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Canadian retailers confident selling GMO foods

Staff writer |
Canada's major retail chains were asked whether they plan to sell genetically modified produce like the Innate potato and Arctic apple and, if so, how they would be labelled.

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The companies referred the questions to the Retail Council of Canada, which said that it has full confidence in selling GMO foods that have been approved by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“We have confidence in the regulatory process and CFIA to ensure that (genetically engineered foods) are safe for consumption and only products that are safe for consumption are approved,” said David Wilkes, senior vice-president of government relations and grocery division for the council.

“There is no requirement for labelling at this point in time, so the government does not indicate that (genetically engineered foods) would be labelled.”

The U.S.-based J.R. Simplot Company said March 21 that it was notified by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that it could sell its Innate potatoes — which purportedly are less likely to bruise or turn brown when cut — to consumers or for livestock consumption.

About a year ago, Health Canada approved a similar non-browning Arctic apple developed by Summerland, B.C.-based Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc. The fruit is not available yet because of the length of time it takes to grow apple trees.

Innate potatoes, meanwhile, could potentially be planted in Canada and sold as early as later this year. They have been sold in the U.S. since last May under the White Russet brand.

While the packaging boasts that the potatoes have “reduced bruising and fewer black spots,” there is no disclosure about the product being genetically engineered.

Lucy Sharratt, spokeswoman for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), said it rankles some Canadians that special labelling isn’t required.

An online poll of 1,005 Canadians conducted in August 2015 by Ipsos Reid for CBAN found 88 per cent of respondents agreed the Canadian government should mandate labelling of genetically modified foods.

When asked if they would purchase food that was labelled as genetically modified, 50 per cent said they would depending on the type of food, 25 per cent agreed with the statement “nothing can convince me to purchase genetically modified food,” and 14 per cent said they would buy it “without hesitating.”

A spokeswoman said Sobeys recognizes some customers prefer foods made with ingredients not derived through biotechnology and that they are seeing more suppliers highlighting products as non-GMO.

Family-owned grocery chain Longos, which has about 30 locations in the Toronto area and runs the online home-delivery service, doesn’t carry genetically modified produce and “has no plans” to sell them.

In the U.S., some major corporations have announced they will start voluntarily labelling products that contain genetically modified ingredients to comply with a Vermont law, which comes into effect July 1.

Campbell Soup Co., General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., and Mars Inc., say the labelling changes will happen nationwide, not just in Vermont.

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