Puddle Jumpers

Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel

Produce Aisle GMO Conversation

Last night in the produce aisle at the grocery store, I got into a discussion about GMOs with the produce guy and store manager. I wanted to know whether a package of tofu labeled organic was non-GMO, and if so, why that information wasn’t on the label.

After an unsatisfactory answer by Produce Guy stating that USDA regulations ensure that all things in Canada labeled “organic” are GMO-free, I asked him what Canada’s regulations were. After all, we live in Canada and are governed by different (although perhaps similar) rules. Produce Guy claimed he was 100% sure that an organic product has to be non-GMd thanks to USDA legislation. The store manager was really interested in this question and wanted to prove Produce Guy wrong, even offering Produce Guy 2% wiggle room in case he was wrong, hubris being what it is! Produce Guy held to his conviction. So the store manager pulled out his iPhone and Googled (I love how a company name has become a verb -bless the English language!) the tofu manufacturer’s website for answers. He discovered that there is currently no regulatory body in place to certify a non-GMO product. However, Canadian organic growers do not use genetically engineered plants. What was unclear is who regulates that.

If Canada’s organic farmers, in order to be certified organic, cannot use genetically modified plants or organisms, then how is the use of GMOs regulated? How do I know that an organic product is also a non-GMO? Produce Guy said that all organic products have to be non-genetically modified. But how can I know if it’s not clearly labeled on the package? It can’t be assumed that a consumer knows these answers when buying organic. I suggested that some of the reasons biotechnology was developed in the first place was to increase resistance to herbicides and to create pest resistant strains of food crops, therefore these plants would make good “organic” crops due to their apparent reduction in use of agricultural chemicals. How can I be certain that this isn’t the rationale some growers use when growing organic crops?

Today I found an article on the Canadian Organic Growers website. Apparently in 2009, Agriculture Canada implemented the Organic Products Regulations (OPR) which has a logo that certified organic businesses can voluntarily put on their packaging. As I understand it, to be certified organic, the grower’s operation is inspected by an independent inspector who reports the findings to a third-party certifying body. If the grower has adhered to the OPR, they receive organic certification.

But what about GMOs? Well, under the Organic Products Regulations, any product that has been certified organic cannot be contaminated with GMOs. But why not put that on the label to avoid confusion? My guess it is because it is virtually impossible to prevent contamination by GMOs of non-genetically modified food crops, but this is just a guess. After all, something like 50%-70% of all food crops worldwide have been genetically altered. When you consider the many ways in which plants and animals can disperse material, you can quickly imagine the extent to which GMd products can be spread. Birds, wind, insects, etc. help to distribute these products, thus participating in global transmission and contamination.

Agriculture Canada’s website has links to the OPR regulations. What I can’t easily find is information concerning why a claim of non-GMO won’t or can’t be put on a label.

What we grow, how we grow it and process it is very important. What’s also important is that we, the public, KNOW what we’re eating. With our geologic epoch having been officially labeled by some scientists as the Anthropocene, we need to know not only what’s fueling our vehicles, but what’s fueling ourselves too. Is what we’re doing sustainable? Safe? Beneficial? If so, to whom, and for how long?

If you’re interested in reading and doing some research, here are some links I found:

http://www.cog.ca/index.php?page=consumers-and-standards

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/organic-products/labelling-and-general-information/certified-choice/eng/1328082717777/1328082783032

http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/sci/biotech/reg/bioage.shtml

As for Produce Guy, perhaps we’ll meet again and I’ll give him this FB post for his reading pleasure. If you’re going to claim you’re 100% sure of something, then you better be able to get it right and back it up. Like me when I was 100% sure Plato first suggested the existence of the atom. I was 100% wrong and can back that up! Haha!

Thanks to the vagaries of legislation and regulations, organic products can’t be labeled non-GMO. In Canada, several agencies are involved in the regulation of agricultural products. The main regulators are The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and Environment Canada.The rules are different than the USDA’s, though due to trade with the US and European countries, some of our regulations must comply with these countries’ rules and vice versa. Canadian organic growers must also adhere to federal and provincial rules. Currently, BC and Quebec are the only provinces with regulations governing organic food production.

After doing the little research I did today, I’d go spare trying to make sense of all these rules! I bet lawyers are doing well in the organics biz these days. šŸ˜‰

Happy reading!

Ingrid – Certifiably organically modifying Puddle Jumping posts.

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2 comments on “Produce Aisle GMO Conversation

  1. Jane Harrington
    May 11, 2012

    It’s no wonder you are confused. Here on the east coast, we have growers that claim to be ‘better than organic’ because certified organic growers are allowed to use pesticide sprays that are found in nature (like sulfur and copper for fungicides for example) Our ‘better than organic’ growers call themselves ‘no spray’ or low carbon growers. One apple producer doesn’t have a tractor, instead of using a mower to knock down grass in his orchard, he lies on the ground and rolls the grass flat with his body. I’ve seen him demonstrate it (to my class on a field trip) Sometimes you can go too far worrying about this stuff…

  2. ingridandneil
    June 5, 2012

    Really? Rolling around on the grass to flatten it? Well, I guess he’s getting good exercise at least!

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This entry was posted on May 11, 2012 by in Environment and tagged , , .

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