Consumers worried about where the food they're eating comes from may soon be able to make more informed choices.
This week, the Big Carrot and the Berkeley, California-based Natural Grocery Company have teamed up to launch the Non-GMO Project, a campaign aimed at getting food manufacturers and stores across North America to participate in voluntary testing and labelling for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in organic products.
The Big Carrot's Asa Copithorne says that in the absence of comprehensive food labelling laws for GMOs in Canada and the U.S., consumers can't be sure if foods contain genetically modified ingredients.
While organic standards in the U.S. and Canada ensure that food and supplement ingredients carrying the "organic" label are grown from mostly GMO-free seeds, neither country's labelling system deals with genetic contamination.
The Non-GMO Project will outsource testing to Iowa-based Cert ID, which will measure products for GMOs and provide labels detailing the results. Says Copithorne, "We're hoping other stores will follow in our footsteps."
Not necessarily Loblaws, though. Geoff Wilson, vice-president for industry and investor relations at the grocery giant, says there's already a voluntary labelling standard in Canada for GMOs. He says Loblaws "will be happy to shelve those products [tested by Cert ID]. But by definition of 'organics' we also have a number [of products] that already meet the standards of being GMO-free," he says.
Despite a Canadian Health Food Association study showing that 95 per cent of people want to know what's in their food, this group, too, is hesitant to give the project its seal of approval. "We typically don't link into local projects, only those that are nationwide," says CHFA president Valerie Bell.
But the Council of Canadians, a group that's long pushed for GMO labelling, hopes this GMO-free initiative catches on like the dolphin-free program started by tuna manufacturers. After a while, consumers started opting for the dolphin-free tuna, and other manufacturers quickly began ensuring their catches were dolphin-free, too. Says the Council's director of campaigns, Victoria Gibb-Carsley, "The pressure will be put on the others if they want the business."
Health Canada, meanwhile, is encouraging stores and producers to use the government's labelling system because, says Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson Angela Bilkhu, "it will provide consumers with consistent information."
The Big Carrot's GMO initiative is a good start, but what consumers really need is legislation, says Greenpeace spokesperson Andrew Male. "Canadians need to know regardless of what store they go into whether there are GMOs in their food, and that requires mandatory labelling."