According to a study done by Statistics Canada in 2016, 73 per cent of surveyed Canadians believe that genetically modified organisms or GMO’s are harmful. But while science may say GMOs are safe, advocates and critics of GMO crops both agree the public needs more information about what they are and how they’re used.
A GMO is the result of DNA being removed from one organism and being transplanted into another in a laboratory setting. In Canada, these changes are most frequently seen in herbicide or pesticide tolerant crops, which are used to potentially provide environmental and yield benefits for the farmers.
Stuart Smythe, a professor of agriculture from the University of Saskatchewan, is an advocate for the use of GM crops in Canada. He has especially seen Canola flourish in the prairie provinces.
“Based on the surveys we’ve done...it reduces the input costs for farmers and makes them more money at the end of the day. It’s helped farmers become larger farm businesses... Because the technology has advanced so that they don’t have to spend so much time doing more labour oriented tasks,” Smythe said.
On the other hand, there are many critics of the use of GM crops in Canada, who often have a passionate viewpoint on why we shouldn’t be using GMO’s due to personal experience.
“I was really really sick to the point that I couldn’t even get out of bed most days... Every year a new syndrome or illness would be added to my long list and the Western medicine wasn’t doing anything for me and so I started looking at alternate medicine and that worked a little bit, but it wasn’t until... I heard about the GMO’s. I went to a one hundred percent organic diet and got rid of chemicals... and I am one hundred percent recovered,” said Brandie Harrop, the spokesperson for No GMO Alberta — a Facebook group for people wanting to learn more about genetically modified foods.
Lack of information
Smythe believes that the reason many environmental groups are so against GM crops is because there is a lot of misinformation being circulated on the internet.
“I think agriculture needs to engage in different forms of social media to better communicate how crops and food are produced in this country,” Smythe said.
The reason for many Canadians hesitation towards GMOs is largely due to the lack of understanding of what GMO’s are, how they work, and how they are regulated in Canada, according to the Stats Can study.
“I think a lot of people have forgotten or have no understanding of how food is produced in Canada,” Smythe said.
With all this lack of accessible information, a trip to the grocery store may be confusing for regular citizens who have little understanding on GMO’s.
“I don’t find it’s bad for your health...I often eat organic produce as well but not consistently, genetically modified foods do have a place,” said Penny Cavers a shopper at the Safeway in Marda Loop.
Agriculture professionals who are behind the production of GM crops have experienced both sides of the controversy.
“My coworkers and my supervisors told me stories of how they would get stalked often lambasted in grocery stores for supporting Monsanto. It never happened to me, but they said that just to be aware of when if you're wearing Monsanto clothing that could happen,” recalled Braydon Connor, an Agronomist for an independent Agricultural retailer in Lucky Lake, Sask .
Despite the backlash that can come with working in this industry, Connor understands where the negativity is coming from.
“I think that it’s an uncertainty and they just care about what they put in their body and want to actually know what it is that they're consuming and it kind of poses a problem because GMOs are a pretty complicated topic,” said Connor.
The main benefit that GM crops and farmers can provide is the ability to keep food prices lower while contributing more to the world’s overall food supply. According to Smythe, a study was conducted in the United States last year, which found that it cost 34 per cent more to buy non-GMO foods than it does to fill your grocery cart with conventional GM products.
Smythe also believes that GM crops could be the answer to the world's hunger problem and is very optimistic about the future of GMOs in Canada.
“They’ll be one of the key tools to improving food security in developing countries...we can train their Ph.D. students on the technology and they can go back... and develop local crops... that are stable to the diet of people in those regions,” Smythe states.
Overall, farmers and agricultural experts believe there needs to be information that is not only accessible for members of the public but also easy to apprehend. Once the stigma is removed from GMO’s it will be easier for people to understand the benefits of what they are eating.
“Say there's about 350 million people in North America. We've been eating GMO's as part of our diet for 20 years now. So that's [a lot of] consumption years without a single medically documented case of anybody ever having any problems. So, there is no safer food than GM foods.”
- By Alannah Page, Shelby Dechant