By Cherilyn Nagel: Mossbank, Saskatchewan, Canada
The best thing to happen for Canadian food last year took place in California.
Voters there rejected Proposition 37, a badly flawed ballot proposal that would have required special labels for food that may contain genetically modified ingredients.
For years, anti-biotech activists here in Canada have talked about pursuing a similar scheme. They’ve blogged about it on their websites and have campaigned against modern agricultural methods. They haven’t made much headway, in part because so few people buy into their non-science alarmist arguments.
The results of Prop 37 should encourage these protestors to give up: Labeling GMO’s wouldn’t make food any safer, in California, Canada, or anywhere.
But extremists can be immune to facts-- including the fact that over 1 billion meals with GMO technology have been eaten around the world, with not a single reported case of negative human health effects.
Mandatory labeling would only serve to increase the cost of food production. In the United States, the pro-label radicals are already pushing a new initiative in the state of Washington, neighboring British Columbia.
Let’s hope this bad idea doesn’t slip across the border and force us to endure our own political fight.
Agriculture is one of the great engines of the Canadian economy--and much of our success in recent years comes from advances in technology that allow us to grow more food on less land.
On our farm in Saskatchewan, we’ve grown GM canola for almost 10 years. There are obvious advantages for us on the farm, but this technology benefits all Canadians. Boosting our productivity keeps food prices down and helps protect the environment.
Anti-biotech activists seek to turn back the clock on this progress. They fail to see the science behind the benefits. They want warning labels to demonize ordinary products, reduce consumer confidence, and hurt an entire industry, even as food and health organizations around the world have endorsed the adoption of GM crops.
For me, the issue is personal. I have two young daughters, and we feed them what we grow on the farm. That includes food with GM ingredients. As a parent, I’m very comfortable feeding my children food produced from GM crops. But I’m inundated with anti-biotech propaganda while shopping at the grocery store. I’m irritated by irrational labeling… like "GM Free" stickers on products that don’t even have a GM counterpart. Thanks for the "warning!" Parents have enough to worry about these days when feeding our families, we don’t need more unsubstantiated fear tactics.
In 2002 the Hudson Institute found that organic and "natural" food products were eight times more likely to be recalled or suffer other food safety problems, compared to their conventional counterparts. Those who are concerned about food safety should turn to science. Most of us with children in the public school system are faced with the issue of food allergies. If all the lobbying dollars being thrown at anti-biotech campaigns were diverted to science, perhaps we could remove the protein that causes peanuts to be allergens, or address the root of lactose intolerance.
The enemies of biotechnology love to talk about the publics "right to know." I agree wholeheartedly: The public has a right to know that biotechnology is an essential part of our food security in the 21st-century. Biotechnology warning labels shouldn’t be a part of it, especially here in Canada. Warning labels should be reserved for allergens and other real food safety concerns.
Thankfully, the tide of public opinion is turning in Canada. Citizens are starting to realize the value of this new technology – whether it’s lower food costs, improved soil conservation or reduced use of scarce resources.
The outlook for GM technology continues to be bright. Future applications promise to use fertilizer more efficiently, help grow crops under drought conditions or improve the nutritional profile of crops. Biotechnology in the future means growing more with less. It also means creating healthier food. This is the legacy that I want to leave to my children.
Cherilyn and her husband own a diversified grain farm in Mossback Saskatchewan, Canada. In addition to farming, Cherilyn is active in many agricultural policy initiatives to improve the sustainability of agriculture and advocate for modern agricultural practices. Cherilyn is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
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