Unless there is a clear quality difference, I rarely buy organic products. Despite my belief that organic farming methods are better for the environment, I’m usually more concerned that the product has the right taste, is made with healthy ingredients, and is what I consider a fair price for the value. I try to buy locally produced food and beverages as much as possible, simply because I believe it’s important to support “local” Canadian businesses, even if they’re based several hundred kilometres away. Packaging and food safety, although often harder to assess, also factor into the purchasing decision.
But when it comes to knowing whether or not a product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), I’m undecided. Proponents on each side of the gene technology debate say they have the research to back up their arguments. Across Europe, India, and in the U.S. (where in June Connecticut became the first state to pass legislation requiring labelling of GMO products), public vilification of GMOs has forced governments to consider labelling and restrictions on products made with transgenic crops.
Yet research from around the world tells us that if we are to feed the estimated 10 billion people that will inhabit the planet by 2050, we must focus on finding more effective ways of growing, harvesting, storing, processing and delivering food. Even today nutrition and food security are very real problems in many parts of the world, including Canada. Could the answer be pest-resistant GM crops that offer a higher yield from less land, reduce carbon dioxide and offer wider application options?
Calestous Jama thinks so, and said as much during a speech he gave in mid-June at McGill University advocating for agricultural innovation in Africa, including greater use of GM crops across the continent. Prof. Jama, who grew up in Kenya, is a former executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and is currently the director of the science, technology and globalization initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School, and of the Agricultural Innovation in Africa Project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Instead of it being a matter of science, he believes resistance to GMO to be “technological intolerance.”
According the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications and its 2010 report Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, bio-engineered crops are now grown in 29 countries on roughly 148 million hectares of land, an 87-per-cent increase since 1996. It’s a safe bet we have all consumed GMO-derived products without even knowing it. Would it have made a difference to you? Would you buy a product labelled as containing GMOs?
Consumers make purchasing decisions based on personal perceptions and needs rather than science. And we’re privileged to have so many food choices available to us. Let’s ensure the options are kept open for everyone.