GE Beer Controversy Erupts in Canada

GE Beer Controversy Erupts in Canada

Debate over GM beer in Canada comes to a head
With a report from Daniel Leblanc
Tuesday, June 5, 2001

A strange brouhaha has erupted over whether Canada's beer contains
genetically modified organisms -- and whether the country's food watchdog
has certified one brewer's product as GMO-free.

In almost 200 billboards that have gone up across Quebec in the past week,
brewer Unibroue Inc. says its beer is free of modified crops. For proof, it
points to a government food inspector's signature on an export document that
describes the beer that way.

The federal food agency says Unibroue's assertion is nonsense, given that
the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is not in the business of determining
whether foods derived from gene-splicing science are in commercial products.

What's beyond dispute about Unibroue beer, critics say, is that it points to
the need for a GMO-labelling system. That way Canadians, like people in many
other countries, would know if the things they consume have significant
amounts of genetically modified food.

"The government's been caught with their pants down again," Greenpeace
Canada's Michael Khoo said, arguing that whether it's beer or French fries
or anything else, Canadians want to know what's in their food.

Around the world, the debate is raging over whether genetically modified
foods are safe to be grown and consumed. No public-health catastrophes have

While Unibroue is making a point of saying its product is GMO-free, there's
little evidence to show that Canada's beers contain altered foods. In fact,
neither Unibroue nor the CFIA nor the Brewers Association of Canada could
cite one example yesterday of a beer that contains GMOs. Then again, no one
could definitively say Canadian beer is free of modified foods.

"We won't go into that kind of business, as to whether there are or there
aren't," Jean-Pierre Robert, Montreal regional director of the CFIA, said.

The agency doesn't regulate the quantities of modified foods in products on
grocery shelves, but it does say which GMO crops can be grown and sold in

Genetically modified hops and barley are not approved here. However, forms
of corn are. Unibroue president André Dion said his brewery uses corn, but
only imported from France; he can't be sure corn here is GMO-free.

The GMO-free claim is especially important, Mr. Dion said, because Unibroue
exports 15 per cent of its beer, mostly to Europe, where concern about GMOs
is much higher.

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