OTTAWA -- The debate over genetically engineered food ingredients in Canada continues to crescendo. At press time, the Council of Canadians here had planned a cross-country picket of Loblaws stores on Sept. 8, protesting the retailer's policy regarding the labeling of GE-free foods.
Earlier this year, a decision by the board of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors -- an association representing the interests of Canadian grocery marketers and distributors -- prohibited member stores from promoting foods labeled GE-free. According to the CCGD, the decision was based on a lack of definitive scientific parameters regarding genetically engineered foods. Membership in the CCGD accounts for 80% of grocery retailers in Canada.
While retailers and the CCGD say this measure protects consumers from being misled, some consumer advocates see this as inhibiting their right to choose.
"A small group of consumers have complained that this is limiting choice," said Geoff Wilson, vice president of industry and investor relations for Loblaw Cos. "We believe we are protecting consumers' right to choose."
The ban on GE-free labels will be in effect until a consensus can be reached establishing hard and fast standards of accountability, Wilson said. Such standards could be in place as early as late fall of this year, he said.
Loblaws is not alone in its deference to the CCGD's guidelines; however, critics have taken issue with the aggressive approach. Loblaws sent a letter to health food suppliers ordering them to remove all GE-free labeling from packaged foods by Sept. 1, or lose their shelf space. Other Canadian chains did not return SN's phone calls questioning their policy on GE-free labels.
This most recent picket is part of a two-year campaign waged by the Council of Canadians, calling for Loblaws to phase out GE foods. According to Nadege Adam, a biotechnology campaigner for the council, Loblaws has been singled out because of the chain's dominance in the Canadian market.
"What Loblaws does, everybody else does," she said.
When it comes to GE-free labels, suppliers have little choice but to abide by Loblaws' decision, as they cannot afford to lose such a large portion of the market, she added.