Divergence: If GM technology is safe, why don’t consumers trust it?

Food is tied to much more than the industries and science that produce it.

Its popular history is not in the plant breeding or the planting or the plants and animals themselves. It is in the preparation and the consumption.

And in large part, because of that, the rest of food’s story is based on trust.

Consumers trust that food’s route to their homes is safe, ethical and sustainable. While they don’t know every detail of its production and route through the food processing and distribution world, they do want a general feeling of safety.

This past fall, the American government signed into law an initiative that would require its agriculture department to develop a labelling standard for food that would capture the relationship between genetic modification and the food under the label.

Related stories in this issue:

That was done largely to pre-empt a single state regulation that GM food ingredients be labeled in Vermont. And what happens in the United States has a way of trickling across the border.

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Science in recent times used genetic modification to create bacteria that produce medications and drugs that save human lives, crops with built-in pesticides that reduce the need for more dangerous chemicals and improve farm sustainability and plants and animals that yield more efficiently and produce fewer pollutants.

People were using selective plant breeding in southwestern Asia 9,700 years ago to produce domestic varieties of wheat. Another cereal, corn, was derived by man from a plant called teosinte, which had tiny ears and few kernels. Today, next to wheat and rice, it is one of the food starch staples of modern society.

Selection of genetics through plant and animal breeding has generated all of the food that humans now rely on. Only since 1973 have we been able to manually adjust those genetic selections.

Since that time, the tools to make those changes are more refined and efficient, saving decades of cross-breeding time and the money.

After the 1973 breakthrough in genetic modification, the world stopped to take a breath as scientists, politicians and the media considered and analyzed the enormity of what had been achieved. In the space of a year, research into transgenics had come to a halt while society considered the potential ramifications on the planet’s ecology and on human health. A meeting of leading scientists in 1975 created rules around genetic modification research.

Five years later, the first GM bacteria patent was granted and approved for use. It was a bacteria that broke down oil after a spill.

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In 1982, GM bacteria that produced synthesized insulin was approved. In the early 1990s, the Flavr Savr tomato was approved for sale and, after nearly a decade of testing, GM crops arrived, starting with B.t. insect resistance and followed in 1996 with glyphosate tolerance in soybean and then corn and canola.

Canadian researchers at the University of Guelph produced the Enviropig, a reduced phosphorous excreting animal, which was approved for commercial production but never released, and Canada is one of the first countries to approve genetically modified salmon and apples for production and consumption.

While science forms the basis for Canadian regulation, public acceptance does not necessary follow that same logical path.

Last fall, Health Canada released a report it commissioned to get a sense of Canadians’ opinions surrounding GM use in food production. The majority of Canadians have a poor understanding of the role of GM in their food, the study found. Their understanding of the processes have largely been shaped by negative or controversial media, both social and mainstream, and has been reinforced by non-governmental groups that claim a leading stake in the environment’s protection and anti-GM advocates. The findings suggest that Canadians’ understanding of science is low, and as a result, their trust in it is also low.

In this edition of The Western Producer, we look at some of these opinions, the science and realities of GM in Canada today.

 

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  • richard

    consumers dont trust it because theres nothing in it for them but more cheap food……not inexpensive food……cheap food…. and cheap is the eighth deadly sin.

    • Harold

      You start with a question, add a picture that evokes an emotion, provide predetermined information to program a thought/person to gains the desired action or reaction toward a predetermined favorable outcome, Marketing 101
      They were not really asking a question to receive an answer. They had them all.
      Now the lady at the top is smiling and happy!!. Now we are happy.
      The lady is smart, and you and I remain of “poor understanding”, shaped by controversial media, not that they are the same, un-reinforced by government, Trudeau i presume, and we are basically illiterate, when compared to those who just don’t give a damn or have never questioned. They had every appropriate answer. Again the lady at the top is smiling and carrying on with her day.
      On the other hand, If you shared in the question, you would hear in the article from only those who do not trust it period. That WAS the question. Why don’t consumers trust it? Big BLANK wouldn’t you say. Desired outcome. Marketing 101. I know what I am looking at and where my junk bin is. I think others are beginning to see the same. A void where there should be answers. …

  • Kathleen

    Numerous other countries, through science, have deemed many of the GMO technologies as unsafe. We have allowed big corporations and their ability to lobby government and blackmail/hush up scientists, whether its safe for humans and the environment or not, to change policy…for the betterment of the big corporation solely and not actually for the public or the good of the environment. IF we could actually trust the politicians, IF lobbyist actually had the public interest at heart, IF ALL countries deemed ALL of the GMO technologies safe, IF science actually was able to prove these technologies safe (and not be forced to hush up/hide bad information – and yes I saw this personally), then, and only then, might the average public trust GMO technology. That isn’t the case… simply put.
    There are numerous scientific studies which have proven time and time again that much of the technology isn’t safe, and yet, the big corporation, for the sake of their profit, under the cover of ‘for the public good’, is allowed to skirt normal regs and is given the green light.
    I remember doing research back in the day and one of the requirements of being allowed to have a ‘field permit’ for the purpose of research, very specifically stated that the technology could, under NO circumstances, cross-breed with wild or other cultivated varieties and enter the wild. The GMO industry made big promises about how the technology was not able to ‘escape’ – they must have because they were allowed to do their field studies. And yet…what happened? The technology got out – they crossed with wild and cultivated varieties. It has since been clearly shown that the industry knew from the start that it would happen – they lied and yet…they’ve had nothing, not even a mild hand slap, by the very government and the people to which they lied to. They purposely contaminate wild and cultivated varieties, demand that they be compensated because XYZ farmer is farming their patented GMO technology, and take zero blame and have zero required compensation for the environment or the farmer or clean up requirements.
    And you wonder why the public doesn’t trust the technology? Seriously? Is your head in a proverbial feed sack full of GMO soy?
    GMO crops have NOT decreased costs to farmers. GMO crops have NOT decreased the use of farm chemicals, GMO crops have not increased the nutritional value of food, etc. We’ve been fed this advertising BS for so many years. I was fed it in university. GMO crops have done nothing but increase costs to farmers, contaminate the environment, and promote decreased population base in farming communities. If these mega GMO tech corporations weren’t decreasing the competition and decreasing options for farmers for cropping and management; IF there weren’t so much underhandedness in the science end, IF…IF…IF… And as far as feeding the world… unless the GMO industry is going to magically pay to feed all the millions of people that can’t afford the food (which has obviously been proven thus farm that they haven’t), the GMO industry has done nothing to decrease the cost of food, increase its affordability, and increase yields of equally nutritious food whilst NOT having a negative impact on the soil and other environment areas. We produce far more food today than could possibly feed the worlds population even in 100 years from now for those that can AFFORD the food. Why feed the pocket books of a greedy bunch of liars whose sole purpose is to line their bank accounts instead of actually helping out the worlds hungry or the worlds farmers!
    Actually read the science on the ‘other’ side of the fence from the GMO industry, actually look at the demographics and the human side on the ‘other’ side of the fence from the GMO industry, and then come back and give a non-biased article and question regarding why the public doesn’t trust GMO technology.
    And yes…I used to work in the GMO tech industry and I now promote organic and sustainable farming practices, I now promote increasing the population base of our farming communities through sustainable farming practices so that farming communities are sustainable and don’t just become some arm extension of these mega corporations that are trying to own the worlds food supply.
    And yes…this is a topic that I could talk on for hours and go into so many facets on.

    • Denise

      WE need more people like you on this side of the globe.
      http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/in/News/2017/NO-GMO-support/

    • Harold

      What single man or woman owns Canada? Who can own BC? Who owns Alberta? Who owns Saskatchewan, and so forth? Who owns the World?
      Is it the collective land owners, or is it a piece of paper called government, and another piece of paper, in a lawyer’s file, called Corporation? In cooperation with land owners, government is – guns through to jail – inclusive; they protect.
      Land owners have blessed the corporations by their silence and in-actions, and therefore leading the government to protect the corporate.
      Often time’s, the silence which favor corporate, is created by government and corporate offerings of an array of meaningless words to create landowner breathlessness and exhaustion before one even starts. One such word from hundreds, is the word “sustainability”. It defines no single and obvious object to observe and to scrutinize. (breathless) Many scientists agree…. yet the many are un-named and kept unaccountable and untested. (breathless) “The survey says”…. yet the questions asked not revealed. (breathless) Exists is an endless blanket of non-identifiable objects, mystery, and secrecy. (breathless and silent) Like so many, this article was nothing more than a corporate marketing ploy, and full of deliberate “exhaustive” wording, with the intent to deceive one into believing the article informative. (breathless and silent)
      The other created silence, or disabler, is the Canadians lack of knowledge of their own individual charter of – guaranteed, living and undeniable – rights, and their own human rights and basic law. Deliberate, but yet another story.
      Moreover, to “promote” communities when a province has any resource, you do not export – until all possible jobs are created first within that province. In simple terms, you do not export cattle out of Alberta until all farm to plate jobs are created and a beef food industry has been created and established for trade from Alberta. (Canadian owned). Surplus and beef food product from industry is exported from Alberta, either within Canada or abroad. For each province it is the same for their resources, and Canada it is the same. To over simplify terms, you do not export wheat without first creating an industry of “bread” mills, bakeries, associated trucking and supply business jobs. You export your surplus wheat, with your “bread”. (Canadian owned) To this end, the Corporate is an exporting and importing parasite. Unemployment is very expensive, and “sustainable” is a ridiculous word. To magnify; Alberta struck oil. With this resource, why are Albertans paying taxes at all? Are we truly unable to create the jobs to refine and create product for Canadian and world market trade? What if it were said that land Canada struck Oil? Is there an exporting and importing parasite preventing job and economic growth for Canadian land owners? Who does own Canadian resources and job creation; foreign Investors owning land elsewhere? Is this a responsible pay cheque?
      All said, I believe that I can add this to complement or accompany your comment if you wish.

    • Bruce

      How true Kathleen! The world produces way more food today than is needed. The problem is poverty that needs to be corrected. Not the promoters of GMO technology trying to sell their products.

      • Harold

        The Poverty is caused foremost by a lack of Democracy, electricity, tools of technology, and denied access to there own natural resources to produce industry and competition.
        Government greed and multi-nationals stand in their way, who both profit from the exports that the chosen few “dig” for them. GMO is not their Saviour; and neither are the continuous hand-outs.
        These poverty areas must be kept “alive” to promote GMO and charity organizations, (profit) amid the multi-nationals attempt to attain global food and resource ownership.

    • Happy Farmer

      How does one reply, or even should I reply to what you have written? Well, here is my reply to your thoughts.

      Science has yet to prove GMOs are unsafe. Countries that are putting GMO bans in place are doing so because of fear mongering lobbying. Funny how our modern world works. Even the average person(lobbyist), has the same power with the government as the big or small Corporations. The world we live in has trust only in themselves, partially due to the fact that there are no absolutes anymore.

      Just because a Corporation lied about cross breeding does not mean the technology is unsafe. (Reading many forums today gives one a clear indication that the average person is just as big a liar as any Corporation). Once again, even the average person generally only has their own interests at heart.

      Yes, GMO crops cost money. But even non-GMO crops have dramatically increased in cost to the farmer. Many GMO crops actually use less amounts of(chemical) and lower cost chemicals. Please note the following about most Farmers, we farm to make a profit. Therefore, the crops we grow are doing that, no matter what system we are using.

      I have heard many time that there we are overproducing, yet all of my crop is sold at a profit(to me) every year. There were more times many years ago under the CWB when there was no market for grain, or it was priced way under what it cost to grow.

      If all farmers switched to growing organic I see some big problems developing. 1. We would have to go back to cultivation. This may lead to more wind erosion. It may also lead to lower soil moisture, resulting in lower yields. 2. Yields on a long term per acre basis will go down. The result will be much less production. Yes, that will solve the perceived “overproduction” dilemma. But, it will dramatically drive the cost of food up. 3. OR- There will be a massive overproduction of organic food, resulting in a buyers market(low prices and profits for farmers). If that were to happen, farmers will switch to a crop or system that makes them money.

      Farming is and has been the most sustainable occupation the world has ever known. We as farmers don’t need the public to tell us how to be sustainable, we’ve been at it for years. And we will be at it for many more years. We love what we do. We are not led around by the big Corporations as many suggest. Whatever farming system we choose, we will be paying to line someone else’s pocket when we need to buy something. So I don’t need anyone to tell me whose pocket I should or should not be lining, it is my choice.

      But now that we have established the fact that we all think very differently it begs the following. HOW do we come to an agreement on “food”. Or anything else for that matter. The lack of absolutes and the ease of getting one’s own opinion out there will confound efforts to solve problems in today’s world.

      So I have some suggestions for those who buy and eat food. Buy whatever you want to. Buy it because you believe in it. Buy it because you can afford it. Buy it being thankful for it. But please stop all of your other efforts, whatever they are. If you follow these suggestions, farmers will get the message you want to send. After all, we just want to make a living doing what we love. We will do what the consumer has wanted all along, produce the product they want to buy. Simple consumer buying sends a bigger and more positive message than anything else.

      • Denise

        Science never proved that GMOs are safe. The principled and proper scientific research was ignored by bio -tech industries and agrochemical companies seeking more profits and control in the ag sector.
        Turns out after independent research was conducted that GM crops, which can withstand high levels of poisonous pesticides, are not within safe limits for exposure to the environment or people.. Profitable for Big Ag but not sustainable.
        The smoke and mirrors act of the ag industry involves placing emphasis on the safety of GMOs without mentioning the manipulation of plant genes to tolerate more poisonous and increased applications of combinations of pesticides. The industrial complex of “scientists”did a wonderful job of creating genetically altered plants able to withstand poisons which far exceed anything remotely healthy for life on earth.

        • Happy Farmer

          Using the same science you need to prove that GMOs are safe, please provide a list of non GMOs that have been tested as safe(remember, use exactly the same scientific tests as you would for GMO).

          As to using chemicals on GMO crops I use less(yes, LESS) on my GMO fields than my non GMO. GMO crops may be designed to use a specific chemical, but they have not been designed to use “high levels of poisonous pesticides”. If we as farmers use too much pesticide we run the risk of harming the crop, losing yield and of course losing profits.

          Smoke and Mirrors is not only applicable to Big Ag.

          • Denise

            I refer you to Dr.Ramon Seidler,PhD, retired senior research scientist, from the EPA and former professor of Microbiology at Oregon State University.
            Perhaps you ,as an individual, have been using less chemicals on your crops but collectively farmers have been increasing the use of glyphosate-based herbicides on glyphosate- tolerant crops. How are you combating superweeds?
            It has already been determined that there are harmful effects to humans from glyphosate at concentrations as low as parts per billion(ppb).
            gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/17456-the-time-for-glyphosate-based-herbicide-is-over

          • Happy Farmer

            So, you can’t provide that list! I was actually hoping you could.

            Read your link. No concrete proven proof against GMOs contained in it.

            Truthfully, I don’t have superweeds. I am combatting the potential problem by using combinations of chemicals. (I know you won’t like that). You also need to know that every single farming system leaves some kind of loophole for problematic weeds to develop.

            Just one corrective statement for you. Farmers have not been increasing the use of glyphosate on glyphosate resistant crops, they have been increasing the amount of glyphosate resistant crops.

          • Denise

            The non GMO crops have many issues too. The non GMO crops which are desiccated at harvest time ( for example wheat) with glyphosate (Roundup) leave chemical residues on the grains which play havoc with many people’s guts.
            The TV ads, nowadays, are mostly about which pharmaceutical drugs you can BUY and use to alleviate the intestinal problems caused by these foreign invaders.
            We need to go forward with organic crops( natural selection or hybrids) and apply pesticides ONLY when necessary.
            I don’t need man’s science to tell me organics are safe. Nature has done an amazing job and her products are time tested.
            The industry sponored scientists don’t know what they have created in the lab. Altering one gene DOES affect many other genes in ways they still don’t understand.
            People are waking up to the reality that WE have been the guinea pigs in this massive corporate biotech industry and agro-chemical experiment. There is only one problem, unlke monkeys and mice, we don’t always cooperate. Once people realize there is danger, we can think and make changes necessary to save ourselves. It starts with our diet

          • Harold

            You are asking if there is a study proving that an “Organism” was safe before that same “Organism” was genetically modified. In a broad sense, was corn safe before it was genetically modified. To modify, there has to be an original state. Unlike God, science cannot create things from zero existence. Did original state suddenly become poison and GMO it’s profitable fix?
            Moreover, the tests or studies that you are asking for are called epidemiological among others. Before GMO, these human health science studies were obvious, and time proven, as there were only original state and state altered by the allowances of nature, which were consumed. In other words, a poisonous mushroom, etc. was well documented.
            On the other hand, there have never been human epidemiological tests or meaningful studies done since GMO first entered the market. Further, with GMO hidden in foods, those studies are made impossible, other than in controlled lab rat testing. We are not rats, but are left to the rat for the interpretations of GMO consumption. For this, Denise is correct to say that “…….we have been the guinea pigs in this massive corporate biotech industry and agro-chemical experiment”.
            All said, you do not have a standing to say that GMO foods are safe to consume. Lab rats showing signs of distress are in fact a study which “one up’s” no study at all.
            More and more farming chemicals are being found in unintended places such as daily foods and daily drinks and compounded within the body in each hidden use. Other unintended places are wind transferences and waterways.
            All along, there has been no doubt that your plants are growing exceeding well, while unyielding to the nature around you.
            It is the world according to Bayer, Monsanto, and the like. and in their quest for food ownership and control dominance.

            It is only when i am intoxicated that I think that Monsanto has some perfect advice to give God, and being so, that God is “all ears”. There must be a pesticide in my beer.

          • Happy Farmer

            Harold, just a couple of points.

            I’ve never been opposed to the testing of GM foods. I just believe that such testing should also be applied to various other food products. Just because an organism has been around for many years does not make it safe or poisonous. It is the contents that may make it unsafe. Let’s figure out how to agree on tests that will work on ALL food products.

            I have read many articles regarding GMOs and can’t really see Concrete, Consistent and repeated studies showing they are not safe. There has been a strong opposition to GMOs for over 20 years. It would seem to me that there should be much more proven data showing how bad they are given the forces against them.

          • Harold


            Gm corn produces its own pesticide and continues to be a pesticide after it is consumed. The human gut has an eco-system dependent upon bacteria. (In fact, a healthy human has more bacteria than the human body has cells). Corn is used as major filler in processed foods because corn is cheap. Processed corn, unlike other foods, is retained throughout the body for a very long period time. Lab testing proves this.
            Moreover, many chemical additives are added to processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is added to drinks and foods and is the cause of Diabetes and other disease. Sodium’s used in the food industry, mix with stomach acid, producing a carcinogenic acid which is known to cause Cancer. Sodium is used to retain or attract water for product weight.$ When flavor is too salty, another chemical is added to cover the high sodium content. Then there are Chemicals added for “mouth feel” and more chemicals that create a gas in the mouth to make a product “taste like”. The Industry along with government, provide “safety guide lines’ for the individual product, but compounded by other products of the same chemicals, is never considered. In other words, consuming three, or many, products instead of one daily or weekly a per “safe” guide lines. The recent government and industry debacle were the Energy drinks which led healthy people into the hospitals suffering from various heart failures. (safe? approved?) “Customer choice” and “safe guidelines”, which translates to government working for corporate, keeps these products in the market place today. Doctor’s are warning publicly, and to their patient’s, to stay away from processed foods and drinks. Gee: i wonder why?
            Today, the consumer is so used to chemicals and HFCS that ordinary flavorful foods taste like cardboard.
            As a Nation we are sick, and drugstores are in every food store, just beyond the processed foods aisles, and elsewhere, stand alone drug Supermarkets. Rexal doesn’t seem to be suffering. Incredibly, we believe that our human body is a refinery for the chemical and plant corporations.
            This being said, It seems to me that you were mixing processed foods (food science) with clinical health science,(human) with GMO science (plant) with clinical health science (human) and believing that all were one. They are not.
            I will repeat myself again. There have never been any EPIDEMIOLOGICAL studies done to track consumption of GM foods to assess whether there are ill effects from consumption, for the past 20 years. None. NO STUDY.

            GMO is hidden in food and remains that way. NO STUDY.

            Does this benefit humans or does this benefit Industry profit?
            Can it be any more obvious as to why you “…….can’t really see Concrete, Consistent and repeated studies showing they are not safe”.

          • Happy Farmer

            Due to the fact that High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sodium, and other added Chemicals have been around far more years than GMOs, is it possible they are the main source of bad health? Is it possible that Fast Food is the problem? Is it possible that Less Physical Work is the problem? Here the testing has revealed consistent proven results. But society shows little desire to change. This is why I endorse testing of food, ALL kinds of food. I am not afraid of testing as it pertains to my farming operation.

            So, buy what you want when it comes to food. As a farmer, I will get the message. We won’t need to debate, you buy, I produce. Simple.

        • richard

          Its about controlling the language….if you control the language you control the discourse…. People have become led to believe that chemically dependent plants, on life support from before they are even planted, are both “progressive” and “sustainable”….. One has to wonder how designer seed at seventy dollars an acre and zero resilience, is going to require less of the chemistry (dependence) on which its entire business platform was built? Goebbels was correct yet again: “Propaganda works best when those being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will”…..

  • Denise

    Of course there is no trust, nor should there be. Human beings appear to have a sixth sense. It is called common sense. It is an innate intelligence. And it is really strong in humans who question (?) and are very selective and careful about what they bring home for their families to eat. It is nature’s way of strengthening the gene pool of human beings and ensuring survival of the fittest.
    The pro-GMers love to boast about the benefits of GMOs and how it has increased food production and that it is “safe” . They try to make it normal by saying genetic modification has been around since man figured out how to do selective breeding for desirable traits in plants or animals.
    What they purposely neglect to talk about is the amount of time and energy corporate scientists, in the last 40 years, have spent altering the genetic makeup of seeds and plants to be able to withstand dangerous and copious amounts of pesticides and other chemicals. These pesticides kill everything else in the environment around them, except the GM plants. Awesome,aye? Still think we should put our blind trust in these corporate primates?