A new survey of baby-food makers has found some of the most popular brands contain genetically engineered ingredients - findings that aren't included in food labels, Greenpeace and INFACT Canada said recently.
The groups said they commissioned the survey to show that buyers of formula and other baby foods don't always know what they're getting. They want companies to stay away from genetically modified ingredients or at least include them in labelling.
"There should be zero tolerance for (genetically engineered) ingredients in baby food," said Greenpeace Canada's Holly Penfound.
Research, including from the Royal Society of Canada and in medical journals, expresses concern about the introduction of novel proteins in many genetically engineered products. These proteins may create new toxins and allergens that may not be good for young children, Greenpeace and INFACT Canada say.
However, both Health Canada and the grocery industry say all products on store shelves have to pass safety standards.
"Our primary concern is to ensure the foods every Canadian eats are safe," Health Canada spokeswoman Margot Geduld said from Ottawa.
"These types of foods certainly undergo a thorough assessment before they are sold in Canada, and this includes ensuring they're safe for all segments of the population, including children."
Greenpeace and INFACT Canada, a mother and infant consumer rights group, asked various makers of formula, cereals, biscuits and other baby-food products to confirm whether they use genetically modified corn, soybeans and other ingredients.
The survey found those who commonly use such ingredients in baby foods include Loblaws, Nestle, Mead Johnson, Kraft and Ross Products. Other companies, such as Earth's Best, Milupa, Healthy Times and Tiny Bites, have removed genetically modified ingredients from their products, the survey says.
A call to Loblaws, one of the major targets of Greenpeace and INFACT Canada, was not immediately returned.
Elisabeth Sterken of INFACT Canada said new mothers are particularly concerned about infant formula because it's a major food source for bottle-fed babies for up to six months.
"Newborns and young infants have a very porous intestinal system - foreign proteins can pass through their porous intestinal lining very readily, setting them up for an increased risk allergies and other autoimmune problems," Sterken said.
Victoria Pelling McMullen, the mother of three-year-old son Declan said she worries about food allergies because they run in her family.
But the Ottawa resident, who's expecting again in March, also worries about the possible long-term health effects of genetically engineered products.
With so much on grocery shelves and new high-tech approaches to food production, she says, she's confused about what to buy.
"No one knows the long-term health effects of genetic foods," said McMullen, who buys organic products as much as possible. "Sometimes when I go shopping I just don't know what to buy - I wonder what's going into this stuff and how is it going to be good for my kid."
The growing biotech industry says genetically manipulating crops such as corn, soybeans and canola makes them herbicide tolerant and resistant to viruses, resulting in higher yields.
Health Canada doesn't require that manufacturers label foods using such ingredients, although the food industry is involved in voluntary labelling. The federal agency as well as other interests, including the Food Safety Network at the University of Guelph, say the safety assessment of biotechnology-driven foods is rigorous.
About 70 per cent of all products on grocery shelves "likely" contain genetically modified ingredients, said Laurie Curry of the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada, which represents 150 industry members, including some of those mentioned in the survey, who produce 85 per cent of what's in stores.
The figure isn't exact because Ottawa is only now working on a standard for defining what is and is not genetically modified, said Currie, a registered dietician.
"The most important thing for consumers and mums with babies is that all of these products have been approved (by Ottawa), meaning they're safe for use."
Written by: Marlene Habib - Canadian Press, Health Canada
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