Ontario Agri-Food Technologies – FAQs

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Are genetically modified foods

It is a fundamental right that people should know what they are eating.
However, there are some aspects of the labeling of ag-biotech generated
foods that must be considered.

An important aspect of the labeling issue is the cost. Even when
scientific evaluation suggests that there is no need to label GM
(genetically modified) products, I believe in the right of the consumer to
know their origin if this is deemed desirable. However, consumers need to
realize that compulsory labeling will likely increase the cost of food
substantially because of the need to keep GM and non-GM foods separate
from the farmgate to the supermarket and to label some and not others.
Whether consumers will be willing to pay this extra cost, even when there
is no real need for it, has not been determined.

Some technologies aim to make an important change to the composition of
the food. For example, we eat the storage organs of plants such as the
seeds and tubers. These contain specialized storage proteins that have a
restricted range of amino acids and cannot give us all the amino acids we
require in our diet. For many years, first through breeding and now by
biotechnology, attempts have been made to induce plants to produce
products with a full range of amino acids in their proteins. This is why a
Brazil nut protein was added to soybeans. The Brazil nut protein contained
the amino acids the soybean lacked. Foods such as this must clearly be
tested and labeled to avoid any allergic problems, as was the case for the
Brazil nut protein.

Oil made from transgenic canola plants that are herbicide resistant
contains no residue of the transgene or its products. The oil is identical
with the oil from non-transgenic plants. Labelling would indicate a
difference that is not the case. It might be suggested that people should
have a chance to protest biotechnology by avoiding such foods. But do we
need to cater to all special interest groups and where does this stop
especially with prepared food that may contain components from multiple

The level of the product of the transgene may be very small and have no
effect on the properties of the food that contains it. An example of this
would be herbicide resistance in plants where the level of the product of
the bacterial gene is very small. Should these products be labeled even
though they are almost identical to the non-transgenic plants? If there is
any concern at all, they should be labelled to at least make consumers
feel comfortable.

The simplest and cheapest way to deal with customer concerns is to
label products that are free of GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) so
that people who object to the technology or are concerned about its effect
on the food they eat can avoid them. However, consumers choosing these
products should be aware that they will have to pay a premium for them.

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