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What is Organic Food?

Organic food is produced through a system that is based on ecological balance and humane care for the plants, animals and people that make up the farm environment. Soil health is central to organic farming. Healthy soil provides the basis for healthy crops and a balanced, resilient ecosystem. Organic farmers build the soil using composted organic matter and crop rotations. The organic approach to weed, insect, and plant disease control is knowledge-intensive rather than technology-intensive. By exploring the alternatives to expensive agro-toxin inputs such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, organic farmers bypass the need for these technologies. Organic food production methods conform to national organic standards as regulated through certification agencies. This means that all certified organic food is produced according to specific rules.

Eating organic food is one way you can avoid genetic engineering. All certified organic produce and ingredients are produced free of any genetic engineering (see below).

What is not used in organic farming in Canada 
• No use of genetically engineered organisms because their environmental and health safety is not proven (can lead to genetic pollution of wild populations, increased pest resistance, increased pesticide use).

• No application of synthetic fertilizers because they cause water and soil pollution and do not provide a balanced nutrient profile. Their harmful salts affect important soil microorganisms.

• No use of irradiation for food preservation because its health safety is not proven.

• No use of intensive feedlots for livestock because they cause stress in animals leading to disease and requiring drug treatments, and cause pollution through dumping of excessive animal waste.

• No application of synthetic pesticides (for elimination of weeds, insects, fungi that threaten crops) because this harms beneficial insects that prey on pests and leads to pest resistance, necessitating higher doses and new pesticides. Residues remain on foods; drift pollutes off farm environments.

• No application of raw manure as fertilizer because it contaminates waterways; nutrients are unavailable to plant life.

Eating organic food is one way you can avoid genetic engineering. All certified organic produce and ingredients are produced free of any genetic engineering.

What is Genetic Engineering?

In genetic engineering technology, genes are isolated and transferred using a “gene gun” or a viral vector from one species into a foreign species, crossing over what is called the “species barrier.” An example is the transfer of an insect-resistant gene from a soil bacterium (called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt) into corn plants to confer insect resistance. This kind of genetic transfer never occurs in nature and cannot be achieved through traditional plant breeding methods. The new gene lands in a random spot in the genome of the recipient organism, and can disrupt normal functioning of that organism in unpredictable ways. Genetically engineered corn, soy, potatoes, and canola are approved and are being sold as ingredients in many processed foods. There are many more products waiting approval for the market. (For a list of approved products see the website of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency:


Risks of Genetic Engineering

Non-target insects, including ones that are beneficial to farmers are harmed by genetically engineered crops. [1]
Genetically engineered organisms have harmed soil microorganisms, leading to stunted or killed crops. [2]
Plants engineered to be insect- or herbicide-resistant can lead to resistance in weeds and insect pests. This means more chemicals or new genetic engineering. [3,4]
New allergens and toxins are the potential result of genetically engineering food. Some are detected before market approval [5] while others are not. [6]
Pollen from genetically engineered crops can drift into wild environments and breed with wild relatives of crop plants. [7]
The effects of this genetic pollution cannot be predicted. Once genetically engineered organisms are released into the environment they cannot be con-trolled and they cannot be recalled. Genetic pollution is irreversible.

Aren’t GE products tested and regulated?

All data that is reviewed by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is developed and submitted by the product manufacturers. This data is the private property of those corporations. The Canadian government does none of its own testing. Many scientists question whether sufficient means of testing these products is even possible. [8]

The Organic Approach

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Genetic engineering technology is only one part of the “conventional” or industrial system of agriculture. The industrial approach is to “improve nature” and make food products exempt from natural systems and laws. Harmful consequences are corrected using new and more technologies, usually leading to further problems. In contrast, the organic approach is to understand these laws as much as possible and work with them. Organic farmers practice prevention, not correction. Invest in the

Invest in the Future!

When you buy local organic food at a fair price to the farmer, you support the livelihood of people who care for the land sustainably with future generations in mind. You pay for the labour of people who replace the work done by pesticides and other corporate technologies on the farm. The government subsidizes conventional methods while organic farmers struggle without this support.

Problem Industrial Approach Organic Approach
Plant disease Apply toxic fungicide, engineer the plant’s genes to create resistance Rotate crops to prevent reinfection. Use naturally resistant varieties. Cultivate healthy soil for plant nutrition.
Insect pests eating crops Apply toxic pesticide, engineer plant’s genes to produce toxin. Encourage diverse insect community in which predatory insects kill pests, breed resistant varieties.
Weed invasion of fields Apply toxic herbicide, engineer plant genes to be resistant to this chemical. Crop rotation, mechanical weeding, cover crops and winter crops slow weeds.
Bruising of fruits Pick while unripe, engineer genes to slow softening, allowing lengthy transport while appearing fresh. Sell and buy locally, encouraging consumption of fresh foods and a strong community economy.
Frost damage to fruits Engineer genes to be frost resistant Use frost-resistant, locally adapted varieties.

Can I really make a difference?

As consumers, we all have a role to play in choosing which system to support and bringing about change through deliberate buying.

• Buy organic where possible.

• Buy locally and, wherever possible, directly from farmers.

• Ask your grocery store manager to carry local organic products.

• Write to food manufacturers and ask them to eliminate genetically engineered ingredients. Ask the manager of your local health food store to do the same.

• Join people in your community who are active in the movement against genetic engineering.

(You can contact Sierra Club Canada, the Canadian Health Food Association or Canadian Organic Growers to find out about local activities and national campaigns.)

• Write to the Minister of Health, Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture and demand a moratorium on genetic engineering. (Address your postage-free letter House of Commons, Ottawa ON, K1A 0A6.) Ask them to support farmers who want to switch to organic methods.



1. Losey, J., L. Rayor, and M. Carter. 1999. “Transgenic Pollen Harms Monarch Larvae.” Nature, 399:214. Birch, A.N.E. et al. 1997, Interactions between plant resistance genes, pest aphid populations and benefi-cial aphid predators, Scottish Crop Research Institute Annual Report, p68-72. Crabb, Charlene 1997 Sting in the tale for bees, New Scientist14.

2. Holmes, T.M. and E.R. Ingham. 1995. The effects of genetically engi-neered microorganisms on soil foodwebs. Suppl. Bull. Ecol. Soc. America75/2.

3. Butler, D., T. Reichhardt, A. Abbott, D. Dickson and S. Saegusa. 1999. “Long-term Effect of GM Crops Serves Up Food For Thought.” Nature, 398:651-656.

4. Perrin, R. 1997. “Crop Protection: Taking Stock for the New Millennium.” Crop Protection, 16:449-456.

5. Nordlee, J. S. Taylor, J. Townsend, L. Thomas and R. Bush. 1996. “Identification of a Brazil-nut Allergen in Transgenic Soybeans.” The New England Journal of Medicine, 334:688-692.

6. Belongia, E., C. Hedberg, G. Gleich, K. White, A. Mayeno, D. Loegering, S. Dunnette, P. Pirie, K. MacDonald, and M. Osterholm. 1990. “An Investigation of the Cause of the Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome Associated With Tryptophan Use.” The New England Journal of Medicine, 323(6):357-364.

7. Chevre, A., F. Eber, A Baranger, and M. Renard. 1997. “Gene Flow from Transgenic Crops.” Nature, 389:924.

8. Clark, E.Ann. 1999. The Faulty Assumptions of Field Crop Genetic Engineering. Presented at the Conference Is Your Food Safe? sponsored by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Millstone, E., E. Brunner & S. Mayer. 1999. Beyond ‘substantial equivalence.’ Nature401: 525 -526. van Dommelen, A. 1999. Scientific requirements for the assessment of food safety. Biotechnology and Development Monitor 38:3-6.

Further Reading

Farmageddon: Food and the Culture of Biotechnology, Brewster Kneen, New Society Publishers, 1999.

Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare, Dr. Mae Wan-Ho. See Third World Network website for ordering and more information

Real Food for a Change, Wayne Roberts, Rod McRae and Lori Stahlbrand, Random House, 1999.

Information on this paged based on material produced by Sierra Club of Canada and the Canadian Health Food Association.


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