A scene from MODIFIED, a new film by Aube Giroux
When I began working on a documentary film about GMO labeling nine years ago, most people I spoke to didn’t know what a GMO was. Public awareness and understanding of GMOs has come a long way since then, but the struggle for clear labeling continues. While 65 countries around the world label foods produced from genetic engineering, Canada remains the only industrialized country without a labeling mandate, despite numerous North American polls repeatedly showing that 9 out of every 10 people want to know if their food has been genetically modified.
In light of the recent passage of the DARK Act in the United States, it’s encouraging to see that there may be a beacon of hope for GMO labeling in Canada. On June 14th, Canada’s youngest Member of Parliament, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, introduced a new bill (C-291) that would make GMO labeling mandatory across Canada. The bill will be up for parliamentary debate this winter and could be voted on as early as spring of 2017.
The last time a similar bill was introduced in Canada was in 2008. It was defeated by a vote of 101 to 156 despite overwhelming support from the Canadian population.
GMOs are regulated under several agencies in Canada, but Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are the two agencies responsible for labeling policies. Their long-standing position is that Canada has a science-based regulatory system and unless a new GMO poses potential health risks, it need not be labeled.
But there are very compelling reasons to label GMOs in Canada. Aside from the widespread support in the general population, the Canadian GMO regulatory system has been sharply criticized by Canada’s most prestigious scientific body. In 2001, at the request of the Canadian government, the Royal Society of Canada struck an Expert Panel to assess our regulatory system. The panel issued a 265-page report that stated that Health Canada could not legitimately claim to have a science-based regulatory system since none of the scientific safety assessments upon which approvals of new GMOs are based are peer-reviewed. The panel recommended a more precautionary and transparent regulatory approach, whereby the science would be made available to the public and to peer review. The panel also called into question the scientifically unjustifiable principle of “substantial equivalence” upon which the Canadian and American regulatory systems are based, as well as the absence of long-term monitoring in the Canadian population. The report made 53 recommendations to the Canadian government, but to this day, 15 years later, only 2 of those recommendations have been fully implemented. The simple fact that their recommendations have not been acted upon is grounds for Canadians to demand that GMOs be labeled so that people can make their own decisions whether to consume them or not.
Meanwhile, in the province of Quebec, the group Vigilance OGM is leading a province-wide campaign to introduce mandatory GMO labeling at the provincial level.
With an increasingly engaged public and a new liberal government that has promised to be more transparent, the time could be ripe to make GMO labeling become a reality in Canada.
If you would like to see GMO foods clearly labeled in Canada, sign this petition.
Aube Giroux is a filmmaker and award-winning food blogger on PBS Food. Her feature-length documentary film, MODIFIED, is close to completion. By contributing to her crowdfunding campaign, you can be the first to see the finished film.
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