GM food: what you need to know #2

Did you catch yesterday's piece on GM food? I promised to share part 2 today, so here it is (this was first published on Sustainable Table's blog Table Talk)...

In this second part of our two-part GM series Truefood Network's Elsa Evers discusses the labelling of GM in Australia, the environmental and health implications of GM foods, and what we can do about the issue...
How do I avoid GM foods?

In Australia, only a small portion of GM foods are labeled as such. This is because there are many exemptions to GM labeling laws. Firstly, manufacturers do not have to label their food as ‘containing GM ingredients’ if the food contains highly refined GM ingredients, such as cooking oils, starches etc, which are found in the vast majority of processed foods (e.g., margarine). Oil made from GM canola, for example, doesn’t need to be identified as a GM product

(Maria - This is because these products have been so processed that they no longer contain the novel DNA or protein. That's the loophole - if the ingredient no longer contains novel DNA or protein because it has been refined, you're not required to label it as GM. Despite the fact it has been derived from a GM plant!)

The following are also exempt from GM labeling laws:

• food prepared in bakeries or at restaurants and takeaway stores
• milk, eggs, honey and meat from animals fed GM grains or meal
• foods that are “unintentionally” contaminated with GM ingredients.

One of the easiest ways to avoid GM ingredients is to avoid or minimise your consumption of processed foods. Other ways include:

• Avoid eating meat, dairy and eggs from grain-fed animals: The largest use of GM crops in Australia is not to feed people directly but to feed animals from which we source our meat, dairy and eggs. Choose meat, dairy and eggs from pasture-raised animals. Shopping at a farmers' market is your best bet - this allows you to ask the farmer directly about animal feed.

• Eat certified organic or biodynamic food: Organic farming does not allow GM seeds and requires seeds to be organically grown. Organic farmers will often save seeds from previous crops and use rare and heirloom seed varieties, preserving the biodiversity of our food.

• Download your free copy of the Greenpeace Truefood Guide. The guide rates Australia’s biggest brands on their GM policy. Kraft, for example (yes, sadly, Vegemite), doesn’t commit to being GM-free. Thankfully the other Aussie favourite, Weet-bix, is safe in the hands of Sanitarium who take care to source GM-free ingredients for all their cereals.  The latest Truefood Guide is kid-food themed, but applies to big kids (adults, that is) just as much - there are lots of foods in there that you probably eat and if you look at the brand, the procurement policies will generally be the same across the entire product range. 
What is GM anyway?

The True Food Network describes genetic modification (or engineering) as “a form of biotechnology that allows scientists to move genes between different species”. In the world of food, GM is used to create crops that have certain desirable characteristics, such as grains that are herbicide resistant, or even produce their own pesticide.

How do GM crops affect the environment?

International research suggests that GM crops have an adverse affect on the environment and on biodiversity. The use of herbicide-resistant crops, for instance, is increasing the amount of herbicide used on farms, which destroys soil health. In the UK,a government study found there were 24% fewer butterflies in the margins of GM canola fields because there were fewer weed flowers (and hence nectar) for them to feed on. In addition, there were fewer seeds for birds. Bee keepers are also concerned that GM crops may be harmful to bees that ingest their pollen, a major concern because bees are responsible for 80-90% of animal pollination of our food crops. Click here for more examples of how GM crops can affect the environment.

How do GM foods affect my family’s health?

There are three major areas of concern about the safety of GM foods to human health. Firstly, because GM crops can be herbicide-resistant, thereby encouraging more herbicide use, there is a chance that the amount of herbicide residue in our food will also increase. Secondly, GM foods may contain unexpected proteins, toxins or allergens. Lastly, some GM crops contain antibiotic-resistant genes, and these can make their way into our bodies, creating problems with antibiotic resistance in the population.

GM also affects farmers, as farmers using GM seeds are not permitted to save their seed for next year’s crops. If they are caught doing so, they may be sued by the agribusiness that makes the seed. To find out more about the impact of GM foods, read our Organic Sceptics section
 here, and browse the True Food Network website.

Want to know more or take action? 

RN radio recently featured a story on GM foods in Australia on their breakfast show. The 15-minute segment features views from all sides, and is worth a listen if you want to learn more about the state of GM foods today. Listen here

Also read this myth-busting article by Greenpeace, featured on The Conversation last year.  

The Truefood Network website lists a collection of articles and factsheets both for and against GM food. Click here for more detail. Greenpeace offer a useful FAQs section on their website, which you can read here 

The Truefood Network is made up of more than 30, 000 chefs, farmers and everyday Australians uniting to protect our food from GM. The network is about bringing farmers and consumers together so that farmers can choose what they grow and we can all choose what we eat.  It provides information about the latest science, consumer updates on brands going GM-free and opportunities to take action. And it’s free to join

This piece originally ran on Sustainable Table's blog Table Talk. Sign up and check it out, it's really a fantastic, informative blog!


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