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GLEANINGS: Novel Foods

by Ann Cleary


"Do come and have brunch with us on Sunday – we’re having novel foods." Or perhaps "A fund-raising bridge contest followed by tea and novel foods." And for the young crowd, "Supper at the Canoe Club, $5.00. All the novel foods you can eat!" They do sound fascinating! Yet, novel foods are not unusual taste treats from around the world but merely the same familiar fare now derived through genetic engineering – that’s the novelty.

Since 1994, Audrey Baran and I have been attending workshops on the process and labelling of genetically engineered food products. In December we received a communiqué from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada outlining the proposed guidelines for labelling and asking for comments by January 31, 1996. At the end of the document, it was reported that five new genetically engineered food products had already been approved before the guidelines were in place! The approvals, a great surprise to many, led to an article, "Test potatoes being marketed before approval", in The Globe & Mail on February 6, 1996. The NewLeaf potato is one of the five items now allowed and is, in fact, already on the market. This makes these workshops appear more like PR exercises to gain acceptance for items already approved.

The significance is that if five products can get through without labelling, so can rBGH [bovine growth hormone in milk, see page 9], so let’s keep up the pressure against its use and in favor of labeling as an absolute requirement for it and all genetically engineered food. As organic growers, we do not countenance the use of genetic engineering in plants or animals, so we have a particular interest in our seed sources as well as, of course, other forms of propagation. Save your own seed; join Seeds of Diversity Canada; buy seeds and plants you know have not been altered. It is time the consumer has real input into approval of food products as well as a say in whether controversial new food technologies should be developed in the first place. Labelling is of the utmost importance.

The NewLeaf potato is or will soon be on sale in supermarkets with the Russet Burbank variety of potatoes. You will not know the difference. A gene from the bacterium Bt has been inserted. Bt is a well-known insecticide normally sprayed on potatoes to eradicate the Colorado potato beetle (CPB). This way it will be in, not on, the potato leaf which the CPB larvae love to eat. But it will also be in the potato. There are cultural and strategic methods that can make the CPBs manageable, and they are not a problem every year. All the home or small-holding gardener has to do is pick the orange egg clusters off the leaves before they develop. Trees can be grown to attract birds that eat the larvae, and so on. The question is: what happens when the beetles either get wise to the altered plant or manage to get resistant to it?




Several bulletins have emanated from Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, from different sections with the address 59 Camelot Drive, Nepean, ON K1A 0Y9, phone (613) 952-8000, fax (613) 992-1519. Ask for these:

• Communiqué from the Biotechnology Strategies and Coordination Office, "Labelling of Novel Foods derived through Genetic Engineering", December 1/95. Asks for comments by January 31/96, although genetically engineered food products were already approved in November/95.

• T-l-09-96 from the Plant Products Division, January 3/96 – "The Biology of Solanum Tuberosum L. (potato)." l2pp., bibliography.

• DD 96-06 Plant Products Division, 10 pp. "Determination of Environmental Safety of Nature Mark Potatoes’ Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB) Resistant Potato (Solanum Tuberosum L.)" (Nature Mark is the business unit of – guess who – Monsanto!)

• The Feed Section of the Plant Products Division issued DIR 95-03. "Guidelines for the Assessment of Livestock Feed with Plants from Novel Traits," This means NewLeaf potato culls can be used as livestock feed.



Obstacles to an ecological
food system;

No one could be more familiar with the convolutions of government regulations than Ken Rubin, a longtime organic grower and member of COG. He is probably known to many of you as a prominent researcher into material to be found on government actions through the Freedom of Information Act.

Ken has recently put together some of his findings under the heading Towards an Ecological Diet for Canadian Consumers: Some Regulatory Barriers and Citizen Action Strategies. In this 100-page study, Ken has produced an exploratory report on regulatory obstacles to establishing an environmentally friendly food diet. The spiral-bound paperback gives insight into the workings of government and consumer efforts to be heard, as well as strategies to help gain the right to an ecologically sound diet that brings health to us and the planet.

The only fair way is for food products to be properly labeled, whether irradiated, genetically engineered, or grown using pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Then the consumer will have freedom of choice and the market will find its true level.


Towards an Ecological Diet for Canadian Consumers can be obtained direct from Ken Rubin [212 Third Avenue, Ottawa, ON K1S 2K3, phone (613) 234-2803] for $30 plus delivery costs.



Copyright © 1996. Ann Cleary.

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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