There are many buzzwords in the food world – “GMO” or “genetically modified” is one of them. A lot of misinformation exists around this concept, so I want to share with you what I know.
Here is a short introduction to GMOs. Hopefully it helps make sense of what they are.
What are they?
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are typically plants that have been altered to either introduce a trait that is desirable, or to remove a trait that may be undesirable. (There is a difference between cross breeding and genetic modification, but I am not a genetic engineer!)
What do we grow that is a GMO?
There are 15 genetically modified plants approved in Canada. In Canada, we grow:
- sugar beets
In Canada, we also import:
In Canada, potatoes and apples have also been approved. Other crops that are genetically modified are exported or used as animal feed.
Why do we genetically modify organisms?
There are a couple reasons why we do this and these are just a few:
- To help plants avoid disease or pests
- To eliminate an undesirable trait, like browning in potatoes and apples
- To help them grow easier in difficult climates, like dry soil conditions
One of my favourite reasons that plants are genetically modified is to help increase nutritional value of a crop – seen specifically in Golden Rice. This is a very neat story, and perhaps will warrant its own blog post in the future.
Are they safe to eat?
Short answer? Yes. GMOs are highly regulated in Canada. It takes years and lots (and lots) of money to have a genetically modified organism approved for consumption in Canada. If you want to read about the regulations, visit the government’s FAQ page.
Are they labelled?
Unfortunately this is a difficult question to answer. It is not required in Canada to label items that are GMOs, as many things we consume use ingredients from a GMO.
Corn is perhaps the best example. Because we use a lot of corn-derived ingredients (corn syrup, corn starch) it tends to find its way into every day things we eat.
Packagers have now started to label things as NON-GMO, but this sometimes can spark confusion as this label can end up on food items that would never have included a GMO ingredient in the first place.
If you want more information, here is a great page with more info about GMOs from the Dietitians of Canada.