By: Rosemary Westwood

I wouldn’t have gone if Jane Goodall hadn’t been there.

In a small conference room in a Toronto hotel, Friday’s event might have been one of her least attended.

It had little to do with chimps. Instead, Goodall came to lend her trusted status to a new book railing against genetically modified organisms in our food system.

It’s a call that sounds as outdated as anti-war songs.

When even innovation seems like a dated word, there’s a sense that modifying things, for better or worse, is just what we do. Take the three-parent babies now legal in the U.K., or cloud-seeding efforts to change the weather. It’s been 20 years since GMO products first came to Canada, and our stores are full of them.

So I wanted to know if this icon could be a voice to popularize an old debate. I wanted to know if Goodall could make me care more about GMOs.

Author Steven Druker’s book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, argues governments, scientists, industry and the media have been complicit in allowing GMO foods into our homes, without proof that they are safe. Health Canada says there is no evidence GMO foods are not safe. And Druker is being ignored.

Only two media outlets showed up to the event, a sign that editors don’t think Canadians care. While one poll showed 66 per cent of people in B.C. and 55 per cent in Alberta worry about modified food, few knew which products were GMO. Health Canada has refused to impose labelling, and I don’t see mass rallies in the streets.

That’s where Goodall could help. A powerhouse environmental brand in a petite frame, Goodall wrote the introduction to the book. She talked of animal studies showing damage to kidneys and livers after eating GMO foods, of scientists pilloried for their studies. Sometimes she lost track of what she was saying, then came around to her point again: GMO equals bad.

But her voice fell on a sparse crowd. The other speakers were longtime GMO activists who sounded at times frustrated, demanding a wider audience for their old worries.

I asked Goodall afterwards if she might be worried that instead of boosting the credibility of the anti-GMO movement, the movement might instead undermine her own.

“No,” she said, “Because I’ve got the facts.”

I admire her convictions, but I’m not sure Goodall will be the one to bring the message to the masses.

On stage, she fit all too well into the established GMO debate. It’s been going on for a long time. And it will take someone or something more surprising than Goodall to make it new.

Origiinally Published: Metro News