Posts Tagged ‘GM’

The Food Read Round-up: GM alfalfa launch delayed, plus — food insecurity in the Far North, regional food hubs, and why food sustainability matters to consumers

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is one of a growing number of food hubs that aim to make healthy, sustainable and fair accessible to all. Photo: Toban B. via Flickr

The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is one of a growing number of local food hubs that aim to make healthy, sustainable and fair food accessible to all.
Photo: Toban B. via Flickr


The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

Farmers and consumers force delay in introduction of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa in Canada. Opposition from farmers and consumers has forced Forage Genetics International to delay its plan to release GM alfalfa seeds in Eastern Canada this spring, according to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

If launched, the seeds would have been the latest in a line of GM products sold in this country. The list includes corn, canola and soybeans and could eventually include GM varieties of apple and salmon. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved five types of GM alfalfa for sale, deeming them to be safe for people, animals and the environment.

The GM alfalfa from Forage is engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup, a herbicide farmers spray on their crops to kill weeds. Since alfalfa is a perennial that’s pollinated by insects, the GM varieties would be guaranteed to spread, contaminating non-GM alfalfa and hurting the livelihoods of conventional and organic farmers.

Alfalfa is Canada’s most widely grown forage crop. Besides feeding livestock and dairy animals, it helps enrich the soil and represents $80 million in exports to other countries, many of which don’t accept GM foods.

Visit to find out more about GM alfalfa and how you can help stop its sale in Canada.

Food insecurity affects a disproportionate number of Aboriginal peoples in Northern Canada. A new report on food security* from the Council of Canadian Academies urges Canadians to deal with the disproportionately high levels of hunger and malnutrition among northern Aboriginal peoples. Entitled Aboriginal Food Security in Northern Canada: An Assessment of the State of Knowledge, the report provides data on the different rates of food insecurity among Indigenous populations, outlines the factors that contribute to it, and explores the health implications, which can include anemia, heart disease, diabetes, child developmental problems and more.

Among the data it presents, the report points to the results of:

  • the 2007-2008 International Polar Year Inuit Health Survey showing that Nunavut had the highest documented levels of food insecurity for any Indigenous group living in a developed country
  • the 2011 Canadian Community Healthy survey indicating that off-reserve Aboriginal households across the country experienced rates of food insecurity more than double those of all non-Aboriginal households

Given the many factors involved, from climate change to cultural and economic realities, the report recommends that Northern communities, governments, business and institutions work closely together to find solutions.

The report uses the widely accepted definition from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Food consumers are making sustainability a priority.  Good news: new research suggests that more North American consumers are making sustainability a priority when they buy food. While safety and nutritional value remain the biggest considerations, the survey shows that at least two-thirds of Americans also take sustainability into account, placing importance on where the food was produced as well as on eco-friendly production and packaging, animal welfare and  GMO-free. About 66% would pay more for food produced closer to home. In Canada, consumers demonstrate similar concerns. According to a 2011 survey from Vision, an agriculture research panel, 95% of Canadians reported that buying locally grown food was important to them while 43% said they would pay more for it.

Regional food hubs catch on. Regional food systems practitioners, supporters and food hub developers gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, last week for the sixth National Good Food Network (NGFN) conference. It’s another sign of the growing popularity of food hubs. According to a March 22 piece in Food Tank, hubs are the key to scaling up the system for food that’s healthy, eco-friendly, fair and affordable.

What’s a food hub? There are different definitions, but basically hubs are managed locations that bring together food producers, distributors, processors, consumers and other buyers. Food that’s been verified at source as local or regional can aggregated, stored, processed, distributed and marketed. Hubs may also provide space for wholesale and retail sales, social service programs, community kitchens and other food-related activities.

There are an estimated 200 food hubs across the U.S. and many have sprung up in Canada as well. For example, the Toronto’s The Stop Community Food Centre works to increase access to healthy food   through a comprehensive program that includes a food bank, food and community gardens, a greenhouse, bake ovens and markets, education on sustainable food systems, community cooking, and more. Closer to home, Ottawa’s Just Food Farm is being developed as a community food and sustainable agriculture hub. In Ottawa West, the Torbolton Institute is planning a multi-purpose hub that would combine a community SPIN garden with a food storage facility, farmers market, forest farm, and space for food and recreational activities such as cooking demonstrations.

What food stories have you been reading?

The Food Read Round-up: Opposition mounting to GMOs and pesticides

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Rallies against Monsanto and GMOs took place in Canada and more than 50 other countries on May 25, 2013.
Photo: Alexis Baden-Mayer, Flickr

The Food Read Round-up curates media stories about food and farming in Ottawa, across Canada, and around the world.

The genetically modified chickens are coming home to roost. Opposition to foods that contain genes from different species (known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs*) and to the agro-chemical companies that make them seems to be building. Resistance reached new heights over the past few weeks with worldwide public protests and anti-GMO actions from international governments.

At the same time, more evidence has emerged linking the use of pesticides with the decline of honeybees and other food crop pollinators. Scientists, beekeepers and environmentalists are calling for restrictions on these substances and some government bodies have already responded.

The bottom line: awareness is growing that the food system is too important to entrust to agro-chemical corporations and their wares.

Monsanto takes heat from international governments and the public.  It’s been an eventful few weeks for Monsanto.  In the face of staunch opposition from most European countries, the multinational maker of GM seed and the herbicide Roundup has decided to walk away from its drive to expand GM crops in those markets. This means no more lobbying efforts or attempts to seek approvals for new plants. Instead, Monsanto says, it will focus on the handful of European markets where there is broader public acceptance of GM technology, such as Spain, Portugal and Ukraine.

In addition, as the European Union (EU) and the U.S. prepare for trade talks, it’s predicted that Europe could force GM crops off the table entirely – bad news not only for Monsanto, but for agro-chemical competitors like DuPont and Syngenta. European farmers, environmentalists and consumers worry that if trade restrictions are loosened, GM seeds and U.S.-grown GM crops would flood farmlands and grocery stores, jeopardizing human health and natural ecosystems.

But it’s not just Europeans who are turning their backs on GM food products. On May 31, Japan and South Korea suspended imports of some U.S. wheat after a rogue GM strain was found on an Oregon farm.

And while GM corn, soybeans and other crops dominate in North America, pressure for change has been building here, too. On May 25, rallies against Monsanto and its products were held across Canada and the U.S., as well as in 50 other countries. This past week, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring GM foods be labeled. Although there’s a major catch – the requirement won’t take effect until at least four other states pass similar legislation – Connecticut lawmakers are hoping that the precedent they’ve set will persuade others to get on board.

Fourth insecticide added to list of risks to honeybees. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has added fipronil to its list of high-risk insect nerve agents, or neonicotinoids, believed to have contributed to the worldwide drop in populations of honeybees and other insects. Together, these insects pollinate three-quarters of the world’s food crops. In its assessment of fipronil, the EFSA noted that drifting pesticide dust has been found to pose a “high acute risk to honeybees when used as a seed treatment for maize.”  A product of German chemical manufacturer BASF, fipronil is used on more than 100 crops in 70 countries.

The EFSA move came on the heels of an April 29 ban by the European Commission on three other neonicotinoids.

In North America, there are similar concerns about pesticides and pollinators.  Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency has linked the pesticides with mass bee deaths during last year’s spring corn planting in Ontario and Québec; beekeepers and environmental advocacy groups have begun calling for restrictions on neonicotinoid use. In the U.S., the American Bird Conservancy wants a ban on the pesticides as seed treatments because of the potential to harm to birds and other wildlife. In March 2013, a group of beekeepers, conservationists, and supporters of sustainable farming sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing registration of neonicotinoids without sufficient study.

*Genetic modification is defined by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) as the alteration of “plants or animals at the molecular level by inserting genes or DNA segments from other organisms. Unlike conventional breeding and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering enables the direct transfer of genes between different species…that would not breed in nature.” 

What food stories have you been reading?