GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are created through gene-alteration by taking DNA from one species and injecting it into another, creating combinations of genes that can’t occur naturally or happen through traditional crossbreeding.
While farmers throughout history have been raising plants to achieve certain traits (for example, improved taste, increased results, disease resistance), this relies on the natural reproductive process. Genetic engineering involves the addition of genes that would have never combined in nature.
Am I eating GMOs?
Probably. Common ingredients in processed foods like corn starch and soy protein are mainly derived from genetically modified crops, making them difficult to avoid. Four GM crops are grown in Canada: corn, soy, canola and white sugar beet (for sugar processing). While no meat, fish or poultry products approved for direct human consumption are bioengineered, most of their feed is made from corn, alfalfa, and other GM grains. Only organic or grass-fed varieties of these animal products are guaranteed GMO-free. We could also be importing a small amount of genetically modified papaya, squash, cottonseed oil and some milk products made with the use of Bovine Growth Hormone.
GM foods have been grown and sold in Canada since 1994 and will likely continue to be part of the food supply. As a Canadian consumer, you will likely not know if the foods you buy have been genetically modified. However, Health Canada makes sure that genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Of course, not everyone agrees that GMOs are safe to eat, especially over the long term. The European Union remains skeptical, with very few approved GM crops grown on the continent and mandatory labelling in place for products that contain GMOs. Some scientists fear that GMOs could cause allergies in humans. Others point to the environmental consequences of the farming of GM crops.
It’s still a proceed-with-caution area. GMOs have only been sold in Canada since 1994, so we haven’t had any studies on the long-term effects on our health or the environment. We won’t know for certain until years and years down the line.
Tips for limiting GM foods
If you are concerned about GM foods, there are a few ways to limit them in your diet.
- Buy smart: Buy (and support companies who sell) approved organic or GMO-free foods and snacks (look for a tag or label that clearly states “NON-GMO”) – to make this simple, here’s our non-GMO product page
- Plant a garden: And when you buy plants or seeds, ask if they’ve been genetically modified
- Call food companies: If you’re interested to know if a certain food contains GM ingredients, the food company may be able to tell you
- Voice your opinion: Call food companies, and contact Health Canada or the CFIA and let them know you would like GM foods to be labelled