GMO, What To Know

In today’s modern world, it has become necessary to question the quality of our food supply to the extent that it has become quite confusing. The need to classify foods into the categories of “organic” and “conventionally grown” is a sign of the times, and a source of contention for many. While buying organic carries an unfortunate stigma of being elitist with more expensive pricing, conventional food growing practices are responsible for much environmental damage with artificial fertilizers contributing to extensive algae growth, the neutering and deforming of fish, the destruction of coral reefs, and more.

In contrast, sustainable farming practices all over the world have been passed down from generation to generation causing no harm to the environment or health. Since we all look forward to a healthy world for our children to live in, we should all be concerned with what has been happening with our food supply!

Brookland Farms Muskoka sustainable

Sustainable farming at Brookland Farms Muskoka, Ontario

Enter GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). This practice, introduced by the biotech industry with the said intention to end world hunger, improve crop yields & food quality, has raised many an eyebrow. After all, it was only after the course of some time that we became painfully aware of what the overuse of herbicides and fertilizers would do to our environment.  Now, with the introduction of GMO’s and the tampering with nature on an unprecedented scale, questions on future implications continue to be posed.

Wikepedia states the following: “There are controversies around GMOs on several levels, including whether making them is ethical, whether food produced with them is safe, whether such food should be labeled and if so how, whether agricultural biotech is needed to address world hunger now or in the future, and more specifically to GM crops—intellectual property and market dynamics; environmental effects of GM crops; and GM crops’ role in industrial agricultural more generally. There are also issues specific to Bt transgenic crops.”

italy grapes

Sustainable vines in Sicily

What are Bt Transgenic Crops?

Crops that have had their DNA spliced with the toxin Bacillus thuringiensis (which is lethal to particular pests) are called Bt Transgenic, genetically engineered (GE), or genetically modified (GM). Transgenic also refers to seeds that have been genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. These GR seeds (glyphosate ready) are marketed alongside the herbicide they are resistant to (glyphosate) so that the weeds can be eliminated without damaging the crop.

Although these practices may seem harmless to some, before major health and environmental issues began to appear, the use of DDT, PCB’s, polystyrene and Agent Orange were also by some, thought to be harmless. Since all of these practices and chemicals are made by the same companies, further research and more education is surely warranted. Thankfully with information technology at our fingertips we all have the ability to become aware enough to form our own conclusions and make choices to support our values.

farm in italy

Sustainable farm in Calabria

GMO’s and the E.U

Fortunately there are a number of countries that are treading very lightly while on GMO territory. We are particularly proud that Italy, a country very much steeped in tradition, with food and food quality at it’s epicenter, has taken a stance in limiting the amount of GMO’s into their countryThe European Union, for example, has employed very stringent legislations regarding genetically modified crops, and with research consistently showing that GMO’s may pose future health concerns, labeling is mandatory if a product contains more than 0.9% GMO content.

This fact alone allows us to feel more confident when purchasing products that are manufactured in Italy. Questions that may arise, however, when buying North American goods, may not be due to the lack of desire on the part of our manufacturers. Rather, many individuals and companies in North America who would like to produce a non GMO product are indeed finding it almost impossible to source out local raw materials that are GMO free. Furthermore, with mother nature being who she is, cross pollination of the few organic resources that may still be available, with GMO crops, has become a “growing” concern!

The meanings of GMO, DOC, DOP, DOCG, PGI?

Thankfully, long before GMO (genetically modified organisms) was even an issue, some European countries deployed a classification system for many of their regionally significant delicacies. Italy for example uses quality assurance stamps DOP  and DOC (Denominazione di origin controllata), a stamp of approval to foods that are protected & controlled to assure top quality. The stamp DOCG, adds that guarantee to the designation.

De Nigris Balsamic Vinegars of Modena

PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) De Nigris Balsamic Vinegars of Modena

Regional specialties are numerous and include Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Capers and Pistachio’s from Sicily, and San Marzano tomatoes from Napoli just to name a few. Regretfully, GM feed is an issue with animal products that enter into this classification, but passionate farmers in Italy seem to be taking action to protect their products on an individual basis.

Non GMO Tomatoes

Tomatoes are of particular interest, since they have been on the hit list for much experimentation. Starting in 1994 with the FlavrSavr up until present day with the most recent UK “purple tomato’, efforts to improve taste and prolong shelf life continue to be fuelled. Most will agree that the taste of a “real” tomato has become more and more, either a distant memory or a very rare experience.

San Marzano Tomatoes from Italy

Allessia San marzano Tomatoes are an example of a D.O.P labeling from Italy.

In contrast San Marzano tomatoes, which came to Italy in 1770 as a gift from the Viceroy of Peru to the King of Naples, has become a national treasure of sorts. Planted at that time in the small town of San Marzano, after which the tomato was named, the thicker flesh, fewer seeds and sweet taste with less acidity has become the most important industrial tomato of the 20th century. To be sure, any genetic tampering would be deemed no less than a criminal act and as a result “Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino” are protected under strict labeling and designation laws with no fear of genetic manipulation in sight.

Allessia DOP San Marzano Tomatoes

Allessia DOP San Marzano Tomatoes

Did you also know that there is also a designation protecting the “True Neopolitan Pizza” which includes the use of ONLY this variety of tomato in the making of the sauce? In addition the wheat, olive oil, baking method, size and thickness of the crust is also scrutinized. Surely any genetic manipulation of any kind that would threaten this almost spiritual connection to food would be almost blasphemous.

polselli tipo 00 flour VPN approved

Polselli Tipo 00 Flour Imported from Italy and VPA verified

This preservation and classification of foods, and recipes may seem extreme, but when compared to a GMO’s company’s aim to employ intellectual property rights to GMO crops, there is a fundamental difference in intention. While one preserves for the sake of history, nostalgia and family values, the other is robbing us of existence at it’s very core. Imagine seeds that are specifically made to not reproduce, or an apple tree in your backyard that is suddenly not yours because it has cross pollinated with a GMO apple tree nearby. Can you imagine a world where you would have to pay to pick the apples from what you thought was your very own tree? Our ‘nonni’ would be horrified!

Pasta, Non GMO

As far as wheat and pasta goes, when highly opposed test crops of GMO wheat  in Oregon gained international attention, many nations were prompted to cancel all wheat contracts for export  until testing could verify that they were GMO free. Our Riscossa Pasta for example, “A multi-generational “pastificcio” that has been in business of making fine pasta since 1902.”  includes a non-GMO clause in their mission statement.

Pasta Riscossa Imported from Italy

Pasta Riscossa Imported from Italy

Clearly Europe would have a lot to lose if it unwittingly endangered it’s agriculture by being too anxious to jump on the GMO band wagon. Caution seems to be a very sound approach as genetic contamination could threaten all regional food based economies and the diversity of food related cottage industries.

Who We Are & What We Think

Since 1955 Aurora Importing has been  specializing in the importation and distribution of foods from around the world, particularly from Italy. We are a Canadian company, based in Mississauga, Ontario with offices in Montreal, Quebec.

We believe in “quality food for a quality life” and hope that as a consumer you will always be able to make informed choices when buying any product. Although this requirement is not in place, nor being implemented at this time, we believe that GMO labeling would be a step in the right direction, not only to allow people to choose for themselves, but to raise awareness of this issue so more choices would be offered in our own country at the manufacturing stage.Some of the Aurora Family

For now we will continue to try our best to stay abreast of the issue while supporting and applauding our Italian and EU suppliers for their dedication in the preservation of the food and the soils in which they are grown.

Please note that Aurora Importing is a Canadian owned and operated company that is in no way affiliated with the American company known as Aurora Foods.

About the Author:

I am a little of a great many things. Every experience and every blessing. And even though the whole may be greater than the sum of it's parts, welcome to this little part of me I call "Ita-liana." Raised in an Italian grocery store/food importing company (which explains why wine and olive oil runs through my veins) this is the part of me that is the very best of my Sicilian and Calabrian roots. Watching my Calabrese mother and grandmother cook for the entire family, with not only expertise and ease, but with an over abundance of love, left it's mark. Travelling back to Italy and learning about family history did the rest, while my Sicilian side kicks in almost intuitively. * © All recipes, photography, illustrations on posts by "ita-liana" and "Recipideo" video content copyright Liana Tumino ©