Are you eating GM foods?
There is no such thing as genetically modified oats. But that didn’t stop General Mills from slapping “not made with GM ingredients” onto the label of its original-flavoured Cheerios.
Now that General Mills has picked up on the marketing potential of being GMO-free, it may be time we understand more about the genetic background of fresh produce we eat – all those fruits and veggies that make up our weekly staples.
What are GM foods?
Health Canada defines genetic modification as the “intentional manipulation of the gene structure of a plant.”1 This could involve cross-breeding, mutagenesis and genetic engineering.2
Plant breeding vs. GM
Traditional methods of plant breeding can change genes through selection. The resulting genetic material was already present within a species. Modern lab methods allow us to insert foreign genes.
Are they safe?
Before a GM seed can be planted, it must undergo a rigorous approval process that can take up to 10 years. This is similar to the testing a drug undergoes before approval. The molecular structure of the new food is evaluated, then its nutritional composition is compared to that of its traditional counterpart. Finally, the possibility of it being toxic or allergenic is evaluated.3 These regulations are based on international standards that include recommendation by the WHO and the Codex Alimentarius.
Does Health Canada require labelling?
Currently companies make voluntary declarations regarding the presence or absence of GM ingredients in a food.3 It’s possible to tell if a fruit or veggie is GM by its UPC bar code. The bar code of conventionally produced produce starts with 3 or 4 and contains three other numbers, organic food starts with a 9, and GM produce starts with an 8 and followed by four numbers.4
Expect to see more voluntary labelling on store shelves. But in the same way that companies plaster the claim “contains no cholesterol” on foods that never contained cholesterol in the first place, this is likely to cause more confusion than actual better health.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.