*[Image Goes Here]* Canadians have many questions about food biotechnology. What are genetically modified (GM) foods, and why are they created? Are they safe and how will I know I’m eating a genetically modified food.
Food biotechnology is not new. For many years, farmers have used traditional breeding methods to improve crops by cross-breeding one type of plant with another. Cross-breeding can produce crops that are more disease and insect resistant. Unfortunately traditional methods of cross-breeding result in the loss of some of the plant’s desirable traits.
The techniques of genetic modification permit scientists to transfer the genetic material (genes in DNA) responsible for specific desirable traits from one species to another in a faster and more precise fashion.
Why genetically modify foods? Improved nutritional value, taste, shelf life and decreased use of pesticides are some of the potential benefits of GM foods. Food production may be more efficient and inexpensive enhancing the global food supply.
Are genetically modified foods safe? Health Canada has a very strict process for evaluating the safety & nutritional value of GM foods before they can enter the market. After nine years of reviewing the safety of GM foods, Health Canada has found them to be as safe as traditional foods.
Potential safety issues with genetically modified foods include introducing a toxic or allergenic compound into the food supply and environmental (ecosystem) concerns. For example, a danger exists if a frost-resistant fish gene were added to a tomato given that fish is a common allergen. Thorough safety assessments would help assure the allergen was not transferred into the new food. With GM potatoes designed to resist the Colorado potato beetle, farmers must help reduce the development of resistance in the beetles by planting a small area of traditional potato varieties to maintain balance in the ecosystem.
To date over 60 genetically modified foods have been approved for sale in the Canadian market. More commonly known GM foods for human consumption include insect-resistant corn & potatoes, herbicide-resistant soybeans, tomatoes that delay ripening so they can develop more flavor, & oils that contain different amounts of healthier fats. All foods are safe and just as (or more) nutritious than their traditional counterparts.
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How will you know if you are eating a genetically modified food? According to Health Canada, labeling of a GM food is mandatory only if there is a presence of an allergen in the food or if the nutritional composition is changed. However, some organizations and consumers feel that GM foods should be labeled regardless of Health Canada’s requirements; therefore the issue of voluntary labeling of GM foods is currently being addressed.
For more information on GM foods visit www.hc-sc.gc.ca or call 1-877-366-3246.
Information adapted from the Health Canada website and the National Institute of Nutrition.
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