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Healthy Eating Organic

Genetic Engineering Explained

Genetically modified foods on the market

There is a lot of confusion about what genetic engineering or genetic modification is, and questions about the possible impacts on the planet and people. This article helps to clarify and provides tips if you are looking for options to avoid these foods.

What is Genetic Engineering?

Genetic engineering (often called genetic modification or GM) alters the genetic makeup of plants, animals and other organisms by making changes at the molecular level. Scientists change the traits of organisms by inserting pieces of DNA, whole genes, or long stretches of assembled DNA segments originating from different sources.

The inserted genetic material is often derived from unrelated species, but it can also be taken from the same or a closely related species, or be newly made up. Scientists can also change traits by disrupting genes, deleting or swapping small DNA segments, or introducing genetic material to silence genes.

Unlike traditional breeding, genetic engineering enables the direct transfer of genes between organisms in different species or kingdoms that would never breed in nature, and the introduction of new genetic sequences that do not exist in nature.

You Have a Choice on GM

Organic tomatoes

Our government does not require labelling of genetically engineered (genetically modified or GM) foods, but you can still make a choice:

  1. Choose organic products. Genetic engineering is prohibited in organic farming.
  2. Avoid processed food with corn, canola and soy ingredients.
  3. Choose organic sugar or cane sugar to avoid sugar from GM sugar beets.
  4. Choose products with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal. [1]
  5. Avoid farmed salmon to avoid GM Atlantic salmon. [2]
  6. Support farmers who reject GM crops: buy food directly from farmers who do not plant GM crops or use GM feed to produce meat, dairy or eggs.

Why is Genetic Engineering Prohibited in Organic Farming?

Genetic engineering and organics are two different visions for farming. Organic farmers reject GM seeds and GM animals as unnecessary and risky. Instead, they work with the diversity and bounty that nature already offers, often replacing corporate products with natural systems and human labour.

What You Can Do

When you buy food, you play an important role in determining the future of our food system and its impact on people and the planet.

organic farmer on his field

Even just a few choices can make a difference. Here are some options:

  • Choose Organic Food. Regularly choosing one or more certified organic products supports farmers who are committed to a high standard of care for our environment.
  • Eat with the season. Find out which fruits and vegetables are in season in your area and prioritize eating those foods at their freshest.
  • Shop at your local farmers’ market. Choose to be a regular customer to help local farms thrive.
  • Join a Community Shared Agriculture program (CSA). Look for local farmers who run CSAs. In exchange for money upfront, you will receive weekly produce all season long. You help a farmer put seeds in the ground and accept some of the risks of farming.
  • Find your local food products in stores. Many provincial governments have created local food brands to help you find locally grown and locally made products.
  • Shop at your independent food store. Independent stores are often vital to the support of family farms, local products, and small food businesses in your community.

Lucy Sharratt works in Halifax as the Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, also known as CBAN. CBAN brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. Learn more at www.cban.ca


References

  1. Non GMO Project. https://www.nongmoproject.org/
  2. CBAN. 2020. How to avoid eating GM salmon. www.cban.ca/GMsalmonconsumerguide

Lucy Sharratt works in Halifax as the Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, also known as CBAN. CBAN brings together 16 groups to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. Learn more at www.cban.ca