Non-GMO project has a list of brands that are GMO free:
I also found a great guide from Greenpeace for Canadian Shoppers:
and the Non-GMO Shopping Guide:
At the time I wrote this piece, Mexico has just introduced a ban on all GMO corn, and Puerto Rico is considering it. Major Brands like Silk and Ben and Jerry’s have joined the Non GMO project, and perhaps with growing awareness and public pressure, more food companies will come forward and voluntarily label or remove GMOs completely from their products.