You probably threw it out. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency sent a booklet to all Canadian households a few weeks ago. At first glance it seems innocuous: advice on the safe handling foods, and accurate labelling of foods.
What it doesn’t tell you speaks volumes. It doesn’t tell you that CFIA was set up in 1997 to eliminate the inspectors at Health Canada and Agriculture Canada, reducing the independent monitoring of our food supply.
It doesn’t tell you that CFIA is also responsible for marketing foods, to “promote trade and commerce”. This sets up a potential conflict of interest. If CFIA finds potential harm in a food that it is also promoting, do they proceed with marketing the food or withdraw it because of health concerns?
Don’t worry, the booklet cheerily says, if a “complaint indicates that action is required, the CFIA and, depending on the situation, the federal, provincial or municipal partners will investigate the issue.” It seems to me that there is plenty of room for a complaint to shuffled off from one level of government to another, until the complaint is eventually lost and forgotten.
According to CFIA, some complaints did result in an investigation and some dangerous foods were removed from stores because they contained deadly bacteria, toxins, allergens, or foreign material (glass, for example). But why did Canadians have to get sick and complain before the dangerous foods were removed? If thorough testing was done in the first place, the questionable foods would have never made it to stores.
Brewster Kneen, author of the book Farmageddon, had a more blunt assessment of the booklet. “It’s a really pernicious piece of propaganda”, he told CBC TV’s the National.
When I contacted him at his home in Sorrento, he told me that the booklet “is not about food safety other than telling you that food safety is your responsibility. It is about selling biotechnology and genetically engineered foods.”
Kneen says that the graphics are quaint and as misleading as the text. For example, one picture is of a farmer, his wife and little girl eating a picnic lunch behind a split-rail fence surrounded by a 1940’s tractor and a brown cow with a rooster.
The booklet asks some good questions: Who oversees the feeds, seeds and the fertilizers that our growers depend on? Who assesses the new types of vegetables…? Who inspects the meat products…?
“Who indeed”, Kneen continues, “Certainly not the inspector in white pictured below the questions in the booklet. He has either been pensioned off or is in an office by himself reviewing forms supplied by the self-regulating industry.”
The way that the booklet glosses over Genetically Modified foods would be laughable if the potential for harm weren’t so great. The subject is treated in one short paragraph. It tells us that some GM crops “may reduce the need for chemicals in agriculture.”
Biologist David Suzuki warns that we are becoming unwilling guinea pigs in an experiment never before conducted. We are consuming GM foods in which genes have been transferred from one species to another. The long term effects of these foods is unknown. “Any politician that tells you these products are safe, and that it’s known through scientific testing is either very, very stupid, or they are lying”, he says.
The current methods of testing GM foods are “misguided and should be abandoned” according to a report in the scientific journal, Nature, by researchers Bruner, Millstone, and Mayer. Current testing holds that if a GM potato looks like a normal potato, it must be safe. “Relying on the concept of substantial equivalence is just too vague to be of any use scientifically”, say the authors .
Why did this government agency, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, embark on this information campaign, costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars? Well, a good offense is a good defence. It’s better to nip controversy in the bud with a happy little booklet illustrated with farmers and wholesome foods. If you can’t find your copy but want to re-visit it, you can find it at http://www.cfia-acia.agr.ca, called “Food Safety and You”.