Bill C-517 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Gilles-A. Perron Bloc
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
- May 7, 2008 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 7th, 2008 / 5:15 p.m.
The House resumed from May 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-517, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE
Mr. Speaker, I speak to Bill C-517 with a great deal of concern, because while the intent sounds reasonable, there are other and better ways of addressing the intent of this bill.
The consequences of this bill would impose costs on Canadian consumers, producers and processors, either driving up the costs of food, or driving down producers' returns, or more likely both, and for what gain? This bill would do absolutely nothing for the safety of food and it would not really clarify choice for consumers.
As the member who spoke before me said, there are already regulations coming into effect that can give consumers that clarity of choice. That is the new Canadian certified organic system under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. When these new regulations come into effect on November 14 of this year, consumers can be assured that when they choose products carrying the Canada organic label they are choosing foods that do not contain products of biotechnology. Beyond that, if consumer demand is there, industry can use voluntary labelling--in fact, that was being done in Prince Edward Island with Island natural pork--as long as that labelling is truthful and abides by the laws of the land.
The bill, other than to say something is a genetically modified food, which to be honest happens in both natural breeding and scientific means, I think we ought to be blunt about it; it does actually cater to emotion and to people's fears about the unknown, and genetically modified foods are certainly a bit unknown. To be blunt, with this bill there is absolutely no gain in addressing those fears, but there is a tremendous cost. Let me turn to what some of the organizations have said.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association said:
We believe that if enacted, the provisions of this bill could have a very detrimental effect on the ability of our members to continue to deliver innovative products.
The association went on to say, and this is important:
[Our members] support the rigorous system of assessment in Canada, and expend many human and financial resources to participate in it. Biotechnology is likely the most scrutinized of all of the tools we use to bring innovation to agriculture and agri-food. New products derived from biotechnology are subject to the approval of three different government departments working with 5 different pieces of legislation and associated regulations.
It is very concerned. The bottom line is, who will pay these costs? The costs are substantial. Maple Leaf Foods and others in a letter stated:
This Bill will impose hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary cost to the agri-food industry without providing any benefit to Canadian consumers.
The fact is producers and consumers will pay the costs of this mandatory labelling legislation. I would say the bill is a bad investment for no gain, other than to play on people's emotions. Let me list the organizations which have said they are strongly opposed to this bill. They are substantial and they represent a lot of investment in this country: CropLife Canada; Food and Consumer Products of Canada; Maple Leaf Foods; Canadian Egg Marketing Agency; Casco; Canadian Seed Trade Association; Canadian Horticulture Council; Quebec's food processors association, CTAC; UPA in Quebec, the major farm organization there; Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers; Food Processors of Canada; Canadian Meat Council; Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities; Canola Council of Canada; Canadian Canola Growers Association, BIOTECanada, and the CFA.
This is a substantial list of organizations. I underline the fact that these are not just organizations; they are also Canadian consumers who have the same concern about food as others in our society.
Let me turn to a statement that was made by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. He said:
We need to understand the ethical, moral and environmental implications of the genetically modified foods that we consume, the foods that we put on the table for our friends and family, foods that have been modified at the genetic level.
I agree with that, but the bill would do absolutely nothing to deal with this concern. Others have raised questions about scientists not being able to speak out, and I agree with that fact. I faced that when I fought rBGH, the drug hormone being put into dairy cattle. We managed to get that specific product stopped. Yes, scientists were shut up, but the bill would do nothing to deal with that issue. Therefore, let us concentrate on where the real problem is rather than bring in a bill that requires mandatory labelling, but does nothing about what people perceive the problem to be.
The bill is not about a safety issue and it would do nothing to clarify what is in food. If consumers have a concern about GM foods, they can turn to their organic labelling product. Industry can also use voluntary labelling. Mandatory labelling will be costly, and I outlined many of those costs.
The bottom line is the bill would not do what it is intended to do. Therefore, I believe it should be stopped at this stage and our time should be invested in dealing with the real issues.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:45 a.m.
James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-517 which seeks to require that all genetically modified food is labelled. As a representative of a riding with thousands of farmers and ranchers, I am opposed to this bill. As chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, I also oppose this bill.
Technically speaking, Bill C-517 provides a much too narrow definition of genetically modified food, narrower than that which already exists in the food and drug regulations. Under the current regulations the term “genetically modified” includes modifications obtained through the use of traditional techniques, such as chemical mutagenesis and conventional breeding, as well as those obtained from modern biotechnology.
Bill C-517 would create a two-tiered system for GM foods. Depending on the method used in the development of specific foods, foods falling under the new definition would be required to be labelled to indicate the method of production, while others derived from more traditional modification methods, such as mutagenesis, would not be subject to mandatory labelling.
Health Canada regulates GM foods as novel foods. This encompasses foods that may have undergone a significant change in composition or nutritional value as a result of a manufacturing or packaging process. It also encompasses any substance that does not have a history of safe use as a food. Under the current legislation, the novel foods regulations permit Health Canada to assess the safety of all novel foods irrespective of the production method used prior to their sale in Canada.
We have a rigorous process in Canada. For instance, Health Canada must be notified prior to the marketing of any novel food in Canada so that a thorough safety assessment can be performed. The basis of this assessment is a comparison of each novel food with a conventional counterpart and requires a critical evaluation of the scientific information and results of research studies.
The information requirements are comprehensive. They include a complete description of the food product, its intended use, a molecular characterization of any novel traits, biochemical and compositional analysis, not to mention toxicological, nutritional and allergy data, and an estimate of dietary exposure and anticipated use by the average consumer.
The government is committed to sharing information with Canadians on how products of biotechnology are regulated. Health Canada publishes on its website a list of approved novel foods and decision documents which describe how regulatory authorities determine the safety of each new food product and why certain conclusions were reached. Other information, including Health Canada's guidelines for the safety assessment of novel foods, fact sheets, and answers to frequently asked questions are also available.
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency post information about products that are under review on the CFIA website. This provides the public with an opportunity to provide input on scientific matters relevant to the safety assessment of submissions from certain product developers.
Health Canada's responsibility for food labelling falls within the department's mandate for health and safety issues. As with all foods, special labelling of GM foods is required in cases where potential health and safety concerns, which can be mitigated through labelling, are identified during the product's pre-market safety assessment.
In Canada it is not mandatory to identify the method of production, including biotechnology, that is used to develop a food product. Nevertheless, a voluntary method of production labelling is permitted, provided it is truthful, not misleading and in compliance with all domestic regulatory requirements.
These principles are consistent with policy for all foods under the Food and Drugs Act. In general, food products that are demonstrated to be safe and nutritious are treated the same way as their traditional counterparts with regard to labelling requirements.
Related to this is the CFIA's new regulations for organic products. The organic regulations will protect consumers against false organic claims and will govern the use of a new Canada organic logo.
The government is providing a competitive advantage for the Canadian organic sector and protecting consumers. Not only will Canadians be protected against deceptive and misleading claims on organic products, but the organic industry's capacity to respond to international and domestic market opportunities will be strengthened.
The Canada organic logo will be permitted for use only on those food products certified as meeting the revised Canadian standard for organic production and that contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Following a phase-in period, it will be mandatory that all organic products be certified for interprovincial and international trade.
This government has taken further action to make sure that Canadian families can go to the grocery store knowing the food they purchase is safe. The Prime Minister announced a new food and product safety initiative on December 17, 2007 to ensure that we are ready to meet the new challenges of a global market. The government's food safety action plan will enhance the safety and reliability of food and health products by modernizing our system to better protect Canadians in our global environment.
The government is working hard to ensure our food safety system evolves to meet the challenges posed by increased volumes of trade, consumer demands and differing food safety frameworks among countries. We are delivering on our promises with $113 million provided in budget 2008 for the product and food safety initiative.
This government's approach is threefold. It focuses on managing risk along the food continuum. It prevents problems early on so that quick action can be taken. It no longer waits for threats to emerge before reacting.
As a government we are proud that we have one of the most stringent food safety systems in the world. Our plan recognizes that product safety is in everyone's interest and that everyone--Canadians, industry and government--has a role to play.
In conclusion, Canada's long-standing policy for the labelling of GM foods allows for the provision of information to consumers while avoiding the costs and potential trade implications associated with the implementation of the requirements of Bill C-517. We are taking steps to protect consumers in the marketplace without needlessly damaging the agriculture industry.
As a farmer, I believe that we should let the market dictate how we produce our food. Consumer driven initiatives will essentially dictate to us on how we move forward with our production methods. I believe voluntary labelling of genetically engineered foods is the correct way to move forward on this issue.
On the news we always hear about increasing prices for grain products, particularly the staples of wheat, rice and corn. Everybody keeps talking about a food shortage. We know we are in a tight supply. Now is not the time to start talking about turning back the clock and going back to an organic production system, which would actually short the marketplace and create even more increases in food prices.
Farmers will decide what is the best way to meet this new world demand and allow the consumers to choose what is best for them, whether that is GMO or non-GMO. My father grew organic crops for over 25 years because the market was there for that product. We received a good return on our investment in growing organic crops. We also know there is greater need out there that can only be met through new technology and improvements to our production systems. Farmers should be allowed to adapt those to make the most money they possibly can and feed the world.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Ninety-one percent of Quebeckers want mandatory labelling. Though not unanimous, the vast majority of Quebeckers want it, so my colleague decided to introduce this critical bill. The purpose of the bill is to set up a transparent food system so that we know where the things we eat, the foods we put on the table, come from. If genetic modification has taken place, consumers will know about it before making these decisions.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a colleague who passed away over the weekend, the former member for Davenport, Charles Caccia. He was the environment minister a few years ago. He first came to the House in 1968 and, as an environmental warrior, he spent 36 years in this House trying to convince as many voters as possible that we need to protect the environment. A real fighter, in 2001, he introduced a bill for mandatory labelling. We must not forget that Charles Caccia, who died this past weekend, had been trying since 2001 to convince parliamentarians here to bring in this mandatory system. Unfortunately, the House rejected his bill, 126 votes to 91. This bill thus has a history.
I remember my former colleague, Hélène Alarie, the representative for Louis-Hébert, who was the first to get a motion passed about setting up this regulatory system. Unfortunately, the House of Commons has repeatedly rejected the new standards, which should be mandatory.
What does Bill C-517 set out to do? First, the minister would be responsible for establishing that a food has been genetically modified. Second, the minister would also be responsible for preparing a list. Third, under the legislation, no one would be allowed to sell genetically modified products unless clear information is made available to the consumer indicating that the product or one or more of its components has been genetically modified.
How did we arrive at this legislative measure today? In 2004, the federal government did not pass a mandatory approach, as most Quebeckers and Canadians wanted, but a voluntary approach leaving it up to the industry to label genetically modified foods.
What does this voluntary system achieve? Four years later, because of this chance the industry has been given, we cannot identify any genetically modified products on our grocery store shelves. This proves that the federal government's voluntary approach has been a failure across the board.
What were these standards adopted by the Standards Council of Canada all about? The standard was that a product was considered genetically modified if more than 5% of its ingredients were the product of genetic modifications.
The standard is 5%, while Europe has adopted a standard of 0.9%, or close to 1%. Similarly, the Quebec ministry of agriculture, fisheries and agri-food had proposed to the federal government, during consultations on GMO regulations, a standard of about 0.9%, in other words, a standard extremely similar to the European approach.
This 5% safety threshold adopted by the federal government is clearly inadequate for the people of Quebec, the government of Quebec and those who expect more transparency from the federal government.
There is something else to consider in the federal government's proposed figure. For products containing 5% genetic modifications or more, the product label would not use the term GMO, as prescribed in the international standard set out in the Codex Alimentarius. Instead, the term GE, or genetically engineered, or GEP, genetically engineered product, should be used. Again, the federal government's approach is nothing less than an attempt to disguise where the products on our shelves truly come from and what they truly contain.
In short, we should first remember that the proposed regulations are voluntary, and therefore implementation is at the discretion of industry. Second, the term used misleads Canadians. Third, the safety thresholds are too high; Quebec is asking for a lower threshold of almost 1%, like the one adopted by Europe.
As I said, this approach has failed. However, there are precedents. I am thinking of Russia and China, which have already adopted mandatory labelling of GMOs. Why am I bringing up these two precedents? Quite simply because our exports to Asian countries are on the rise. I am thinking of the wheat issue, for example. When the time came to approve Roundup Ready wheat in Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board advised against it because Canadian farmers would lose some of their market share.
Therefore, Canada should follow the move to make the international standard more transparent in order to avoid reducing market share for those goods it sells in Canada and abroad.
This morning, my Conservative colleague told us that a multitude of studies have shown that this does not pose a threat to our health or the environment. However, all these studies were conducted by the industry and the multinational known as Monsanto. The Royal Society of Canada established a few years ago that the only valid studies are independent studies. I invite our colleague, if he believes that this does not affect our health and the environment, to order this government to fund independent studies that will shed light on this issue.
In closing, I would say that this bill is essential because its main purpose is to better inform citizens about the products they eat. I would add that, contrary to what some would have us believe, this bill presents an economic opportunity for Canadian farmers to embrace and join the international movement to make labelling of transgenic products mandatory.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:35 a.m.
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with great joy that I rise today to speak to Bill C-517, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods).
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles for introducing this bill. Once again, this shows that the Bloc Québécois is listening to what Quebeckers want, because in Quebec, between 80% and 90%—
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:25 a.m.
Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to this important legislation.
I will begin my comments by noting that Bill C-517 is identical to Bill C-456 and Bill C-410. Bill C-456 was tabled by my colleague, our agricultural critic from B.C., and Bill C-410 was tabled by my colleague from Winnipeg.
I think the reason people are concerned about this issue, an issue with which our party has been seized and which has been our party's policy for a long time, is essentially from many points of view but it comes down to the right to know. In a democracy, it is extremely important to have transparency.
In terms of food safety, which has been an extremely important issue to Canadians and to people around the world recently because of many of the concerns around food safety, one of the things we need to invoke, as was mentioned earlier by another member, is the precautionary principle.
The precautionary principle, as it relates to GM, genetically modified foods, is that we have some tracking and predictability and at the end of the day we have not only sufficient information for consumers, but also for farmers, which is important.
We know that recent actions of the EU and other jurisdictions have required that GM be noted on all food products. We need to take that into consideration as to what the government's role is to help farmers, as well as consumers. On this side of the House, we believe, and have believed for quite a while, that requires legislation and, quite frankly, support.
We have seen in the past that large agri-businesses have foisted certain products upon farmers, only to find out that sometimes these seeds during planting drift over to other farmers' fields, corrupting their product and their food. Once that happens, it can corrupt and infect a whole crop when these things are not tracked and traced.
Those stories are well-known. I am sure every member of the House is aware of scenarios where, through no fault of the farmers, they discover that some genetically modified seeds have blown over into their fields when they did not ask for them.
When we look at GM labelling and the importance of the consumers' right to know, it also applies to farmers.
When we look at the peer review on this, the independent testing of the environmental and health impacts of growing and eating GM food, it is important to apply the precautionary principle.
I would submit that if we look into policies of the government, certainly of Environment Canada which claims to invoke the precautionary principle, in rhetoric certainly, but we want to ensure it does that in practice.
What are some of the potential adverse effects of GM food consumption? They have to be taken into consideration. The jury is not out. The studies need to be done. Some government members in the House have posited the benefits of it. I have mentioned some of the concerns that have affected farmers. The EU has suggested that GM foods need to be labelled and that there needs to be a clear and transparent process around that. There is the market share for Canadians and for Canadian farmers, which is another reason.
I should note that Canadian companies like McCain have successfully removed GM ingredients in their potatoes, in this case. They were responding to market pressures. Let us not say that it cannot be done. It can be done in terms of tracking and, in this case, removing. However, what we believe must be done without compromise is to bring in the labelling.
I am sure members will be interested to note that the biosafety protocol for countries like Canada will soon require that we supply, as an exporter of GM foods, detailed information on GM products. These products are exported to about 141 countries around the world. It is not only the EU.
Mandatory GM labelling would help Canada and its farmers to continue to have access to the markets. It is a right to know for citizens and consumers, and to help farmers gain access to markets. It is something to make sure that Canada is in line with other countries on a multilateral basis.
In Canada there have been many civil society groups and NGOs that have spoken out on this issue, such as the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, the National Farmers Union and the Rideau Institute. The USC, which has its headquarters in Ottawa, has spoken out very strongly on this issue. I should note that one of the most prominent experts on this issue, Pat Mooney, has actually given advice to various Liberal and Conservative governments. He has been very clear on the concerns that he has about what GM foods do to our food supply and also the sources of seeds for our foods.
All of this should be taken into account. That is why we should be providing this legislation for Canadians, for our farmers, and to bring us up to speed on our international agreements and commitments.
It is also important to note that there are other pieces of legislation which touch on this. I would perhaps declare a conflict of interest here. I have a private member's bill that would not only ask that GM foods be labelled but that we also include meat products and what antibiotics are in the meat products. We want to know what rendered slaughterhouse waste was used and are there hormones in the food. These are the questions that Canadians have.
Canadians remember the mad cow crisis and the failure of our food system, notwithstanding the warnings from scientists at Health Canada that rendered feed would corrupt our meat system. Certainly that happened. Two years prior to the mad cow crisis one of our scientists, who blew the whistle, was fired for doing his job. We were told that if we did not keep an eye on rendered feed that was fed our cows that there would be an outbreak of mad cow disease. He told us that two years before the first case was detected. This scientists is still fighting the government in court because of his actions on blowing the whistle.
It is all about time. It is not about waiting any longer. If we are going to be competitive in the world and provide safe foods for our citizens, as well as an advantage in the export market, this is the bare minimum.
A member of the Liberal Party mentioned the issue of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling which has essentially been ignored by the government. This is another indication of the government not wanting to be a relevant actor on the international stage and following multilateral approaches in my opinion.
It is important that Canadians are in line with the international commitments and protocols that exist. The Codex Committee on Food Labelling is asking our government and other governments to bring forward legislation such as Bill C-517. It is another validation by a third party on why the bill should be passed.
I might add that I recently met with a group who is concerned about baby formula and the fact that it does not have sufficient labelling. We know that baby formula companies are going into hospitals and having access to new mothers and providing formula, instead of urging breastfeeding as the best way to feed babies. I thought those days were over. We know that there is not sufficient labelling on that formula.
The bill before us is the bare minimum for the international commitments that Canada has made for food safety for Canadians and for farmers gaining access to international markets. On this side of the House we strongly support the bill. We have supported the bill in the past and we will support it in the future. It is about time that the Conservative government passed this bill.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:15 a.m.
Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to participate today in the debate on Bill C-517, introduced by the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. This bill amends the Food and Drugs Act to make the Minister of Health responsible for establishing that a food or one or more of its components has been genetically modified, and for preparing a list of all such foods for anyone who requests it, because the public must know.
As the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles said when he introduced his bill, this is not a new bill, since a few years ago, two other colleagues, including one from the official opposition, were already concerned about the mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods and organisms, commonly known as GMOs. Since 2001, Ontario has been calling for labelling; British Columbia and Quebec are calling for it as well.
The main purpose of Bill C-517 is to inform consumers about what they are eating, and to let them choose whether or not to eat genetically modified foods or food products. Therein lies the challenge. This is not about putting genetically modified foods or food products on trial; this is about the precautionary principle and fundamental information, and about protecting the consumer from any unknown risks or potential effects these types of foods could have on a person's health. As legislators, this is our duty.
This is about ensuring that consumers are safe, by giving them the opportunity to look at the nutritional information on labels of foods on the market, and to make an informed decision.
Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, could impact Canadians' health. We do not know today what could be the effect of GMOs, in the short term or the long term, on people's health and on the environment. Some scientists say that biotechnologically derived foods create or enhance diseases such as malaria, for example. Therefore, it is our responsibility as legislators to make sure that consumers have proper information on the food they buy and eat.
In Canada, there are already about 50 genetically modified products on the market. These have been approved by the government and can be consumed on their own or can be used to produce another food. We must also address the issue of the percentage of GMOs in the food and determine which level would require mandatory labelling.
In the European Union, for instance, traces of GMOs do not require mandatory labelling if they do not contain more than the threshold of 0.9% and only if their presence in the food is involuntary or accidental and technically inevitable.
This issue, like all environmental issues, does not concern just Canada, but the entire planet. I would like to point out that the European Union, which has ratified the March 2006 Cartagena protocol, already has mandatory labelling regulations.
In fact, the European Union has incorporated the Cartagena protocol, which came out of the meeting held from March 13 to 17, 2006, into its legislation. Signatories to the protocol commit to meeting a series of requirements pertaining to the international trade in GMOs intended for human or animal consumption.
Unfortunately, as our colleague proved a few minutes ago, the Conservative government still does not seem ready to take the necessary steps to make labelling mandatory for genetically modified foods or food products. On the contrary, the Conservative government continues to advocate voluntary labelling, which has been a complete failure because it has been left entirely in the hands of the agriculture and agri-food industries.
Proof of the government's bad faith can be found in an article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on April 4. The newspaper reports that Canada is opposed to the mandatory labelling recommended by the WHO, the World Health Organization, to inform consumers about the quantity of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and added sugars in modified foods.
The Codex committee on mandatory labelling, which was put in place by the WHO to develop international codes of practice and implement the WHO's food standards program, met at the end of April.
The members of the Canadian delegation, headed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, stated their position, which unfortunately is that Canada will not support the amendment put forward by the WHO that would encourage national governments and give them more power to require agri-food industries to reveal the percentage of ingredients that could pose a risk to human health in modified foods. Bill Jeffery, national coordinator of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, stated that Canada's position is indefensible.
The objective of the Cartagena protocol is to help regulate the transboundary movement, transfer, handling and use of any GMO that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and pose risks to human health.
The protocol provides that international shipments of GMOs must be accompanied by documentation that clearly indicates the exact identity of the GMOs concerned. If the exact identity is not known, this documentation must clearly indicate “may contain GMOs”.
This protocol affirms the precautionary principle, because it states the following:
Lack of scientific certainty due to insufficient relevant scientific information and knowledge regarding the extent of the potential adverse effects of a living [genetically] modified organism on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the party of import, taking also into account risks to human health, shall not prevent that party [that is, the importing state] from taking a decision, as appropriate, with regard to the import of the living modified organism in question ... in order to avoid or minimize such potential adverse effects.
The European Union's policy has two goals: first, to inform consumers, through labelling, about genetically modified organisms; and, second, to create a safety net due to the traceability of the GMO at every step of the manufacture and at the time the product is put on the marketplace.
The operative word in the European regulations is “traceability”, that is, the ability to track GMOs and products made from GMOs at all stages of their marketing, throughout the production and distribution chain.
Traceability of GMOs allows the monitoring and checking of information given on labels, the monitoring of effects on the environment and the withdrawal of GMOs that are potentially dangerous for human or animal health.
In closing, some farm organizations claim that Bill C-517 will not improve food safety and will not provide increased consumer choice, and that it will be enough for consumers to rely on foods containing the Canadian organic label to ensure that the foods they buy do not contain genetically modified ingredients.
However, we must ensure that the so-called organic label is properly certified by an independent, authorized organization that guarantees that the food is 100% organic. The fact is, these days, we are seeing a proliferation of foods labelled as organic that contain very little or no organic ingredients.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
May 5th, 2008 / 11:05 a.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise in debate and add my voice on behalf of the people of Yellowhead in regard to this private member's bill, Bill C-517.
I have to qualify my remarks prior to proceeding. I have worked with genetically modified foods. I have farmed all my life. I have also worked with conventionally grown crops and have a background in understanding crop development, how species grow, and what benefits or risks may exist with regard to genetically modified foods, as I have had the experience of growing them for several years.
On first looking at this bill, the question has to be asked: what is the problem with labelling the food that is grown and products that are on our shelves in Canada? My argument is that whatever label goes on those products has to be accurate. It cannot be misleading. It must inform the consumer in Canada as to exactly what they are eating and the risks that may or may not be associated with foods.
This is where I would like to start my remarks, because Canada has some of the very best foods in the world. Canadians know that, but they need to be reminded, and I am reminding them here and now that we have some of the safest and best quality food products in the world. That is important, because so many in the population now do not grow their own foods. That generational shift has happened over the last couple of generations in Canada and around the world.
Therefore, it is more important now than ever before that the safety measures are in place to ensure that safety is never compromised. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency together have the mandate to make sure the products on our shelves are as safe as they can possibly be.
The OECD nations, as well as the World Health Organization and the FAO of the UN, all have worked together on genetically modified foods to make sure there are standards and an agreement not only in Canada but around the world and across many jurisdictions to make sure these products are safe.
The argument is this. If there is any health risk at all with genetically modified foods, we should not just label them but eliminate them. If there is not a risk, we should accept them and use them as an advantage for our crops and foods so that we provide them not only for Canadians but our trading partners.
It is also important to know that when a genetically modified food is put on our shelves or examined by either Health Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there is an extensive seven year process of analyzing, assessing and determining whether the product meets the safety standards in Canada. It is very important to understand that.
Some labelling of our food is very important. We fully recognize that when it comes to allergens. Some foods contain allergens and it important to label them because they can cause serious health risks for consumers. We make sure those allergenic foods are labelled. It is very important to do so.
With what we are seeing with genetically modified foods development in Canada and around the world, it is crucial that we understand the risks and perhaps the benefits, because if we do not understand them, then we are really not fully understanding as consumers what we are trying to do.
My fear is that if we put a label on genetically modified foods the electorate would not quite understand what it means. In fact, I would suggest that there is a real strong debate, both in this room by many members of Parliament and by members of the public, as to what is a genetically modified food. Is it just a food that has been developed by taking better foods and the best of generation after generation to enhance the performance of that commodity? That is one way of doing it.
When a food is genetically modified, we can be looking for dealing with a pesticide that is much safer and easier to use. One way of genetically modifying some of the canolas that we have been working with is to spray a light amount of pesticide on them. Those plants that survive are bred to one another so that eventually a product is developed that is resistant to that herbicide or pesticide.
That is one way of doing it. We have seen some tremendous advancements in some of the canola products that we grow in Canada. In fact, canola is a Canadian product, and that is why I refer to it. It is our own invention, which has provided a tremendous product. It is one of the lowest saturated fat food products on the planet. Compared to corn, which is about 20% saturated fats, soy, which is about 15%, and palm oil, which is about 50%, canola is only 7%. It is a tremendous alternative to some foods we have.
While we are looking at labelling, I note that there is a massive debate going on in the House and across Canada as to whether we should get rid of trans fats. A perfect alternative to trans fats is to move to non-hydrogenated canola oil, which is 7% saturated fat rather than 50%.
As we move away from trans fats, we are looking for options that will be healthier for the population. I say that in the context of why it is so important that we label. We have moved to labelling on trans fats. Why? Because trans fats are not healthy and there is scientific evidence that they should not be in the marketplace. The food industry is checking itself by making sure the consumer is not having an overabundance of trans fats. We have moved so that at least 40% and probably closer to 50% of the trans fats are eliminated from our diet.
Genetically modified foods are different from that. After 14 years or more of those products being on our shelves, and after 20 years or more of genetically modified foods being in our products, there has yet to be scientific research that shows those novel foods are less safe than the conventional ones. In fact, the last study that I saw was out of Europe. Europe has not embraced genetically modified foods, although France is now starting to flirt with using genetically modified corn and so on, so it is progressing. To date, though, I would say that broadly the continent has said no, that it will shy away from genetically modified foods.
However, this study in Europe took place over 15 years for 400 different genetically modified products. The final analysis showed that the genetically modified food was healthier than the conventional foods, because much less pesticide was used. In the long run, the product was much safer as far as the health of the individual was concerned.
I am concerned as a farmer and as a Canadian about the amount of pesticides we use. When we use a genetically modified food we are using the highest of technology as far as the new pesticide products are concerned. There are virtually zero residuals. Some of the pesticides that I used to use on the farm had seven-year residuals. They would stay in the soil for seven years before they would break down. Some of the new ones now are neutralized on contact. There have been tremendous advancements in the safety of the technology of the pesticides that we use today compared to what has been used in the past.
Why is that important? Because this is not only about the safety of food. It is about the environment. If I have a concern about genetically modified foods, it does not lie in the safety of the food but in the environment. It is about making sure that we are not creating a “super plant” that could get away from us.
There are 10 groups of pesticides that we use. On the farm, we start by using one group. Then we get some resistance and a mutation in the plants and we have to go to a different group of pesticides to be able to counter that. Therefore, we have to make sure that the balance is there, that we do not grow a super plant that creates a problem in the environment and causes tremendous havoc in the agriculture community.
I am a little concerned about that with genetically modified foods, but I am also very confident that Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are watching that very closely. To date I have not seen a significant problem on that side of it. One of the reasons is that the technology has allowed for a terminator gene to be put in so that the new generation of those seeds is not allowed to reproduce and cause that kind of problem.
I said earlier that it is important to have truth in labelling. We must realize that 75% of the processed food on the shelves in Canada contains some degree of genetically modified foods or novelty foods. Therefore, if we are concerned about eating genetically modified foods, then there should be truth in labelling.
The only reality and truth that we could find in labelling would be to use what is a growing industry, which is organic foods. Organic foods not only have virtually no genetically modified foods in them, but they have zero pesticides. The option is there for the consumer.
However, if we were to put a label of genetically modified foods on every product in Canada, we would be misleading the consumer. We would be saying to the consumer that we are a little concerned about genetically modified foods or we would not be putting this on a label, and that the foods do not meet all the safety standards, which they do.
I am all for truth and I am all for more information for the consumer, but it has to be real information. This piece of legislation, although well intended, is going in the wrong direction, I believe, because it makes this compulsory. I believe we need to make sure we have the options for the consumer. If consumers are nervous about genetically modified foods, they can go to organic foods. If not, then leave it the way it is.
The House resumed from April 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-517, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods), be read the second time and referred to a committee.