This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's
weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired
weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham,
Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of
the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is
working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable
model for farming in the province. If you'd like to
receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address
each week, send an email to email@example.com
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May 12, 2003: The Canadian effort to create a voluntary
labeling standard for genetically modified food is slowly
grinding to a halt - with the job not done. The Canadian General
Standards Board is proposing another meeting of the 60 or
so stakeholders for one more attempt to build a consensus
for a standard. It's a long shot.
- The missing consensus appears to have many causes:
Some want positive labels: "does contain GM ingredients."
Others prefer negative claims: "does not contain GM
- There is an issue about the level of genetically modified
content that requires labeling. The proposed draft standard
of five percent has failed to win enough votes.
- There's the issue of what to do when GM and non-GM ingredients
accidentally get mixed up.
- Some stakeholders want to label individual ingredients
rather than the whole multi-ingredient food.
- For those genetically modified foods that, once processed,
have no trace of the modification, some want detailed messages
such as "does not contain genetically engineered DNA
and protein but is derived from GM ingredients."
* For some the proposed labeling standard has become so
complex that it will be difficult to use and equally difficult
for consumers to understand.
There is a problem with the stakeholder group's search for
consensus - a significant number of the participants don't
want a voluntary labeling standard. For some, a mandatory
standard works. Others opt for no standard at all. As long
as there is even one item to which they object, the vote for
a consensus standard will be "NO."
Should the extra effort to reach a consensus fail, we will
need to turn to our politicians for a genetically modified
labeling standard. And they must act, sooner rather than later.
The basic reason? Biology has changed.
Back in my high school days, I studied the subject of biology
because it was on the "required to pass" list. Biology
was, at the time, an observation science. We dissected parts
of the natural environment, documented what we saw and tried
to understand the processes of life. Frogs got more than their
fair share of attention.
Today, I am intrigued by developments in biology -- and regret
that I didn't memorize biology basics with more commitment.
Today, biologists are scientific entrepreneurs. Biology has
become an activist discipline. It is no longer about observing
life. It can and will change life. The power of genetic engineering
is capable of creating designer life forms -- and storied
Engineered food is storied food with great potential. If
the food chain is unwilling to tell its story, that potential
will soon stall.
Telling the story means labels.
For more on the myths about hunger and the Canadian Foodgrains
Bank, a Christian response to hunger visit
- May 9, 2003: Walkerton
Inquiry Review: Public policy success equals clean drinking
water for all
- May 5, 2003: The
ethics of biotechnology: Discussion at the stakeholders'
conference goes beyond higher yields
- April 25, 2003: Conference
players agree: Quality, consistency will give edge to local
- April 18, 2003: Complex
land decisions must be based on values, not data
- April 9, 2003: The
emerging managed food chain
- April 3, 2003: Farmer
nominees for the Rural Red Tape Reduction Project
- March 28, 2003: Farm
- March 21, 2003: Myths
- March 7, 2003: Europe
Gets Innovative about Farm Subsidies
- February 21, 2003: Seven
ideas for Strong Rural Communities
- February 7, 2003: An
Action Plan for a Fresh Vision for Agriculture
- January 3, 2003: 2002
ag policy changes to have big impact in 2003
- December 13, 2002: Farmers
know ag’s “multiple-benefits”, but wonder
how to make them profitable
November 5, 2002: Intervening
in farm markets for the public good
- October 25, 2002: Standing
up to commodity agriculture
- September, 2002: Wishes
and dreams for Ontario agriculture
Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and
CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the
website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org.
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