Polls spanning the last twenty years have consistently shown that the majority of Canadian consumers want meaningful GMO labeling on the products they purchase for themselves and their families. The most recent poll shows that 78% of Canadian consumers want GMO foods labeled. Despite this, on May 17, 2017 Canadian Members of Parliament voted down Bill C-291, which would have required mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. To public interest groups like the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), Vigilance OGM, and other Canadian shoppers and non-GMO activists, the defeat of this bill feels like another setback in a long-fought battle.
While disappointment is understandable, the defeat of this bill is just that— the defeat of a bill, not of a movement. American shoppers recently experienced a similar disappointment with the passing of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law (Public Law 114-214, also known as the DARK Act) in July of 2016, which will establish nationwide rules for GMO labeling. The new mandate will allow companies to label GMO products using QR codes and 800 numbers which excludes the nearly 74 million Americans who do not own smartphones, and uses a definition of bioengineering so narrow and ambiguous that it, according to the FDA, “will likely mean that many foods from [GMO] sources will not be subject to this bill.” Non-food products, even those applied directly to the skin, are also completely exempt from this law. While the Non-GMO Project is in favor of mandatory labeling, we strongly object to this new law, as it is written.
Since last July, the non-GMO movement has bounced back with even greater strength and determination, and the Butterfly has continued to soar. With the Canadian and American governments’ refusal to represent the majority of their constituents, the Non-GMO Project verification mark is more important now than ever.
Many shoppers are already aware of the need to read labels on packaged foods, about 80% of which contain GMO high-risk ingredients like corn, soy, and canola. But stores in Canada are already, or will soon be, seeing genetically modified fresh produce and animal products including AquAdvantage salmon, Arctic apples and Simplot Innate potatoes hitting their shelves. Health Canada has determined that these products do not pose immediate health risks, and because Canada does not currently have any mandatory GMO labeling laws, they are not required to be labeled as GMOs and will simply be added to grocery store aisles next to conventional products.
AquAdvantage salmon is a farm raised Atlantic salmon that has been engineered to grow significantly faster than its non-GMO counterpart using a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from a completely different type of fish called an Ocean Pout. This promoter gene acts as an “on” switch for the growth hormone gene and allows the salmon to grow at an expedited rate. Arctic apple and Simplot Innate potato have both been engineered to prevent browning by silencing the genes that cause browning and bruising when cut.
What can you, as a Canadian shopper, do to avoid these products?
If you’re struggling to find verified options in the stores near you, here are a few simple alternatives:
Shop wild. AquAdvantage salmon is farm raised, genetically modified, Atlantic salmon. One easy alternative is to buy wild caught salmon— which is, for now, always non-GMO.
Buy organic. If Non-GMO Project Verified options are not available, looking for organic options is the next best choice for avoiding GMOs. The use of GMOs is prohibited in organic products, and farmers and processors must show that they are not using GMOs, and are protecting their products from contact with GMOs, in order to meet USDA Organic regulations. These requirements help prevent GMO contamination of organic foods, but do not eliminate the risk completely. The Non-GMO Project builds upon organic’s measures by requiring testing of all major GMO risk ingredients, as ongoing testing is critical to identifying and eliminating GMO contamination. There is not currently an organic certification program for aquaculture, but there are many different options available at most grocery stores for organic potatoes and apples.
Ask your grocer. If you’re unsure if your grocery store carries these new GMOs, don’t be embarrassed to ask! Your local grocer will be able to tell you whether or not they carry them, and how to avoid them if you choose to do so.
Do you have other tips and tricks for avoiding GMOs when shopping for produce and animal products? Let us know in the comments below and help your fellow shoppers find non-GMO options for themselves and their families!