On the topic of genetically modified ingredients, Ontario students are eating in the dark.

When will Health Canada finally begin labelling GM ingredients?

There are four genetically modified (GM) foods that are grown in Canada, but nobody knows if they are eating them. Health Canada doesn’t require the labelling of GM ingredients. While many Torontonians flock to expensive, new, boutique grocers, other city dwellers are saving cents at FreshCo, but what exactly is the difference?

For the manager of Ryerson’s Urban Farm, Arlene Throness, the danger lies in becoming accustomed to GM ingredients. “The reason we have all these foods we have today is because people saved seeds each year from the plant that tasted the best or was the most disease-resistant.” It takes years to yield a particular variety of squash, says Throness. “GM skipping that process, but if we rely exclusively on that technology, we are taking control out of the producer’s hands.”

Almost the entire canola and grain corn harvest in Canada is GM, that presents itself on the shelves in ingredients ranging from corn starch to glucose and fructose — those scientific-sounding, sugars found in many processed foods.

While the benefits of eating organically grown ingredients are apparent, they are not necessarily what is driving the debate, says Ryerson University’s Stan Benda. “You need to know what’s in your food that can harm you: genetics are not a threat.” He says it’s the fats and sugars present and even allergens that can be dangerous if they are unlabeled.

“The no labelling [policy] is based on the need to know, to protect yourself, not right to know.” Benda, who holds a doctorate degree in risk regulation and the labelling of genetically modified crops, says much of the market behind organic food stores is also ideological. “Social value — or process — labels” as Benda refers to them, market a person’s politics such as fair trade and growing conditions.

There are options in Toronto for people looking to eat organic, local foods — on a student budget. At Ryerson’s Urban Farm, volunteers can substitute three hours of farm work each week for a reduced rate on a basket of farm-grown food. ”It’s more nutritious and it’s going to keep longer because it’s harvested fresh,” says Throness. “These are specialty cults of ours; you will only see those products at the farmer’s market, not at the grocery store.” For Throness, the Urban Farm is not only about a harvest of 10,000 pounds of food, but about educating urbanites that it is possible to combat the impact of multinational corporations through natural food growth.

“It begs the question: who can afford this?” she says. “Food is a basic human need, so we don’t want it to be too expensive, but people have to be willing to pay a good price for a quality product.”

Part of the Ryerson Eats food program, which caters the campus cafeterias, features a number of non-GM ingredients — including vegetables sourced from the farm at Ryerson. Ryerson Eats communications officer Melissa Yu, says the program primarily sources non-GM corn, soy and canola — which are three of the most commonly modified crops in Canada. However, even Ryerson Eats, doesn’t label which of their meals include GM ingredients — still leaving students ignorant of their actual consumption and ultimately, at a nutritional loss.