LETTER FROM ONTARIO
GMO in food: The story we are not telling

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

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 evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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Posted 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 ingredients."
  • 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 food.

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.

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For more on the myths about hunger and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a Christian response to hunger visit
www.foodgrainsbank.ca/research/myths.html.


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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. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.