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Arguments against labelling, and responses

The main arguments we heard on March 10 in the House of Commons debate over Bill C-291 against labelling were:

Many consumers are misinformed about GM foods and will choose not to buy them if they are labelled – the label will be misinterpreted as a warning and would put this industry at an unfair disadvantage.

  • Response: Labelling is a critical way to inform consumers about GM foods. Consumers have a right to know what is in their foods.
  • Response: By not providing this product information, the government is putting the interests of the industry ahead of the public.
  • Response: A large majority of Canadians have consistently said that they want GM foods labelled – our government should take this demand seriously.

The government will only label GM foods if and when there is a need to provide a health warning. It is not the government’s role to provide labelling for consumer choice.

  • Response: The government already mandates some labelling for non-health-related reasons, such as country-of-origin labelling, and the mandatory labelling of all irradiated foods in Canada.

Canada already has a voluntary labelling standard and there are also many non-GM options available in grocery stores now.

  • Response: Voluntary labelling has failed to provide consumers with labels. As far as we know, no company has voluntarily labelled GM foods.
  • Response: Non-GM options are not available for all foods and products, in all stores.
  • Response: The Canadian government does not track what or where GM traits and products are on the market. Mandatory labelling would be a much needed tool for the public and government to track GM foods.

GM foods are safe, so no label is needed.

  • Response: There are many reasons why consumers may want the choice not to buy GM foods, including ethical and environmental concerns.
  • Response: Labelling is not a response to the question of safety. If GM foods are unsafe, they should not be on the market. Labelling is about providing consumers with the information they need to make informed choices about the food they eat and feed their families.

GM foods have been on the market for twenty years and no one has been harmed.

  • Response: This statement is not science-based because there is no post-market monitoring of GM foods and GM food consumption in the market in Canada. In fact, mandatory labelling would be one way to enable traceability and monitoring of GM foods.
  • Response: Debate over the safety and regulation of GM foods continues in the scientific literature and there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GM foods.

For more information on these last two points, see CBAN’s GMO Inquiry report « Are GM Foods Better for Consumers? »