We provide general and detailed information about genetically modified organisms (GMOs or genetically engineered organisms) and the issues they raise, in many formats, including for consumers and farmers. We monitor and undertake careful research on a wide range of questions raised by the use of this technology in food and farming with a focus on the environmental, social and economic impacts. We also provide detailed research on specific issues of concern.
The term “agrofuels” describes liquid fuels produced from food and oil crops grown in large-scale industrial plantation-style systems. Common agrofuel crops are corn, soy and canola, which are also three of the dominant five GM crops. These agrofuels are blended with petrol and diesel for use primarily as transport fuel.
GM contamination is the unwanted escape and spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetic material from GMOs to non-GM plants, animals and foods. GM contamination is living pollution that can self-replicate. Such contamination can have negative environmental, social and economic impacts. So far, farmers have been the first to pay the price of GM contamination.
The markets for genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) crops are dominated by the biggest seed and pesticide companies in the world. Four companies control over 65% of the commercial seed market and the agrochemicals market. The high level of corporate concentration in the seed market has already meant higher prices, limited choices for farmers, a narrowing of genetic diversity in crops, and stagnating innovation.
Corporate Public Relations
The largest seed and pesticide companies in the world – Bayer (acquired Monsanto), Syngenta (now owned by ChemChina), and Corteva (DowDuPont) – are funding various public relations programs to promote public acceptance of their genetically engineered seeds and agrochemicals.
The early warnings of environmentalists about the negative impacts of genetically modified plants are, unfortunately but inevitably, being proven correct. For example, the use of herbicide-tolerant GM crops has increased the use of herbicides and encouraged the evolution and spread of more herbicide-resistant weeds, triggering the use of even more herbicides.
Feeding the World
Supporters of genetically genetically modified crops claim that we need this technology to feed a growing global population. However, the promise to “feed the world” with GM crops overlooks the real causes of hunger, and disregards the many harmful impacts of using GM technology.
GE Free Zones
There are 20 “GE Free Zones” in Canada, most are in British Columbia. The zones were established by local councils due to the work of local people who organized in their communities.
Genome editing or gene editing is a collection of new genetic engineering techniques to alter the genetic material of plants, animals and microbes. The most common of these techniques currently used in experiments is called CRISPR. The techniques raise many of the same risk questions as earlier techniques of genetic engineering, and raise the same environmental, social, economic and ethical concerns.
Gene drives are a genetic engineering tool that aim to force artificial genetic changes through entire populations of animals, insects and plants. Unlike previous genetically modified organisms (GMOs) these gene drive organisms (GDOs) are deliberately designed to spread genetic pollution as an agricultural strategy – for example, spreading ‘auto-extinction’ genes to wipe out agricultural pests.
“Golden Rice” is the name of a rice that has been genetically modified to produce betacarotene, which the body can convert into vitamin A. It is still being tested for safety and efficacy but is being widely promoted as an example of how GM can be used to solve important global problems.
Human Health Risks
We do not know what – if any – impacts genetically modified foods could have on our health. There are still many unanswered questions and there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GM foods. Each GM food on the market has been approved by Health Canada but this process is confidential and relies on industry information.
There is no mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in Canada despite intensive public campaigning and 20 years of polling that consistently show over 80% of Canadians want these labels. Instead, a national standard for voluntary labeling was established, but this is voluntary and no company in Canada has labeled their products as containing GM ingredients.
Low Level Presence
The Canadian government wants to allow 0.2% or higher of our food to be contaminated with genetically modified (GM) foods that have not been approved by Health Canada for safe human consumption. The GM foods will contaminate imports to Canada and will have been approved for safety in at least one other country, but not yet approved as safe by our own regulators.
Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world. It controls 26% of the world’s commercial seed market and owns the seed planted on over 80% of the GM crop acres in the world.
New GE technologies
Many new genetic engineering techniques are emerging from the laboratory, including techniques of genome editing and synthetic biology. There is a global debate raging over how to regulate these new techniques, and what to call them.
Organic food is a non-GM choice. All certified organic food grown in Canada is produced in accordance with the Canada Organic Standard that prohibits the use of GM seeds and other GM products as well as synthetic pesticides.
“Intellectual property” refers to a group of laws – such as patents, Plant Breeders’ Rights, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets – intended to protect inventors and artists from losing control over their intellectual creations/ideas. Intellectual property has become a powerful tool for corporations to create monopolies and consolidate market power.
The term “pesticides” includes herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. The industry promised that genetically modified (GM) crops would reduce the use of pesticides in farming. Instead, herbicide use has increased with the use of GM crops.
Genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) crops were first approved in Canada in 1995 without public debate. There is no labelling of GM foods on grocery store shelves and there is no consultation with the public before new GM foods are approved.
There is an international (UN) moratorium on field testing and selling Terminator Technology (seeds that are genetically engineered to be sterile after harvest). Brazil and India also have national bans on Terminator, though the industry is actively working to end this ban in Brazil.
Canada continues to use bi-lateral and multi-lateral trade agreements to promote trade of genetically modified organisms.