An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Charles Caccia  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 8, 2002
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

December 9th, 2002 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington
Ontario

Liberal

Larry McCormick Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Davenport for bringing this issue to the attention of the House again. I hear people discussing this from all sides of the issue. They are not really that far apart. We are talking about voluntary labelling, mandatory labelling and we are making some really good progress toward this.

I want to acknowledge the great work on the GMOs and on any environmental issue by one of the great deans of the House, the member of Parliament for Davenport, who I respect. I thank him for his work and is always sharing it with Canadians. I also want to thank the excellent work done on this issue by Dorothy and Lauchlin Chisholm, residents from the great riding of Ottawa—Vanier and formerly of HFL&A, Napanee, friends of the riding and personal friends of my wife and mine forever.

We may differ a little bit on this but as the House may be aware, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency share accountability for food labelling policies under the Food and Drugs Act. Health Canada's responsibilities derive from this mandate for health and safety issues, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for protecting consumers for misrepresentation and fraud and for prescribing basic food labelling and advertising standards.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recognize that the labelling of foods derived from biotechnology has become an important issue for consumers. The Government of Canada continues to discuss an appropriate approach for the labelling of biotechnology derived foods with Canadians and international standards organizations around the world. Several initiatives are underway to determine the most appropriate mechanism for providing consumers with information necessary to make informed food choices.

We are here to discuss a private member's bill, Bill C-220, which was put forward in the House and which was defeated in October 2001. Like the previous bill, this bill proposes amendments to the Food and Drugs Act to make labelling and post-market monitoring of genetically modified foods mandatory. Specifically, the bill proposes mandatory labelling of food containing more than 1% genetically modified material, either as a genetically modified food, a genetically modified food ingredient or an ingredient derived from genetically modified organisms.

It should be noted that one initiative currently underway in Canada is the development of a Canadian standard for the voluntary labelling of foods derived from biotechnology, a project led by the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board, CGSB.

The development of the draft standard involved the participation of a committee composed of approximately 100 organizations, including consumer groups, food companies, producers, environmental groups, general interest groups and government, in several meetings held since November 1999. The proposed standard describes requirements for making positive or negative labelling claims regarding the presence of a food or food ingredient that is a product of genetic engineering for either single or multi-ingredient foods. A tolerance level of 5% is being proposed with verification by either analytical methods or proper documentation.

We would like to note that significant resolution has been achieved by the CGSB committee since the first ballot vote held in January. If the second ballot is successful, the final standard could be published as early as spring 2003.

Like the CGSB's voluntary standard, the bill provides a narrower definition of genetically modified food than what already exists under division 28 of the Food and Drugs Act, also referred to as an novel foods regulation. Under division 28, “genetically modified” includes modifications obtained through the use of more traditional techniques such as chemical mutagenesis and conventional breeding as well as those obtained from modern biotechnology.

The novel foods regulation permits Health Canada to assess the safety of all novel foods, irrespective of the method used for the development and thus including genetically modified foods prior to their sale in Canada. Only after a novel food is determined not to pose a health or safety concern is it allowed to be sold on the Canadian market.

Mr. Speaker, we have the safest and I would say the best food in the world today.

Health Canada notes that Bill C-220 proposes a 1% tolerance level but does not provide a rationale for the specific tolerance level, nor does it define specialty foods which the bill proposes to exempt from the prescribed requirements. In addition, it remains unclear how this tolerance level would be applied to multi-ingredient foods.

Health Canada also notes that the proposed amendments would apply to products such as oils and refined sugars which contain neither recombinant DNA nor expressed protein after processing. For these products, verification would have to rely on documentation alone.

Bill C-220 also proposes that the Minister of Health maintain a publicly available list of all foods offered for sale in Canada that contain more than 1% genetically modified material.

In view of the diversity and constant evolution of the Canadian food supply, the maintenance of such a list of individual marketed foods that have a content of more than 1% material that is derived from a genetically modified organism would demand a considerable investment of time and resources.

For example, it is estimated that today the average grocery store contains more than 20,000 different products, approximately 70% of which are multi-ingredient processed foods. As a result there is a large number of foods on the shelf today which at one point or another may contain one or more GM ingredients or no GM ingredients at all. This is because manufacturers regularly change the formulation of these foods, depending upon the availability and price of individual ingredients. Overall the large number of products affected and the frequent changes in product formulations make the maintenance by the department of a current list of products containing more than 1% GM material challenging and impractical.

In addition, to facilitate the creation of this list, effective strategies for segregation and tracking throughout the food production and distribution chain would have to be developed for all commodities.

Bill C-220 also proposes that the Minister of Health be responsible for conducting research, including post-market monitoring of genetically modified foods.

The government invested $90 million to enhance the regulation of biotechnology in budget 2000. Health Canada and other departments have established research programs which are aimed at further enhancing the scientific capacity underpinning our safety assessment of biotechnology products.

The research program conducted by Health Canada includes projects on post-market monitoring approaches for biotechnology derived products, including genetically modified foods; animal models for assessment; and toxicity testing of whole foods. This investment further confirms the federal government's commitment to ensuring that products allowed on the market in Canada are safe and nutritious.

I know the debate will continue for a long time. As I said earlier, I think we are close to getting together on this. It is a matter of education. Do people want to have all the products in the grocery store with a GMO label on them, or do we want to arrive at say, a 5% level where we could work together on this?

In conclusion, the bill was clearly intended to respond to consumer demands for choice. However as I have noted, there are several elements in the bill which require greater consideration.

The government will continue to work with all relevant stakeholders and indeed all interested Canadians to develop mechanisms that provide meaningful information to Canadian consumers regarding food derived from biotechnology that is consistent with international approaches. We will continue to have the best and the safest food in the world.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

December 9th, 2002 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in this debate on Bill C-220 introduced by the hon. member for Davenport.

As indicated by the previous speaker, it is disappointing that it is not a votable bill. There are a number of items that have come up for debate in the House that are not votable. Many of us would like to see more votable bills. I guess until that process changes we deal with what we have and make a point of getting the message out to Canadians knowing that when pressure comes from Canadians there is greater pressure on the government to address their concerns.

My colleagues in previous debates this year, as well in other years, have brought up the issue of genetically modified products. That is not the crux of the issue that we are talking about here even though the question of whether or not there is a need for everything to be modified genetically does come into question when there is a situation where crops are made in such a way that the seed cannot be planted again.

There is a shortage of food in numerous countries. The idea that any company would see it as an essential thing to modify a seed so that there would not be regrowth is somewhat astounding. It is one of those areas where it is the final straw for a good number of people to realize that it is just something where a company is out to make money and it is not for the benefit of society.

The issue of whether or not labelling should be mandatory is extremely important. It has been suggested that voluntary labelling would do the trick. However, we have often seen that anything voluntary within business does not work. Those who see that--

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

December 9th, 2002 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

moved that Bill C-220, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill C-220 is to require mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

Mandatory labelling would ensure that the genetic history of a food or food ingredient is recorded and traced through all stages of distribution, manufacture, packaging and, finally, sale. These steps would then ensure the integrity of the documentation trail, accurate labelling and would also prevent incorrectly labelled material from reaching the consumer. The Minister of Health would thus be able to monitor the presence of genetically modified foods in the food chain and conduct intensive research into the potential long term effects of genetically modified foods on human health.

Public concern with regard to genetically modified organisms, commonly referred to GMOs, is reflected in the result of public opinion polls. Canadians overwhelmingly support mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods. The most recent poll commissioned by the Government of Canada reveals that 84% of Canadians support labelling genetically modified foods.

As members may recall, Bill C-220 was introduced during the last session of Parliament as Bill C-287, which the procedure committee saw fit to deem votable. Bill C-287 received 91 votes in this Chamber and prompted the government to request a study by the Standing Committee on Health.

The study so far is not completed and is in limbo because last September Parliament was prorogued. In the meantime, the government relies on appointed bodies to study the question of mandatory labelling. One so-called consultative body the government turned to is the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, to which I will refer to from now on as CBAC.

CBAC was charged with initiating a national dialogue on issues relating to biotechnology, including labelling. Its discussion paper and workshops produced very little response. Last August CBAC recommended against mandatory labelling. It said that it was too expensive, that it would lead to trade wars, that industry was not ready for it and that it would be better to go for voluntary labelling and check back in five years perhaps to see whether mandatory labelling might be advisable then.

While industry and lobbyists argue that mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods will result in consumers having fewer choices in future, their claim is also to the effect that labelling GM foods will result in mass consumer rejection of these products. However research exists to disprove this claim that, quite the contrary, labelling will not only recognize consumers' rights to know, but also, when given an informed choice, suspicion and reticence by consumers would be dispelled and they might even accept GM products.

Had the government decided to label GM foods as of the day they were introduced on the market, we would not have the problem of consumer acceptance. Consumers' reluctance, as we find it today, can be linked to the government's preference to deny consumers information about the food they eat.

In addition to this problem there is another one. Industry seems unwilling to recognize the fact that Canada is increasingly losing agricultural export markets because of our unwillingness to label genetically modified foods.

Moreover, other countries are developing the agricultural capability to capture these markets where they want the labelling of genetically modified food. Canadian canola farmers, for example, would benefit from mandatory labelling because presently they are unable to sell their product to the European Union. At present it is difficult to know precisely the economic losses being incurred as a result of the loss of export markets, but they are probably considerable given the fact that 37 countries, including the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, China, Mexico and Japan, now have in place or are developing the necessary legislation requiring mandatory labelling of genetically modified food.

Furthermore, we have the paradoxical situation whereby we label products for export so as to conform to foreign mandatory labelling regimes, and yet continue to tell Canadians here at home that it cannot be done for domestic purposes. Of course this inconsistency erodes public confidence.

The lack of consumer acceptance of genetically modified food has led a number of companies not to buy genetically modified ingredients. Canadian companies are not able to supply such companies because they cannot obtain from the Canadian regulatory authorities a certification that would say that their product is genetically modified organism free even when it is.

The case of Unibroue, a Quebec based brewery, illustrates the damage of the absence of a mandatory labelling system. It was notified by the government of France that it could export its beer to France only if it provided a certification that it did not contain genetically modified ingredients. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency certified Unibroue's beer as free of genetically modified ingredients. However the very same agency unexpectedly went to court to prevent Unibroue from using this certification and as a result Unibroue had to seek a European genetically modified organism free certification. The lack of mandatory labelling almost cost Unibroue its entry into the entire European Union markets.

While the Europeans now benefit from knowing that Unibroue's beer is genetically modified organism free, Canadian consumers are denied this information. In addition, concerned about the unclear genetic integrity of Canadian corn, Unibroue had to import from France corn certified as non-genetically modified. Thus we are importing corn of which we produce plenty.

The conclusion for the rationale behind Bill C-220 is simply that Canadians do want to know what they eat and Bill C-220 addresses this right. Hopefully the health committee will conduct its study and provide recommendations for the government on the desirability of having mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

The fact is clear, whether the committee conducts its study or not, that five years, as recommended by CBAC, the committee I referred to earlier, is too long for Canadians to wait just for the possibility of introducing mandatory labelling by the year 2008.

The government, I submit, should act now in the public interest, and also in the interest, and this is never sufficiently and strongly enough underlined, of Canadian exporters, as the example I gave of Unibroue earlier indicates, by introducing mandatory labelling next year so that it can apply to the products we export and so that the consumer in Canada is also made aware of what we are facing domestically on the shelves.

To conclude, it seems to me that we are badly behind other nations on the labelling of genetically modified organisms, and procrastinating the appropriate action is definitely not in the public interest.

Food and Drugs Act
Routine Proceedings

October 8th, 2002 / 10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-220, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food).

Mr. Speaker, I simply wish to explain that this bill is aimed at making it possible for Canadians to know when they buy genetically modified food. At the present time the labelling of genetically modified food is left to the vagaries of the market, and it is not mandatory.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)