Seeds Regulations Act

An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Alex Atamanenko  NDP

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 3, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Governor in Council to amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

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.

Votes

  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), be concurred in at report stage.
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. For the purposes of section 2, “potential harm to export markets” exists if the sale of new genetically engineered seed in Canada would likely result in an economic loss to farmers and exporters as a result of the refusal, by one or more countries that import Canadian agricultural products, to allow the admission of any registered Canadian seed, or crops or products derived from that seed.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. In this Act, “new”, in respect of a genetically engineered seed, means a genetically engineered seed that was not registered in Canada before the day on which this Act comes into force.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. In this Act, “genetically engineered seed” means a seed that has been altered using recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account whether or not the variety of genetically engineered seed in question has been approved for use in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the economic impact on Canadian farmers and exporters whose established markets for registered seed or for the crops and products derived from that seed would be harmed as a result of the introduction of the new variety of genetically engineered seed.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the regulatory systems that govern genetically engineered seed and the crops and products that are derived from that seed in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The results of the analysis referred to in section 2 shall be included as part of every application that is made for the registration of a variety of seed and any notification of the release of the seed in question into the environment.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 1 with the following: “gineered seed is permitted in Canada.”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 10 on page 1 with the following: “by the Government of Canada, published in the Canada Gazette and taken into consideration by the Government of Canada before the sale of any new genetically en-”
  • Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 1 with the following: “2. The Governor in Council shall, within 90”
  • April 14, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Speaker's Ruling
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There are 10 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-474.

Motions Nos. 1 to 10 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table. The Chair does not ordinarily provide reasons for selection of report stage motions; however, having been made aware of the circumstances surrounding the committee's study of this bill, I would like to convey to the House the reasons involved in considering these motions.

The note accompanying Standing Order 76(5) reads, in part, “The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee.”

The Chair takes note that the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior sits on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which was mandated to study Bill C-474. Although I believe that the majority of the amendments in his name could have been proposed during the committee consideration of the bill, they were not.

The bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on April 14, 2010. The committee considered the bill on five different occasions either to hear witnesses or to discuss a work plan. Indeed, the committee was still hearing witnesses when its request for a 30 day extension was denied and the bill was deemed reported back to the House without amendment.

It is to this turn of events that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior referred in a letter to the Chair highlighting that the committee was thus unable to commence clause-by-clause consideration.

The member has therefore submitted at report stage the amendments he had intended to move in committee.

The Chair has carefully reviewed the sequence of events and the submission made by the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior and in its view it is reasonable to afford him an opportunity to propose these amendments.

Accordingly, I have selected them for debate at report stage. I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 10 to the House.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 1 with the following:

“2. The Governor in Council shall, within 90”

Motion No. 2

Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 10 on page 1 with the following:

“by the Government of Canada, published in the Canada Gazette and taken into consideration by the Government of Canada before the sale of any new genetically en-”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 1 with the following:

“gineered seed is permitted in Canada.”

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The results of the analysis referred to in section 2 shall be included as part of every application that is made for the registration of a variety of seed and any notification of the release of the seed in question into the environment.”

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the regulatory systems that govern genetically engineered seed and the crops and products that are derived from that seed in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”

Motion No.6

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the economic impact on Canadian farmers and exporters whose established markets for registered seed or for the crops and products derived from that seed would be harmed as a result of the introduction of the new variety of genetically engineered seed.”

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account whether or not the variety of genetically engineered seed in question has been approved for use in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. In this Act, “genetically engineered seed” means a seed that has been altered using recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology.”

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. In this Act, “new”, in respect of a genetically engineered seed, means a genetically engineered seed that was not registered in Canada before the day on which this Act comes into force.”

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. For the purposes of section 2, “potential harm to export markets” exists if the sale of new genetically engineered seed in Canada would likely result in an economic loss to farmers and exporters as a result of the refusal, by one or more countries that import Canadian agricultural products, to allow the admission of any registered Canadian seed, or crops or products derived from that seed.”

Mr. Speaker, we are here to participate in debate at third reading of my Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). The purpose of this bill is to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

This is not complicated. It makes sense to me to conduct a risk analysis before embarking on something that is potentially risky.

The government clearly believes that the biotech industry should be the only ones with any say over marketing decisions on GM seeds. Perhaps we should consider for a moment how we came to confer this enormous privilege on big biotech.

Devlin Kuyek, from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a researcher who has written extensively on the seed system in Canada, recently told the standing committee:

To understand where we are with GMOs in Canada, you have to look at it as a deliberate policy shift that has taken what we call a public seed system with broad-based support from farmers, scientists, and the general public to what we have today, which is essentially a corporate seed system where the research agenda is in the hands of a very small number of corporations, most of them pesticide corporations outside of Canada.

He notes that billions in taxpayers' dollars have been spent over the last 30 years to support biotech companies, while public plant breeding programs have been slashed and privatized.

In September 2009, Canadian farmers and their European customers, who have a zero tolerance policy for unapproved GE crops and products, found that an illegal genetically engineered flax seed called CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports. Contamination reached 35 countries.

GE contamination is already hurting Canadian farmers and if a contamination incident similar to the current flax contamination crisis were to happen with wheat or alfalfa, the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating.

What is very disturbing is that we have not had a full and democratic debate at committee, because it was shut down by the Conservative government.

The Conservative government reneged on an agreement that would have given the committee more time to examine the advantages of Bill C-474. As a result, farmers no longer have a say and must resort to public protests in order to stop these big biotech companies that are threatening their export markets. It is completely unacceptable that expert witnesses from around the country, brought to Ottawa at taxpayers’ expense to provide testimony, were turned away at the committee's door when they arrived to make their presentations.

Let us hear what some of these presenters would have discussed with the committee members if they had been given the chance.

Bill Toews, from the Canadian Wheat Board, says that in order for the commercialization of a GM variety to benefit western Canadian wheat and barley producers, there would first have to be widespread market acceptance. He states, “This includes both what governments will approve and what customers will buy, which is not necessarily the same thing. There remains strong and widespread opposition to GM wheat or barley in about half of our markets. This includes, but isn't limited to, the governments of, and customers in, the European Union, Japan, Thailand, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and a number of African nations. Unfortunately, the markets that are most likely to demand non-GM shipments also have zero tolerance for unapproved GM content”.

Mr. Toews goes on to say that segregating GM wheat or barley throughout the bulk handling and transportation system would be impossible. In addition, he points out that there is currently no detection system available to quickly and accurately detect if a GM variety is present in a truck, rail car or vessel and to quantify that presence.

Dr. Rene Van Acker, professor at the University of Guelph, has done extensive research on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and trait movement from crop to crop. He has been involved in international collaborations, presentations and consulting work with governments and organizations in Denmark, Australia, Switzerland and the U.S.

According to Dr. Van Acker, “when novel traits are grown commercially outside for any length of time the movement of those traits beyond their intended destinations is virtually inevitable. Once a given trait has escaped into the environment, retraction is difficult if not impossible”.

Dr. Van Acker cautions that trait movement is extremely complicated. It occurs within a complex of crop subpopulations, including the crop and volunteer and feral subpopulations. Trait movement can occur via equipment and via human handling during planting, harvesting, seed cleaning, seed handling and seed storage.

He points to the failure of trait containment in the U.S. StarLink case, where GE corn, approved for animal feed but not human consumption, was found in a number of processed foods in 2000.

Recently, GM LibertyLink rice events escaped contained field trials and were eventually found in many elements of the U.S. commercial rice supply chain, including in certified seed, mills and final consumer products in key U.S. rice export markets. The economic impact to U.S. farmers was over $1 billion.

I would urge my colleagues to visit the online GM contamination registry, which tracks contamination events around the world. The register has documented over 20 unauthorized contamination events in 2010. We must not forget that once the genie is out of the bottle, it is farmers who pay.

Larry and Susan Black, who were also denied their time before the committee, have been farming in southwestern Manitoba since 1978. Their farm is Manitoba's first certified organic dairy farm. According to Mr. Black, “Organic farms have no way to avoid contamination if GM alfalfa is introduced. Alfalfa feeds our soil and our livestock and is an integral part of organic farming. Approving the release of GE alfalfa would threaten our very existence as organic producers. Organic farmers have invested and developed our industry. Government should not allow agri-business to destroy what we have achieved”.

Mr. Black goes on to say that not a single commodity group on the Manitoba Forage Council last year was in favour of the introduction of GM alfalfa.

Stewart Wells, the recently retired president of the National Farmers Union, wrote to the committee about the fact that farmers this year were having trouble selling newly harvested flax because the testing now required to ensure it is GE-free could not be done in a timely fashion, again resulting in further extra costs for Canadian farmers.

He wants to know why it is that because of failures in the regulatory system he should now be forced to pay $205 per test on flax that he has had in storage for several years.

Two varieties of GE alfalfa have already been approved by Health Canada and Environment Canada, and all Monsanto has to do now is register them before they can be marketed and turned loose into the environment.

I have to wonder how rigorous Canada's environment evaluation could actually have been, given a U.S. court ruling and a class action suit that came down recently. The judge ruled that plaintiffs' concerns that Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate natural and organic alfalfa are valid, stating that the USDA's opposing arguments were “not convincing” and do not demonstrate the “hard look” required by federal environmental laws. The ruling went on to note that “...For those farmers who choose to grow non-genetically engineered alfalfa, the possibility that their crops will be infected with the engineered gene is tantamount to the elimination of all alfalfa; they cannot grow their chosen crop”.

Arnold Taylor, president of the Canadian Organic Growers, writes in the final thoughts of his submission, “I have spent most of the past 10 years fighting in the courts to protect my organic farm and the organic sector from GE crops. Arguably, I should not have had to do this, as my government should have introduced adequate regulations that ensured organic farmers were not adversely affected by the introduction of GE crops”.

He says, “We have lost the ability to grow organic canola because of the introduction of GE varieties. We almost lost our ability to grow organic wheat, because of the potential introduction of GE varieties, and now industry is trying to introduce GE alfalfa”.

He continues, “Arguably, the threat to organic alfalfa is the most significant yet, because it is a soil builder that fixes nitrogen and other essential nutrients, and if it were to be contaminated with GE traits, this might destroy our way of farming entirely. Arguably, GE alfalfa is not needed in agriculture, as it really offers no benefits for conventional or organic farmers--”

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise again to speak to Bill C-474. I want to make it clear to the House of Commons and to Canadians that our Conservative government has been the only party that has been against the bill from when it was first introduced.

Bill C-474 is quite simply a bad bill, a bill that works against the best interests of the agricultural sector and we see that today with 10 amendments trying to change the bill, 10 of them all at once.

It seeks to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

The details of how this analysis will actually be conducted are, of course, lacking, even in these 10 amendments.

If Bill C-474 passes into law, it would force Canada to abandon its long-standing position that these types of decisions need to be based on sound science.

It could also potentially devastate research and development within the agricultural sector, whereby R and D firms choose to invest their capital in countries where technology can flourish, not be threatened by a bill such as this one.

From the very beginning we asked ourselves, does the bill put farmers first? Clearly Bill C-474 does not meet this important criterion and this is why we will not support these amendments at the report stage.

Unfortunately, my opposition colleagues across the way have not asked themselves this very same question. The Liberal Party under the direction of its agriculture critic, the member for Malpeque, has supported Bill C-474 throughout this whole process. Even though he claims that the Liberals are in fact against the bill, the Liberals voted for the bill at second reading. They voted for extending its study at committee. They voted for extending its study in the House of Commons. It would seem to me that this is a lot of support from a party that says it is against the bill.

The members opposite, and in particular the Liberal members, do not understand the needs of farmers. If they truly understood farmers, the member for Malpeque and the Liberals would have helped our Conservative government defeat the bill.

By supporting Bill C-474 through all its stages, they have created uncertainty and instability in the agricultural community. I have had countless farm groups approach me and say that they are not sure if it is safe to invest in the agricultural sector here in Canada with the potential of the bill becoming law.

These amendments that the hon. member has put forward are harmful. Not only are they more punitive to farmers in research and development than his original bill, but they will continue to sow uncertainty within the industry.

A recent letter from a farmer, received by one of our caucus members from Alberta, stated, “As a farmer here on the prairies I depend on technology innovations to keep my farm afloat in these trying economic times and weather uncertain times. Machinery and chemical technologies have allowed me to save more soil and moisture, improve my crop quality and use safer and smaller amounts of chemicals that are more effective than ever before on the crops I grow”.

This farmer goes on to say that genetically engineered canola varieties have made a huge difference to his bottom line, outyielding the old short-season varieties even in bad weather conditions. He has serious concerns about Bill C-474. Canada has always used sound science to assess whether new ingredients, seeds and traits are safe for Canadian farmers to grow and consumers to eat. That policy makes us a leader in the world and is the only realistic way to assess risk with clear, sound scientific methods.

Most industry stakeholders, like this farmer, have concerns about support for this bill. They support an approval process strictly based on scientific principles. They are asking us to leave trade to the trade experts and safety to the scientists.

The majority of industry stakeholders, like this producer, also have concerns about supporting this bill.

The Manitoba Flax Growers Association issued a news release saying that it could not support it citing, “a lack of clarity about who would assess and decide on the issue of market harm”.

The press release stated:

Manitoba flax growers are...concerned that this legislation, in its present form, could be used to offer frivolous challenges that could stall or block the introduction of new technology that is desirable.

Flax farmers and all farmers in Canada depend on innovation to compete. That is why our government is investing in agricultural innovation like research clusters for pulse crops, flax and canola. That is why farmers across Canada have embraced research and development.

New biotechnologies, including those derived through genetic engineering, help farmers control potential devastating disease and pests, improve the safety and nutrition of food and reduce usage of costly inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and diesel fuel.

One only has to look at the remarkable growth of canola over the past 30 years to see the benefits that Canadian agricultural innovation has brought to our farmers. The 1970s saw the development of canola, a high-quality oil seed, which replaced the lower-quality grape seed varieties.

Over the past four decades canola has become a symbol of Canadian quality worldwide. Today the canola crop generates close to $4 billion in export sales for our farmers and economic activity estimated at between $14 billion and $15 billion annually.

If Bill C-474 had been law at the time, I can guarantee that things would not have worked out as well for our farmers.

The Canadian Canola Growers Association has no doubts on that front. As its general manager, Rick White, told the agriculture committee in June:

If the regulatory approach in this bill had existed 30 years ago, the $14 billion in economic activity that the Canadian canola industry generates annually would likely not exist today....future innovations and the competitiveness of the Canadian canola industry could be in jeopardy if Bill C-474 is passed through Parliament.

In the past, the industry was a leader in risk assessment and market opportunities for genetically modified products. This system was good for farmers. Decisions were made crop by crop, and farmers and processors determined the best way to proceed based on market conditions.

Let us talk about another success story, soybeans.

Today, three-quarters of all global acreage sown to soybeans are GE varieties. Like the canola industry, the soybean industry has also responded to market signals by developing an advanced identity-preserve system to handle non-GE food-grade soybeans. As well, the soybean sector has developed and invested in an ongoing segregation system to maintain market access and premiums for non-GE food-grade soybean exports to Japan, while also producing GE soybeans for domestic use.

These success stories and many others like them clearly demonstrate that the added red tape that the bill would impose is unnecessary and would be harmful. It also has the potential to stifle innovation.

As Mr. Jim Gowland, chair of the Canadian Soybean Council, told the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in June:

Capitalizing on these potential opportunities that can add value to Canadian soybean growers could be put into jeopardy with the introduction of Bill C-474 and place Canada at a competitive disadvantage.

Including a market impact assessment in the regulatory process would create unpredictability for the developers of new products, who invest millions of dollars into the development of each new seed variety before it even gets planted. The last thing our farmers need in today's competitive marketplace is to see industry innovators bypass Canada when they seek new markets for their innovations and take their investment dollars to our competitors.

Our government has been a long-standing proponent of giving farmers the freedom to make their own business decisions. The Minister of Agriculture has worked hard with industry to open new opportunities for our food producers and processors by ensuring that trade is based in fair rules and sound science.

Whether it is the beef ban in Korea or country of origin labeling in the United States, we stand up for our producers whenever and wherever their interests are in jeopardy. If Bill C-474 were in force, we would be holding our trading partners to a standard that we would not prepared to meet ourselves.

Canadian farmers need access to overseas markets to prosper. Our agricultural and food exports last year exceeded $38 billion. That is why our government takes an aggressive approach to opening up international markets for our farmers based on sound science. Indeed agriculture ministers from across Canada have agreed that a science-based regulatory system will not only foster innovation and drive the agricultural economy, it will create new markets and increase profitability for producers.

Farmers are best positioned to make decisions on what is best for their business. Our government understands that to be competitive, our farmers need timely access to the cutting edge technology in products. We must continue to put farmers first.

Bill C-474 will harm our agricultural sector, not help it. That is what farmers tell us. That is what farm groups tell us. That is why I call upon the member for Malpeque and the rest of the Liberal Party to put farmers first and help us defeat Bill C-474.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the parliamentary secretary's remarks, I will have to change my introduction somewhat.

First, I congratulate the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for putting the bill forward. After listening to the parliamentary secretary's remarks, like so much of what the it does, the government likes to bury its head in the sand and not recognize that there are some problems. It wants to limit debate.

The government tried to encourage Liberals, rather than have a serious debate on the issue, both pros and cons, to defeat it before it even got started. It is like what is done in the Senate. It shuts it down before there is a debate. That is the mantra of the government. It does not want to talk about the reality out there and there are some serious problems with alfalfa and wheat, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior said in his remarks.

Bill C-474 warranted a full review of the agriculture committee, but as a result of that review, it has failed the essential test of earning a greater degree of support. However, that hearing needed to be held. It is interesting. While the parliamentary secretary criticized the hearings, half or more of his quotes were based on what was said at the hearings. Parliament and debate is all about that, having discussions and bringing witnesses forward. Sadly, the government members on the committee jeopardized that debate by filibustering and not allowing the full discussion on the bill that the committee should have had.

Let me go to the bill itself. I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board is yelling over there, but that is not unusual.

The intent of the legislation is “to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. That is the major thrust of the bill.

The issue for the official opposition, in examining this legislation, was twofold. First, the bill did not challenge the integrity of Canada's current approval process for genetically-engineered or modified materials. Second, the bill did not provide an articulate and recognizable and objective process by which to conduct the analysis called for in the legislation. That is key.

The issue of GMOs and genetic engineering is one which has been controversial and is one which deserves serious debate. I mentioned a moment ago that the mantra of the government is to shut down debate before it even happens. A fact may come out with which it does not really want to deal.

As indicated earlier, Bill C-474 begins not from the position of opposition to GMOs or genetically-engineered seed or products, but from a position of accepting the reality of their use in the marketplace and ensuring they are safe and do not impact on markets negatively. As will be noted, in the content of the bill there is no reference to the mechanism by which the analysis of potential harm to export markets will be achieved.

During the course of the hearings by the committee, one of the major concerns was the means by which this analysis would be conducted in a fair and impartial way, precisely who would conduct the analysis and what kind of input stakeholders would have in determining the parameters of that analysis.

Ten amendments have put forward by the member. Really all the amendment in Motion No. 2 does is identify the Government of Canada as being responsible for doing that analysis, but the definition of how that analysis is to take place is not there.

That is the key component of this legislation. How would we do the analysis? What would be the role of the government, other than being responsible? What would be the role of stakeholders? What would be the role of our international competitors in the international marketplace? None of those questions are dealt with in this particular piece of legislation.

Another amendment, Motion No. 4, would make the economic analysis part of the current application process. However, no evidence was presented at committee to justify this addition.

What would be the implications, and this is a serious question, of that kind of analysis on the science-based system that we have in place?

So, those are key points that have not been answered by the discussions we had at committee, by the original proposal from the proponent of this bill or by the amendments we have before us today. I think that is a very serious shortcoming.

If I could sum up on that particular point, the parameters of the analysis on economic harm have not been identified. I think that could undermine our key science-based system we have at the moment and could have major implications on the advent of new products into the marketplace, on farmers' economic potential and certainly on our biotech research industry. There are just too many unanswered questions that, regardless of hearings having been held, have really not been answered at those hearings.

The legislation would apply to genetically engineered products developed and grown in Canada, but it would in no respect apply to the importation of similar products for processing or use in Canada. This is an oversight, I believe, that is not addressed by the amendments, which again undermines the basic integrity of the legislation.

Also, the introduction of an economic harm analysis prior to the sale, not the approval, of any genetically engineered seed would appear to layer a new and far more subjective approval process over the current accepted science-based approval process.

That is complicated wording just to basically say that there is not enough definition around what the member is trying to do with this bill, in terms of defining economic harm.

Just to sum up, yes, the amendment would make the government responsible. It does not define how it would be done or the parameters of that analysis. So I think there are major implications potentially on our science-based industry here, on the science-based approval process at the moment. Therefore, we cannot support the bill.

There is one last point I want to make, though, on the hearing process. We did hear from a number of witnesses. We were supposed to hear from several others. There is a serious concern that I think Parliament or Agriculture Canada or someone, certainly, has to address; that is, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior indicated earlier, that there is potential risk in the alfalfa industry by the introduction of GMO, genetically engineered seeds. It would be the same in terms of the wheat industry, over a slightly longer term.

We have to recognize that those issues have to be dealt with. That is one of the benefits of having had those hearings. We recognize there are problems. The minister should recognize there are problems and the government should recognize there are problems, and they should move to address them.

The bottom line is, based on the foregoing, that because of the risk as a result of this particular bill, Bill C-474, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the deputy critic for agriculture and agri-food, I have the pleasure of rising today to discuss Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). This issue is of particular importance to me because there are many farms in my riding.

The purpose of the NDP member's bill is to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. In other words, it requires that the sale of new GE seeds in Canada be assessed from an economic perspective.

There is currently nothing stopping a new variety of seed from being sold and grown in Canada if it is registered and passes the environmental impact assessment required under the Seeds Regulations. The new seed variety must also be assessed by Health Canada under the Food and Drug Regulations if it is destined for human consumption or by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the novel feeds regulations if it is destined for the production of animal feed.

First of all, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-474. We believe that it is important to consider all aspects of approving a new product, especially its foreign trade implications, before adding it to the range of products already offered to producers.

At present, the trade implications of new products on the market are completely ignored in GE seed evaluations. The effects of the marketing of these seeds could be devastating for the economy. Many countries are very prudent when it comes to genetically engineered crops, and some even ban them completely. In 2010, we can no longer ignore this reality. In fact, more than 26 countries have import restrictions on genetically modified products.

In recent years, a number of factors have increased foreign countries' wariness with regard to genetically engineered seeds from Canada. The speedy approval of some of these seeds is one reason. In fact, Canadian GMOs are not systematically tested. The government relies on the companies that produce GMOs and simply reads their studies without any further assessment. It relies on the concept of substantial equivalence. If a genetically modified food is similar to a conventional food, it is not subjected to scientific testing. This is not reassuring for those countries that are proceeding with caution when it comes to GMOs.

The current trend of not evaluating economic risks could have a number of adverse effects on the Canadian market. The recent history of marketing GMOs has proven this numerous times. Take, for example, the litigation between the McCain company and Europe. In the late 2000s, producers from New Brunswick, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island sold potatoes to McCain, but the potatoes had been genetically modified to be pest resistant. In 1999, when McCain decided to stop purchasing genetically engineered potatoes, the producers were the ones punished; they were the ones who had to make adjustments and bear all the related costs. Farmers who cannot market their crops will face serious financial difficulties and even bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that is the reality for producers who are refused access to certain European or Asian markets.

I would like to quote something said by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell during the November 18 meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri Food. He was addressing the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and said, “...the more markets our farmers have to sell into, the better it is for our farmers.” Basically, the member is opposed to Bill C-474 and wants farmers to have access to a greater share of the market. Given that more countries are now tending to demand safe, GMO-free products, this bill would certainly expand markets for our producers. I would invite the member and his party to be consistent and support Bill C-474.

Furthermore, adding an economic assessment step to the regulatory approval process for new seeds is nothing new, per se. The industry has already voluntarily slowed or stopped the commercialization of new GM plant varieties because of market-related concerns. For instance, the GM flax known as Triffid, which has been approved for human consumption, was to have been introduced in 1998. However, in the winter of 1997, the European Union banned GM canola imports. The Canadian flax industry therefore decided not to go ahead with the marketing of the Triffid variety as planned, for fear that flax imports would be affected. In 2009, the European Union found traces of GM products in one shipment, despite all the precautions taken. It therefore decided to ban all flax imports from Canada.

Farmers are still paying the price for this unfortunate incident, given that, since 2009, all seed samples must be subjected to costly tests to ensure they are harmless. It is worth noting that, until then, 68% of Canada's flax production had been exported to Europe.

Thus, a huge portion of our production had to find other markets or was simply disposed of.

It is possible that the flax industry would have been better protected if there had been a market impact assessment before the Triffid variety was approved. Several hundred flax producers could have exported their products to the European market without any problem.

In 1995, the industry tried to compensate for the wariness of importing countries by developing voluntary guidelines. For example, the Canola Council of Canada developed a market access policy agreement that stipulates that no new varieties of canola will be sold to producers before being approved in all of the primary export markets. This policy has been respected by all stakeholders since it was developed. Thus, we can assume that if Bill C-474 were passed, it would be well received by the industry.

The type of economic assessment proposed in the bill is nothing new and it is currently being used elsewhere in the world.

Argentina has been studying the repercussions of its transgenic seeds on markets since 2004. Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the government must have expert opinions available on the impact of large-scale production on the agri-food ecosystem, the safety of livestock feed, and the absence of undesirable effects of its marketing on exports. This assessment includes an analysis of the current state of regulatory systems and the degree of acceptance by the public. Furthermore, the situation of commercial competitors, potential markets, the proportion of the crops in their trade with each country and the proportion of their imports in their total purchases are also taken into consideration. These new regulations have not stopped Argentina from remaining one of the largest producers of GMOs.

The Conservatives say that adopting Bill C-474 would result in scientific analyses being abandoned in favour of socio-economic considerations. That is false; they are not mutually exclusive. Scientific and economic assessments are complementary. There is nothing in this bill that leads us to believe that scientific assessments would be set aside.

On October 5, Mr. Matthew Holmes, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and had this to say:

Bill C-474 does not establish some unrealistic threshold, nor does it give economic considerations of veto over all other considerations. It simply provides policy-makers with one more tool with which to understand the implications of their decisions, and our sector feels this is a reasonable one.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), introduced by my hon. colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, the NDP agriculture critic and a tireless advocate for farmers and consumers.

Bill C-474 is an amazingly straightforward bill. In just 52 words it asks simply that the government consider the export market impact of any new genetically modified seeds to be introduced to the market before allowing their cultivation. This is the same request that farmers have been making for years. I would urge the House to consider carefully what they have to say and what is at stake with this bill.

As the government knows, in September 2009, inspectors in the European Union discovered that an illegal genetically modified seed strain, CDC triffid, had contaminated Canadian flax exports. European countries promptly began recalling and quarantining Canadian flax. Prices plummeted and Canada lost 60% of its export market overnight. This ban hit our farmers hard, and they are still paying for the testing and cleanup after this international scandal.

More and more countries moved to adopt laws that limit the use of genetically modified foods. The export market for Canadian crops will continue to shrink unless we change the way that we do agriculture. For example, the countries that make up 82% of our export market for wheat have already said that if Canada begins cultivating genetically modified wheat products, the result will be a disastrous total boycott of all Canadian wheat, whether it is genetically modified or not.

Farmers obviously do not want to grow a crop that no one will buy. This is why it is critical that any assessment of new genetically modified seeds in Canada be considered in light of the impact they will have on our export market. Canadian farmers are clear that this is something they want. Given the potential consequences of another international contamination scandal, I really have to ask why the government is so adamantly opposed to the bill.

When talking about genetically modified foods and seeds, it is also important to talk about the alternatives, things like small scale and organic farming. Far too often we forget about these other options. Perhaps that is because among our largest crops, genetic contamination is so widespread that it is not even possible to grow organically, as in the case of the canola crop in Manitoba.

Transnational conglomerates such as Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta and Bayer have been incredibly vocal in promoting themselves and their GMOs as the answer to problems such as world hunger and unpredictable crop yields due to environmental changes, all the while ensuring that their corporate bottom lines are priority number one.

Here are some important facts to consider: Eighty-seven per cent of the world's countries are GMO free. Over 90% of the arable land on this earth is GMO free. Over 99.5% of the world's farmers do not grow GMO products. In the United States, despite 20 years of research and 14 years of commercialization, GMO products have not significantly increased crop yields.

Let us be honest, GMO crops will not be the solution to things like world hunger, and the reckless use of genetic modification has the potential to do far more harm than good, both abroad and here in Canada.

Countries around the world are increasingly becoming aware of this, and that is why the market is actually turning against GMOs. The transnational corporations are aware of this turn, and that is why they vehemently oppose this market assessment of their product.

With the Conservative Party on side with these agricultural mega companies, I have to ask, whose interests is our government looking out for, those of the farmers or the conglomerates?

I would like to highlight some encouraging thoughts. While changing climates, drought and disease continue to plague farmers and their crops, exacerbating a global hunger pandemic that afflicts more than one billion people on earth, there are signs that important progress is being made without the need for genetic modification and unconscionable agribusiness practices.

One of the most important steps to improving crop yields was achieved as long ago as 1961. It was in that year that Norman Borlaug perfected dwarf wheat, a cultivar of wheat that did not topple over under the weight of its stocks, spoiling its yield. The results were staggering. By 1963 the wheat harvest was six times larger than it had been 20 years earlier. Literally millions of lives were saved. For his work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970. Even today his cultivars continue to be the staple food of millions of people worldwide, and all of this was accomplished without GMOs.

There are more success stories.

In Japan scientists have developed a drought resistant rice crop. In South Africa and the Philippines there are drought resistant maizes. The United States just developed an allergen-free peanut. In Kenya iron fortified corn has slashed the rates of childhood anemia.

All of these cultivars are making a real difference in the lives of millions of people worldwide, and all of them were done using traditional botanical graftings and selection processes, not genetic modification.

These very same botanical processes have been used for centuries. They were used to turn an ancestral inedible weed into what today we call cabbage, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Genetic modification has been proven to be wildly ineffective in delivering on its own promises. As more and more countries enact laws to ban their import, the economic risks for countries continuing to produce GMOs will continue to rise. Bill C-474 proposes simply that before new genetically modified seeds are introduced in Canada, the government must consider those risks.

Canadian farmers deserve protection from GMO contamination and from the catastrophic effects it could have on our export markets. We should not be bowing to the wishes of the transnational conglomerates that know that the market is turning away from their repressive products and practices.

Today I call on the House to vote in favour of Bill C-474 and enshrine in law measures that would ensure that farmers and consumers, not Monsanto, are at the heart of our food and seed strategy.

In closing, an issue like this is so important for farmers, for consumers and for Canada that it deserves more debate. Therefore, I move:

That, when the order for the consideration of Bill C-474 is next called, the time provided for the consideration of any remaining stages of the Bill be extended, pursuant to Standing Order 98(3), by a period not exceeding five consecutive hours.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, if one does not have content, I guess one can always play games, which is what we are seeing here today.

It is really disturbing to see the lengths the NDP is willing to go in order to almost destroy agriculture in this country. It is very unfortunate. The bill is an extreme bill. We heard the parliamentary secretary clearly delineate some of the problems with it and there are many. There are certainly huge problems in terms of the break from sound science.

I want to thank the Liberals this afternoon for coming to their senses and reverting to the position they held in the past when they were in government, and that is the position that we should be making decisions based on sound science. We heard the member for Malpeque say that he is willing to support the government's position on this. We think that is good for farmers. We are willing to work with him in any area where we can put farmers first. Certainly, being able to vote together on the bill will ensure that farmers are protected.

I am not sure why the NDP has consistently taken these positions that are so radically against the interests of farmers across this country. The interesting thing is I think the weakness of the bill is shown in the fact that the mover himself had to come back with 10 separate amendments in order to try to make the bill even palatable to his own people, never mind the rest of the population.

There are some very strange amendments with some very bad consequences for agriculture. One of them is Motion No. 5, which would add a new clause that states:

The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the regulatory systems that govern genetically engineered seed and the crops and products that are derived from that seed in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.

This is a very strange amendment because now we are not only dealing with a challenge to our regulatory system in terms of the fact that the NDP members do not want to take science into account, they want to take some other ambiguous impacts into account. They want to go to other countries and actually interfere with their systems as well. That is extreme. The amendment is not even clear. It does not define what is being talked about in terms of agricultural products.

One would expect that the provision would be limited to seed or grain which originally was the context of the bill, but this term being used is much more general and it certainly could be extended further. Maybe the NDP is deliberately trying to do this to capture livestock, their products and their byproducts as well. We would be getting into a situation where there are consequences that we cannot even count because there is no way of knowing what they are. The process for determining which countries import Canadian agricultural products is going to be very time consuming. If we want to talk about putting bureaucracies in place, this would certainly do that. This would put bureaucracies in place in our country. It would put bureaucracies in place in other countries as well.

It is clear that a much better way of dealing with these issues is what the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has been doing. He has gone around the world and he has been able to bring about the trade agreements that are so important. He went to China last April and was able to open up markets in China will make a huge difference for Canadian farmers.

Another free trade agreement, which the NDP opposed but which we finally passed was the one we made with Colombia which was critical for our specialty crop producers, particularly in western Canada. The NDP fought and fought against farmers' interests in trying to keep that free trade agreement from coming to reality. The minister has shown tremendous leadership. The Minister of International Trade has shown leadership as well on these files.

That is what is really benefiting our farmers. We are able to take our products around the world. We are able to take new technologies and apply them. That is going to be the future of agriculture, not this backward looking, fear-mongering stance that the NDP continues to take in its agricultural policies.

The member for Malpeque mentioned another place where the NDP is far behind the times. Hopefully, he will be joining with us as well. That is the area of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Clearly the NDP do not want to see western Canadian farmers succeed. This is just one more place where they have stood in the way of success in western Canada. I find it absolutely amazing.

I actually think the Liberals will probably come around on this one.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

At some point, they have to understand that business needs to be done on the farm. We have young guys who are coming out to farm as there is such a call these days.

I wish the member for Malpeque would let me speak because I want to talk about young farmers. I know he may have lost touch with agriculture, but he could certainly let me have my time.

Motions in Amendment
Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are certainly glad to talk about Bill C-474. We need to put it in some context, and that is the context of success for farmers.

Obviously we cannot talk about farmers being successful in western Canada without talking about the freedom to sell their own products, the freedom to market their own products and the freedom to run their own businesses. Bill C-474 interferes with that almost as much as the Canadian Wheat Board interferes with that.

Mr. Speaker, you know how dead against Bill C-474 I am, so I am sure you have an idea of how important I think it is that our western Canadian farmers get freedom to market their own products, to go around the world to sell those products, to take those top-notch Canadian products across this globe so that people can understand far more than they do now how successful and how tremendous the farming sector in Canada can actually be. We would ask the other parties to join with us of course in providing that freedom for our farmers.

I will come directly back to Bill C-474 and to Motion No. 6, which is another one of the amendments that the mover himself has had to make in order to make this bill remotely palatable to even the people who want to support it.

In this motion, they want to add another new clause, which says:

The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the economic impact on Canadian farmers and exporters whose established markets for registered seed or for the crops and products derived from that seed would be harmed as a result of the introduction of the new variety of genetically engineered seed.

There is a whole host of problems with this. We are reminded of canola. As the parliamentary secretary mentioned so well earlier, when canola was developed in western Canada, it gradually took off. People did not know what the impact of canola was going to be when it was introduced.

The NDP is saying, through this bill and through this amendment, that we have to stop these things. We cannot let them come on to the marketplace. We cannot see what potential they might have. We need to look at the negative side of the equation but not at the positive side.

Canola has developed from a very small beginning, with rapeseed. Then they improved the seed varieties and brought in canola, and I believe it is accurate to say that a $14 billion a year industry has developed from canola. The NDP would stand against that. If its bill were in place, if it had its way, the canola industry in western Canada would be wiped out.

I can tell members that if it did that, there would be virtually nothing left of the grains and oilseeds sector in western Canada because canola is a critical crop for many producers, especially those who do not want to be forced to market their product through a central marketer. Those folks, who have chosen to grow canola, grow it because not only can we grow good canola and we can grow lots of canola but we also have the freedom to market it as we choose.

There is a whole host of reasons why we should not be supporting this bill. I am thankful and western Canadian farmers and farmers across this country are thankful that the Liberals have come to their senses and have said that they will be supporting us in our opposition to this bill, because it is critical for the future of Canadian agriculture that we make sure this bill is defeated.

It is too bad that the NDP itself does not see this, that the member himself would not voluntarily withdraw this bill, because it would be much better for Canadians generally. It would probably be better, even in the House here, for those of us who know agriculture to be able to say that we have joined together, all of us have joined together here and we are going to do something that is good for farmers, rather than having one group or a couple of the parties here making the decision, once again, that they are going to oppose Canadian agriculture and not give it the chance to be the best it can be.

I could certainly talk a little more about the methodology that is involved in this bill. It is just flawed from beginning to end. The member who brought it forward wants to talk about the negative economic impact that the changes might have. He does not address the fact that there might be positive impacts from new technology, and it is once again a backwards way of looking at agriculture. It shows a disconnect from the future of agriculture.

We go out on the farm these days and there are new varieties. There is new technology. For example, people now have GPS in their tractors, they have it in their sprayers and they have it in their combines. They know down to the inch what it is they are doing, what they are putting onto their farmland, and it is certainly the same with so many other areas of technology.

This bill goes against all of that. We need to oppose it and we are thankful that the other parties across the way have decided to join with us on that. We ask the NDP to do that as well.

Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-474. The intent of Bill C-474, an act to amend seeds regulations, is to “require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. The intent of this bill is to require that the federal government amend the seeds regulations in order to require that that analysis be undertaken.

I will admit that I have mixed opinions on this bill, but I will say off the top of this debate that I am willing to allow the bill to go to committee. What in part prompted this legislation was the discovery, beginning in Europe in July 2009, that Canadian flax exports were contaminated with the genetically modified flax, Triffid. The presence of the GM flax was found first in Germany in cereal and bakery products.

Let us be clear. The GM flax in question had not been approved for use in Canada since 2001 and this bill would not necessarily have prevented the Triffid issue from happening. As the Flax Council of Canada confirmed to its members in October 2009, “No varieties of GM flaxseed have received regulatory approvals in the EU”.

The consequences on our flax exporters has been severe. According to a Globe and Mail story on October 27, 2009, the lucrative $320 million annual market for flax was threatened with prices declining from $11 a bushel to $2 a bushel. That is very serious.

It should be noted, though, that GM Triffid flax was developed in 1998 at the University of Saskatchewan. The Triffid seed is tolerant to soil residues and certain herbicides. In what I would call a smart and futuristic-thinking move, in 2001 Canadian flax producers, through the Flax Council of Canada, moved to have the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, remove the variety registration for GM flax in order to protect their export markets. The EU accounts for approximately 70% of Canada's flax exports.

I make that point because the flax industry did everything it could to prevent genetically modified flax from affecting the European market. Yet it still did. Triffid got into the marketplace. This bill would not have prevented that from happening.

Let me turn to the issues that I believe need to be discussed in committee. There is a lot of debate around genetically modified and genetically engineered organisms and people have all kinds of wild and woolly stories. There is a lot of pressure from some in the farm community and some in the investment community not to allow this bill to go to committee.

We have to have the debate. We need to lay it on the table. I believe in a science-based system. I really do not know how the mover of the bill intends to measure market harm, but I am certainly willing to send it to committee to find out how the mover of the bill intends to do that. I am certainly willing to have a discussion with witnesses on both sides of the issue in a transparent way and deal with this proposal in a very constructive way.

The bill does not question the legitimacy of GMOs as an agricultural tool. The debate based upon the provisions of the bill need not become one which focuses on support for or opposition to the use of GM organisms.

Bill C-474 is seeking to propose the establishment of a means by which, prior to export of Canadian products, there can be developed a process by which “potential harm” of exporting GM products into markets which have not accepted their presence can be determined.

In a background note prepared for the agriculture committee on November 26, 2009, it was indicated that soya growers and exporters have taken an innovative approach by introducing a segregation system that allows them to supply their customers with different crops of soya with specific characteristics. However, this segregation system is not available to all varieties.

The economic harm test is established by the fact of a ban on certain GM content and the discovery of it in any shipment. However, the bill does not define how that economic harm would be determined. We will listen closely to witnesses to see if they can possibly put forward the method of defining that economic harm.

The wider issue remains the acceptability of GM organisms in the food system.

This is not the first time we have been faced with that kind of a decision. In 1994 Monsanto was pressing to have its product, Posilac, approved in Canada. Posilac, better known as rBST, is a synthetic growth hormone that increases milk production in dairy cattle. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its report of April 14, 1994, recommended a moratorium on the approval of rBST during which time there would be a review in greater detail of the impact of rBST on the costs and benefits for the Canadian dairy industry.

I bring this up because we are seeing the same kind of concern raised by researchers and some of the big companies right now. The response at that time from the industry to the work of the committee was to question why the committee would even do that work. I received a letter from the president of Ag-West Biotech Inc., a very successful biotech company in Saskatoon, in April 1994. He said:

I am writing to you with respect to agriculture biotechnology and my concerns regarding the recent actions of the Standing Committee on agriculture. The method they used to deal with BST has given me some real concerns for the future of the biotechnology industry in Canada.

He went on in the letter to say:

Their recommendations [meaning the committee] could have serious negative impacts on the future of Canadian agriculture. I trust that their recommendations won't proceed further, as they presently stand.

Another company that was very concerned was Monsanto, which wrote a letter on May 3, 1994. Monsanto said:

Since 1985 Monsanto has followed the current process for BST approval through Health Canada. We support a transparent and science based regulatory system. As developers, we believe this is essential to reassure the public on issues such as food safety...

Monsanto goes on to argue that, should the committee even study the issue, there would be loss of investment in Canada.

The point is that neither claim can be borne out. We made the decision as a committee. We debated the issue. As I understand it, rBST is still not approved for use in Canada. Monsanto and other research companies have continued to invest heavily.

Sending this bill to committee should not impact on investment in Canada. We should study the issue at committee and lay the facts on the table. I hear a government member laughing. I know the government hates to discuss issues. It likes to operate in secrecy. This issue should go to committee. It should be debated there. Proper witnesses should be brought in and then decisions made on the future.

Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-474, a bill that would regulate seeds, and in particular, genetically engineered seeds.

This is an important bill we have before us. I think it is an important part of a policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, that Canada should adopt. I will explain that and go into more detail later.

We must pass this bill. We are in favour of this bill because we must take into account the market losses that could be directly associated with some decisions made by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. We must consider the economic impact that the approval of genetically engineered products and substances could have.

We need to do more. Canada must agree to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. The purpose of this protocol is to govern and regulate genetically modified products. This protocol would also give substance to a declaration signed in Rio and to a fundamental approach, the precautionary principle, which is mentioned directly in the Cartagena protocol.

The Food and Drugs Act must be amended because genetically modified foods are not the same as conventional foods. Risk assessments should not and must not be the same for both categories. We have to go even further than that. We have to make sure that Canada has a policy and regulations for labelling products that contain GMOs so that people who go to grocery stores know what is in these foods. People have the right to choose. Canada's legislation has to recognize that right.

We have to pass this bill because there have been precedents. We have seen what happens. The case with China and Canada is an excellent example. A few years ago, in 2001 to be exact, China decided to ban imports of certain products made from genetically modified crops, such as canola, soy and rapeseed. These products were banned from China because they were genetically modified.

What was the effect of that ban on economic activity in the United States, where 70% of the soy crop is genetically modified? It was an absolute disaster for many producers.

That is why we have to be aware of the effect that approving genetically modified seed can have on our producers' economic security. The same applies to Europe. Asia and Europe are two markets that tend to ban imports of products containing GMOs. A Canadian Food Inspection Agency decision to approve a genetically modified product can have significant economic consequences for our producers.

Another example is genetically modified wheat. When Monsanto sought approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to market genetically modified Roundup Ready wheat, the Canadian Wheat Board immediately conducted an economic impact study.

The wheat board told the government to be careful, because if it approves genetically modified wheat, we could lose some of our market share. This bill would make the Canadian Wheat Board's measures mandatory, in order to protect our producers.

This bill needs to pass, but in my opinion, we need to go even further. We need to amend the Food and Drugs Act. At present, under that legislation, a genetically modified food, or a food item produced using genetically modified ingredients, is considered to be exactly the same product as a conventional food item. This is unacceptable. So we need to amend the Food and Drugs Act, to stipulate that a genetically modified product cannot be considered a conventional product, even though the two products may be very similar.

Nor is it true that once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency authorizes and approves a product, and there is a request from a developer to authorize another, that the study and risk assessment of a number of other products are automatically taken into account.

We have to change the Food and Drugs Act and make the distinction between a transgenic or genetically modified food product and a conventional food. What is more, we have to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. It has to be done. We cannot be the fifth largest global producer of GMOs and refuse to ratify an international protocol that simply establishes a framework for genetic modifications, the transportation of products and the creation of registries. It is our environmental and social responsibility.

What is Canada doing? It is applying the same logic as it does with the Kyoto protocol. Since Canada is a major polluter, it refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Since Canada is the fifth largest global producer of GMOs, it refuses to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.

We must ensure that responsible environmental standards are set for this type of product. We have to do so because that is what citizens are asking us to do. They are calling for information when they buy products in the grocery store or elsewhere. More than 90% of Quebeckers want mandatory labelling for GMOs once and for all, but the government has been dragging its heels for years. Whether it is a Liberal government or a Conservative government, the policy is the same. The government refuses to accept its responsibilities and we cannot accept that.

We are going to vote in favour of this bill because in our opinion it is one of the important pieces of a broader policy on genetically modified organisms, a policy that should include mandatory labelling and provide for a review of the Food and Drugs Act, which should also reflect this bill. When we have all four of the items I just mentioned, then we will finally have a policy that is respectful of the consumer.

Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm).

I thank my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, the NDP agriculture critic, for his work. It is fair to say that his intelligence in developing policies is exceeded only by his fairness with which he goes about his work in the House. I am also pleased to say that I seconded the bill.

The bill deals with the use of genetically engineered seeds. It would require the government to consider the harm to the export value of a crop before permitting the sale of any new genetically engineered seed. The policy basis of the bill is quite clear. It is needed to protect the economic livelihood of farmers and the soundness of Canada's agricultural policy.

The bill is good for agriculture, good for farmers and good for Canada. It represents the kind of progressive policy that is needed to move Canada forward in the 21st century.

Before I get to the crux of the bill, I want to address some of the broader issues that the bill raises.

My colleague and I are both from British Columbia, where we have a very proud farming tradition. Some of the world's best produce and products are grown on some of the world's best farmland. Family farms in British Columbia have been hard hit, like many farms across the country, but thousands of British Columbians take pride in the work they do every day to feed our nation and to feed many people of the world.

In British Columbia the value of quality farmland and sound agricultural practices has long been recognized. In fact, it is built into provincial legislation, which I am proud to say my party, the New Democrats, pioneered.

I want to take one example called the Agricultural Land Reserve. The New Democrat government of Premier Dave Barrett brought in a piece of legislation in 1973 called the Agricultural Land Reserve that essentially protects valuable agricultural land from development. It encourages farming and it controls non-agricultural uses of farmland. In other words, it takes land out of the potential for industrial and commercial development and it preserves it forever as agricultural land, some of the best land, as I have said, in the world. The ALR crew could be incredibly forward thinking. It is an example of the kind of vision of an NDP government.

Let us fast-forward to today. This was 1972, over 35 years ago. Today, we face the 21st century local food movement where we have concerns over climate change. We are talking about 100-mile diets and the importance of locally grown food and sustainable practices around the production of that food.

I want to point out that back in 1972, New Democrats in the country were already anticipating the vital importance that some agricultural practices and good food production have to our country.

The bill before us today shows the same kind of vision. The bill exemplifies the same kind of sound policy that we in the House want to support. The bill protects farmers of the future.

In my community of Vancouver Kingsway, people recognize the importance of local food production. They know that locally produced food reduces carbon emissions from transportation. It is healthier. Fewer preservatives are needed to keep it fresh. We have thriving local food movements all over Vancouver and in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway. The Trout Lake Farmers Market, which started up not that long ago, will be opening for the season in May. The Riley Park farmers market has now moved to Main Street Station. It was organized by a wonderful community activist named Mel Lehan. It also brings together farmers and local produce providers from around the greater Vancouver area right to the tables of Canadian families living in my municipality.

We recognize that a healthy agricultural policy is based on healthy components. We need healthy soil. We need healthy plants. We need healthy fertilizer practices and we need healthy, sustainable farm practices.

Many community gardens exist in my riding. We have the Cedar Cottage Community Garden that is driven by one of my constituents, Faune Johnson. We have the Cedar Cottage Greenway, one of the earliest gardens of the Greenstreets program, a city of Vancouver program that gives residents the opportunity to become volunteer street gardeners in our neighbourhoods.

I was invited by Beth Brooks to a community potluck to celebrate the success of this garden last summer and it was wonderful to see people brought together to help celebrate what could happen when a community gets in touch with our food production and our gardening roots.

At Windermere Secondary School in my riding, Vagner Castillho is a teacher who has a leadership class. As part of his sustainability initiative, students started a food garden and greenhouses. Individual families all over Vancouver take advantage of the Vancouver climate to grow their own food in backyard gardens.

I want to briefly address another quick farming issue because it is current before the House right now and it also speaks to the need for long-term vision from the government.

I am the vice-chair of the public safety committee and right now the committee is studying the government's decision to close six farms operating at correctional institutions across this country. On Tuesday, our committee heard nine witnesses as part of that study, people from the National Farmers Union, ex-convicts and a dean of law from Queen's University. We heard from sisters from a nuns order. We heard from rural municipal officials, the president of the National Union of Solicitor General employees, agri-business instructors at various institutions and from corrections officials themselves. Grouped together they illustrated the diversity of support for prison farms.

These nine individuals and many other supporters came to oppose the inexplicable decision of the government to close down prison farms, a win-win-win situation for Canadians that provides valuable rehabilitation for prisoners as well as marketable skills to aid these prisoners in reintegration. It saves government money by growing our own food and it is of value to local communities as an economic driver for agribusiness, providing healthy food for food banks and slaughtering services for local farmers.

I have spoken in broad terms about the importance of agriculture and local food. I want to now draw my colleagues' attention to the specific provisions of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to direct the government to amend the seeds regulations to require an analysis of the potential harm to export markets before approving the sale of any new genetically engineered seed.

Currently, GE seeds are approved for sale with no consideration for their impact on export. This is not a theoretical discussion. Already GE seeds have had a harmful impact on Canadian farmers. Last September, illegal GE flaxseed called the triffid was found to have contaminated our flax exports. The triffid flax was not approved for human consumption or environmental release outside of North America. In response, European countries pulled Canadian products from their shelves and Canadian flax shipments were quarantined. Some 60% of our Canadian flax exports currently go to Europe and Canadian flax farmers were harmed and harmed severely by this.

GE alfalfa has already been approved for release in Canada. Monsanto has relaunched research into GE wheat. This bill seeks to prevent an economic disaster for Canadian farmers and these other crops as well. The agronomic and environmental impact of GE seeds and GE crops is controversial. There is no scientific consensus at present and further research is most certainly needed.

The economic impact of GE seeds, however, is not in question and this is what Bill C-474 seeks to address. Other countries have taken clear positions about their domestic consumption of GE products. Many of these countries are major consumers of Canadian agricultural products. Canadian agricultural policy cannot exist in a vacuum. We cannot live in denial of the international market reality toward GE crops because Canadian farmers rely on these export markets for their livelihood. The government has a duty, we submit on this side of the House, to protect the livelihood of these farmers, and the government has a duty, we New Democrats say, to consider the impact of these livelihoods before approving the sale of GE seeds.

It is my understanding that the government spent $1.9 million to deal with the contamination of the GE flaxseed. Passing this bill would help farmers and save taxpayers money from having to pay for the cleanup of any future contamination.

The bill has the support of numerous farming organizations and environmental groups. It has the support of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture which represents over 200,000 farmers and farm families. It is endorsed by the National Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

I am pleased to support this bill and I urge my colleagues to vote to send it to committee for further study. I thank the hon. member for his work in this regard.

Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 6 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today to this important legislation, Bill C-474, an amendment to the seeds regulations.

I will begin by saying what a relief it is to hear the member for Vancouver Kingsway talk about how important the livelihood of Canadian farmers is. I know that in his care for Canadian farmers, he will also take the time to listen to them and stand up to get things like the Colombia free trade agreement passed, as the Canadian Pork Council and other industry leaders have come to us at our ag committee begging for us to expedite it.

I would also like to mention one other thing concerning the member for Malpeque who was speaking earlier. While he often has good ideas, sometimes he comes to them before or after he decides to vote. I am reminiscing back to the product of Canada labelling. He was for it before he was against it. With the budget, he was for it before he was against it. As the Attorney General of Canada, he was for cutting the budget for prison farms and now he is against it. With respect to the long gun registry, he was for it and now he is against it.

It really is difficult to pin down the Liberal Party and some of those members on exactly what their positions are. I cannot help but to be a little saddened by the position they are taking on this. It is a fundamentally dishonest position when they say that they want to sit and talk about this and they want to pass it through to committee knowing all along that they will vote against this bill and try to kill it in committee.

That being said, I would like to commend member for British Columbia Southern Interior. He has been an excellent member of the agriculture standing committee. Although I may not agree with all of his positions, he certainly comes to those positions through well thought-out time and effort. I know it is generally his intent to put good public policy forward.

That is why I raise these questions of concern with respect to the member for Malpeque. We should have honest debate on this, as I am about to participate in. It should not be political gamesmanship when it comes to Canadian farmers.

Bill C-474 would require the Governor in Council to amend the seeds regulations to require an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Canada is a true leader in agriculture science and innovation. It is important to look at this bill and look at the idea of putting an economic impact on our trade. What we are basically proposing here is to allow other countries to affect our variety regulation and they will do this based on their own internal trade, therefore affecting our own farmers and imposing a tariff on ourselves. That is basically what I see happening.

For generations, our farmers have practised selective breeding to improve the qualities and characteristics of their crops. In labs across the country, our researchers are working hard to develop new plant varieties and technologies that will continue to support a vibrant agriculture sector. New plant varieties offer a number of clear benefits, including more effective pest control, higher yields and reduced impacts on the environment.

Canada is proud to share our new technologies with the world. Canada's success in agriculture has long depended on the sector's ability to adapt to a changing marketplace by using new technologies to help lower production costs and to enhance the range of products available to meet new consumer demands.

I would like to spend a few moments highlighting one example of how Canadian innovation is helping farmers around the world, including farmers in poorer countries.

The Government of Canada has invested $13 million to combat wheat stem rust known as Ug99, a fungus which poses a threat to wheat production. Canada is a leader in this kind of research. Our scientists are doing important work to develop new varieties of wheat resistant to this fungus. A greater understanding of the biology of this fungus will make a major contribution to international efforts to combat Ug99 worldwide.

The late Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner plant scientist commended us on making this important investment in wheat rust research. He called it an important action to protect the wheat crop in North America and worldwide, and a major step forward in our efforts to stem the global threat of wheat rust. Recent predictions are that we will have to double global food production to feed the global population by 2050.

We must continue efforts to accelerate scientific research in order to feed the population of the planet. We must increase agriculture yields in a major way to meet the challenge of the future. Farmers are at the core of our efforts to meet this challenge.

We recognize that this bill raises important policy issues on how to manage the market impacts of genetically engineered products. We need to be very cautious of any move to introduce a subjective, non-scientific element to our oversight in the introduction of new technologies. I am referring to socio-economic considerations like consumers' attitudes in other countries to genetically engineered food. These matters are not science-based and can change overnight. The industry is divided on the prudence of introducing non-science criteria into the process.

I will quote a letter from Doug Robertson, a canola producer from my home province of Alberta, regarding this bill. Mr. Robertson writes that GM canola has helped him improve his yields and helped the environment despite the coldest and driest spring in recent memory. He states:

Canada has always used sound science to assess whether new ingredients, seeds and traits are safe for Canadian farmers to grow and consumers to eat. That policy makes us a leader in the world and is the only realistic way to assess risk, with clear, sound, scientific methods.

I want to emphasize that, “with clear, sound, scientific methods”.

Canada's food supply is safe already thanks to our sound science system we have in place. Over two decades of studies have proven that. We don't need non-science corrupting our approval system.

I know from round tables that I have done across my province and my riding that this is the overwhelming opinion of the producers in our area that rely on canola, wheats and barley.

In other parts of the world, we are also seeing changing attitudes vis-à-vis GE foods, particularly in a number of European markets. Canada has been a strong proponent of science-based trade, whether it is BSE hormones in cattle or genetically engineered foods. We understand that trade must be rooted in science. Our regulatory system works to ensure that the products we sell to the world are safe and of the highest quality.

It is an efficient system that has put Canada on the map for food safety and quality. Adding in trade and other issues unrelated to science could set a very dangerous precedent. We want to ensure we do not risk bogging things down in red tape. We want to ensure we can continue to bring new technologies, such as our research into wheat stem rust, to the world. Anything short of that would be a tragedy.

I am proud of the action Canada is taking to help its farmers. Canada is blessed with the best farmers in the world and some of the best land in the world. We are a fortunate nation and we are committed to sharing our resources with those around the world who desperately need it. We are committed to finding new and more efficient ways to grow crops. We understand the need to keep a strict and unwavering watch on the food we produce and sell to the world. We just want to ensure we can get new technologies to those who need them with as little delay as possible.

The future of Canadian agriculture depends on innovation and trade, and those important elements are cornerstones of growing forward, our new policy framework for agriculture. With growing forward, we are putting more investment in innovation, from idea to invention to consumer. We are building new opportunities that support innovation and competitiveness. In fact, we have invested $158 million in the new growing Canadian agri-innovations program.

We want to help the sector to succeed, and a big part of that success depends upon being able to accelerate the development of new products, practices and processes for new and value-added markets.

Growing forward builds on our international trade success through industry-led marketing strategies, a Canada branding strategy, market intelligence and services for exporters and actions to maintain and improve market access.

Growing forward takes action on the environment by supporting on-farm, sustainable agriculture practices.

Finally, growing forward builds on Canada's food safety systems with new traceability and bio-security programs so that Canada continues to deliver the safest, highest quality foods to Canadians and our global customers.

Science-based trade works and it brings real results for our farmers, the sector and our industry, and it is science-based trade that we must maintain in order to keep the stability that our industry so desperately needs in these very tough times.

Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). I want to particularly acknowledge the hard work that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has done on the bill. It is a very important bill.

I know we have heard other discussions in the House. I want to emphasize that this bill is actually narrowly focused. We are not talking about the scientific approval of GE crops. We are not talking about mandatory labelling.

What we are talking about is that the bill requires an amendment to the Seeds Regulations Act to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets can be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Currently, approvals of genetically engineered crops for human consumption and environmental release are based on safety alone with no consideration given to any potential harm to export markets and the resultant economic harm to farmers. I think that is a very important statement.

I know that in my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan we have a very active food security community. I want to acknowledge the work that the Cowichan Green Community does around the development of a food charter, engaging the community in conversations and practices that not only look toward protecting our farmers and making sure that our local farmers have an adequate living but also ensuring that people have access to quality, affordable nutritious food.

We have many bakeries and in Nanaimo--Cowichan there is a famous wine region. Therefore, we are very conscious of the importance of farmers making an adequate living. That is part of what the bill is addressing. It is protecting farmers' incomes.

In the work that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has done on the bill, he has identified a number of problems which the bill attempts to address. He said that a GE crop that is not approved in our export markets has little value to farmers. GE contamination is already hurting Canadian farmers and if a contamination incident similar to the current flax contamination crisis were to happen with wheat and alfalfa, the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating.

Currently, Bill C-474 is meant to provide a mechanism missing in the regulations that can protect farmers from economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.

I have had so many letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents. I just want to read one because I think it captures some of the concerns that people have been talking about. This is an e-mail we received from Heide Brown. She said:

The Bill would support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”.

This Bill is really important because, as we know from experience, the introduction of new genetically engineered (GE) crops can cause economic hardship to farmers.

Farmers are at risk when GE crops are commercialized in Canada without also being first approved in our major export markets.

Flax farmers in Canada are now paying the price for this exact problem.

Late last year, Canadian flax exports were discovered contaminated with a GE flax that is not approved in Europe or any of our other export markets.

Flax farmers actually foresaw that GE contamination or even the threat of contamination would close their export markets. That is why they took steps in 2001 to remove GE flax from the market. Despite this measure, flax farmers were not protected.

The GE flax contamination has created market uncertainty and depressed prices. Farmers are also paying for testing and cleanup and may be required to abandon their own farm-saved flax seed and buy certified seed instead.

These costs are an unnecessary and preventable burden.

We cannot allow our export markets to close like this again. It is the government's responsibility to protect Canadian farmers from predictable problems caused by the introduction of new GE crops that have not yet been regulated in our export markets.

--please support Bill C-474 and protect Canada's farmers and our markets.

That is fairly typical of a number of e-mails that I have received in the riding. I think one can tell from that letter that people are well informed about what the issues are that are facing farmers, about the impacts on the economies of farming, about their concerns around GE contamination, and how it impacts on our export markets.

It is important that we listen to the people who have written about this.

Some of the argument is that it is not do able. I want to point to the precedent of Argentina. Argentina is well aware that it is not just growing crops for domestic consumption,so it has a process lined out. The Government of Argentina's National Biosafety Framework, 2004 states:

In addition to the environmental biosafety assessment, a GMO release also requires a favourable food safety assessment...and the assessment of the absence of negative impacts on our exports.

Specifically, when it is looking at market impacts, it states:

A key part of the GMO regulatory process consists of verifying that the commercial approval will not have a negative impact on our foreign trade.

This specific assessment is carried out by the National Bureau of Agrifood Markets...and it includes an analysis of the current status of regulatory systems and public acceptance in the countries that buy our exports.

If Argentina can put in a system that examines the economic impact that could happen on its export market, surely Canada could do the same thing. As others have mentioned, a number of organizations are absolutely in support of this.

The CFA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in a news release of March 17, stated:

The varying levels of acceptance of GM-crops by key export markets is a reality Canadian farmers face...Ensuring that these markets are not closed to us because of the technology we adapt should be a government priority as they are work to develop more export opportunities for Canadian farmers.

It goes on in the news release to say:

Having a system in which GM-crops are authorized in one country and not in another means that the inadvertent commingling of crops and crop types while they are being transported to export markets will increase the potential for future market closures.

I want to turn, now, to a briefing that went to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. It has a detailed briefing, but I want to touch on a couple of points.

It lays out its initial ask by saying there are two actions required:

Potential harm to markets needs to be considered before any new GE crop is field tested or commercially released in Canada.

The entire regulatory system for GE crops and foods needs to be reviewed and reformed.

The second point is outside the scope of this bill, but I want to touch on the negative economic impacts.

In its statement, it states:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency...approves genetically engineered crops for environmental release without regard to the impacts on markets for Canadian farmers. Canadian regulatory agencies have no mechanisms by which to evaluate the economic risks, and approve or deny the introduction of GE crops based on this consideration.

In my closing minute or so, I will touch on a couple of items that are not in this bill but are very important to people in my riding. Again, I remind people the focus of this bill is on the potential economic damage for our farmers on export markets where we have countries that will not accept GE crops and are concerned about contamination.

However, in addition, CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, identified a couple of other areas of concern. It indicated that there is inadequate science and lack of transparency.

The Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology stated:

The lack of transparency in the current approval process, leading as it does to an inability to evaluate the scientific rigor of the assessment process, seriously compromises the confidence that society can place in the current regulatory framework used to assess potential risks to human, animal and environmental safety posed by GEOs [genetically modified organisms].

It went on to highlight a number of other areas of concern, including incomplete environmental risk assessments and inadequate monitoring and surveillance.

In its conclusion, it stated:

The regulatory system for genetically engineered organisms in Canada is not built to include consideration of the potential negative market harm caused by the introduction of GE crops, and is not adequately constructed to assess the complex environmental and health risks of genetic engineering.

I urge all members of the House to support the member for British Columbia Southern Interior's very excellent bill, Bill C-474, and to protect those markets for our farmers.

Seeds Regulations Act
Private Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to first thank all of my colleagues who took part in the debate on Bill C-474. It is my hope that they will work hard to convince members of their respective parties to move this bill forward to committee.

It is vital that we have a thorough and democratic debate on the economic effect on farmers of any further introduction of GE organisms into the environment. At the end of the day, it is up to parliamentarians to do all we can to help our farmers.

Before I move on, I would like to clear up a misconception. It was mentioned a number of times that had this bill been in place, it would not have helped the flax farmers. That is not entirely true because in 1996 Triffid received feed and environmental release approval. In 1998 it received food safety authorization.

Had the bill been in place at that point in time, the economic impact study would have shown that it would have been unwise to continue releasing flax into the environment. It was not until 2001, because of the pressure by farmers, that flax, which already had been released into the environment, was taken out and cancelled. I wanted to clear up that misconception.

The other point that is often mentioned is that somehow this is science-based technology. Let us be clear. The yield increases in crops are due to traditional breeding. For example, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is looking at methods now that are capable of increasing more of the crop yield, using a high tech genomic approach or marker-assisted selection. These are non-GE methods and they are the ones that actually increase the yield.

I do not have a great deal of time, so I will concentrate my remarks on the alfalfa industry. Mr. Paul Gregory of Interlake Forage Seeds in Manitoba states that most family-owned seed companies are against the further advancement of GM traits, especially in the forage seed business.

Mr. Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed Ltd. also of Manitoba, writes:

--the users, producers and wholesales/retailers of alfalfa seed and hay are opposed to the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa and yet we are at risk of the release of this product.

He also cites the case of a U.S. seed company, Cal/West, which lost its market due to GE contaminated seed. The key word here is “contamination”.

According to the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, it will be impossible to prevent the spread of GE alfalfa beyond the fields it is planted in for the following reasons.

First, alfalfa is pollinated primarily by leafcutter bees, which often drift several miles in search of better bloom, and also by honey bees, which have a range of up to four miles. Actually, a U.S. study has shown a contamination radius of up to 1.7 miles already.

Second, GE alfalfa for hay is often cut after the blooming starts and, therefore, the pollen is easily transferred to non-GM crops. Third, alfalfa seed crops produce a percentage of what is called “hard” seed that can germinate several years after the field has been plowed up.

Once contamination is discovered, countries that currently reject GMO crops, food and feed, will obviously then reject our alfalfa. Also, a large portion of our alfalfa pellet and cube market would be lost. Our organic livestock industry would also be hit hard if GE alfalfa contamination were to be found.

Consider Argentina for example. Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the government must have in hand the technical advice, including whether the market would accept the GMO, in the absence of potential negative impacts on Argentinian exports.

The government officials responsible for allowing this technology onto the market need a mandate to consider what the impact of doing so will have on our export markets. Bill C-474 will provide the mechanism to give them this mandate.

I urge my colleagues to send Bill C-474 to committee so that we can have a thorough and democratic debate.

Farmers are in difficult times. Let us not throw more obstacles in front of them by carelessly allowing the release of GE crops that can lead to economic harm.