Greenpeace activists cut a 61-metre-long question mark inside a crop circle in an Abbotsford, B.C., cornfield Wednesday morning, in protest of the absence of genetically engineered food labelling in Canada.

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Greenpeace activists cut a 61-metre-long crop circle in a corn field in Abbotsford, B.C., in protest of the absence of genetically engineered food labelling in Canada. ((Greenpeace/Michael Desjardins))

The question mark was to signify all the questions around the safety of genetically engineered corn — both from its consumption and its potential spread to nearby organic farms, said Josh Brandon, a genetic engineering campaigner with Greenpeace in B.C.

The cornfield Greenpeace targeted grows a variety of corn — genetically engineered by the agricultural company Monsanto — known as NK603 corn.

Brandon said they submitted a Greenpeace report to B.C. Health Minister George Abbott on Wednesday, pointing to new scientific evidence that they say highlights the dangers of genetically modified corn.

"These data were from a rat feeding study," he said. "They showed that the rats that were fed with [genetically engineered] corn NK603 showed statistically significant differences compared to the rats that were fed the non-[genetically engineered] corn."

The corn proved toxic to the rats' liver and kidneys, and impaired their growth, he said.

The genetically engineered corn is being grown in B.C. primarily for the animal feed market,and even if it's just fed to animals, it will work its way through the food chain to humans, Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace is calling on the B.C. government to require mandatory genetically modified organism labelling.

"We're asking the ministers to put consumers first and put labels on [genetically engineered] products," Brandon said. "People have the right to know what's in their food, especially when so many [genetically engineered] foods on our store shelves have been associated with health risks."

Canada does not require labelling of GMO foods, which Greenpeace said is putting the nation in a shrinking group of countries worldwide.

Health Canada's website says this about labelling of genetically modified foods: "In principle, food products derived from genetic modification that are demonstrated to be safe and nutritious, are treated the same as non-genetically modified foods with regard to labelling requirements.

"In cases where a product has been intentionally modified, special labelling is required to inform consumers of the change to the product."

About 40 countries around the world already have mandatory labelling legislation, Brandon said.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace is promising to compensate the Abbotsford farmer for the full market value of the loss due to the circle, Brandon said.