February 20, 2017
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?
- Is 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 and are currently on the market as food: corn, soy, canola and white sugar beet (for sugar processing). These are widely used as ingredients in processed foods and as animal feed in meat and dairy production. There is also small amount of GM sweet corn but there is no GM popcorn. GM apples, potatoes and salmon could soon be sold as food (a small amount of GM apples and GM potatoes could be sold in the summer and fall of 2016) but are not yet on the market.
Also, 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.
- GM Apples: A GM non-browning apple was approved in Canada and the US in 2015 but it is not yet on the market.
- GM Potatoes: Monsanto took GM potatoes off the market in 2001 because of consumer rejection but Health Canada has just approved a new GM potato in 2016 and some could hit the market in the summer of 2016.
X GM Salmon: A GM Atlantic salmon was approved in May 2016 in Canada but it is not likely to be sold as food until 2017 at the earliest.
X GM Tomatoes: There are NO GM tomatoes on the market anywhere in the world.
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.
For more information see CBAN's GMO Inquiry report "Are GM Foods Better for Consumers?"
For details on where these GM crops are planted, and how much, see CBAN's report "Where in the world are GM crops and foods?"
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.
- Many packaged foods are now also labelled non-GM through the Non-GMO Project
5. Is there a PLU (price look-up) code that tells me if a product is GMO?
They are the small labels on your fruits and vegetables.
Number “9” is Organic: PLU (price look-up) codes distinguish between organic and conventionally produced fresh fruits and vegetables. But certified organic food is already identified with the organic national standard logo. 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 papaya and 94011 identifies an organically grown papaya.
Number “8” is NO LONGER USED FOR GMOS: The International Federation for Produce Standards has actually set aside a number (8) for identifying GM foods but it was not being used and was changed in 2015 to identify conventionally produced food (not organic).
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.
- For more information see CBAN's GMO Inquiry report "Are GM Foods Better for Consumers?"
- or see the 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.
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.