Research limited in effects of Genetically modified crops.

Walking down the grocery store aisle it is impossible to tell if the foods you are purchasing have been genetically modified. In Canada there is currently no legislation requiring the labelling of genetically modified foods.

According to the World Health Organization genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are organisms with genetic material that has been altered in a manner that does not occur in nature. Genetically modified crops have overtaken Canadian agriculture during the past twenty years with limited regulation or monitoring of this new technology. Corn, canola, and soya are the most common modified crops in the country and many other modified products are imported.

On Wednesday, February 13 Cinema Politica a group at Mount Allison University screened the documentary Seeds of Change by Mt. A faculty member, Ian Mauro.  The film examines the effect of Genetically Modified Crops (GMCs) through the eyes of farmers and members of rural Canadian communities. While the film was completed more than a decade ago the topic is still pertinent, as major biotechnology companies continue to exert enormous control over agriculture in North America.

Major biotechnology companies like Monsanto Inc. hold patents on GMO’s and control their use, particularly in North America. With limited legislation on the subject, most of the legal issues arising from their use have been resolved in the legal system.

The film Seeds of Change highlights many anti-GMO activists including David Suzuki, Vanadana Shiva and farmers in the prairies whose livelihoods are directly affected by these companies. Percy Schmeiser became the face of GMO patent issues in Canada after he took Monsanto to the Supreme Court over the use of genetically modified plants. Schmeiser was a Manitoban farmer whose land was contaminated with patented modified canola seed without his knowledge. The case raised important issues, that have yet to be fully resolved, regarding the rights of companies to patent organisms in Canada.

In Canada, unlike the United State and Europe, the Supreme Court had previously ruled that a “higher life-form” cannot be patented. After the Schmeiser case the court ruled in favour of Monsanto, allowing the company to patent the processes involved in genetic modification and the cells of the founder plant but not the entire plant itself.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are responsible for the labelling policies and currently the only mandatory labels are for established health or safety issues with the product. The method of food production or engineering is not labeled because it poses no health or safety risks despite consumer interest in biotechnology labels. Scientific studies on the subject have been limited due to the relatively recent emergence of the technology and the limited major research on the topic.

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