Sweet Tastes of Summer

By Tooker Gomberg, Toronto, Canada.

One of my sweet joys of summer is chomping into a fresh ear of local corn. But lately that joy has been tarnished: most of the corn in Canada has been genetically modified. So has most of the soy and canola. Without our knowledge or consent suddenly over 60% of the products in your local supermarket contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

And there is no way for you or me to know which is which.

Giant corporations like Monsanto are messing around with the blueprint of life: the genes. Can they can do better than nature which has been working at evolution for millions of years?

Genetic engineering takes microscopic genetic material from one organism and blasts it into another. Scientists have added fish genes into tomatoes to make the them less prone to freezing.

But they don’t know the full dangers. Dr. David Suzuki, geneticist and broadcaster puts it this way: “Any scientist who says it’s safe is either very stupid or deliberately lying. The tests simply haven’t been done.”

One of the UK’s highest-ranking researchers, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, found that rats’ vital organs were damaged after being fed genetically modified potatoes in long term experiments. This fueled a widespread anti-GMO movement throughout Europe.

Society is only now realizing the potential dangers of lawn chemicals, and communities across the land are banning their use. PCBs and DDT were used for decades before we began to understand how dangerous they were.

But once GMOs are in the food chain, it’s not so easy to just stop using them. There is significant concern that GMO crops might cross-pollinate with other plants, contaminating seeds that have been bred over thousands of years, and creating super weeds that will propagate and be impossible to control.

There’s also concern that genetically engineered food could create unexpected new allergens or contaminate products in unanticipated ways, resulting in threats to public health.

Who will pay for damages if something goes wrong with a genetically modified crop?

I want the choice to buy or not to buy genetically altered food. I, and 93 percent of Canadians (according to one poll), want mandatory labelling. Around the world thirty five countries have already adopted measures to require labelling GMO foods so that people can choose. In Europe, processed foods are labeled GMO-Free if they contain less than 1% modified content.

But here in Canada no labeling is required! After intensive lobbying by Canadian non-governmental organizations for mandatory labeling, a committee was set up and a draft bill prepared. The committee recently came out with its recommendations: voluntary labeling, and up to 5% of a product can be mutated and still be called GMO free! Organizations like the Council of Canadians, along with 80 other groups scoffed at this proposal, saying that if such a high percentage was permitted it would make the GMO-free claim meaningless.

It appears that the federal government is putting the interests of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, which wants voluntary labelling, ahead of the concern and health of Canadians.

For my own health I decided to do something about GMO’s — I went shopping. I filled up the shopping cart only with corn products. Corn chips. Corn oil. Kelloggs Corn Flakes. Popcorn.

After I checked through the checkout counter with a total of $66 worth of product, I asked a simple question: “Is there any genetically mutated material in any of these products?” The checkout clerk didn’t know, but gladly summoned the manager for me.

I asked him the same innocent question. He couldn’t say. I refused to buy the products.

It was a slight nudge. But a nudge nonetheless. Imagine if more people did it, clogging all the check out counters! Store management would have to listen.

As I chomp into an ear of organic corn, I savour the taste of healthy food. Going organic is the only way to avoid eating pesticides and genetically modified organisms. And it sure tastes good!