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Large-scale, conventional farming focuses on intensive single crop production, mechanization, and depends on fossil fuels, pesticides, antibiotics, and synthetic fertilizers. While this system yields high production levels, it also contributes to climate change , pollutes air and water, and depletes soil fertility. The policies and practices underlying this system contribute to the epidemic of obesity and diet-related disease in the United States, and the health impacts of this system extend well-beyond diet.

For instance, agriculture is a significant source of air pollution, which contributes to a range of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The industrial-scale, conventional system endangers farm workers and owners, who regularly face serious occupational hazards and limited access to health care. Water pollution resulting from conventional agricultural practices is wide-reaching, affecting both surface and groundwater sources, in agricultural communities and those located downstream. Local water systems, which may be public or privately operated, are required to monitor and report on water quality to their states, which, in turn, report to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Across the country, water systems , especially smaller ones, face staffing, technical, and funding challenges that interfere with their work to monitor and safeguard water quality. Water quality standards for agriculture-related pollution levels include microbial pathogens , nutrient pollution , and pesticides. While the public water sources are monitored regularly for certain pollutants, including some, but not all pesticides , private wells, which are common in rural areas, are not.

Despite regulation and monitoring, water quality issues persist. The United States Geological Survey has found high nitrates levels in shallow monitoring wells in both agricultural and urban areas, and a report found significant water violations in the United States, for both health safety standards and monitoring practices. The impacts of such contamination can be extensive.

In , an algae bloom in Lake Erie , attributed in large part to agriculture, rendered drinking water for Toledo residents unusable for several days. In Iowa, Des Moines Water Works is undertaking an effort to increase the size of its nitrate removal facility, which can currently treat ten million gallons of water daily, to ensure it can meet water quality standards and demand. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes nitrates as a significant health risk because they inhibit oxygen transport in the blood.

Exposure is particularly harmful to children because it is associated with developmental disorders and blue baby syndrome. Treating drinking water for nitrate contamination may result in increased costs for municipalities and also for residents , particularly if treatment requires undertaking new processes. Reducing excessive fertilizer use and using proper application and storage practices are integral to addressing water contamination. Agriculture is a significant source of air pollution. Nitrogen fertilizers and use of animal waste release ammonia.

When airborne, ammonia combines with combustion emissions from vehicles and industry to form particulate matter. Agriculture is the major source of fine-particulate matter pollution in many areas of the United States. Particulate matter dust, dirt, soot, smoke can be coarse or fine, with fine matter being more harmful because it can enter the lungs and bloodstream. Particulate matter exposure is associated with a range of health effects , from coughing and shortness of breath to severe asthma and premature death from cardiovascular disease.

Research indicates climate change will exacerbate air quality issues by increasing ozone and particulate matter levels, which will adversely influence respiratory issues and cardiovascular conditions. In addition to ammonia, large animal feeding operations, in particular, are a source of hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds. Despite concern that emissions levels from large-scale operations are high enough to warrant regulation under the Clean Air Act, EPA has not finalized development of an estimation metho d capable of assessing if operations should be subject to requirements set forth under the act.

Climate change influences social and environmental determinants of health, including air and water quality and food security. Agriculture and related activities contribute significantly to climate change through greenhouse gas GHG emissions. The total accumulated emissions associated with agriculture constitutes approximately one-third of GHG emissions worldwide. These emissions result directly from agricultural practices and indirectly from associated activities, including the manufacture of inputs fertilizer production, which is highly energy intensive and packaging and transportation.

The main forms are agriculture-related emissions are:. Agriculture accounts for the majority of antimicrobial use in the United States, with approximately 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold nationwide being used in this sector. Antimicrobial resistance in the environment is a significant public health concern , and full understanding of the impact of low levels of antibiotics in the environment and the spread of resistance does not exist. The transfer of resistant bacteria from animals to the environment and humans can occur when manure from animals treated with antibiotics is applied to crops or runoff from fields enters waterways.

Common agricultural practices contribute to overall food system vulnerability. Pesticide use supports monocropping practices that increase crop vulnerability to pests, and pesticides harm wildlife and beneficial insects, such as pollinators , that are integral to food production. The use of chemical inputs affects soil acidity, which, in turn, affects productivity. Extreme weather events linked to climate change , such as heat waves, drought, and heavy rain, impact the quality and quantity of crop yields and damage agricultural lands as well as impact food distribution channels.

In addition, research indicates higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could adversely impact the nutrient levels, particularly for certain crops. There are an estimated , hired farmworkers in the United States. Farm operators and family members account for the other two-thirds of individuals employed in the agriculture sector. Hired farmworkers include immigrant and migrant laborers, who come to the United States both legally and undocumented. S wage and salary workers. Farmworkers both owners and hired labor face significant occupational hazards due to agricultural practices, work conditions, and the challenges of farming.

The risks faced by workers vary significantly based on the type of farm on which they work. Common risks faced by agricultural workers include:. This clinic offers basic preventive care and screenings, such as blood pressure, vision, and hearing as well as immunizations and serves as a gateway for other services provided by the center including safety assessments and training. Clinic staff members refer individuals to a range of other services for health care, mental health, and even financial counseling. The health impacts of agricultural practices are location specific.

To fully understand the specific community impacts, hospitals should conduct an inventory of the direct and indirect ways agricultural policies and practices may affect health — from air and water quality issues to increasing community exposure to pathogens to contributing to the climate-related risks. To gain a deeper understanding of community water quality, hospitals should examine the water quality monitoring and oversight in the communities they serve. Water quality monitoring is carried out by a combination of federal, state, and local authorities.

Specific data potentially associated with agriculture include total coliform level and nitrate level. Water pollution associated with concentrated animal feeding operations, a significant concern in nearby communities, is subject to regulation under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System , part of the Clean Water Act. Environmental Protection Agency sets standards regulating air quality and states monitor air quality and create implementation plans, approved by EPA, to control air pollution according to its standards.

Among the core criteria, pollutants monitored are ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxide. Hospitals should look to the state agencies charged with monitoring air quality to understand state regulations, which may be more stringent than federal standards, and to obtain community-specific data. For instance, California has the CalEnviroScreen tool, which identifies areas most affected by pollution and includes pesticide use as an exposure indicator.

Hospitals in agricultural communities should consider the unique health needs of farmworkers, who face significant risks to their health and safety such as acute pesticide poisoning , and who may lack access to care. Hospitals can involve farmworker organizations in the community health needs assessment process by including them in key informant interviews or working with them to survey farmworkers about their health challenges and need. Community benefit can be a part of larger anchor strategy employed by hospitals to address food system related health needs and impacts.

Another core piece of this strategy is hospital food service that features healthy, sustainably produced local foods. In buying, promoting and serving local foods, hospitals can increase broader access to healthy, sustainable foods while improving the social and economic determinants of health. Supporting a localized, regional food system bolsters the viability of local farms, supports greater community food security, and contributes to local economic development.

A recent publication from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank discusses the wide-reaching positive impacts of local food systems investment, including for community health. Hospitals can look to outside sources to assist in assessing health risks from industrial-scale agriculture in their communities. Public health agencies and university programs can be valuable partners in this effort, sharing environmental health resources, data, and expertise, and recommending measures for hospitals to examine and strategies to employ in support of community health.

Additionally, there are multiple large nonprofit organizations focused on agriculture, environmental health, and farmworker health that can be valuable sources of data and guidance. The table below outlines specific opportunities for hospitals to assess agriculture-related health issues in their communities. Utilize national and local resources to increase understanding of the health risks posed by industrial-scale agriculture and the unique needs of farmworkers and farm owners.

Local resources include state and local governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations focused on environmental health, public health, and agriculture. Under the Centers for Disease Control, 11 centers for agricultural health and safety operate across the country. These entities conduct extensive research on injury, education, and prevention related to agricultural workers and practices. Each covers a distinct regional area and many are affiliated with research universities. These centers, which receive private and federal funding, exist in nearly every state.

Evaluators may also supplement the information provided by the petitioner with any published data in Canada or internationally that is relevant to the product in question. Paper reviews are a standard scientific method of evaluation used by regulators around the world, to evaluate the health and safety of a variety of products including food and drugs. Health Canada is responsible for developing policy and setting standards related to the health and safety aspects of labelling under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, whereas the CFIA applies these policies and enforces the regulations.

The CFIA also has the mandate to develop general food labelling policies and regulations not related to health and safety. In particular, the CFIA is responsible for protecting consumers from misrepresentation and fraud with respect to food labelling, packaging and advertising, and for prescribing basic food labelling and advertising requirements. With respect to genetically modified foods, as with all foods, Health Canada's role is to identify the information required on the label of that food to ensure its safe use.

Special labelling is required if changes occurred in the food that the consumer needs to be informed of for health and safety reasons, such as major compositional or nutritional changes. Health Canada would determine what type of information is needed on the label to inform Canadians about these changes in the food. In principle, food products derived from genetic modification that are demonstrated to be safe and nutritious, are treated the same as non-genetically modified foods with regard to labelling requirements.

In cases where a product has been intentionally modified, special labelling is required to inform consumers of the change to the product. For example, oil derived from high oleic soybean lines must be listed in food ingredient lists by the common name "high oleic soybean oil", to distinguish it from regular soybean oil. The current federal position on labelling foods derived from genetic modification was developed based upon the outcomes of three public consultations which started in The public consultation process considered the views of a wide range of stakeholders including industry and industry associations, consumer groups and the federal and provincial governments.

In Canada it is not mandatory to identify the method of production, including genetic modification, that was used to develop a food product. Nevertheless, voluntary method of production labelling is permitted, provided it is truthful and not misleading. To facilitate the use of such voluntary labelling, the Canadian government supported the development of a national standard for the voluntary labelling of foods derived through biotechnology.


This initiative was launched in November with participation from consumer groups, food companies, producers, environmental groups, general interest groups and government. The voluntary labelling standard is not intended to address health and safety concerns as these are already addressed by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. Health Canada's involvement in the development of the standard was to provide technical information and guidance regarding the Department's role in the regulation of genetically modified foods in Canada and to minimize potential inconsistency between the standard and the Food and Drugs Act.

The standard was published as a National Standard of Canada in April The federal policy on labelling foods derived from biotechnology remains under discussion with Canadians and international standards organizations such as Codex Alimentarius. As with all foods, including foods derived through genetic modification, Health Canada requires special labelling to address health and safety issues which might be mitigated through labelling such as identifying the presence of an allergen.

Labelling is also required to identify compositional or nutritional changes. In these situations, labelling is required to alert consumers or susceptible groups in the population at large. At the request of the Minister of Health, along with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Industry and International Trade, the Standing Committee on Health initiated a study on the best options for meeting consumer information needs with respect to genetically modified foods in January The study resumed in March with participation from Health Canada.

In May , the Committee agreed not to pursue the subject further after hearing an update from the chair of the Canadian General Standards Board Committee on the development of a voluntary standard for the labelling of genetically modified foods. This voluntary standard was adopted as a National Standard of Canada in April The Committee held four public hearings between January and April , and heard close to twenty groups representing the various components of the agriculture and agri-food industry. Its study entitled " Labelling of genetically modified foods and its impact on farmers " was completed in June The government response to this report was tabled in the House of Commons on October 31, In its report, CBAC recommended the development of a voluntary standard for the labelling of genetically modified foods for reasons other than health and safety.

It also recommended that the standard be widely publicized and reviewed five years after its implementation for adequacy and effectiveness, at which time other options may be considered.

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In addition, CBAC also recognized that the government must continue to cooperate with other countries to develop a harmonized approach to labelling. Genetic modification is any change to the heritable traits of an organism achieved by intentional manipulation. The traits of every organism are encoded in its genetic material DNA or RNA which is organised into individual units called genes.

Genetic modification is achieved by changing the code or organization of the genetic material of an organism. This includes, but is not limited to, recombinant nucleic acid techniques which involve the introduction of a gene or genes from one species to another unrelated species this is commonly called genetic engineering. Another modification technique is artificial mutagenesis, which involves treating cells of an organism with external agents e.

UV light, certain chemicals in order to produce changes in its genetic material. Farmers have traditionally used breeding methods to transfer desirable traits from one variety to another. The techniques of genetic modification permit scientists to transfer the genetic material responsible for these traits from one species to another in a faster and more precise fashion. For many years farmers have used traditional breeding methods to improve crops by transferring genes that code for desirable traits such as disease and insect resistance from one variety to another.

Traditional breeding techniques involve mixing thousands of genes, which in addition to providing the beneficial trait, also result in the loss of other traits of that crop considered to be valuable.

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Significant time and effort is required to restore the other valued traits of that crop while maintaining the desired trait using traditional breeding techniques. Genetic modification permits food developers to add or enhance useful traits more specifically or remove undesirable traits. The technology permits food developers to add a desired trait in a more precise manner than traditional breeding without the loss of other beneficial characteristics since unwanted genes are not transferred. The techniques of modern biotechnology do not introduce risks which are different from those already associated with the food supply.

Many of the issues raised by foods resulting from genetic modification are equally applicable to foods produced by conventional means. Potential hazards remain those associated with toxic or allergenic compounds which are inherently present already in the food supply. However, unlike traditional breeding, techniques such as recombinant DNA technology permit the transfer of genetic material form unrelated species and this is precisely why a safety assessment is considered to be necessary.

WHO | Frequently asked questions on genetically modified foods

Similarly, a gene may be transferred from an organism expressing a protein that has no history of use as a food. Safety assessment provides assurances that toxic and or allergenic compounds are not transferred along with the desired trait when new DNA is introduced into an organism. Benefits resulting from such changes may include longer lasting and better tasting fruits and vegetables, crops which require less use of pesticides, improved nutrient content in certain foods, etc.

In general, food production could be more efficient or more inexpensive and may contribute to enhancing the global food supply. Several years ago, research was conducted in order to improve the quality of soybean meal as an animal feed. This involved the transfer of genetic material coding for a storage protein from a Brazil nut to soybean.

Since the Brazil nut is known to cause allergic reaction in a small number of sensitive individuals, laboratory tests using sera from Brazil nut-sensitive individuals were conducted in order to determine whether an allergenic protein had been transferred to the soybean. The results of the laboratory tests showed that the gene obtained from the Brazil nut likely encoded the major Brazil nut allergen and research on this product was discontinued. The product was never commercially developed and soybeans containing a Brazil nut protein were not available on the market.

The findings of a researcher in the United Kingdom Dr. Arpad Pusztai , concerning the safety of genetically modified potatoes were described in an article published in the Globe and Mail on February 20, Since that time, several groups, including the British Royal Society, have reviewed the results of those studies and concluded that the evidence does not support claims that genetically modified potatoes used in those studies had adverse health effects on rats.

Similarly, the potato used in this study has not been assessed by any international regulatory agency for safety. These potatoes were not available on the market. The Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis family of insecticidal proteins are naturally occurring proteins which are included as the active insecticidal agent in certain commercial pest control products. These have been used safely for more than 30 years to control insect pests by home gardeners, organic growers and other farmers and are known to specifically effect certain insect pests. The Bt proteins introduced into plants are toxic to certain species of insects yet are harmless to humans and are digested like other proteins in the human digestive system.

Health Canada has thoroughly reviewed potatoes, corn, cotton and tomatoes that have been genetically modified to contain these proteins and have found them to be as nutritionally safe as their unmodified counterparts.

Community health risks of industrial agriculture

The Department is not aware of any reports which link adverse reactions of any consumers to consumption of plants containing the Bt proteins. Antibiotic resistant genes are used as markers for identification purposes in the development of novel food products. The safety assessment of novel foods considers the consequence of the transfer and expression of the antibiotic-resistance marker gene in recipient cells and the clinical and veterinary importance of the antibiotic in question. It is very important to note that there is no evidence to support the transfer of antibiotic resistant genes from a genetically engineered food product to microorganisms in the gastrointestinal GI tract.

A series of highly improbable and complex events must occur in the human GI tract for such an event to occur. The hostile nature of the GI tract provides a highly unfavourable environment for the survival of DNA coding for antibiotic resistant genes if released from the cells of the modified food.

Further, a series of steps are required for the DNA to be transferred and expressed in a recipient microorganism. Health Canada has not reviewed any plants that have been genetically modified with genes from an animal source. The government recognizes that ethical considerations are important issues related to consumer choice. Potential ethically sensitive modifications such as the inclusion of animal or fish genes into crops will need to be collectively examined and agreed upon. For some people, the use of genetically modified products to any extent is an ethical issue.

To that end, the federal government announced the creation of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee CBAC as part of its renewed biotechnology strategy in CBAC is an expert, arm's length committee formed for the purposes of advising the Ministers on issues related to biotechnology such as ethics but also including the scientific, social, economic, regulatory, environmental and health aspects. CBAC is working to raise the public's awareness of the regulatory process and provides an ongoing forum for the public to voice their views.

The Advisory Committee under the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy is expected to consider ethical issues in a broader scope than product by product approvals covered under the Novel Foods Regulations. Health Canada led the interdepartmental review of CBAC's recommendations, many of which are already being implemented.

In there were 37 deaths and about cases of the disease eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome EMS. The only common link among those affected was the consumption of the food supplement L-tryptophan. The contaminated lots of tryptophan had been produced by a company in Japan using a genetically modified bacteria that was designed to overproduce tryptophan. In addition to changing the production organism there were also changes made in the recovery and purification steps; specifically those steps involved in removing impurities.

The toxic metabolite was also produced by natural or non-genetically modified strains of bacteria. It was most likely the change in the purification step that allowed the toxic metabolite to contaminate the tryptophan. There was no indication that the illnesses were caused by the application of genetic modification to the bacterial culture. Information regarding enforcement activities on imports of products containing U. You will not receive a reply. Skip to main content Skip to "About government". Part 1: Regulation of Novel Foods.

How are novel foods regulated in Canada? What is a novel food? What departments in the Canadian government are responsible for regulating products derived using the techniques of genetic modification? How does Health Canada ensure the safety of genetically modified food? Is there any scientific evidence to suggest that genetically modified foods are less safe that those foods produced using conventional techniques? What is the basis of Health Canada's safety assessment process? What does the assessment look at? What is the advantage of this approach?

Is this approach unique to Canada? How is Health Canada keeping up with the pace of change? How does Health Canada participate in international activities in this area? Do we know anything about the interactions between different genetically modified foods?