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3-Foods: Canadian Sierra Club starts GM food labelling campaign

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TITLE:  Safety activists want labels for modified foods
SOURCE: Globe and Mail / Toronto Star, Canada
sent by AGNET, Canada
DATE:   July 10, 1999

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Ottawa -- The Sierra Club of Canada, described in one story as
food-safety activists, are trying to start a movement in Canada
similar to one in Europe that has prompted some British grocery
chains to stop selling food made with genetically engineered
products, led a national information picket yesterday, urging
consumers to press their grocery stores to take similar action.
The stories say that activists in seven cities handed out
pamphlets outside major grocery stores, urging consumers to learn
more about genetically engineered foods and ask their grocers to
remove the products from their shelves. At the very least, the
protesters said, grocery stores should ensure that the products
are labelled.

Elizabeth May, the Sierra Club's executive director, was quoted
as saying, "The Canadian government has jumped on the bandwagon,
promoting genetically engineered foods, without having ensured
they pose no risk to the environment and human health." The
stories say that 57 per cent of this year's Canadian canola crop
is grown from genetically modified seed. About 45 per cent of
this year's corn is genetically modified, and 25 per cent of this
year's soy. The Sierra Club and its supporters are targeting
grocery stores directly, because they say Ottawa's regulatory
process for genetically modified food is flawed and heavily
influenced by industry. Lucy Sharratt, director of the Sierra
Club's campaign, was quoted as saying, "The Canadian government
has refused to tell citizens what they're eating."

In Europe, she said, consumers are upset enough to push grocery
stores into removing the products, and Canadians should be just
as alarmed. But the federal government says it has held extensive
consultations with Canadians, and consumers consistently
misunderstand attempts to label genetically modified foods.
Ottawa does require labelling of new foods that may contain
ingredients that provoke allergies. Labels are also mandatory if
the health benefits of a new food product are different from
those of the traditional product. But if a genetically modified
potato has the same nutritional composition as a traditional
potato, no labelling is necessary. Labelling, in that case, is

The CFIA's Bart Bilmer was cited as saying that consumers get
confused by labels such as "Does Not Contain Products of
Biotechnology" or "May Contain Products of Biotechnology," adding
that the labels were perceived to mean that chemicals had been
added to the food, that the food was grown in a lab, or that the
products were not safe, he said. Jeanne Cruikshank, Atlantic
vice-president of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors,
was cited as saying grocery retailers are convinced that the
voluntary system will work once the industry develops effective
wording for the labels, adding, "The Canadian system assures the
safety of its products," but grocery chains are well aware of
consumers' urge to know more about their food. University of
Ottawa student Tammy Dumoulin, at a Loblaw store being picketed
by the Sierra Club, was quoted as saying, "I just started reading
about this [biotechnology]. It seems to have some far-reaching
effects that we're not aware of. I want to find out more, so the
more labels, the better."

The federal government, industry and non-governmental
organizations have co-operated to put together a toll-free line
for consumers. The Food Biotechnology Communications Network has
a registered dietitian answering questions at 1-877-FOODBIO (366
3246). Sierra released a letter sent to Galen Weston, chairman of
Loblaws, asking for his support. A spokesperson for the grocery
giant did not return calls. 

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-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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-| Germany
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