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GMO, I Don’t Know

Anthony Wilson, Economic Development Officer with Chatham-Kent Economic Development, provides an article on his research and experience with the food we grow. In the spirit of celebrating Local Food Week across Ontario, June 3rd to June 9th, I decided to try my hand at writing about something I am becoming more fond of everyday, but without much experience and knowledge.  That is Agriculture.  

Growing up in the major urban cities of Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto before moving to Chatham-Kent, I wasn’t overly exposed to the beauty and lifestyle of farming.  In fact, while I appreciated that most of the food I ate on a daily basis came from a farm, I really did not consider all of the hard work, planning and science that comes with it. 

So here I am now, working with Economic Development in Chatham-Kent, a dream come true!  While wearing my Economic Development hat I would tell you that Agriculture in Chatham-Kent is a $3 billion economic driver, with rich local crops that include tomatoes, carrots, seed corn, cucumber, Brussel sprouts, pumpkins, sugar beets, peppers, and much more.  But really, that’s all I know.  So, I have decided to begin learning about all things AG with daily questions, answers, and conversations with the Ag guy, Kim Cooper, along with my own research and fact-finding.  Fortunately, my lovely wife and most of her family have a long history in farming and agriculture so my interest in learning about agriculture is well supported.

For a first try at writing about something within the Agriculture field, I have chosen something that I hear about on a daily and weekly basis.  That is GMO.  As a health and fitness personal trainer, in my spare time, I am asked about GMO’s regularly and am able to provide basic feedback.  Each time I get these questions, it really makes me think.  I have decided that I want to know more about GMO, so here goes.

What does GMO even mean?  Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are crops developed using precise plant breeding to achieve benefits such as resistance to certain insects and diseases, herbicide tolerance, enhanced nutritional value and reduced food waste. I have learned that plant breeding has been used by farmers for over 10,000 years to help produce crops. Interestingly, farmers in Canada have been growing GMO products such as corn, canola and soybeans since 1996.

Why do we use GMO’s?  When farmers plant their crops, they generally worry about three things that could prevent a good yield: insects, weeds and weather. Most of the GMO crops grown around the world today address problems caused by insects or weeds. Weather, well that is another story.

Can GMO’s harm us?  GMOs are relatively new and, like anything new, there are conflicting viewpoints about many issues surrounding the use of these plants. One area that draws a lot of attention is whether these GMO plants and the foods that contain them are safe to eat. So far, there is no data to indicate that consumption of GMO’s is bad for human health. 

Do GMO’s cause Cancer? The answer is No.  There is no evidence to date indicating that GMO foods cause cancer.  In my research, I found information that indicates that foods developed through GMO technology may help prevent cancer and other common and chronic illnesses.  

How are GMO foods regulated in Canada?  Health Canada assesses all genetically modified foods to ensure they are safe for humans before they can be sold in Canada.

Do GMO foods in Canada have to be labelled?  At this time, the answer is No.  Although, in recent surveys across Canada, 90% of Canadians surveyed believe genetically modified food products should have mandatory labelling on all packages.  I would be one of those Canadians, as I like to know what I am eating and like to have choice in what I eat. 

Ok, so now you have a better understanding of GMO.  But, did you also know:

  • The sweet potato is the worlds first GMO and was made by Mother Nature over 8000 years ago.  While I do not fully understand all of the science in the explanation, I do know they are extremely yummy and can be eaten on a paleo diet, which I will talk about in a future article.
  • Canada grows 5 GMO crops; canola, corn, potatoes, soybeans and sugar beets.
  • For 22 years GMOs have been grown in Canada and not a single case of illness has been attributed to them.
  • 9 billion people are expected to populate the world by 2050, which means farmers will need to produce 70% more food.
  • 70% of harvested GMO crops are fed as food to animals, making the world’s livestock populations the largest consumers of GMO crops.
  • 900 research findings from around the world were explored and analyzed by 15 scientific societies in 2016 – with no evidence of risk to human health or the environment found.
  • 22% increase in crop yields and 68% increase in farmers’ profits thanks to the adoption of GM technology in the last 20 years.

So, how can I sum up what I have learned?  Overall, GMO crops appear to be much more beneficial than risky. We are able to produce more food due to our genetically modified crops that can survive in a variety of climates. As the world’s population continues to increase, we have an increased need to be able to produce more food.  While the risks are appear to be few, the benefits appear to be abundant.  GMO, now you know!

In closing, I want to share a really cool quote I found that makes me realize how fortunate we are to have so many great farmers in Chatham-Kent.  It goes like this:  “My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but everyday, three times a day, you need a farmer.”  Brenda Schoepp

Enjoy your Local Food Week, Chatham-Kent.
Anthony Wilson

Media Contact:

Andrew Tompsett
Marketing and Communications Officer, Economic Development Services
Municipality of Chatham-Kent
Phone: 519-352-8401 x2039
Fax: 519-436-3237