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Quebec group launches campaign to demand GMO labelling

Vigilance OGM hopes to make Quebec the first province to require mandatory GMO labeling

A Quebec social and environmental advocacy group is calling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) of foods in la belle province.

Launched in Montreal on April 18 by Vigilance OGM, a non-profit group and member of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which promotes food sovereignty and democratic decision-making on science and technology industries, the "Demand Labeling" campaign seeks to raise public and political awareness of the issue in Quebec.

The ultimate goal of the campaign is to help make Quebec the first province in Canada and the second jurisdiction in North America (after Vermont, which borders Quebec) to establish mandatory labeling.

"Consumers have the right to know what they’re buying and eating," said Thibault Rehn, Vigilance OGM's coordinator.

A website for the Demand Labeling Campaign allows users to find their local deputies and relevant ministers and send them a templated email requesting a bill be passed requiring mandatory labelling of GMOs.

"I am asking you to respect my fundamental right to information by supporting mandatory GMO labeling and work with your elected colleagues to table a bill to urgently achieve this goal," the email reads. "This will go a long way in helping to restore my trust in our food system and in our farming practices."

Users can also download a social media button that will place a "Demand labeling!" sticker onto Facebook and Twitter profile pictures.

The campaign is also leveraging the support of celebrity French Canadian chef Normand Laprise.

According to Rehn, Quebec has become such a large producer of genetically-modified crops over the past 20 years ago that it now matches the output of 177 countries combined.

He said 64 countries have adopted labeling laws, and Vermont will become the first American state to do so on July 1.

"It's time for Quebec to follow suit," Rehn told Canadian Grocer.

He said his five-year-old organization has helped to raise awareness of the GMO issue among grocers by conducting random sample tests at a Université de Montréal lab of fresh sweet corn sold at Quebec grocery stores since 2012.

He said the detection of GMOs in many samples led several major grocers to write letters to suppliers asking them to use conventional corn.

"I've heard that from many producers," said Rehn. "We're hopeful we can make a similar impact with our new campaign."

But the vice-president of public affairs of Quebec's biggest grocers' group, l'association des détaillants en alimentation du Québec, says GMO mandatory labeling is far from being a done deal in la belle province.

"Our members have a lot of questions about it," Pierre-Alexandre Blouin said in a phone interview. "It's a complicated system to put in place and run and there are costs involved, whether it's a single product or a whole category."

For Blouin, who met Vigilance OGM representatives for the first time at last week's SIAL food show in Montreal, OGMs are just one of many demands that special interest groups and consumers make in regards to food labeling.

"There is locally grown and organic - you name it," said Blouin.  "It makes it tough to get all of this is and still make a profit at the end of the day."

He suggested an alternative to mandatory GMO labeling.

"At the moment, consumers can be sure to avoid GMO, it’s easy, enforced (at least in Quebec), credible... Organic certified products," said Blouin.  "Why not push organic even more?"

He added that GMO labeling is also problematic for smaller chains and independents, which don't have the leverage that large companies do in getting suppliers to make changes.

"We definitely want and expect to be consulted before changes are made in regards to mandatory OMG labeling," said Blouin.  "So far we haven't heard a word about it from the minister."

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