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Common Sense on Food from the House of Commons Agricultural Committee

Blog by Dr. Maurice Moloney
Executive Director & CEO – GIFS

In a year characterized by so-called ‘post-truth’ in politics, fabricated news articles written by teenagers in Macedonia, and votes and plebiscites which confound the pollsters, it is comforting to see the year ending with Canada calmly leading the way on logical and scientifically informed policy.

I’m not talking about carbon pricing nor the legalization of marijuana. Both of these snatch the headlines, but all the evidence has not yet been weighed.

As 2016 came to a close in Canada, in a quiet committee room of the House of Commons, an all-party committee recommended that foods containing ingredients derived from GMOs need not be labelled. Their rationale for this is uncharacteristically apolitical and founded on good science.

Canada has the world’s most rational regulatory approach to evaluating and approving new food ingredients and products. It is based not on how the product was made, but on the properties of the product. In practice, this means that they aren’t worried about how genetic change occurred in a crop, but only what is changed in the final product.

By analogy to organic food, how much manure was used is not the issue. For the consumer the real question is how many dangerous microorganisms are found in the final product.

Evaluate the product carefully and you can guarantee the safety and nutritional status of the product for the consumer. That is the Canadian way, and it works.

Our cross-party Agriculture committee has taken this one logical step further, by saying if a product passes the rigorous scrutiny of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, then there is no need for any special labelling. Labels on food products in Canada are for safety and nutrition. If there are no deviations from these standards then the means by which the food product was made should not be required to be added.

“Given that no risks to health have been identified for GM [genetically modified] foods approved in Canada, there are no particular labelling requirements… The Committee recommends that the government support the mandatory labelling system only for issues of food health and safety.”

– House of Commons Agricultural Committee

“GM foods are becoming more common every day and are part of the regular diets of Canadians,” Health Canada said in May. “GM foods that have been approved by Health Canada have been consumed in Canada for many years, and are safe and nutritious.”

– Health Canada

This approach is both rational, simple, consistent and fair. It applies equally to organic, conventional and GMO-derived food products.

Food labelling is intended to be informative rather than used as a surreptitious marketing ploy. Keeping it simple and grounded in evidence ensures that the consumer can make choices that really do matter to them for nutritional purposes.

If the consumer has ideological preferences choosing organic may help them stay on the right ideological side of the fence. But it should be noted that in many independent studies there are no nutritional benefits to choosing organic. The consumer pays more essentially for an ideology, but not for better nutrition or safety.

The Agriculture Committee has got this one right and it would be great if we saw more of such rationality in other countries – especially EU member states, where the consumer cannot distinguish between safety and ideology when buying food.

Kudos to Canada’s parliamentarians, and a happy and healthy 2017 to one and all.