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What's not on the label

Environmental group wants consumers to know

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 02/02) - A Yellowknife environmental group is targeting a local grocery store owned by a national company that refuses to label genetically modified foods.

"We're doing this to raise awareness on the issue," said Neill Stewart, a member of Ecology North.

Stewart stood outside the downtown Extra Foods grocery store distributing pamphlets on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) last Friday.

"Consumers should have a right to know," said Stewart

Extra Foods in Yellowknife would not comment on the issue when contacted by Yellowknifer.

Neither would officials with Loblaws, a Toronto-based national grocery chain that owns Extra Foods through its Westfair Foods subsidiary in Calgary.

A letter from the company posted on a Greenpeace Web site says the company does not label GMO foods to keep the playing field level for companies that sell them.

The letter says that until there is a clear definition of what constitutes GMOs, it will not label.

A spokesperson with the company confirmed the letters were sent by the company.

GMOs have been a hot topic of debate between food companies and environmental groups over the past decade.

The groups say GMOs could be dangerous to people's health, the environment and the agricultural industry because many of their potential effects are not yet known.

Last year, news that Starlink corn -- farm feed genetically engineered against insects -- contaminated human food supplies, brought the GMO issue into the household.

GMOs are created when genetic material is taken from one organism and put into another.

For example, genetic material from an animal is put into the genetic material of a vegetable or another species of animal to enhance the food.

Environmental groups argue the process creates new organisms and could trigger new toxins or contaminate the food supply, as happened with Starlink corn.

Many processed foods have GMOs. President's Choice, General Mills, Kraft and Heinz, produce food with GMOs, according to Greenpeace.

Heinz took GMOs out of its baby food.

Yellowknife resident Dwayne Barnaby said he was happy with the information he received from Stewart.

"People should have a right to know," said Barnaby. "Let the market decide if people want those foods."

Yellowknife city councillor and Ecology North member Kevin O'Reilly said it's ridiculous Loblaws refuses to label.

"If (Yellowknifers) are concerned about the issue ... then it is in their best interest not to shop (at Extra Foods)," said O'Reilly, who shops at the Co-op.

A private member's bill on the issue was killed in Parliament last year.