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Greenpeace stages protest in Whistler

Organization calls for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods



By Alison Taylor

Greenpeace members staged a peaceful protest in Whistler Wednesday, calling on Canada’s agricultural ministers to implement mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

“We really expect the provinces to take this seriously,” said Josh Brandon, genetic engineering campaigner of Greenpeace Canada.

Brandon was one of roughly a dozen protesters outside the Telus Conference Centre trying to catch the eyes of the provincial and territorial agricultural ministers, as well as federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, Chuck Strahl.

The two-day meeting is the ministers’ annual conference to discuss new policy and programming directions for the Canadian agricultural sector.

It is not clear if GE labeling is on the conference agenda.

But Greenpeace was on hand to ensure the issue wasn’t far from the ministers’ minds.

“We really want to see mandatory labeling immediately,” said Brandon.

“At Greenpeace, we’re really concerned that the issue does get addressed because we’re extremely concerned about the fact that people don’t know what food contains genetically engineered ingredients.”

GE ingredients are found in many processed foods. In Canada there is a voluntary standard in place to label the foods that have GE ingredients. That voluntary standard was put in place in 2004.

It is, however, mandatory to label foods, including GE foods, if there is a health and safety concern.

The Public Health Agency of Canada states on its website that GE foods are safe to eat.

“Health Canada takes the lead role in ensuring that food in Canada is safe… Canada’s food approval system is based on a food’s qualities, not how it was made.”

Betty McWhinnie, a member of the local chapter of the Council of Canadians, said consumers should be allowed to have a choice and to know whether or not they’re eating GE foods through labeling.

“Those of us that don’t want to (eat GE foods) need to know,” said McWhinnie, who was at the protest helping to hold aloft the big yellow Greenpeace sign emblazoned with the words “Label GE Foods”.

“I’m so angry about the government not having labeling of genetically engineered foods.”

GE foods, or genetically modified (GM) foods, refer to foods that have been produced using recent advances in gene technology. Most genetic modifications are in crops to improve resistance to insects, disease or pesticides. Other genetic modifications include changing the nutrient value of the food itself.

Pemberton farmer Anna Helmer was also on hand to lend her support at the protest.

“My pet issues are the preservation of farmland and the promotion of local sustainable food sources. And I see that GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are a threat to that,” she said.

Like others who attended the protest, she was surprised at the small turnout.

People think it’s a political issue, she said, but really, it’s about one of the most basic human needs — the food we eat.

A Greenpeace poll conducted last year showed that 79 per cent of the population in B.C. wanted mandatory labeling.

“It’s really important for the ministers to know that Canadians are concerned about this,” said Brandon.

The ministers are attending a two-day conference in Whistler on June 28-29. They will be answering questions from the media on June 29.

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