- CALGARY (CP) -- Mutant meals. Suicide seeds. The Terminator. Frankenfood.
- Terms for bioengineered foods are understood
by many Europeans, but genetically altered food doesn't seem to be on the
minds of most Canadians, even though it has found its way to many stomachs.
- To digest the issue the University of
Calgary is sponsoring a three-day conference starting today called Designer
Genes at the Dinner Table.
- "Many of the biotechnology products
are now coming on the market, but most Canadians don't realize what they
are eating because the food doesn't require to be labelled as such,"
said conference director Edna Einsiedel, a communications professor at
- "What we want to know is: what are
the risks of consuming biotechnical food versus conventional food?"
- That has been a loaded question in Britain
where there are widespread protests, boycotts and demand for clear labelling
when Mother Nature's foods are manipulated.
- Even Charles, the Prince of Wales, has
jumped into the frying pan.
- "We simply do not know the long-term
consequences for human health and the wider environment of genetically
modified crops," he said last summer.
- "If something does go badly wrong,
we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which
is self-perpetuating. I am not convinced that anyone has the first idea
of how this could be done."
- Proponents of agricultural biotechnology
argue the advanced science will address world hunger, result in less pesticide
use, boost the nutritional content of foods and lead to more sustainable
- Critics fear the technology will create
super weeds and hyper-resistant pests, disrupt global food systems, destroy
ecological diversity, damage small farm incomes and cause unforeseen long-term
- A panel of 15 volunteers from Western
Canada will tackle these issues by questioning experts from both sides
of the table.
- Panel members, with ages ranging from
17 to 59, were selected from 350 applicants last September to ensure diversity
and objectivity. The panel will pick the brains of farmers, government
officials, industry representatives and anti-biotech groups before it presents
a report on Sunday.
- One international anti-biotech group
have brought the word Terminator into the debate because the technology
allows scientists to restrict plant seeds to one use before their fertility
is terminated by soaking them in an antibiotic bath.
- Corinne Eisler of the Vancouver Food
Policy Organization said she is appalled that Canada doesn't require specific
labelling for genetically engineered food.
- "Consumers have a right to know
what is in their food," said Eisler, a dietician who will be at the
- There are about 225 biotechnology companies
in Canada. In 1988 the first 14 tests of genetically engineered crops were
conducted. By 1994 more than 700 field tests of such plants were under
- There are 31 genetically altered plants
available on Canadian supermarket shelves, including corn, soybeans, tomatoes,
wheat and potatoes.
- Eisler's group is lobbying the government
for clear answers.
- "We feel the full impacts of engineered
foods is not fully explored or explained," she said.
- "We want accountability."