House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Privilege

9 a.m.

The Speaker

I am now ready to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot on June 15 concerning interference with a vote in the House.

I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this matter, as well as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, the hon. member for Winnipeg South and the House Leader of the Official Opposition for their submissions on this issue.

The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot stated that the Department of Justice had wilfully misled members with respect to the views of the privacy commissioner concerning Bill C-206, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and to make amendments to other acts by circulating a document in which the commissioner was characterized as opposing the bill.

He claimed both that the privacy commissioner had indicated support for the bill and that, in any case, the commissioner had not made his views with respect to the bill known when the Department of Justice had prepared the document which it provided to members.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, in his intervention, indicated that the government considered the comments in the document to be a fair and accurate assessment of the privacy commissioner's view. He cited a number of sources in support of this position, including a meeting with officials of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner as well as the privacy commissioner's annual report tabled in the House on May 16, 2000.

I examined with care the document submitted and I have reviewed all the arguments presented to me. This is a matter which the Chair views with extreme seriousness.

Speaker Jerome, when dealing with a case related to the misleading of a member, quoted the procedural principle d issue which is clearly set out in Erskine May ( Journals , November 9, 1978, page 126):

It is a breach of privilege to present or cause to be presented to either House or to committees of either House, forged, falsified or fabricated documents with intent to deceive such House or committees—

Clearly, there is disagreement in the present case over the interpretation of the views of the privacy commissioner available to the government prior to the vote on Bill C-206. However, it is not the Speaker's role to adjudicate concerning such matters of interpretation. What I am required to rule on is a more narrow procedural issue: whether a wilful attempt has been made to mislead the House. While members may disagree with the way in which others view a situation, at times disagree very strongly, that is a different matter than the serious charge that such an interpretation is knowingly and wilfully false. Only on the strongest and clearest evidence can the House or the Speaker take steps to deal with cases of attempts to mislead members.

In the present case, on the basis of the statements made in the House and of the documents presented for the Chair's consideration, I can find no support for a claim that the privileges of the House have been breached in this way.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot for drawing this matter to the attention of the House.

Privilege

9:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, October 12, 2000, the House will now proceed to consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from June 12 consideration of the motion.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

October 19th, 2000 / 9:05 a.m.

Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington
Ontario

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to respond to Motion M-230.

The motion by the hon. member for Louis-Hébert has two parts. The first part would make labelling a genetically modified food compulsory. The motion also calls for the government to carry out exhaustive studies on the long term effects of genetically modified foods.

Let me begin by saying that the protection of our food supply for the well-being of Canadians, animals and our environment is of the utmost importance to the government. Canada's food supply involves many hardworking partners from producers, processors and distributors to consumers. Throughout the system new food products, including those derived from biotechnology, are subject to stringent regulation, enforcement and inspection. Canada has high standards for new food products of biotechnology and we are known world wide for them.

On the question of labelling foods, our federal legislation calls for Health Canada to set the requirements for mandatory labelling. Each new food product, whether produced through biotechnology or some other process, must go through a rigorous pre-market safety evaluation before it can be introduced on to the marketplace. The data requirements for the safety assessments are established by Health Canada.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, on the other hand, is responsible for all aspects of the federal food legislation relating to non-safety matters, such as the control of fraud in food labelling. The agency carries out inspection and enforcement activities relative to food safety standards set by Health Canada. The CFIA also has responsibility for the environmental safety assessment of a number of agricultural products, such as plants, animal feeds and veterinarian vaccines, including those derived through biotechnology. In carrying out these responsibilities, the CFIA protects consumers from food safety hazards or product misrepresentation, as well, it protects the safety of animals and the environment.

Let me be clear that current labelling regulations in Canada require that all food products, including those developed through biotechnology, be labelled if a potential human health or safety issue has been identified or if foods have been changed in composition or nutrition. Labelling decisions are made by Health Canada and are based on the results of their food safety evaluations. These decisions are science based. In fact, the best available science is used to make these decisions.

Let me address the first part of the motion before us by reminding the House that several initiatives are already now in place to study the question of how and when to label a genetically modified food.

The government believes that all food labelling must be truthful, meaningful and enforceable. We have strongly encouraged the establishment of a Canadian standard for the labelling of foods derived through biotechnology. This standard will include provisions for clear definitions, acceptable label statements and claims in advertising, as well as compliance and verification measures.

The Canadian General Standards Board, under the sponsorship of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, is in the process of developing this standard through open and inclusive consultation.

Representatives and individuals from a broad range of Canadian interests have formed a committee to work on this standard. They have been working hard over the past year and are putting together a definitive draft standard which is expected to be completed over the next number of months. By endorsing a consensus based process to develop a labelling standard, Canada is indeed a leader world wide.

Just recently the U.S. food and drug administration announced its attention to facilitate a voluntary labelling approach, a development process that will start this fall. In addition to such initiatives, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food began its hearings on the labelling of genetically modified food this spring. It has already heard from Health Canada, the CFIA and consumer groups. Canada is leading the development of international standards governing how and when genetically modified foods are labelled.

As the hon. member is aware, Canada chairs a Codex Alimentarius committee on food labelling, otherwise known as the CCFL. At the May 2000 Codex meeting in Ottawa, Canada was recognized for its success in chairing the CCFL working groups that drafted key options and recommendations for the labelling of biotechnology derived foods. Again this year Canada has been asked to lead a working group to turn these May 2000 options into a Codex guideline that can be then implemented.

Informed consumers making informed choices is paramount. These initiatives represent a significant and dedicated effort by Canadians for Canadians as we seek the best way to make truthful, meaningful information available to consumers.

I reiterate that the House should not support Motion No. 230 on the basis of the first part of the motion on labelling and turn to consideration of the second part of the hon. member's motion.

The second part recommends that exhaustive studies be carried out on the long term effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment. The safety assessment of conventional products and products derived through biotechnology are both subject to stringent health and safety requirements under Canada's food safety system. The Government of Canada is diligent when it comes to food safety and the protection of Canadians, animals and the environment. Our regulatory process is fundamental to Canada's strong reputation as a producer of foods that are consistently safe, nutritious and of high quality. Canada built its international reputation by putting very rigorous regulatory systems in place.

Our approval systems are science based and transparent. The government's decision to accept or reject a product is based on sound science and factual information. Federal regulatory scientists have experience in a wide range of areas, including nutrition, molecular biology, chemistry, toxicology and environmental science to name just a few.

Canadian regulators set the comprehensive data requirements for the environmental safety of new agricultural products derived through biotechnology. These scientists demand that the quality of this data be of the highest calibre and that the research directly assess and address the potential risks of the product to human health and the environment. If there is any question as to the safety of these products, they are not approved. The government continually reviews the effectiveness of its approach.

The Government of Canada takes pride in advocating its science based approach around the world. It relies on the need for scientific research to settle questions related to long term health, safety and environmental issues. The government is committed to a regulatory system that meets the highest standards of scientific rigour.

This commitment is reflected in the establishment of two important groups, an expert panel and an advisory committee. The Royal Society of Canada has appointed an independent expert panel to examine future scientific developments in food biotechnology and to provide advice to the federal government accordingly. This proactive, forward thinking body would advise Health Canada, the CFIA and Environment Canada on the science capacity the federal government will need to maintain the safety of new foods being derived through biotechnology in the 21st century.

The royal society named its expert panel this past February. From examining the leading edge of this technology, the panel will recommend what new research, policies and regulatory capacity will be needed to ensure that Canada's standards of safety remain stringent for the next generation of biotechnology derived foods.

A number of challenges and opportunities associated with biotechnology require detailed consideration and public discussion. Food biotechnology presents Canadians with challenges but also great and unprecedented opportunities.

The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, or CBAC, will bring stakeholders and interested parties together to advise the government, to raise public awareness and to engage Canadians in an open and transparent dialogue on biotechnology issues. Canadians want to take part in the dialogue on food biotechnology.

The CBAC will create opportunities for Canadians to participate in its activities and discussions. This includes an interactive website for interested Canadians to review, consult and provide input into this topic among others.

The work of the royal society's expert panel will contribute to this balanced and consultative process where all questions and concerns can be thoroughly considered. The government looks forward to the contributions the expert panel and the CBAC will make to furthering the dialogue on biotechnology issues.

I assure the hon. member for Louis-Hébert that the government will continue to undertake the steps necessary to ensure the health of Canadians, animals and our environment.

The 2000 federal budget confirms this priority in Canada's regulatory system. The $90 million investment in the regulatory system for biotechnology products will allow Health Canada, through the CFIA and other regulatory departments, to continue to enhance and evolve their regulatory approach of safety first to keep pace with the next generation of scientific discoveries.

This increased investment illustrates the Government of Canada's continued dedication to supporting the regulatory system for the benefit of all Canadians. We can take pride in the steps the Government of Canada has taken. We have initiatives under way to ensure—

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The House has already given the hon. member as much time as possible.

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Private Members' Business

9:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, before I get into the meat of the motion itself I would like to thank the hon. member for Louis-Hébert for bringing forward a motion with respect to genetically modified foods.

I have had the opportunity for most of my time in the House to sit on the agricultural committee. It has been a very enjoyable part of my business here. I am sure the hon. member for Louis-Hébert brings this motion forward because she honestly believes in her heart that this is the most important issue now facing Canadians, particularly in agriculture. The hon. member is very knowledgeable. She speaks very eloquently to the motion put before us today with respect to mandatory labelling and making sure that when foods are put forward to the Canadian public they are safe and edible.

In my constituency of Brandon—Souris agriculture is a very important facet of the economy. The economy of my area is basically agriculture. As we know, agriculture has not had too many bright spots recently. We have had a major problem with competition from the Europeans and Americans, particularly in terms of unfair subsidization. We have had some disasters in my area and suffered subsequent losses in production. There has been a cloud over agriculture.

If there is one bright spot, it could and should be biotechnology and genetically modified organisms. There is a real opportunity here in agriculture to diversify. There is a real opportunity to make sure that agriculture increases its production in the next numbers of years through biotechnology and genetically modified organisms.

The subject of GMOs makes most people nervous. It makes most consumers nervous. Although much of the focus in the media has been on food products derived from biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and health and pest control products on the market are also derived from biotechnology.

With respect to food products, biotechnology has the potential to increase the competitiveness of the Canadian agrifood industry by increasing individual competitiveness and exporting high value agrifood products.

Biotechnology has the potential to increase the yields needed to compensate for the increase in world population. It offers the opportunity and the potential to develop more sustainable agricultural practices by reducing the need for chemical weed and pest control. This in itself is a major potential opportunity in agriculture.

Biotechnology has the potential to enable the environmentally beneficial practice of no-till agriculture. This would reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Biotechnology also has the potential to create markets by introducing value added products, the diversification that agriculture so desperately needs.

There is the potential for value to be passed on from the producer to the consumer. This can and is being done, and we can prove it. It is possible to immunize the population by placing in foods medications to lower cholesterol, for example. These are known as neutraceuticals or output traits.

For example, it was reported recently that scientists in the United States have created a strain of genetically altered rice to combat vitamin A deficiency, the world's leading cause of blindness.

The challenges we must face in creating a solid and dynamic biotechnology industry are two-fold. First, we must create a climate in which industry sectors can flourish both here and internationally. Second, we must meet the public's concerns about their own health and the environment in terms of the safety of genetically modified organisms.

Genetically modified foods have helped the Canadian agricultural industry become competitive in the global economy. They have helped farmers make better use of their land and provide more food for a world that needs food. However, it is absolutely mandatory that the government take every step possible to address the definition of genetically modified foods and to protect consumers.

The principal concern with the use of biotechnology in food products is the question of food security. Numerous reports, mostly from Europe, have negatively impacted consumer confidence in Canada as a result of claims made about food safety. There are concerns that there is not enough risk assessment work being done on consumer products delivered from biotechnology in Canada.

Consumers have clearly indicated that they want to be informed, through labelling, about foods that have been altered, and favour such foods that provide tangible benefits. An Angus Reid survey found that two-thirds of Canadians say that they would be less likely to buy food they know has been genetically modified. I would argue that the simple part is the change of label. A far more extensive process is needed to determine the GM status of foods and to monitor their continuing status. In any event, developing national guidelines on labelling must be done in conjunction with the development of standards at the international level, for instance through the Codex commission, the international standards setting body for foods.

With regard to agriculture and agrifood, the Canadian food inspection agency conducts safety and environmental assessments of fertilizers, seeds, plants, plant products, animals, vaccines animal disease kits and feeds. It also enforces portions of the Food and Drugs Act. Health Canada is responsible for assessing the safety of novel foods that may include biotechnology products.

Before a genetically modified crop is approved for production it must pass through a series of rigorous tests designed to protect the health of humans, animals and the environment. When biotech companies wish to market a certain genetically modified organism, they must provide all information required to carry out an environmental safety assessment. Without providing the necessary information, approval will not be granted.

That being said, there is still much work to be done in terms of long term studies on health and environmental considerations.

The Progressive Conservative Party believes Canada's biotechnology industry and genetically enhanced foods have for the most part benefited our agriculture and agrifood sectors and Canada as a whole. Biotechnology offers major opportunities to improve both environmental integrity and food quality.

However, as technology advances quickly, there are also concerns that biotechnology will put the safety of Canada's food at risk. That is why our biotechnology regulatory system must be based on science. The federal government must still actively play a role in clarifying and explaining future Canadian policy on labelling in consultation with all stakeholders in order to help alleviate any concerns Canadians have with respect to GMOs.

The federal government must be more forthcoming in explaining the regulatory system to Canadians. The federal government must ensure that there are sufficient resources and expertise within both Health Canada and the Canadian food inspection agency so that Canadians retain a high level of trust in the regulatory process for GM products. The whole country is looking to the government for leadership on this issue. It is an issue that must be addressed. The Department of Health must provide the regulatory system to control this whole subject. Labelling is part of that, but it is not enough. It does not go far enough.

The onus is on the government to deal with this situation. I applaud the hon. member for bringing forward this motion requiring labelling, but it is not enough. It does not address some of the main issues.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food has not yet completed its analysis of this issue, and this motion would unnecessarily pre-empt the work of the committee. Exhaustive studies on the long term effects cannot be defined. It would be very difficult to do exhaustive studies on the long term effects without stopping the process now.

Finally, the Progressive Conservative Party unfortunately will not be supporting the motion although I do have the utmost respect for the member for Louis-Hébert. Unfortunately it is not the best way to assure Canadians that the genetically modified organism debate is ongoing. It is necessary that government be more forthcoming with Canadians. It is necessary that Canadians be educated on the benefits of genetically modified organisms.

In grocery stores right now, a number of the products on the shelves do have components of genetically modified organisms and have for years and years. We see a great deal of opportunity in biotechnology and GMO. We do not believe that a mandatory labelling system right now should be done without the international concurrence of other trading partners of ours. For that matter, consumers, to be better educated, must have input as to what is going to happen with respect to GMO.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:30 a.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address Motion No. 230 presented by the hon. member for Louis-Hébert which asks the government to make the labelling of genetically modified foods compulsory and to carry out exhaustive studies on the long term effects of these foods on health and the environment.

A lot of progress has been made since the month of May. A similar motion was presented by an NDP member and, less than a week ago, the member for Davenport introduced Bill C-500, which also seeks to make the labelling of genetically modified foods compulsory.

I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Louis-Hébert for her determination. All the members of this House are now aware of this issue and some are even following her example by proposing similar measures. This is all to the credit of my colleagues.

The issue of GMOs involves many aspects, particularly as regards health. But today, I want to emphasize the environmental aspects. The environment must be a central concern, if only because it is related to health.

It all began in 1996 with the Convention on Biodiversity, which sought to deal with the issues relating to ecosystems and species by providing a framework of principles on which signatory states agreed.

Article 19 indicates that the signatories must be encouraged to put into place tools which will regularize, manage or control the risks related to the use or presence of living modified organisms resulting from biotechnology.

After the Rio conference, and within the framework of meetings of the parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, negotiations for the creation of a protocol on biosecurity were soon to follow, with a view to providing a more solid and detailed framework as far as prevention of biotechnological risks are concerned.

The meetings between countries on biodiversity that have taken place since Rio are: Nassau, in November and December 1994; Jakarta, in 1995; Buenos Aires, in 1996; Bratislava, in 1998: and Nairobi, in 2000.

At the Jakarta meeting, the parties to the convention decided to put into place a special group charged with preparing a protocol specifically on biosecurity, an issue related to the transfer and handling of genetically modified organisms.

In 1999, at a multilateral meeting in Cartagena, negotiations focused on a project aimed at creating a risk evaluation procedure for GMOs and rules for their labelling.

Most regrettably, Canada unfortunately blocked ratification of this protocol, joining forces with the five country Miami group led by the United States.

As for the European countries, they felt that the principle of precaution ought to take precedence, believing that in the absence of scientific certainty on the hazards of GMOs it was necessary to take all of the steps needed to avoid harmful effects on human health. A responsible attitude, in my opinion.

Unfortunately Canada opposed this example of responsible management of a product with potential danger to human health. Clearly Canada has always defended commercial interests. Moreover, this was pointed out by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in his last report in May.

I would like to quote a new study that was released last July which tends to confirm that the pollen from genetically modified corn is fatal to the larvae of certain butterfly. This adds fuel to the GMO controversy.

A number of countries manage GMOs rationally. They make labelling of food containing such products mandatory. In truth, they make the precautionary principle a priority.

It is paradoxical to note that this week the Minister of Health favourably received the recommendation of the Standing Committee on the Environment that the precautionary principle be applied in the registration of pesticides.

The minister of agriculture could care less about the precautionary principle in the case of the GMOs. When will this government be consistent in its positions? I do not suppose it will happen overnight.

GMOs can have considerable impact on the environment through the transmission of genes in nature, in other words, the gene flow. This is no theoretical eventuality but a certainty which has been shown in many countries, including in Africa.

It is distressing to see certain multinationals, certain Canadian companies, testing genetically modified crops in the open. The government must be aware that this approach releases into nature the characteristic of resistance to herbicides of certain GMOs, which could find their way into natural species.

This is therefore not rare, and we learned this fact in a report by Radio-Canada on the weekend in which huge fields in Africa had become sterile because of genetically modified seed. Given that the development strategy of many African nations relies heavily on the export of raw materials, particularly agricultural ones, it is clear that the issue of genetically modified organisms is of great concern.

All this is to say that urgent action is required and that the federal government should make labelling of genetically modified foods compulsory. With all these problems, it is easy to understand the public's fears. People want to know what they are eating. We know that at the present time between 30% and 50% of canola plants in Canada are GMOs.

I am not trying to upset members of the public by telling them to stop eating products containing canola or to stop eating altogether. That is not my purpose today. Given the risks associated with GMOs, I think the government has a moral obligation insofar as it is required to ensure public safety. How can the government allow the public to go on being afraid that what they are eating is a time bomb.

As with the issue of pesticides, caution must prevail and I urge the member for Davenport to wake up and get this across to his Liberal colleagues. The member for Davenport, who tells all and sundry that protection of the environment is his priority, must support the motion by the member for Louis-Hébert. When we vote, I want him to know that I will be watching him.

Consumers, people just like us, all those listening today, must know exactly what they are eating. That is why all parliamentarians in the House should support the motion by the member for Louis-Hébert and get it passed today so that we can resume consideration of it after the election.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:40 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to Motion No. 230 with regard to genetically modified organisms.

I would like to point out that my speech will be relatively short. I found the solution to long speeches in this place when I had a farm accident and broke my leg. As a result I cannot stand for long periods, so I will make my speech relatively short.

I have been listening to the Bloc Quebecois talk about genetically modified organisms. What I hear throughout their speeches is in essence fear-mongering to the Canadian public that there may in fact be something wrong, that there is a time bomb on our plates.

This kind of discussion appeals more to the emotions of Canadians and not to the scientific evidence that is in place. When it comes to issues of food and food safety in Canada, we have to rely on science, not on emotion. The scientific facts are that Canada's food supply is safe and that it is going to continue to be safe because we have a bureaucracy in this country that is reflective of Canada's desire for a safe food supply.

I can tell members absolutely that in the agriculture standing committee I have asked every witness who came forward this question “Are you aware of anyone who has ever become sick or ill from eating genetically modified products or who in any way felt that food they ate that contained genetically modified products made them sick in any way?” Every one of them said that not in any place in this whole world has there been a case like that.

Even if the science is not 100%, and there is always risk in everything, I think the scientific evidence to date is very clearly on the side that shows foods produced from plants that have had a genetic modification for disease resistance or pest resistance are in fact safe. Until there is some kind of evidence or until something shows up that would actually indicate a threat of any kind to human health, or an unacceptable risk even, I will even go that far. There is no unacceptable risk at this time. I do not believe that our scientific community or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would ever let that happen, because nothing gets onto our plates that has not been fully checked.

The Canadian Alliance strongly believes that consumers must be given a choice in the products they purchase. A consumer driven, voluntary labelling system for GMOs should be put in place immediately, which would market GMO-free products in a way similar to organic foods. No one is saying that we should not have labelling if the wholesalers, retailers and consumers want it.

Our government on the other side, the Liberal government, has been very slow in bringing about the necessary studies and research to indicate what should be on a label if in fact a food distributor wanted to put something there. We are not against labelling but we are against labelling that is mandatory, that would be put in place right now like the Bloc would have it, without any knowledge about what in fact should go on the label. In effect it would be like trying to tell people that we do not have any real scientific evidence but they should be afraid of something that has GMO on it.

Certainly Canada's position right now not to support mandatory labelling is the right one, because there is no consensus as to what should even be on the label. If food distributors start putting big scientific explanations on labels, I guarantee that the very consumers the Bloc is talking about will not understand it and will not be any better informed than if there is nothing on there and they rely on the food inspection agency, which guarantees that the food is safe, that it will not harm them.

I have mentioned that regulatory decisions involving Canada's food supply must be based upon clearer scientific information. There is no alternative to that. Emotion cannot be the deciding factor, or provinces or countries which for economic reasons might want to use the big GMO scare as a non-tariff trade barrier or protect some other social or economic issue they feel is pertinent to their region. I am thinking either of Canada or, in the case of our trading partners, the whole world, the best example being European countries.

It is a clear fact that the European countries, the very ones the Bloc is saying are in favour of mandatory labelling, are proceeding with scientific research and development of GMO products. If we do not continue with our scientific endeavours, the economic future of the new technology and new industries that will be important in years to come will be located in Europe, not in Canada or North America.

I also hear the scare about big companies, those ferocious companies that will ruin the world. That is a very socialistic kind of concept. Big corporations provide us with a lot of our jobs and have the wherewithal to make scientific advancements like we see happening in space and in biotechnology. These things would not happen without the corporate structure to drive them.

We have seen countries like the Soviet Union that have tried to do it through regulatory processes. That does not work. In a market driven economy consumers will tell retailers. Retailers who want to make a profit will respond by saying that it seems folks want mandatory labelling showing that the corn, for example, has been genetically modified. Therefore they agree, the food is safe, and wholesalers respond.

While that is all well and good, those three levels must understand that there is a cost to everything. That cost cannot be passed on to grain companies that pass it along to farmers. Our farmers cannot afford the cost of segregating grain and delivering it through to elevators and railways.

I did not hear the Bloc Quebecois saying anything about how mandatory labelling would be paid for. I guarantee that by hook or by crook it will not be western Canadian farmers who produce canola and whom the Bloc has identified as culprits in the GMO issue.

I have laid out the position of the Canadian Alliance. We want consumers to choose and for the government of the day, which after November 27 will be the Canadian Alliance, to put in place a very clear voluntary labelling system so that retailers know what kind of informative label to put on.

I expect to be back here in January 2001. I do not expect to be sitting on this side of the House. I expect to be on that side of the House. I do not expect to see the member for Brandon—Souris here either.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Gruending Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 230 put forward by the member for Louis-Hébert.

As other speakers have done, I congratulate the member. In my observation of the agriculture committee and the House, she is always someone who does her homework and has made great contributions to debate.

I say in very general terms that the NDP caucus and party have looked closely at the whole issue of GM products and foods. We believe we have to take both a balanced and a cautious approach. I will go into a bit more detail on that in a few minutes. However from the outset I state that we support compulsory labelling for GM food products.

There is nothing more personal, more intimate or more significant than the food each one of us puts into his or her mouth. We must have knowledge of what is actually on our plates and going into our bodies.

There was a time when most people in the world grew their own food or hunted it and prepared it themselves. In those cases they would have known exactly what the food contained. Society is now much more complex and compartmentalized. We are not able to do that so we have to rely on information provided to us. In this complex society we have to rely on government to protect us by regulation. That is what we are talking about and that is one of the strong arguments for compulsory labelling.

We went through this many years ago with a whole range of other products when the consumer movement, if I may call it that, was born. We have been through a cycle of this sort. It seems now in certain ways that there is some regression setting in, in the way voluntary labelling is being described. With respect I want to tell government members that their support of voluntary labelling is simply not good enough.

As a little digression, the hon. member of the Canadian Alliance said a few minutes ago that consumers would tell us what they want. They have already told us in this case. Various polls indicate that more than 90% of Canadian consumers want compulsory labelling. I say to that member of the Canadian Alliance, if we are to follow consumers as he says we should, that is where we would be following them and not down the trail he has described.

Consumers have caught on to all of this, as the polls indicate. They have especially done so in Europe. The member of the Canadian Alliance went on to say that this is some sort of scheme and a non-trade barrier. He said that somehow or other we have the right not only to put whatever food products we want into Europe and anywhere else in the world, but in a sense to force-feed people, to put food into people's mouths.

To go back to the beginning of my speech, there is nothing more sacred than people's right to know and to choose what they will put into their bodies. There might be some non-tariff thinking going on in the European Union. I am not saying there is not. I am simply saying it is not good enough for us to say we have the right to blast our way into that market, on to the plates and into the mouths of millions of consumers wherever they are.

I will put the question of GM food, if I may, into some context. The NDP caucus and party have described this in some detail. We know that biotechnology as applied to food production is poised to expand significantly in the next millennium. We also recognize that agricultural biotechnology contains both the promise of increasing production and adding value to agriculture. It also poses potential risks to production patterns, food safety and the environment.

We have taken a look at the issue. We believe we have to put safety first when we determine through science based decision making what we will do about GM products and GM foods. We believe that so far we have not had adequate public discussion of the issue. There should be a full scale, national public discussion on genetically modified food, which should include mechanisms for meaningful public input and feedback.

As I have indicated, we also want a labelling process that will make consumers aware of genetically modified produce and components in processed foods.

We have a whole other series of motions related to genetically modified foods which came out of our convention last summer, but it seems that I do not have time to get into them. In conclusion, we will be supporting the member's motion.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It being 9.55 a.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Consequently, the motion will be put to a vote. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Private Members' Business

9:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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Private Members' Business

9:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Genetically Modified Organisms
Private Members' Business

9:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those opposed will please say nay.