The debate over GM foods

Is it best that people should know how laws and sausages are made? With media coverage of politics these days, most people know more about the former. And with sausages, we’re talking about food — in this case, specifically crops that are genetically modified.

So much of what is said or written about GM foods is countered with an opposite. They are safe; you can’t prove that (precautionary principle). They don’t save money; farmers are more productive. They are not needed; yet GM foods are in many processed foods. Label GM foods, as is consumer’s right to know; labelling “may contain” means nothing and puts a safe product in the same category as peanut labelling. Organics are safer and more nutritious; no they’re not, because they’re subject to contamination.

It goes on.

A Health Canada survey released this summer that prompted the special report on consumer attitudes toward GM foods in this edition says only 26 percent of respondents indicated they would be comfortable eating GM foods, and only 22 percent support the development and sale of GM foods in Canada.

Related stories in this issue:

Almost 80 percent of respondents want GM foods labelled.

A story on page 52 notes that while farmers are embracing GM crops, consumers are leaning toward non-GM ingredients, leading one major food company, Dannon, to announce it was converting several of its yogurt brands to non-GM.

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Producers and consumers are going in opposite directions.

The biggest problem, the survey suggests, is that “consumers’ basic understanding of food science and technology is low.”

The suggestion seems to be to educate more people about GM crops. But, based on survey attitudes, it appears to be a bit of a gamble. Will educated consumers accept them as a rational approach to food production or turn on them en masse?

Science alone isn’t doing the trick. Even though 88 percent of scientists believe GM food is safe, many people don’t trust scientists if their studies were at all funded by large biotech corporations.

There is a strong push for farmers to do the talking because they are trusted by consumers. Failure to communicate about GM foods may well see more consumer groups forcing politicians to enact laws that are counter-productive.

Throughout this edition you’ll see stories on the state of the GM debate. We hope readers will find our special report helpful.

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  • old grouchy

    “The biggest problem, the survey suggests, is that “consumers’ basic understanding of food science and technology is low.” to that needs to be added agriculture. Agriculture has diverged sharply in the last number of years with there being a insurmountable divide between the organic and the conventional groups. Each claims to have the whole truth and the best products. Likely neither group is right. My qualms stem from two divergent points:
    1. I have never been given an explanation of how a plant can distinguish between a molecule of nitrogen from manure and that of judiciously applied fertilizer.
    2. Scientists claim that all GE (AFAIK was this group like to call what is popularly called GMO) entities are totally safe.

    Re: #1 I’m uncomfortable with the incredible reliance most of agriculture has on herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, a reliance to the point that many crops just won’t survive without the use of these tools and all to often with multiple applications.

    Re:#2 I see the enormous returns and amount of funds generated for a few corporations in the development of these GE entities and I wonder at the veracity of that system. Why, you ask, well in my experience any time there is a lot of money on the table basic principals often get left in the dust of the stampede for ever more of those funds.

    So what am I, I do realize that I need to be branded, well I am neither scientist nor just a consumer. I want good things too eat and I want others to also have access to those same things. What am I – – – well I’m a farmer.

  • turtles have a say

    i agree with old grouchy. If these GM’s are so safe (and maybe they are) then what is the big deal about labeling them? We should have the right to choose safe GM foods or safe organic foods, either way, they should ALL be LABELED. Health Canada states that labeling should only be done for healthy and safety reasons. Even if GM is safe to say, I still should have the right to choose. Maybe some people are allergic to GM properties, that’s a health and safety issue. It makes me feel that Health Canada is getting paid by these corporations (as they do from the meat, dairy and egg industry) to say things that may or may not be true (for example: the “healthy food eating guide” states you need meat, dairy and eggs for a balanced lifestyle and you need to eat them daily-well thats BS!) They have been paid to put that eating guide out and its not true or in the best interest of the public. If the GM corporations and lobbyists continue to fight against labeling, it means there is something to hide from the public. This is one of the many reasons only 22% of the public supports GM foods. There is not enough info or science based info to state they are safe because if there was, it would be labeled!

    • Harold

      Those who are only seeking accountability have been deliberately mislabeled as anti-gmo at the liberties of the GMO industry, and have been further confounded by our government agencies. It is very ordinary for a man or woman to walk away from unaccountability, and be anti- to unaccountability, without the prefix Anti- added. The names of those who have been so called ‘debunked” have never been given a public hearing. Only their names, and only when the individual is highly influential. I have never witnessed anywhere, on any gmo site, where the evidence of the “debunked” is debunked. It’s as a court before a judge (us) and a defendant (gmo) without hearing the evidence of the prosecutor. (our examination) Case dismissed, as they on your behalf, have deemed the prosecutor irrelevant. This is perhaps fine if we choose that we are illiterate and need their explanations. Further, their explanations are backed by the witnesses for the defense in our “court”. In other words, you will never see the evidence of the “debunked” corrected by the evidence of the debunker, contained in the same document. Only their say so. Defenders of public thought (they) is exactly what the illiterate need . Further we find the illusion of “comfort” in the many peer reviews, yet easily forget that an “Einstein” (one) can dismiss them all. Science held true, dismisses no-one. Anti-GMO is their “buzz” word for their lack of accountability. Who is fearful of accountability?