by Lucy Sharratt
The Canadian government is proposing to allow the contamination of our food supply with genetically engineered foods that have not been approved for safe eating in Canada. This is not a joke or an exaggeration. Agriculture Canada has organized “stakeholder” consultations on what it calls “Low Level Presence” and has opened a comment period until November 25.
The Canadian government wants to allow 0.1 percent (or higher) of our food to be contaminated with genetically modified (GM) foods that have not been approved by Health Canada for safe human consumption. The GM foods will have been approved for safety in at least one other country, but not yet evaluated as safe by our own regulators. The federal government calls it “Low Level Presence” (LLP) and argues this “low level” of contamination from unapproved GM foods is not harmful. But how can it be sure? And why would our government want to do this?
Grain traders in Canada want the easy flow of Canadian commodities around the world, but pesky GM contamination keeps shutting down our global markets. Currently, Canada has “zero-tolerance” for contamination of our food supply by GM foods that have not been approved by Health Canada. This is obviously sound public health and safety policy, but our zero-tolerance is getting in the way of the Minister of Agriculture’s efforts to convince other countries to accept our GM contaminated food. The majority of countries worldwide have not approved any of the GM foods we produce. The argument is if Canada has a zero-tolerance policy, how can we ask other countries to change their zero-tolerance policies and accept GM contamination from Canada? Agriculture Canada says we need to be the first country in the world to accept this type of GM contamination so we can ask our trading partners to do the same.
The federal government says it will look at the regulatory system of the country where the GM food in question is approved and decide if it trusts that system. Additionally, if a corporation has already asked for safety approval in Canada and has submitted its data, even if Health Canada has not yet looked at it, the government can decide to accept contamination from that GM food. There are three slightly different “proposals” for how this “Low Level Presence” could be introduced, but all of them mean the same thing: unapproved GM food on grocery store shelves.
With LLP, the Canadian government is proposing to ignore its own system for safety evaluation of GM foods, a system that is widely criticized as inadequate, but which at least requires foods be declared as safe before we eat them. Legalizing contamination from unsafe GM foods is the end of any pretence from our government that it cares about the health and safety of Canadians when it comes to genetically modified foods. Clearly, the government’s trade agenda trumps safety.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “Canadian consumers enjoy one of the safest food safety systems in the world” and LLP consultation documents note “Food safety is a high priority for the Government of Canada.” However, our government has now decided it does not necessarily need to evaluate the safety of all the GM food we eat. The question now is will we let this happen?
Lucy Sharratt is the coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Network (CBAN). www.cban.ca