Blog & Recipes

The Truth About GMOs

by Derek Brigham and Yolanda Nuanyan Wang

What comes to your mind when you hear that a certain food is Genetically Modified? Perhaps you feel uneasy, uncertain, or maybe you look for that non-GMO label. But do you know what genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are exactly? To answer this question, let's go way back... all the way back... to 600 BC! You see, this is how far back we can date the process of plant breeding.

Plant breeding is what farmers have been doing for thousands of years; breeding different crops together in order to yield desirable traits. Through plant breeding, farmers were able to make crops more resilient to pests or drought, have higher yields on the same land, or even look and taste better. Our food supply has evolved greatly since agriculture first started, and plant breeding is a big reason why! Farmers have only gotten better at plant breeding. When they first started breeding selected crops together, they could get any mix of traits - they had no control over what traits continued on or what traits were lost. It was a game of chance. Over time, as our scientific understanding of genetics grew, farmers and plant scientists were able to develop better methods of plant breeding, including methods such as mutagenesis (used in organic farming) and GMOs.

The World Health Organization defines GMOs as "organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.""It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species."

With conventional breeding methods, it can take up to 15 years to produce a new variety with desired traits. But with genetic modification, this process is dramatically accelerated. The technology can be used for different reasons, including resistance to drought, insects, and other organisms that would otherwise threaten plants’ growth and survival. As a result, genetic modification increases crop yield and can help alleviate food insecurity issues due to increasing global population.

Other benefits of GMO crops may include: maximize resource use and benefit the environment, improve nutritive value of food, improve taste, reduce food waste, improve appearance of food, and increase shelf life.

Currently, there are only 11 GMO crops approved for use in the world.

So far, Canada has only approved six GMO crops to be grown, these include canola, corn, soybean, sugar beet, potatoes, and alfalfa.

GMO crops are not required to be labelled in Canada, although many companies have adopted a non-GMO label as a marketing initiative. The non-GMO label is being used on a wide variety of food products, including foods that are not GMO (such as wheat products).

Here, we will provide you with information on GMO foods in terms of food safety, nutritional value, food production, and environmental impacts so you can make informed decisions the next time you go grocery shopping.

Food Safety

GMOs are the only type of crop that require government regulation, all other types of plant breeding are not regulated.

GMOs are tested for allergenicity, toxicity, as well as safety for humans, livestock, and insects. They are the most rigorously tested and regulated crop we have. GMOs have been evaluated and endorsed by regulatory agencies around the world, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Health Canada. On average, it takes around 13 years for a GMO crop to pass government regulation. All GM foods are reviewed by Health Canada and found to be as safe as non-GM foods.

Specifically, Health Canada looks at the following to determine if a GMO is safe for Canadians:

  • How the food crop was developed, including the molecular biological data which characterizes the genetic change;

  • Composition of the novel food compared to non-modified counterpart foods;

  • Nu