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.

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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