Do Ontario grain farmers grow GMOs?
Yes, Ontario grain farmers grow genetically modified (GM) soy and corn. However, they also grow conventional soy and corn. There is no such thing as genetically modified barley, oats, or wheat.
GM crops have been cultivated for more than two decades, and food produced from them has been eaten and enjoyed by billions of people worldwide with no harm to humans. GM crops help farmers fight plant pests and diseases, grow their crops with less water, and minimize inputs like fertilizer and spray herbicides. GM crops do not cause allergies, cancer, infertility, ADHD, autism, or any other diseases or conditions.
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have declared that GM crops are as safe as non-GM crops. They are not alone in this view. Regulatory agencies around the world, as well as highly regarded international organizations like the World Health Organization, have all endorsed the safety of these crops. A GM crop can take up to 13 years of research and rigorous testing and cost close to $150 million before it is brought to market.
In May 2016, the United States National Academy of Sciences released its report, Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, a holistic analysis of “the purported positive and adverse effects of [GM] crops”. The committee members responsible for the report evaluated 1,000 scientific articles, received input from scientists, industry, and environmental group, and took comments from the public throughout the process; after two years of research, the report concluded that GM crops are as safe as conventional crops. You can read the report here.
The decision to grow GM or conventional crops is one made by the individual farmer – they are not forced to grow any kind of seed by big companies. They choose their seed based on what they know grows best on their land, in their local climate, and according to consumer demand. Not all Ontario grain farmers grow GM corn and soy; for example, if their soil quality allows it (and a variety of other factors), farmers can grow “Identity Preserved” non-GM soybeans that command a significant premium on the market.
What are Ontario grain farmers doing to protect pollinators?
In 2015, new regulations restricting the sale and use of neonicotinoids, a specific type of pesticide widely used by farmers around the world, were passed by the Ontario government. Anti-neonicotinoid (or “neonic”) activists cited unproven claims that the pesticides were contributing to the decline of bees in the province. It is unlikely that bee numbers are even in decline (Statistics Canada reports that honeybee numbers in Ontario are up by almost 60 per cent since 2003), and to date there is no data to support the assertion that there is a correlation between bee mortality and neonics.
In Ontario, there are numerous risks to bee health, including varroa mites, lack of forage and nutrition, exposure to spray pesticides, climate, and diseases.
Farmers care a great deal about bees and recognize the importance of bees to the overall viability of farming and the food chain. That’s why grain farmers have been actively working to enhance bee protection, by collaborating with stakeholders like beekeepers and value-chain partners, to ensure a sustainable future for both bees and crops. Farmers are stewards of the environment, taking care of the ecosystem the best they can, in order to grow healthy, productive crops to feed and fuel the province.
Farmers are doing many things to help bees. In 2014, a new fluency agent was introduced for use in planting equipment. Over 90% of farmers used the new agent, which helps to keep the pesticide coating on the seeds – preventing the risk of dust that bees could be exposed to. In addition, many farmers added dust deflector systems to their planters to further ensure no dust enters the air. The grain industry has also taken action by improving seed bag labels and collecting empty treated seed bags for safe disposal.
You can learn more about bee health in Ontario at www.beesmatter.ca or on Grain Farmers of Ontario’s Protecting Pollinators page.
Do I need to avoid gluten in my diet?
Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in wheat, rye, barley and foods made from these grains. It gives elasticity to baked goods, which provides the chewy texture that we all know. Gluten in made of two smaller proteins, called gliadin and glutenin. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction in wheat.
Celiac disease is a disorder where gluten, the protein found in wheat and other cereals, damages the surface of the small intestine. Because of this effect, people with celiac disease must avoid products that contain gluten. The Canadian Celiac Association estimates that 1 in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease. The Whole Grain Council tells us that an additional 0.2% to 0.4% of the population may be allergic to wheat and, another 1-6% of the population may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The gluten-free diet is meant for people who have an allergy or intolerance to wheat or gluten, but it has become increasingly popular as a weight loss strategy. There is no scientific evidence to link wheat or gluten to weight loss. Weight problems are not the fault of one food (or in this case one specific protein found in some foods); it’s total diet and lifestyle that matter.
People who do not have these symptoms or these medical conditions do not need to remove gluten from their diet. About 25 per cent of consumers report buying gluten free foods, many needlessly. Gluten-free foods are often more expensive, less healthy (more sugar, refined ingredients, fat and salt), and more processed than other staple foods.
For more information about gluten in your diet, read Gluten: what does the science say?
Why should I eat more whole grains?
Whole grains aren’t just delicious: they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, while aiding in healthy digestion.
Whole grains (like wheat, corn, barley and oats) are made up of three components: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The bran is the outer layer of the grain, which contains fibre as well as some vitamins and minerals. The germ is the part of the grain that supports the growth of a new plant, and it is rich in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Finally, the endosperm contains mainly starch (carbohydrate), as well as some protein, vitamins and minerals.
Eating whole grain means that all three parts of the grain are present, so you get all of the beneficial nutrients from all three parts of the grain, including fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Foods that have been refined (such as white pasta and white flour) have had some or all of the bran and germ portions of the kernel removed. Although some vitamins and minerals get added back through enrichment, whole grains contain more fibre and nutrients than their refined counterparts. In fact, whole grains are so important that Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide recommends that at least half of your grain choices every day be whole grain.
Refer to Canada’s Food Guide for the recommended number of grain product servings for you and your family.
What does using ethanol or biofuel mean for me, and what does it mean for the environment?
Ethanol is fuel made by distilling grains. In the United States and Canada, ethanol is made from corn and biodiesel is made from soybean oil (usually in the form of used cooking oil). In other parts of the world, ethanol is produced with sugarcane, rapeseed oil, animal fat, and canola oil.
Ethanol is frequently used to supplement regular gasoline, and almost all gasoline in Canada contains some ethanol. This has reduced gasoline prices (relative to what they would have been without ethanol supply) by an average of $0.06-0.10 per litre in US studies. Ethanol now represents five per cent of the world’s gasoline supply. In 2010, the global production of fuel ethanol and biodiesel amounted to about 85 and 15 billion litres, respectively. In that year, Canada was responsible for 1.83 billion litres of ethanol and 110 million of litres biodiesel–and for the United States, 54 and 1.5 billion, respectively.
Ethanol production is more efficient and environmentally friendly in Ontario and the rest of Canada than it generally is elsewhere, when considering the cost of inputs used to grow corn, transportation costs, and production. Compared to the United States, Ontario corn ethanol production uses less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, less lime, and little irrigation; all Canadian ethanol plants also use natural gas rather than coal as their energy supply.
According to recent studies, the substitution of ethanol into 10 per cent blends with gasoline results in a 62 per cent reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions on a caloric basis adjusted for differences between the caloric energy content of ethanol and gasoline. The 62 per cent reduction means an annual reduction of 2.3 million tonnes of GHG emissions or equivalent to the annual emissions from 440,000 cars. About two-thirds of this is in Ontario.
To learn more about ethanol and biofuel production in Canada, visit Grain Farmers of Ontario’s Food vs. Fuel page.
What are the health benefits of eating soy foods? Are there any risks?
In March 2015, Health Canada approved a health claim linking the consumption of soy foods with lowering cholesterol levels. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration approved a similar claim in 1999. Soybeans are high in quality protein, and like meat, they contain every essential amino acid. While soy is higher in fat than other legumes, they mainly contain “good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3 fatty acids), and they contain no cholesterol.
Soy foods are generally an excellent source of calcium and iron, and soy also contains isoflavones, which are antioxidants that may have additional health benefits.
There are many myths about soybean consumption; however, there is no real evidence to suggest that soy has any adverse effect on thyroid hormones, causes breast cancer, or causes fertility problems in men.
For more about soy foods and your health, read Soy foods in detail: what does the science say?
Should I be worried about high fructose corn syrup?
High-fructose corn syrup (also glucose-fructose) is a corn-derived liquid sweetener that is chemically similar to table sugar. High-fructose corn syrup is a popular alternative to sucrose in processed foods because it is stable in acidic foods and beverages. It is not meaningfully different in composition or metabolism from other fructose-glucose sweeteners, such as sucrose, honey, and fruit juice concentrates. Both high-fructose corn syrup and table sugar are made of glucose and fructose, and deliver four kcal per gram.
No single food is the cause of obesity. Rather, obesity is a multifactorial condition that takes diet, exercise, genetics and environment into account. In general, caloric intake has increased significantly since 1970, which is an important driver of this trend. Additionally, while per capita consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has declined in recent years, obesity rates continue to rise. There are also epidemics of obesity and diabetes in areas where little or no high-fructose corn syrup is available, like Mexico, Australia, and Europe).
We do know, however, that too much of any type of added sugar (not just high-fructose corn syrup) can contribute unwanted calories that are linked to health problems, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high triglyceride levels. All of these boost your risk of heart disease. For health concerns, it’s advised to cut back on added sugar, regardless of the type.
For more about high fructose corn syrup and your health, read High fructose corn syrup in detail: what does the science say?
What is Good in Every Grain?
Good in Every Grain is a public outreach campaign by Grain Farmers of Ontario, the province’s largest commodity organization. Grain Farmers of Ontario represents 28,000 barley, corn, oat, soybean, and wheat farmers. The crops they grow cover 6 million acres of farm land across the province, generate over $2.5 billion in farm gate receipts, result in over $9 billion in economic output, and are responsible for over 40,000 jobs in the province. You can learn more about Grain Farmers of Ontario at www.gfo.ca.
Good in Every Grain was developed to tell the story of Ontario’s grain farmers to consumers across the province. Ontario grain has hundreds of end-uses – like we say, “whether in our food, fuel, or furniture, every grain brings a natural and sustainable solution to our everydau lives. From the farmers in the fields to the wholesome food on tables across Ontario – there’s Good in Every Grain.
The Good in Every Grain blog is written by Laura Ferrier (firstname.lastname@example.org), Brianne Curtis (email@example.com) Mark Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org), and a variety of guest contributors. We always welcome your feedback, ideas, and questions.