News | Petition circulating to label all genetically modified foods

Quebec environmental groups concerned over health and environmental implications

A group of Quebec environmental organizations have filed a petition with the provincial government to introduce the obligatory labeling of genetically modified (GMO) foods in grocery stores.

The Réseau québécois contre les OGM (RQcOGM), a network of Quebec environmental groups, wants the government to adopt proposals it put forward in a 2004 report entitled “Food Safety: A challenge for society and responsibility of all the stakeholders in the food system.”

If the government adopts the proposal, it would be the first in Canada to do so.

Charles Tanguay, director of communications for Union des Consommateurs, a non-profit Quebec union defending the rights of consumers, told The Daily, “We want to be a leader, to convince the rest of Canada it’s time for GMO labeling. It is a basic right of consumers to know.”

Thibault Rehn, a volunteer with RQcOGM, explained that Canada is the fourth largest GMO producer in the world, after Argentina, Brazil, and the United States.

The Health Canada website states that “Every new GM food product must undergo a rigorous pre-market safety assessment before it is allowed to be sold in Canada… No GM food is allowed on the market in Canada unless Health Canada’s scientists are satisfied that the food is safe and nutritious.” In spite of this, Rehn said that it is possible for some foods to go undetected.

Although Canada produces mainly GMO corn, soy and canola, Rehn explained that GMO produce is also used to make products such as corn syrup, which is then used in multiple other products that the consumer is unaware of.

The proposal also calls for better inspection and regulation of GMO foods due to the unknown effects of growing and consuming such foods.

“There is more and more evidence that there could be consequences from GMOs that could be underestimated,” said Tanguay. He cited a study from Sherbrooke University Hospital that found Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – a pesticide used to genetically modify corn, making it pest resistant – in women’s blood. The researchers also discovered that the toxin could be passed through fetal blood.

David Szanto, a Concordia PhD student who teaches a course on food systems, explained that “Since we have been domesticating plants and animals we have been genetically modifying them, but GMOs created in a laboratory are much more recent. Part of the fear and the risk is that we do not know the long term effects.”

The petition also raises concerns over the contamination of non-GMO crops and the subsequent threat to biodiversity.

“We feel there is a lack of regulation of GMO crops that can lead to contamination of non-GMO [crops],” said Rehn. “There is no liability when such contamination occurs.”

Szanto stated a similar concern over cross-contamination. “Unlike chemical or nuclear waste, which degrades over time, biological waste actually multiplies,” he said.

“GMOs go into the environment, cross pollinate with non-GMO foods and then reproduce,” he continued.

“This is really showing us that you can’t fool around with nature without a chain reaction that could get out of control,” said Tanguay. “It’s changing the nature of things and we are very worried.”

The petition calls for proposed changes to be adopted by the Quebec government by July 2012.