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Why require GMO labeling?


It's been 20 years since Canada approved the first genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs have since been the source of continued concerns, among the people of Québec and Canada, not only because of the lack of transparency and uncertainly about the long-term effects of GMOs on human health and also the environment, but also because of economic impacts.

Today, five countries produce 90% of the world’s GMOs: the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada. Canada ranks as 5th largest producer with 6% of world production and cultivates 4 GM crops: corn, canola, soy and sugar beets (1). Among these 5 top producers, only Canada and the United States have no regulation for mandatory GMO labeling.

In addition to the costs of a mandatory GMO labeling policy in Québec, we need to address the actual productivity and profitability of GMOs and the agro-industrial model that underpins the use of GMOs and pesticides. Their economic and social impacts on everyone involved in the food chain is unclear.

While giving us the opportunity to choose what food we eat, GMO labeling would also ensure shared costs and responsibilities between the different actors in the food chain including farmers, distributors, restaurateurs and consumers. Transparency and traceability would have a positive impact on relationships of trust between different actors in the food chain. Demand the right to know!

GMO labeling, market development and certifications

Mandatory labeling policies in 64 countries

Of the GMO consumed worldwide, Canada and the US produce 6% and 40% respectively, but both countries are slow to act on labeling.

64 countries already have mandatory GMO labeling policies, including two other of the largest global GMO producers, Brazil and India. Three countries have completely banned GMOs while others, including several of the European Union, prohibit its cultivation and require labeling (see map).

All the countries of the European Union have mandatory GMO labeling, as do many other industrialized countries such as Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan.

The fight for mandatory GMO labeling in the US and corporations adopting voluntary GMO labeling

There are fights for mandatory labeling raging in nine US states (2). Vermont is the first state to implement a mandatory GMO labeling bill, to come into force on July 1st of 2016. Five major food companies - Campbell's soup, ConAgra Foods, Kellogg's, General Mills and Mars, Inc. (3) - have since announced that they will voluntarily label GMOs in the United States. However, several are not extending this action to Canada.

The risks of voluntary labeling

Voluntary labeling, as implemented by these companies, has a few problems, such as:
1. It is not certified by a third party;
2. Non-uniform labeling can create confusion for the consumer including due to unusually sized typography, placement or phrasing (with GMOs, without GMOs, contains GMOs, can contain GMOs, etc.)

The DEMAND LABELING! campaign advocates MANDATORY labeling for ALL food products bound by the specifications and standards established by the Québec society, in order to allow equal prosperity for all.

Designations and growth certification

Consumers are increasingly linking diet with health and are watching the information that nutrition labeling provides. Quebeckers are more likely to want to "eat Quebecker" and buy according to various criteria such as local economy, production methods, organic status, GMOs, geographical location, animal welfare, environment, and fair trade. Such labels are important tools for protecting and developing agricultural markets, and providing for consumer information and safety (4).

In Québec, there are already four particular designations, and three more in development. The most famous designation is organic, while the identification of "Québec Ice Cider" and "Québec Ice Wine" has helped developing the market for apple-based alcoholic beverages. Other designations are currently under construction by the Council for Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims (CARTV) (5).

Québec is leading the way

2005 First Canadian province to have certification for organic products (5)

2009 First North American territory to have protected geographical indication labeling (IGP)(5)

2016 Will Québec become the first province to have mandatory GMO labeling? Ask for it!

Would labeling non-GM products from Québec really bring added value? Would labeling facilitate commercialization in Canada and the US? Would it enable the development of new markets in the 64 countries that already require GMO labeling? We believe the answer to all these questions is yes!

Telling surveys

Since 1994, many surveys have been conducted on GMOs and mandatory labeling. Support from the people of Canada and Québec for mandatory GMO labeling has always ranked above 75% and, according to the latest Ipsos Reid poll, 88% of Canadians are in favour of mandatory labeling of GMOs (6).

To see the surveys concerning GMOs conducted in Canada over the last 20 years, click on the link below:List of surveys on genetically engineered foods between 1994 and 2015

How much would Québec regulation for mandatory GMO labeling cost?

A synthesis of studies on the issue of costs relating to the adoption of a regulation for mandatory labeling of GMOs in Québec was produced for Vigilance OGM by Lyne Nantel, a doctoral candidate of sociology from Laval University, with help from Éric Pineault, professor at the UQAM sociology department.

Read their work here

Issues of transparency and traceability

At a time of globalization, outsourcing and diversification of supply, traceability is needed to quicly respond to food safety crises and to adequately meet health, environmental and economic standards.

While we are presented information about the caloric, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, protein and vitamin content of many products we consume (7), allowing us to make healthier choices, one can wonder why GMO and pesticide content is never disclosed. Consumers can’t make the choice not to eat GMOs, or eat less of them, if they can’t know what’s on their plate and where it’s from, a sensible choice considering that the principal property of the GMOs currently commercialized is its resistance to a pesticide that could be significantly dangerous to our health and ecosystems.

The agro-industrial model and GMOs

Despite all of the industry’s promises to farmers after twenty years, the facts indicates that GMO crops support only a few large agribusiness corporations more than farmers. Farmers, like the general public, are not consulted by the federal government before new GMOs are introduced. New GMOs do not meet the needs of all farmers, but can mean significant economic loss. For example, the 2009 contamination of Canadian flax by a GM flax resulted in the interruption of our exports to the EU, which represents close to 70% of the Canadian flax market. (8)

More recently, the federal government’s approval of the GM apple and GM alfalfa despite vigorous opposition from the Federation des producteurs de pommes du Québec (9) and the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec (UPA) (10), seems to indicate that this technology aims to profit only a handful of large corporations.

The agro-industrial model and GMOs

  • Concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations;
  • An increase in monocultures;
  • Agricultural intensification and the use of technologies such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. (11)

This model decreases the social and economic autonomy of local populations, notably through patinting, and mortgages the natural capital available for future generations.

In addition to reducing soil fertility and genetic diversity, this model impacts rural development with a loss of jobs through industrialization. From 1961 to 2001, the number of farms dropped from 95,777 to 30,539, and 70% of total farming profits were generated by just 20% of them –those with a gross income above 250,000$ (Statistics Canada) (11). This means increasing impoverishment, debt and marginalization for many farmers.

Industrial and chemical agriculture has become a major source of pollution, particularly of the Québec rivers (insérer le lien vers la section environnement), and is now widely recognized as a risk to increasing the costs of public health (insérer le lien vers la section santé).

Productivity and profitability of GM crops: a model in transformation

GM crops were first introduced as a mean to simplify work in the fields for farmers, especially through the use of herbicides. For years this allowed many farmers to increase their planting surface and their revenue. Ultimately, however, profits continued to end up in the pockets of large agribusiness corporations.

These GM crops have increased the use of pesticides and resulted in the subsequent emergence of "superweeds", making farmers even more dependent of company chimicals. Although predictable, biotechnology companies have always denied the potential emergence of "superweeds" and, since their advent, place blame on farmers by claiming that company instructions were not adequately followed.

Empty promises from the industry

“GMOs will increase farmer yield and income!”

GMOs are not developed to increase yields. After twenty years, statistics from the Institut de la statistique du Québec show that GM crops do not give greater yield. GM and non-GM soybean yields are similar. At the same time, the prices for non-GM seeds are lower and selling price for non-GMO products higher, meaning profits are greater for non-GM crops. While yields of GM corn crops have been on average 6% higher since 2003, but this slight increase is insufficient to offset the high prices of GM seeds and the low market price of corn. It’s important to note that in genetic modification, new genes sequences are inserted into already high-yielding seed; the result of the genetic transformation itself is not yield increase, which is high. (12)

Agricultural costs, including the price of seeds, have been rising steadily for 20 years, eroding the net income of farmers. If, in the last 20 years in Canada, the gross farm income has increased, the net cash income (what is left after paying agricultural costs) did not change significantly (13).

There are economically viable solutions for farmers that are sustainable, healthy and good for the environment. Farmers can have a choice.

“GMOs will reduce the use of pesticides and operating costs!”

The main characteristic of 85% of the GMOs sold worldwide is herbicide resistance, making herbicide use a necessity. Since the introduction of GMOs in Canada, sales of herbicides have increased by 130% (14). In Québec, sales of glyphosate, the main ingredient in the Monsanto’s Roundup formula, increased by 71% between 2006 and 2012. All the while, operating costs for farmers haven risen (15). The increased use of glyphosate with GM crops also led to the emergence of glyphosate-resistant "superweeds". All these affect negatively the profits of farmers (16), to say nothing of the health risks for workers on the front line.

“GMOs makes field work easier for farmers!”

Most GMOs crops in Canada involve spraying fields with herbicides that kill all the "weeds", but not the genetically modified crop plants. For the few first years, this technology allowed farmers to save time and labor. But with the emergence of "superweeds" resistant to glyphosate, farmers are spending more time and money spraying with new pesticides, adding up to what farmers need to pay to keep the farm running.

A market moving towards the organic

For two years in Québec, we have witnessed a reduction in GMO plantings (see Table 1) (17) and a rise in organic farming. In fact, organic foods are the largest growing market sector worldwide. According to the Canadian Organic Trade Association, the market for organic products in Canada reached $ 3.7 billion in 2012 and has tripled in value since 2006, exceeding growth all other agricultural food sectors.

Since 2001, there has been an increase in organics of 66.5%; since 2006, an increase of 4.4%, representing 1.8% of all farms, Quéwbec being the province with the highest increase (18). There are approximately 37.2 million hectares of agricultural land that are certified organic, and about 1.8 million certified organic producers (19) in Canada. Field crops, which include wheat, corn, soybeans and oats (20) and also hay, are the largest category of certified organic crops (21). A recent study from the Moulins de Soulanges, the Meunerie La Milanese and the Institut de recherche et de développement en agroenvironnement (IRDA) shows that organic wheat would be 3 times more profitable per hectare with a profits of $ 1,343 / ha over $ 451 / ha for intensive. (22)

According to 2013 survey conducted for Filière biologique du Québec in 2013 (23), the most popular incentives for buying organic products were health (83%), local economy (80%) and taste (63%). These are essentially the same concerns that prompt a majority of Quebecers to want products made without GMOs. Consumers who buy organic products would spend only $ 17.50 (24) more per week, and research shows that consumers from all socio-economic classes choose the organic products, countering the belief that they are too expensive (25).

For more information, please consult the GMO Inquiry 2015 entitled Are GM crops better for farmers?

Farming take over

For several years the number of farms in all regions of Québec has been decreasing. In 2016, more than 200 farms could be dismantled (26) when it was just announced, in January, just as 250 Québec dairy farms were dismantled in 2015 (27).

Meanwhile, over the past for years there has been a 300% increase in enrolment in the organic agriculture department at the Cégep de Victoriaville (28) over the last four years. This demonstrates a real interest from farmers in an ecological production model focused more on a local economy.

More and more farmers are moving to organic to meet the rising consumer demand, but also to farm in a way that is more consistent with their personal values.

Agricultural transition

Taking into account the precautionary principle, Canada, having signed the Rio Declaration (29) has a duty to preserve soil fertility, the quality of water, biodiversity, the physical and financial health of human beings, and to transition towards agricultural models that are ethical, sustainable and just.

For more information, please consult the GMO Inquiry 2015 entitled Are GM crops better for farmers?

We have the right to know what we’re eating! I demand mandatory labeling in Quebec!

For more information, visit www.vigilanceogm.org

Sources :

(1) James, C. (2015). Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014. ISAAA brief No. 49. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA): Ithaca, NY


(2) Chow, L. (29 January 2016). 8 Battleground States in the GMO Food Labeling Fight. Ecowatch.


(3) Nestle, M. (2 April 2016). No amount of « free form » labelling will make processed food good for you. The Guardian.


(4) Biron, A. (2013). Perception de la profession de diététistes et de ses enjeux par des diététistes et des étudiants finissants en nutrition du Québec. Mémoire présenté à la Faculté de médecine en vue de l’obtention du grade de maîtrise en Nutrition, Département de nutrition, Université de Montréal.

(5) Conseil des appelations réservées et des termes valorisants (CARTV)


(6) Polls on GM food labeling, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). Consulté en avril 2016. http://www.cban.ca/Resources/Topics/Labeling/Polls-on-GM-Food-Labelling.-Canada

(7) Données nutritionnelles, Aliments et nutrition. Santé Canada. Consulté en avril 2016.


(8) Learn the lesson of flax contamination. Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). Consulté en avril 2016.


(9) Pommes Artic GD743 et GS784, Aliments et nutrition. Santé Canada. Consulté en avril 2016.


(10) Lignées de luzerne J101 et J163 tolérant le glyphosate, Archivée – Information sur les aliments nouveaux- Biotechnologie alimentaire, Aliments et nutrition. Santé Canada. Consulté en avril 2016.


Information sur les aliments nouveaux – Luzerne KK179 à teneur réduite en lignine, Aliments et nutrition. Santé Canada. Consulté en avril 2016.


(11) Lévesque, L.. La Presse Canadienne. (21 février 2015). OGM : les producteurs de pommes inquiets. Le Devoir.


(12) (2012). Résolution Congrès de l’UPA – Décembre 2012. Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec (UPA).


(24 mars 2016). Cas probable de contamination à la luzerne GM : l’UPA fortement préoccupée. Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec (UPA).


(13) Gareau. P. (2007). Impacts environnementaux et sanitaires liés au modèle agricole industriel : pistes de solution. Mémoire présenté à la Commission sur l’avenir de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire du Québec, Réseau des groupes écologistes du Québec (RQGE).


(14) Grandes cultures. Institut de la statistique du Québec. Consulté en avril 2016.


(15) Statistics Canada. Tables 002-0005 - Farm operating expenses and depreciation charges, annual (dollars); 002-0008 - Farm debt outstanding, classified by lender, annual (dollars); 002-0009 - Net farm income, annual (dollars); Table 002-0001 - Farm cash receipts, annual (dollars). CANSIM (database). 14 : Health Canada. Pest control Products Sales Report for 2011.


(16) (2012. Modifié le 2012-07-12; cité le 2013-02-20). Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada. Production biologique 2012 http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFCAAC/display-afficher.do?id=1183748510661&lang=fra

(17) (2006). Trousse de transition vers l'agriculture biologique: grandes cultures. Fédération d'agriculture biologique du Québec.


(18) (16 janvier 2016). Les limites d’un herbicide. La semaine verte, Saison 2016, Épisode 3.


(19) (2011, modifié le 23 mai 2012, cité le 2013-07-17). Données sur les exploitations et les exploitants agricoles: fait saillants et analyses, Chapitre 5. Statistique Canada.


(20) (2012, modifé le 2012-07-12; cité le 2013-02-20). Production biologique. Agriculture et agroalimentaire Canada.


(21) Ménard, M. (29 mars 2016). Les agriculteurs font de meilleures marges avec le bio. La Terre de chez nous.


(22) (2013). Faits saillants du sondage auprès de la population québécoise sur la consommation de produits biologiques. Filière biologique du Québec.


(23) Biron, A. (2013). Perception de la profession de diététistes et de ses enjeux par des diététistes et des étudiants finissants en nutrition du Québec. Mémoire présenté à la Faculté de médecine en vue de l’obtention du grade de maîtrise en Nutrition, Département de nutrition, Université de Montréal.

(24) (2013). Canada’s organic maket : national highlights 2013. Canada organic trade association.


(25) (8 avril 2016). Nombre « jamais vu » d’encans agricoles au Québec. Radio-Canada.


(26) (19 mars 2016). L’intérêt pour l’agriculture explose au Cégep de Victoriaville. Radio-Canada.