Walk into any grocery store and look around. An astonishing 70 per cent of what's before you in the produce, packaged food and fresh baked aisles contains genetically modified ingredients.
That's the thing with GMO corn, soy and canola - they sneak into everything. But you'd never know it by reading labels. For labels telling you a food contains GMO ingredients, you'll have to fly to Europe, Australia, Japan, India or even China.
As it stands, the feds here consider disclosing such information a voluntary matter. Go figure, companies opt not to. Could that all start to shift if Californians vote in mandatory GMO labelling in the coming days? America's most populous state is putting the right to know to a public vote in a ballot proposition, Proposition 37, on November 6.
Why should Canadians care? Eric Darier, Greenpeace International's senior sustainable agriculture campaigner, stationed in Montreal, says, if Prop 37 goes ahead, we may start seeing food imports from California stamped with the GMO label.
It could also inspire provincial GMO labelling campaigns on our own turf, and maybe even breathe new life into the federal NDP's private member's Bill C-257. Don't be shy: tell your MPP and MP you want to see mandatory GMO labelling and sign this petition: change.org/LabelGMOs.
In the meantime, one way to ensure your food isn't genetically engineered is to buy certified organic, since deliberate use of GE is outlawed on organic farms. True, more organic farmers are reporting traces of GMOs turning up in their fields (contaminant pollen blows in from neighbouring farms). That's why even the EU permits organic food ingredients to contain under .9 per cent GMOs without labelling, though levels are typically way lower.
Now, don't run out and buy just any organic food. Actually, you may want to boycott some brands until their parent companies stop funnelling cash to fight Prop 37. The Cornucopia Institute has released a shoppers guide to GMOs' corporate charlatans versus organic heroes.
Some of the bad guys: Kashi (corporate parent Kellogg donated $632,500), Silk soy products (corporate parent Dean Foods sent $253,000), Santa Cruz Organics (parent company Smuckers gave $387,000), Simply Orange (corporate papa Coca-Cola anted up over $1 million) and, sadly, my own fave snack bar, Larabar (owner General Mills forked over half a mil.)
Toss in another $7 million from GMO giant Monsanto and, voila, you've got big-budget funding for the recent TV and radio advertising blitz attempting to knock public support for GMO labelling off its feet. Recent polling shows it's been pretty damn successful, too, but we'll find out November 6.
Wondering which brands are donating to the pro-labelling side? Nature's Path, Dr. Bronner's, Lundberg rice, Eden, Nutiva, Amy's Kitchen, Cliff Bar, Earthbound Farm and many more. (For the most recent chart, check cornucopia.org.)
By the way, there's a rumour going around that if you learn to crack PLU (price look-up) codes on your apple or cereal box, you can uncover the ugly truth about whether your Wheaties or Royal Galas come from lab-tinkered seeds. The web is full of directives stating that you can steer clear of GMO foods by avoiding five-digit PLUs that start with the number 8.
And it's sort of true. The wizards behind PLUs did devise category 8 for those who wanted to maybe charge more or differently for GMO foods. But guess what, people? Like Canadian GMO labelling laws, PLUs are voluntary and no company wants to tell consumers, "Psst, look over here - we use GMO ingredients!"
What I can tell you is that products with a PLU starting with 9 are certified organic. Of course, here, too, the PLU system is optional, so not everyone is using it. The absence of number 8 or 9 doesn't indicate that a food is neither certified organic nor genetically modified.
Other tips? Look for the nongmoproject.org seal, and buy direct from GMO-free organic farmers at local farmers' markets or via farm-direct food shares (csafarms.ca). And it's never too early to start planning next year's GMO-free backyard harvest. Just make sure you're getting your seeds from certified organic or heirloom sources like uharvest.ca.
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