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How to avoid Genetically engineered food
A Greenpeace Shopper's Guide
A catalogue of genetically engineered (GE) foods sold in grocery stores lists 3,000 products by product name, manufacturer or GE status. The catalogue provides alternatives to GE foods, and reveals which companies are not removing GE ingredients and manufacturers that are reacting to customers in providing non-GE food. For a copy of the guide (with reply envelope for donation) call 1-800-320-7183 or see www.greenpeace.ca/shoppersguide.
Activists in P.E.I. Fight for Sovereignty Over GMO
Thirteen consumer groups in P.E.I. are demanding a province wide ban on genetically modified organisms. In July, activists discovered genetically modified wheat being grown on the Island without public disclosure. The coalition of 13 consumer groups, including the Council of Canadians, Oxfam and Earth Action have said this lack of information is unacceptable. They have sent a letter to Premier Pat Binns asking a bill be introduced this fall which would make P.E.I. a GMO-free zone. P.E.I.’s Agricultural Minister Mitch Murphy admits he has concerns about the unknown consequences of GMOs but he would not make it clear how his government intends to respond to the coalition’s demands. More than 60% of the food sold in a typical Canadian supermarket contains some GMO contaminants. Tomatoes, corn, soy and wheat are among the most commonly modified ingredients. Here in BC, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries identifies support for organic agriculture as one of its key strategies to promote economic growth in the next two years. While it is difficult to know what percentage of agricultural activity in BC is GMO free, according to organic farmer Harvey Snow, our growing climate makes it not much of an issue when you buy BC. He estimates that only about 15 percent of locally grown food crops contain GMOs
Biotech Industry to Give the "Truth" about GE Foods
In May of 2000, biotech industry, armed with $50 million, launched a massive ad campaign to promote genetically modified foods. Jeffrey Bergau, a spokesman for the Monsanto Company was quoted as saying, "Our goal is to try to link people to information and data that’s based on sound science." The campaign is being organized by a newly formed group called the Council for Biotechnology Information. Meanwhile, New Brunswick based McCain Foods, the world's largest French fry maker, recently announced that it will not buy genetically engineered (Bt) potatoes starting in the year 2001. This decision did not surprise the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick, who oppose the use of GE potatoes. Farmers are now wondering if McCain's will go all the way and insist on GE-free canola oil in the manufacture of their french fries. The stakes surrounding the use of GE foods are rising rapidly as other food processors follow McCain’s lead. Needless to say, with the biotech public relations campaign kicking into gear the "truth" about GE foods will soon become a lot harder to find.
Contamination is Blowing in the Wind
Corn modified and patented by Monstanto to contain Bt toxin (a pesticide) has been found to be contaminating crops across North America. According to the New York Times, the Mexican government found "the country’s native corn species have been contaminated with genetically modified DNA." This is surprising since genetically modified corn has never been approved for planting anywhere in Mexico. The pollen from modified corn has blown in on wind from California, and other parts of the states, to Mexico—oblivious to geo-political borders. Corn is a staple crop of the Mexican people. Diversity in plant species, a cornerstone of adaptation and survival, is alarmingly affected by this cross pollination. It may reduce or eliminate the diversity essential to withstanding times of drought, or other unusual weather. Also, Bt toxin is known to fatally affect Monarch butterflies who winter in Mexico. Mexican sovereignty—or right to regulate itself—has been contaminated by the corporations who continue to insist on ignoring the will of the people. How many ears will it take ‘til they hear that we don’t want GMOs?
Genetic Engineering: Friend or Foe to Food Production
A new book by Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey, called Against the Grain, provides some alarming information about how genetic engineering is revolutionizing agriculture in North America. In 1997, 15% of the U.S. soybean crop was grown from genetically engineered seeds. However, by the year 2000 it is expected that 100% of the U.S. soybean crop will be genetically engineered. The same trend, albeit at a slightly slower pace, is occurring with cotton, corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. Surprisingly, neither US nor Canadian regulators have imposed any labelling requirements so the public has little knowledge of what is going on. The vast majority of these seeds are being developed by chemical companies, including Dow, Novartis, Dupont and, the market leader in genetically engineered seeds, Monsanto. While these companies claim that genetic engineering is necessary for the world's food supply to keep up with population growth, their detractors say that their primary motivation is to increase sales of pesticides that these same firms produce. For now, the only reliable way of avoiding genetically engineered foods is to buy organic. This is because organic food certification agencies forbid the use of genetically modified seeds.
GM Giants Being Told to Sod Off
In 1999, Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued by agro-giant Monsanto for llegally growing (their) genetically modified canola called Roundup Ready. Percy counter-sued for contamination of his farm. In his suit, he states Monsanto’s invention (has) a unique characteristic not ordinarily seen with an invention protected under the Patent Act. The invention has the unique ability to replicate itself. Percy has never bought or intended to plant Monsanto’s seed. Percy’s family were original homesteaders in Saskatchewan. He has farmed the same land for forty years, and has always practiced seed saving. The last time he purchased seed was in 1993. Monsanto’s product wasn’t even introduced until 1996. It seems obvious that he had no intent to rip Monsanto off. Monsanto began their investigation when a neighbour called their snitch line to say that Percy was growing their seed illegally. They sent in a private investigator who trespassed on his fields, gathering samples to test for their DNA. When they found their genes, they filed suit. Other farmers have also been subjected to this kind of underhanded investigating and bullying. (Monsanto calls it protecting their investment.) The Kram family in Raymore claim helicopters and planes have flown over their fields, spraying weed-killer to test for Monsanto’s canola. This is like the water trial: If she drowns she’s innocent if she lives, she’s a witch! Another farmer, Edward Zilinski, traded seeds with a farmer in Prince Albert. Inadvertently, the seeds he obtained contained Monsanto’s patented DNA. Now he and his wife allegedly owe Monsanto $28,000. Last April, Percy lost his case but the issue hasn’t been dropped. A group of organic farmers in Saskatchewan has launched a suit against both Monsanto and Aventis, another agro-giant. Arnold Taylor, president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate (SOD) claims, " We have no problem with their technology as long as they can keep it out of our fields and out of our system." Farmers can’t sell their organic canola on the world market, because when it is tested, it invariably contains traces of GMO contaminant. In Europe, this means it can’t be sold at all. In places like Australia, it must contain a warning label for the consumer and most manufacturers are loath to purchase it for this reason. SOD feels their suit against the GM giants has some key differences. As organic farmers, their livelihood is endangered. They are demanding that companies be held responsible for their inventions: It’s on our land and we want compensation for damages. They are also seeking an injunction to prevent future planting of modified wheat.
Monsanto's NewLeaf Withers Out
According to the Wall Street Journal, Monsanto’s NewLeaf seed potatoes, modified in 1995 to contain Bt toxin, will no longer be sold to North American farmers after this spring. The decision is based on economic rather than health factors. NewLeaf only managed to capture less than 5% of the market. The Journal states that at its peak in 1999, NewLeaf potatoes were planted on about 55,000 acres in North America. Last year, less than half that many acres were planted despite support from corporate giant McDonalds. McCain Foods in Canada banned the potato in their products late in 1998 and some potato chip companies followed suit. Consumers like us just weren’t interested. The victory against genetically modified foods isn’t quite ours yet though! Spokeswoman for Monsanto, Lori Fisher, claims this decision leaves Monsanto free to invest in genetic research on four bigger staple crops: oilseeds, cotton, corn and wheat. In the meantime eating organic continues to be the only way to avoid being part of the experiment.
Release of genetically Modified Corn Shows Regulatory Failure
A few years ago, France- based drug and agriculture giant, Aventis, created a genetically modified corn variety that was designed to repel crop pests. The corn variety was called Starlink corn. Starlink was approved for animal consumption in the U.S. but prohibited for human consumption because regulators feared that the corn could cause allergic reactions. (Starlink was never approved for animal or human consumption in Canada). Last fall, traces of Starlink corn were discovered in U.S. grocery-store products, resulting in a massive recall of over 300 brands of taco shells, chips, cornmeal, and other foods. Taco shells containing Starlink were also briefly sold in Canada before being recalled. This controversy demonstrates the failure of regulators to properly control the use of genetically modified crops and should give consumers cause for concern about the safety of their food.
Rice Tec: The Patenting of Life Forms
Over 30,000 types of rice have been produced through centuries of breeding by rural farmers. One of the most superior varieties is basmati rice, which has a unique aroma and flavour. In 1997, the US Patent and Trademark office accepted an application by RiceTec of Texas, to patent basmati rice. The company claims to have crossed two basmati rice varieties and thus created a "novel" variety of basmati. The patent covers any basmati variety crossed with a semi-dwarf strain grown anywhere in the western hemisphere. What is troubling about this patent is that RiceTec appears to have claimed as its private property a life form, which, until now, has been communally shared. Furthermore, it has taken advantage of centuries of indigenous knowledge without any thought to compensating those whose knowledge it is benefiting from. This case raises the question of whether firms should be allowed to patent a life form at all, given the potential for individual companies to gain monopoly control over a food as basic as rice. For our part, we do not think life forms should be patentable and do not knowingly sell such products. For more information, contact the Basmati Action Group: c/o 1957 Kitchener St., Vancouver, Telephone: 255-4910 E-mail: basmati-action@sfu.ca.

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