Biotechnology harvests concerns

In response to Ted Menzies' letter titled Food Supply Safe, one has to ask, “Is the food system safe?" The answer may be, “Do you feel lucky today?”

Our food supply should never be considered safe.  Chinese heavy metals in produce, pesticides in tea and faulty meat inspections remind us that only constant vigilance protects our food system. Mr. Menzies is a former Conservative MP and the current spokesperson for CropLife Canada. CropLife is a federation of international agricultural biotechnology companies. They are at the forefront of the GE industry and they have two elements; biotechnology and chemical sales.

To be clear, GE, GMO and GM means the direct manipulation of an organism’s DNA with recombinant DNA technology and does not include traditional selective breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fermentation, tissue culture or marker assisted selection. Essentially, GE products blend the DNA of two or more species together to get certain results.  This technology creates two concerns for our food system.

First, the federal government is deliberately allowing GE biotechnology development without proper oversight. Canada is one of the few developed countries that has not regulated GE production. Europe bans GE foods.  Mr. Menzies says, “trust our government." So let’s look at the record.

Leaded gasoline, asbestos, 24D, BHP, vermiculite, formaldehyde insulation and the list goes on of products that governments first allowed and then encouraged as safe. Trusting our governments has not always been in our best interests.

Environment Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada addressed the GE issue head on in 2001 with An Expert Panel Report on the Future of Food Biotechnology prepared by the Royal Society of Canada. The report recommended that extensive testing should be undertaken by the federal government and if that testing did not occur then GE products should be labeled. Subsequent academic reviews concluded that the federal government had not followed the Royal Society recommendations for testing or labelling. The question is why?

The tobacco industry used filters, light cigarettes, endorsements from doctors and industry-sponsored scientific studies for years to market its products and argued that it was a regulated, safe industry. The governments of the day earned enormous tax revenue. Eventually, the tobacco industry was forced to warn consumers about the risks of using its products. Unfortunately, Canadians now pay astronomical amounts of tax for health care to deal with the consequences and many have suffered personally.

Chemical products sold by the GE industry that work together with GE products are a second concern. Glyphosate has been approved for weed control in Canada since the 1970s. The hazards and emerging problems of this now worldwide product can be reviewed by searching the Internet. Most GE crops are entirely dependent on glyphosate. In addition to identified problems with environmental toxicity and the reduction of biodiversity, glyphosate-resistant super weeds are emerging in Western Canada. Giant ragweed, Canada fleabane and kochia will require more powerful herbicides to maintain crop yields and so the claim that glyphosate-ready crops will reduce pesticides in the long term is dubious.

Mr. Menzies oversimplifies biotechnology. It is a broad area with all kinds of potential and existing hazards for our food supply. To say it is safe can only be misleading or wrong and I am not comforted or convinced when he says that there is no safety concern from GE food products. GE crops have only been around since 1996 and we are all part of a new experiment without the option to choose.

It is time for the Canadian government to require labels on GE products so consumers can make their own choices instead of having to rely on government action.


Richard Enns, Coldstream councillor and fruit producer



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