Credit: Greenpeace / Amendolia
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Consumers now have a new tool to help them avoid eating ingredients from genetically altered crops, with the launch of the Greenpeace True Food Guide - Canola Edition.
"This is about good, safe food for all people and about having a say in what we eat," said chef Alex Herbet, host of the guide's launch.
"We don't yet know the long-term implications of planting [genetically engineered] crops…The True Food Guide is about giving us choice to avoid [engineered] foods and protecting our right to know and to choose what we eat."
Genetic engineering is a tool for manipulating DNA. It involves taking a gene for a useful trait from one living organism - a plant or animal, virus or bacteria - and inserting it into the genetic code of another. The recipient then adopts this new trait.
Though controversial, the first crop of genetically modified canola has recently been harvested in Australia.
In the case of genetically modified (GM) canola, a gene has been introduced that allows the crop to be resistant to herbicides. For farmers, this means they can spray chemicals to kill weeds in their fields without danger to their canola.
Genetically engineered crops may also pose a risk to the environment. Engineered canola seeds, for example, spread by the wind or by animals, can contaminate non-altered fields. They may also pass the added gene for herbicide resistance on to weeds, creating possible 'superweeds', unable to be tamed by current herbicides.
But for consumers, the effects are less well known - as a new addition to the Australian food supply (canola is our first GM food crop), any long term health effects, for example, are yet to be made clear.
"In the case of genetically modified food, appropriate tests have generally not been done and the products have not been labelled. My own concern is over the lack of labelling," said nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, who notes that by law, currently only foods containing engineered protein require labelling.
This means that highly processed foods that use canola oil, such as margerines, need not be labelled, nor do meats from livestock fed on modified canola meal.
"If we are to get GM canola, it should be labelled," Stanton said. "And if it is not labelled, we should all ask why."
In the meantime, Australians can use the True Food Guide to steer clear of genetically engineered ingredients. It provides a list of Australian food companies that actively avoid ingredients from modified crops, as well as a list of brands that may allow inclusion of supply from growers of engineered crops.
"It's so simple," said food guru and author Margaret Fulton at the launch. "You just put it in your pocket…And the green ones [brands], they're the goodies…the red ones, they're the baddies to avoid."
More than 170 chefs have signed a charter, pledging they won't use GM food.