Growing concern and awareness about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has prompted organic grocery chain Whole Foods Market to label all genetically engineered products in their store by 2018.
Whole Foods claims their shift is due to consumer demands for a comprehensive GMO labelling system. They also state that some of their manufacturers have seen a 15 per cent increase in sales of products stocked in their store that are labelled as GMO-free. They are the first grocery store chain in North America to set a deadline for GMO labelling.
“I think GMO-free products are the future and Whole Foods has identified that,” said Angela Perzow, co-owner of Olives Community Market located in Function Junction. “Before we opened our store in January we toyed with the idea of coming up with our own GMO-free labelling system, but we quickly realized it would be almost impossible to trace every product’s ingredient source. The food industry just isn’t set up for that kind of labelling, there is no transparency yet about what is going into our food and how it’s being produced.”
What are GMOs? Put simply, genetically engineered animals and crops are created by taking genetic material from one animal or plant and plugging it into another. Scientists have found that altering the genetic code in products can lead to a resistance of pests or chemical pesticides, allowing crops to grow larger, quicker and last longer.
Those in favour of banning GMOs claim the altered proteins in crops and animals are not recognizable to human and animal digestive systems and therefore have unknown long term consequences to humans and animals who are ingesting GMOs.
“Biotech companies who are in the GMO business, like Monsanto, do their own research on GMO products. Of course, they claim their own products are safe, but many independent research studies on animals have raised serious concerns,” said Hayley Ingman, co-founder of Earthsave Whistler. “Scientists who try to raise these concerns often find themselves paying a price for speaking out against the corporate giants. If GMOs are as safe as biotech companies claim, why are they so resistant to labelling products and why do they spend so much money trying to stop them from being labelled?”
“Organic” is another buzz word thrown around in the food industry that is a term applied to non-genetically modified foods. They are crops grown using natural fertilizers and limited pesticides.
Scientists from Stanford University recently published a study that found organic vegetables were no more nutritious than non-organic vegetables. The study claims there was a slight increase of pesticides in non-organic produce, but contained levels that were well below harmful rates.
Scientists behind the study admit that when it comes to health, there isn’t much of a difference between GMO produce and organically-produced produce.
There is a movement in North America to require labelling in all stores, but aside from the Whole Foods campaign it has yet to gain any legal footing on a national level. Neither Canada nor the United States require foods containing GMOs to be labelled.
That being said, last year Richmond was the first agricultural jurisdiction in B.C. to pass a motion banning genetically engineered crops from being grown in the city. Despite the motion, Richmond can’t legally enforce the ban because GMO crops are federally regulated.
“I would like Olives to be 100 per cent GMO free, but it would be impossible to state that right now,” said Perzow. “I would have to get everything lab tested. Most of the store is certified organic, which means it is likely to be GMO free, if you believe in the USDA certified organic stamp, which has also been put into question. We try our best.”
The majority of GMO crops are corn, soy, cotton and canola, which are used in vast quantities of processed foods and animal feeds. More than 80 per cent of packaged foods contain the products of those crops, according to supporters of labelling and Nature’s Path Organics.
The Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org) maintains a list of products, retailers and restaurants which carry non-genetically modified products.