Tighten rules for genetically modified foods, Que. commission told

Genetically modified foods need to be better regulated to protect the consumer, a collective of environmentalists, farmers and activists argued before an agriculture commission.

Genetically modified foods for sale in the marketplace should be better regulated in the interests of the consumer, a collective of environmentalists, farmers and activists argued before a Quebec commission on the future of agriculture.

The group on Wednesday spoke to the Commission sur l'avenir de l'agriculture et de l'agroalimentaire québécois in Montreal.

"Nothing has been done on liability, to make sure that those who contaminate the environment and the food chain with GMOs are actually liable," said Eric Darier, a spokesman for the environmental group Greenpeace.

"It's important why people should participate in those consultations, because it doesn't happen very often that we get asked what kind of agriculture we want, what kind of food we want," he said.

Genetically modified foods have been altered genetically to create organisms that can resist disease or spur faster growth. Some critics have said altering crops could endanger people's health, noting that allsuch foodsshould be rigorously tested for toxins and allergens.

Group calls for mandatory labelling

Nalina Vaddapalli, representing the consumer advocacy group Option consommateurs, called on Premier Jean Charest to keep his 2003 election pledge to introduce mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

"They've done it in 45 countries because they recognize that a lot of consumers want to get that information, and already a lot of industry in Canada do it for the [export]," Vaddapalli said. "It's already in place, so it's really a bit mind-boggling why it hasn't been done yet."

Health Canada has approved over 80 genetically modified foods for sale in Canada, including corn, flax, potatoes, soy beans, tomatoes and canola.

The "Flavr Savr" tomato was the first genetically engineered food available for sale in the U.S. in May 1994.

Scientists said they had successfully slowed the tomato's ripening process, allowing for a firmer, fleshier fruit. Health Canada approved the genetically engineered tomato in February 1995.