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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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June 10, 2008


Deconstructing Dinner


Canadians Denied Food Labelling

A bill calling for the mandatory labelling of genetically-engineered foods is denied in the House of Commons.


Jon Steinman


Canadian media provides little coverage on the topic of genetically-engineered (GE) foods. However, for some, this absence may be seen as a good thing.


Take into consideration how easily the media regurgitates information from political leaders and now consider that in the case of GE-foods, there appears to be an epidemic of misinformed politicians around the world.


In a speech on May 1, 2008, President Bush addressed how the United States would respond to the worsening global food crisis. He urged countries that have erected barriers to GE-crops to remove them. "These crops are safe, they're resistant to drought and disease, and they hold the promise of producing more food for more people," stated Bush.


There is, however, one problem.


There is not one commercialized crop in the world that has been engineered to be resistant to drought!


As for disease-resistance, there are only two on the market - a squash variety and a papaya. These two crops are grown in very small quantities and present little, if any promise of responding to global food crises.


We've had our own recent political discourse on the issue of GE-foods here in Canada.


In February of this year, Bloc Quebeçois member of Parliament, Gilles-A. Perron, introduced bill C-517 into the House of Commons.


The bill was calling for the mandatory labelling of genetically-engineered foods. It stated that if a food contained GE-ingredients, the label would inform Canadians of their presence.


C-517 was first debated on April 3 and then again on May 5. However, similar to the example of President Bush, another shocking problem exists here at home.


It appears that members of Parliament who opposed the bill not only admitted in the House how uninformed they likely were about what GE-foods are, but chose to use untrue statements to assure fellow MPs and Canadians that such foods present no concerns.


No other Canadian media has reported on this.


Rob Merrifield is a Conservative MP representing the Alberta riding of Yellowhead. He joined the debate on May 5.


Prior to launching into his remarks, he asked fellow MPs and Canadians to trust his judgment. "I have to qualify my remarks prior to proceeding," said Merrifield. "I have worked with genetically modified foods. I have farmed all my life. I have also worked with conventionally grown crops and have a background in understanding crop development, how species grow, and what benefits or risks may exist with regard to genetically modified foods."


Sounds like enough of a reason to trust his opinion, right? Not exactly.


As Merrifield continued his speech, he addressed the environmental concerns such crops pose. It has long been a worry that GE-crops would cross-pollinate with others and be uncontrollable. This very scenario has indeed been playing itself out around the world.


Merrifield on the other hand is not so concerned with such environmental risks. "I am very confident that Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are watching that very closely," said Merrifield. "To date, I have not seen a significant problem on that side of it and one of the reasons is that the technology has allowed for a terminator gene to be put in so that the new generation of those seeds is not allowed to reproduce and cause that kind of problem."


Merrifield was referring to what are known as Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTs); a process of genetically engineering a plant to produce sterile seeds at harvest.


The technology has received widespread opposition around the world.


Similar to President Bush, MP Merrifield also seems to be suffering from an epidemic of misinformation because there are currently no approved GURTs in Canada or in any other country!


Such misinformation was even more shocking as it followed a rather ironic series of statements.


In the early stages of his speech, Merrifield stressed how important it is that Canadians know the truth. "Whatever label goes on those products has to be accurate," said Merrifield. "It cannot be misleading. It must inform the consumer in Canada as to exactly what they are eating and the risks that may or may not be associated with foods."


To add even more icing to the genetically-engineered cake of irony, Merrifield shared his fears with his fellow MPs. "My fear is that if we put a label on genetically modified foods the electorate would not quite understand what it means," stated Merrifield. "In fact, I would suggest that there is a real strong debate, both in this room by many members of Parliament and by members of the public, as to what is a genetically modified food."


Clearly, Merrifield is one of those MPs.


Based partially on this and other misinformation shared throughout the debate, bill C-517 was negated on May 7 by a vote of 156-101.


The Office of the Minister of Health's Tony Clement has refused to comment on this issue.


Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. More information on today's topic can be found at  (






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