O'Leary to TEDx to the health minister: Teen activist continues her quest for GMO labelling

Canada Politics

An Ontarian teenager, who made headlines last year for holding her own in a debate with CBC’s Kevin O’Leary about GMO labeling, will have an audience with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose. 

Rachel Parent, 15, will meet with Ambrose in Ottawa later this month to discuss her goal of having all foods that have been genetically modified to be labelled as such. 

"It’s super exciting," Parent told Yahoo Canada News in an interview last week.  

"I want to talk to her about GMOs not being proven safe and that we need long term independent studies to determine their safety.

"And finally, I’d really like to talk to her about the fact that until it’s proven safe, we should at least label them so we have the freedom to choose [what we eat]."

[ Related: The great GMO food debate

Genetically modified organisms are crops or animals that have had their genes altered with DNA from different living organisms or bacteria so that they become resistance to disease or tolerant of pesticides.

According to a U.S.-based organization called Just Label It, “five countries produce 90 per cent of the world’s genetically engineered crops: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and the United States.”

In fact, a lot of foods on your grocery shelves — from canned soups, to sweetened juices to children’s cereals — will likely include GMOs. 

Proponents of GMOs note that the biotechnology improves yields and thus boosts food security internationally and reduces human hunger in some of the world’s poorest nations, especially in Africa. 

Opponents of GM foods, like Parent, argue that they haven’t been proven safe and therefore should be labelled.

Some have even gone as far as trying to link the rise of GMOs to increases in instances of autism, diabetes and cancer. 

At this point there’s no evidence that that is the case. 

Regardless, 64 countries, including China and much of the EU require GM foods to be labelled. 

Moreover, next week in the United States, Vermont will begin public meetings, about implementing their new state law requiring GMO labeling. And, according to a recent report in the Globe and Mail, “more than 20 other U.S. states are considering mandatory labeling of GMO foods, including Colorado and Oregon, which have the issue on the ballot for the November election.”

The Canadian government’s position is comparatively muted.

"If we had the evidence that this was unhealthy, Health Canada would act and impose mandatory labels," Ambrose told Global News last week.

"That’s our job is to keep Canadians safe and healthy. But right now there is no scientific evidence that conclusively says that in any way genetically modified foods are unhealthy for Canadians."

Canada’s response might have something to do with the fact that Canadians haven’t made this an issue — the media doesn’t really report on it and the general public aren’t regular GMO labeling rallies on the streets of our major cities.

Parent has a theory behind that. 

"People aren’t informed about it. If the public knew more about GMOs maybe they could take more of a stand," she said. 

"Another thing maybe is that Canadians are a little bit more passive than other countries because we do have a good standard of living and people are all content here. Canadians typically don’t like to rock-the-boat in that sort of way."

[ Related: Canadian-made Ebola vaccine to start clinical trials in healthy humans ]

Even if Parent can’t change Ambrose’s mind, she isn’t giving up. 

Through her organization, Kids Right to Know, she’s trying to give the issue the exposure she believes it deserves. 

Thanks, in part, to her young age, she’s also getting a lot of media attention and was recently the featured speaker at a local TEDx talk

Other groups — such as Greenpeace and the David Suzuki foundation have also tried to make this an issue. 

But, so far, Parent is the only one to get a meeting with the health minister.

Not bad for a 15 year old. 

(Photo via YouTube) 

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