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Genetic Engineering Food Fight

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Did you know that 65 to 95 per cent of processed food products contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients? Yet because sectors of the food industry have resisted identifying these foods, and because our regulatory bodies have chosen to adopt a voluntary labelling system, many consumers do not know what's in the foods they're.

Did you know that 65 to 95 percent of processed food products contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients? Yet because sectors of the food industry have resisted identifying these foods, and because our regulatory bodies have chosen to adopt a voluntary labelling system, many consumers do not know what's in the foods they're eating.

The current food system is dominated by four major GE crops: soy, corn, canola and cotton. The US Department of Agriculture predicts that 74 percent of the soy planted in 2002 in the US will be engineered, as well as 71 percent of the cotton and 32 percent of the corn.

Canada and the United States have planted 74 per cent of the world's genetically engineered crops. Brewster Kneen, author of Farmageddon (New Society Publishers, 1999) and participant in the international Codex Alimentarius negotiations concerning genetic engineering, estimates that two-thirds of the canola crops planted in Canada are genetically engineered.

Today's Food Ingredients

Common derivatives of soy include:

  • soy protein (concentrate and isolate) - used to improve texture, hold moisture, whiten products, extend shelf life and improve mouth feel and "machine ability." Found in breads, cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals and bars, non-dairy frozen desserts, cheeses and milks, pastas, infant formula, nutritional supplements, meal replacement beverages, meat substitutes and meat, poultry and fish products.

  • soy flour - used to add extra protein. Found in processed meat products, baked goods, meat substitutes and pastas.

  • soy bean oil - found in salad dressings, frozen foods, margarines and shortenings, imitation dairy and meat products, breakfast cereals, frozen desserts, peanut butter, confections and snack foods. Used for commercial deep-frying.

  • soy lecithin - widely used as an emulsifier. Found in sauces, salad dressings, chocolate, candy coatings, margarines and shortenings, yeast and alcohol.

Corn derivatives include invert sugar or syrup, starch, citric acid, benzoates, citrates, sorbates, erythritol, ethanol, manitol, dextrose, dextrin, fructose, glucose, sucrose, gluten, glucona delta lactone (GDL), maltodextrin, malt syrup or extract, mono- and diglycerides, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sorbitol and vegetable gum, as well as all the ingredients identified as a corn product. These ingredients can be found in most processed foods including sweetened apple sauce, enriched flours and pastas, baby formula, vanilla extract and in unexpected places such as cough drops, vitamins and nutritional supplements, toothpaste, mouthwash and the glue on stamps and envelopes.

Canola enters the food system primarily as an oil product. According to 1996 Agriculture Canada statistics, canola oil accounts for 75 percent of the vegetable oil produced in Canada. It's in salad dressings, shortenings and a large percentage of our margarines. Canola can also be found in many of the same places as soy oil: soy cheeses, mayonnaise and sandwich spreads, coffee whiteners, cake mixes, breads and snack foods. It's also used for commercial deep-frying. Canola meal (what is left after the oil is pressed out) enters our food system as a common feed for livestock and poultry.

Cotton is not commonly thought of as a food product, yet cottonseed oil can be used in many of the same applications as canola or soy oil.

Consumer Action

What's on the horizon? GE wheat is very close to commercialization. Like corn and soy, wheat is very widely used in the food industry. Despite the fact that the Canadian Wheat Board has come out against GE wheat, and even though a class action lawsuit has been launched by organic farmers in Saskatchewan, this remains a very real threat to our food system.

How can consumers help? Take every food product off your kitchen shelves and write to the address on the box or can. Tell the manufacturer that you won't buy their product if it contains GE wheat or any other engineered ingredient. Read product labels carefully for the ingredients mentioned above and choose certified organic options whenever possible. Go shopping with Greenpeace Canada's Shopper's Guide to GMO-Free Foods. Call them at 1-800-320-7183 or download the guide from greenpeace.ca.

Write your MP (no postage required), House of Commons, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6. Also send a letter to the Honourable Lyle Vanclief, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food; the Honourable David Anderson, Minister of the Environment; the Honourable Anne McLellan, Minister of Health; and the Honourable Don Boudria, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board.

A final note: The only effective ban on GE foods has been driven by consumers around the world. There's no time like now to get involved.

Canadian GE Food List

The list of GE crops approved in Canada as of May 2002 includes:

  • canola - 12 varieties
  • corn - 15 varieties
  • cottonseed - four varieties (not grown in Canada but may be imported)
  • flax - one variety
  • potato - five varieties (all have been withdrawn from the market)
  • squash - two varieties (not grown in Canada but may be imported)
  • tomato - three varieties (not grown in Canada but may be imported)
  • soy beans - three varieties
  • sugar beet - one variety
  • wheat - one variety.

Source: agcanada.com

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