Never let facts stand in the way of a good story

Posted on July 20, 2016

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This article originally appeared on the SAIFood Blog

Woodward or Bernstein, he is not! Sean Previl, a journalist with the Halifax Chronicle Herald, has shown that he is not one to let facts or the truth stand in the way of a great story. Last week, the Halifax Chronicle Herald published a story by Previl on GMO food products that were devoid of facts.

SAIFood works hard to inform and communicate about GM crops and food products. While the Herald article should be retracted given that it is riddled with more errors than Swiss cheese has holes, we would like to make a few clarifications about this article. The article, “Finding GMOs in your grocery cart,” could benefit from some clarity for those seeking factual information on GM and non-GM foods. We don’t want readers to be misinformed and think that milk is genetically modified because facts were not checked before publication.

Let’s start by saying, the article is correct, you’ll find GMOs in your grocery cart which you may not be aware of. Hopefully, today’s blog can help identify what those actually are. In Canada and the US, there is a limited number of direct consumption GM crops approved. If you’re shopping for fresh produce, the GMO products you can find are Hawaiian papaya,  squash, potatoes, and in the US, two varieties of muskmelon and one plum. GM apples have been approved in both countries but are not yet available in grocery stores. It is processed foods that are more likely to contain GM ingredients given the use of sugars from GM corn or sugar beets. Although Canada’s canola production is GM, its oil can’t be classified as GM, non-GM or organic as there is no protein in oil and protein is required to test any product for the origins of its content.

GM and not GM
If you do prefer to avoid GMOs (which we think you’re a bit silly for, but heck it’s your money), let’s reassure you of some products which have been falsely accused of being or containing GMOs. Meat does not contain GMOs. An animal may be fed GM crops, however, GM animal feed does not change the DNA of the animal. Animal byproducts such as eggs, dairy, butter and so forth are not GMO. There are no GM chickens. GM wheat is not approved, don’t worry, no products contain GM wheat. And even though the majority of soy grown today is GM, most of the GM soy is grown for animal feed and the soybean varieties grown for human consumption are rarely GM. It is very likely that tofu or soymilk it is not from GM soy.

Potato-what?
Probably the most astounding deviation from any sense of the truth is the absurd quote from Nancy Smithers, president of Nova Scotia organics. Smithers is quoted saying “If you have potatoes in your cupboards for five months and they’re not sprouting, that’s genetically modified.” GM potatoes were approved in Canada and the US in 2014. At present, there are no GM potatoes available in grocery stores in Canada. GM potatoes are available for sale in 11 grocery stores in the US southeast and Midwest. I’m not sure what variety of potato Smithers has in her cupboard, but given this statement, I’m doubtful that she would know the difference between a potato and a parsnip.

Sadly, media integrity regarding GM crops and foods are lacking. The media as the fourth estate used to pride itself in the accurate reporting of the news in Canada. Given the quality and accuracy of reporting on GM crops and foods, I’d say they’ve slipped a bit and should probably be referred to as the seventh or eighth estate these days.

Read more blog posts like these on the SAIFood website!

Stuart Smyth
Assistant Professor, Industry Research Chair, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, U of S