GM Foods: How Transparent are Canadian Grocery Chains?

In the absence of GMO labelling, a new report could help consumers suss where GM foods are more or less likely to lurk

Canadian Biotechnoloy Action Network press release

A new report, GMOs in your grocery store, ranks Canada’s major grocery retailers for their transparency on sales of genetically modified (GM) whole foods: fruits and vegetables, and the GM salmon. Out of Canada’s five major grocery chains, only Quebec/Ontario chain Metro provided clear answers for consumers.

GMOs in Your Grocery Store report


Vigilance OGM and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) have co-published retailer responses to their questionnaire, in a report that also provides other basic information for consumers about GM foods. The questionnaire focused on whole foods, asking if the major grocery chains were selling, or going to sell, GM salmon and GM produce: GM apples, GM potatoes and GM sweetcorn.

“Recent polls confirm that many Canadians want to know where GM foods are in their grocery stores,” said Lucy Sharratt of CBAN. All polls, for over twenty years, show over 80% of Canadians want mandatory labelling of GM foods. In September 2020, new polls found that 78% of Canadians are unwilling to eat the GM salmon and 75% are unwilling to eat the GM potato. Two other polls found that 75% of Quebecois say they are unwilling to eat the GM apple and 85% want Quebec to implement mandatory GM food labelling.

GM non-browning apples could be sold in 2021 but only as pre-sliced apples, and GM potatoes are sold in the US but not yet in Canada. In Canada, in the produce section there could already be a small amount of GM sweetcorn, papaya, and squash. The first commercial-scale “harvests” of GM Atlantic salmon will put more GM salmon on the market in the next few weeks.

Company transparency ranking

The ranking of company transparency in the report is focused on the five major chains that account for around 80% of all grocery sales in Canada. The report also points out that many small stores are responsive to customers’ questions, and encourages people to contact their stores directly to find more answers.

GM soy, corn, and canola are almost 100% of all the GM food crops grown in Canada and around the world and are widespread in processed foods as well as in animal feed to produce meat and dairy products. These GMOs have been on the market for over 20 years.

Summary of report ranking

The report rates the transparency of the five top grocery chains, out of 21 points, based on answers to the questionnaire.

19 points out of 21: Metro Inc., Canada’s third biggest grocery chain, and the largest in Quebec, with operations in both Quebec and Ontario, provided the clearest information in response to the questionnaire. Metro responded that they work with their suppliers to keep GM salmon, sweetcorn, apples, and potatoes out of their stores.

8 points out of 21: Loblaw Company Limited, Canada’s leading grocery chain, said “we have not knowingly sourced genetically modified salmon, potatoes, apples, or sweetcorn in the past, and currently have no plans to source them in the future.” Loblaw also said, “We do not support mandatory labelling of GMOs in Canada.”

5 points out of 21: Sobeys Company responded with general statements about the benefits and safety of GMOs without answering the specific questions. CBAN and Vigilance OGM responded with a letter to provide some corrections and background to these statements.

1 point out of 21: Costco Canada did not respond to the questionnaire but has a statement on their website: “Costco does not intend to sell genetically modified salmon.’’

No points: Walmart Canada did not respond to emails or phone calls.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) brings together 16 groups to research, monitor, and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN is a project on the shared platform of the MakeWay Charitable Society.

Vigilance OGM is a Quebec non-profit organization made up of groups and individuals from diverse backgrounds – farmers, environmentalists, consumers, citizens — all concerned about what we put on our plates every day and by the impact of modes of agricultural production on the environment and human health.

Watershed Sentinel Feb-March 2021 CoverThis article appears in our February | March 2021 issue.

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