House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was park.

Topics

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Pursuant to Standing Order 45(6), the recorded division on the motion stands deferred until the usual time of daily adjournment on Monday, May 8, 2000.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe that you would find unanimous consent among the colleagues present for us to proceed to the private member's bill.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

In order to do that we would all have to agree to see the clock as 1.30. If there is agreement, we could proceed right away. Is there agreement?

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Labelling Of Genetically Modified Foods
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make labelling of genetically modified foods compulsory, and should carry out exhaustive studies on the long-term effects of these foods on health and the environment.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today during this first hour of debate on the motion that I proposed, which I will repeat so that everyone is aware of what it is about; it reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make labelling of genetically modified foods compulsory, and should carry out exhaustive studies on the long-term effects of these foods on health and the environment.

Why are we calling for the mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods? Why call for transparency in the process of evaluation and acceptance of GMOs? Why this debate and reflection?

The answer is very simple. First of all, we have a right to know what we are eating. Every person is entitled to know the nature of the foods he is eating. Second, 70% of the food available to Canadians contains GMOs in whole or in part. For the past five years, we have had GMOs in our plates and in stores.

But the truth of the matter is that the public and consumers have known about it only for about a year. If they know now it is probably thanks to our representations here in the House. Previously, the topic was totally ignored. And yet, there are already some 42 genetically modified foods on the market. Far too many questions remain unanswered.

In Canada, genetically modified foods are regulated according to their stated characteristics and not the way they are produced. In other words, a novel food is accepted or rejected according to its substantial equivalence.

What is substantial equivalence? It is the comparative analysis of a biotechnologically derived food and a conventional non-modified food.

In a study entitled “Food Safety of GM Crops in Canada, Toxicity and Allergenicity”, Dr. Ann Clark reviews the process used by Health Canada to asses the level of toxicity and allergenicity of genetically modified crops. Her study shows that the level of toxicity was neither tested nor measured in 70% of the 42 genetically modified crops that were approved in Canada.

What is more, the allergenicity—and God knows how many allergies there are around us—of those 42 genetically modified crops was assessed neither through lab tests nor food trials. According to Dr. Clark, statements to the effect that these crops are neither toxic nor allergenic are based solely on deduction and supposition.

According to her, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. In other words, the acceptance of GMOs, under the Canadian system, leaves room for doubt. If the risks to health seem plausible, what about the risks to the environment?

Let me quote Elizabeth Abergel on this issue:

The applications of genetic engineering to agriculture have generated a strong controversy. Many consumers and a fair number of scientists view these technologies as risky and even useless.

Again, this person is a Ph.D. student at York University and she already has a master's degree in science.

The scientific community is divided as to the impacts associated with the introduction of transgenic plants in the environment. For many researchers, the scientific debate boils down to a lack of concrete evidence and adequate data to state that GMOs are innocuous. For others, the concern is with the methodologies, the scientific insertions, the objectivity of the criteria and parameters used by companies and governments to measure the impact of transgenic plants.

The assessment of risks remains a difficult scientific issue. However, the marketing of transgenic foods is accelerating, in spite of these scientific uncertainties.

In Canada, the approval of transgenic products is based on data provided exclusively by the companies. The obvious lack of transparency of this regulatory system does not allow the Canadian public to see the environmental issues related to biotechnology. The Canadian system deems as probable the management and mastering of the risks generated by GMOs, even though these risks can be irreversible. This goes against the principle of prudence, which promotes the anticipation of risks.

The Canadian regulatory framework is based on a scientific and legislative basis that ignores the inherent risks of genetic engineering. The expression “new form of plants” includes any new variety. Genetic engineering is associated with the classic methods of genetic selection, thus not generating new environmental risks. Only the product is subjected to government control, since the production method is not covered by existing regulations.

The scientific studies on which the Canadian government relied in determining the ecological risk associated with GMOs are based on two criteria: familiarity and essential equivalence.

These two concepts allow assessment of the environmental risks associated with new forms of plants. GMOs are treated the same way as the species from which they are derived, using the criterion of familiarity.

Thus, a GMO considered sufficiently familiar will not undergo any environmental risk assessment. However, one that is not as familiar will be put through an assessment to establish its degree of essential equivalence compared to its counterpart.

Unfortunately, the scientific tests to which GMOs are subjected in order to meet the essential equivalence requirements are short-lived and often rely on criteria having to do with agronomical rather than environmental performance. It follows that essential equivalence limits the scope of the research needed to establish the safety of GMOs, thus eradicating scientific knowledge in this area.

In addition, commercialized GMOs are used as a point of reference for the approval of new transgenic foods, thus implicitly forcing the acceptability of ecological risks already present.

All this is to say that ultimately, if we start with a inaccurate premise, we end up with an inaccurate result, and these results are being used to multiply new GMO approvals.

In an open letter to Le Devoir , Duong Dong Bong, a gene therapy researcher, wrote the following:

The ecological risks of applying genetic engineering to agriculture include the possibility that transgenic plants will become harmful and affect ecosystems. Plants manipulated to express or tolerate toxic substances such as herbicides can poison untargeted organisms. Other plants manipulated to carry viruses or virus fragments can promote the appearance of new viruses that will eventually be responsible for new diseases.

The introduction of GMOs in the environment may seriously upset natural mechanisms regulating both evolution and ecological stability.

Given that viruses and transposons can lead to mutations, strengthened vectors could be mutagens and be carcinogens for humans and animals. In addition, the presence of foreign genes in GMOs can promote the existence of new metabolisms. Thus, certain common foods modified by gene therapy could become dangerous.

Persons with food allergies could be exposed to increased risks, because some common foods would become allergens through genetic manipulation. These are more of the truly considerable ethical and cultural challenges raised by the new biologies and technobiologies.

To summarise my fears, I quote Jeremy Rifkin, who is probably known to all of you. He is an expert and the author of 14 books on the effects of scientific and technological evolution.

He declared recently before the Excellence 2000 symposium held in Banff, and I quote:

—that large biotechnology companies may have their biotechnology processes patented but this does not necessary give them the right to obtain a license for genes engineering. That would give them too much power, since anyone who manipulates genes can manipulate the century.

According to him, there are other risks:

The use of a new crop of mustard to produce plastic involves risks. What would happen to birds and insects during the seeding season? In many years from now, the ecosystem could be facing serious problems.

There are numerous crops which are being genetically modified so that they can resist weeds without the usual use of pesticides by farmers.

Where is the problem?

Mr. Rifkin adds:

With pesticides you can at least spray and stop there. But with new plants, toxins are continuously released and filter into the ground.

He adds:

Sooner or later, weeds will be able to resist the genes which are used to destroy them and we will always be forced to create new genes to fight them.

The questions raised are serious, but we still have found no answer. The future of agriculture and of the environment and the problems relating to health and biodiversity are at the heart of the reflection that we, as parliamentarians, have to do on the intrusion of GMOs in our lives.

Allow me to read a text written by Patricia Ramacieri, director of the seedling program at Heritage Canada, on the importance of biodiversity:

When we observe our planet, whether from the human, animal or vegetable point of view, the common theme is diversity. It is not happenstance, but a mechanism which makes it possible to maintain balance, complementarity and abundance.

Throughout the plant world, with the exception of extreme climatic conditions such as the Sahara desert or the frigid cold at the poles, nature fosters exchanges between multiple agents in order to create an ecological and self-sustaining environment.

For the past 50 years, our society has encouraged standards to maximize profitability.

The word profit is a constantly recurring one in this theory.

In agriculture, this has led to a more and more headlong rush toward optimum yields, through the selection and standardization of a few plants: soya, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, which constitute the basis of our diet.

As a result, monoculture is being practiced to an increasing extent and this artificially creates poor ecological and environmental conditions that demand more sustained human intervention via chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and all those other “cides”, where an environment of biodiversity could meet these needs naturally.

Today, when the limitations of human and chemical intervention have been reached, we are seeing a new wave of products that have been designed to change the genetic structure of the plant itself, which ought to prompt the following questions: Are we addressing the true problem? Do we have the right to change nature to suit our needs? Are we part of nature? Why not adapt to nature?

Every day, our planet is losing more and more of its biodiversity, whether consciously or through neglect. Whichever, the result is the same. Are we prepared to watch a system slip through our fingers which has taken millions of years to develop to the stage of a delicate balance, merely because we do not value, or do not yet grasp, its wisdom and logic?

Why, finally, should we put all our eggs in one basket with GMOs?

I gave many quotes this morning, which is unusual for me, but I think that these very recent texts are food for thought. It is a good thing to involve scientists to get a better idea of what everyone thinks about this very important issue.

To conclude, the purpose of the motion presented this morning is to stimulate thorough discussion and deep reflection. In other words, it is a call in favour of the precautionary principle or a moratorium on GMOs until there is transparency in the process, the public understands it, and labelling is made mandatory so as to let people decide what they want to eat.

Again this week the McCain corporation asked that the government implement a funding program for farmers and make the labelling of transgenic foods mandatory.

Right now, big corporations are in a monopolistic situation and the governments support them directly or indirectly instead of putting the money where they should to protect the population and preserve our markets.

Labelling Of Genetically Modified Foods
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Etobicoke North
Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

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

The motion, from the hon. member for Louis-Hébert has two parts. The first would make labelling of 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 Government of Canada's commitment is always to safety first: safety for the protection of Canadians, safety for animals, and the safety of our environment.

Canada quite rightly prides itself on its regulatory systems. We know that Canadians, whether they are consumers, producers, distributors or health professionals, rely on and value these safety systems.

In terms of labelling, Canadian federal legislation calls for Health Canada to set the requirements for mandatory labelling. Health Canada sets the data requirements for the safety assessments of all foods and undertakes comprehensive pre-market reviews of new foods, including those derived through biotechnology. Every new food goes through a rigorous and thorough review process before being allowed on the market.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, carries out inspection and enforcement activities relative to the food safety standards set by Health Canada. The CFIA also has responsibility for the environmental safety assessment of a number of agricultural products derived through biotechnology, including plants and animal feeds. Based on its safety evaluations of foods, Health Canada determines if and when labelling is required. As I am sure the hon. member would agree, any authority for labelling must be based upon science.

I would like to emphasize that current labelling regulations in Canada require that all foods, including those developed through biotechnology, be labelled where a potential human health or safety issue has been identified, for example, for people with food allergies or if foods have been changed in composition or nutrition.

Let me address the first part of the motion before us by reminding the House that there are already several initiatives in place to study the question of how and when to label a genetically modified food. Canadians expect their views to be heard and the government is doing just that by listening to Canadians on how they want their foods to be labelled. The government is committed to exploring how labelling can best serve the public.

The government believes that all labelling must be credible, meaningful and enforceable. For this reason the Government of Canada has strongly encouraged the establishment of a Canadian standard for the labelling of foods derived through biotechnology. The Canadian General Standards Board under the sponsorship of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors is in the process of developing this standard through an open and inclusive process.

A committee composed of representatives and individuals from a broad range of Canadian interests has been established. This committee has developed working groups to look at areas such as definitions, labels, claims in advertising, and compliance measures. A completed standard is expected within the next six to 12 months.

The government continues to listen to all Canadians. Canada is the first country in the world to actively engage such a broad range of stakeholders on this issue. Canada is fully immersed in developing its own national standard in full consultation with stakeholders and in a way that is open and transparent to all Canadians.

My colleagues should be aware that by endorsing such a thorough process to develop a labelling standard, Canada is indeed a leader worldwide. We can see that the Canadian public is already strongly engaged on the issue of genetically modified foods.

It is also important to note that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food raised this issue of labelling in 1998 when it tabled its report “Capturing the Advantage: Agricultural Biotechnology in the New Millennium”.

On May 18 the standing committee will begin a series of hearings on the labelling of genetically modified foods. I would like to point out that in Tuesday's debate on this very same issue my colleagues from the Canadian Alliance called for a joint study by the health and agriculture committees on the issue of labelling.

Moreover, Canada is playing a strong role on the international stage to promote standards for labelling these foods. For example, Canada chairs the Codex Alimentarius committee on food labelling. We are also heading a subcommittee of this organization which has worked to draft recommendations for the labelling of biotechnologically derived foods.

Around the world Canada is regarded as a leader on this issue. In short, there are processes currently under way to address the information needs of Canadians on the issue of labelling. These processes must be given an opportunity to provide the recommendations before we hastily embark on another course of action.

The government recognizes that consumers want choice. We believe, and I am sure hon. members would agree, that Canadians want informed choice and labels which are meaningful. It is the government's goal to ensure that the information provided to Canadians enables them to make informed choices.

The House should vote down Motion No. 230 on the basis of the first part of the motion. Let me now turn to the second part, which urges the government to carry out exhaustive studies on the long term effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment.

I would like to emphasize again that food safety and consumer protection are priorities for the Government of Canada. We are strongly committed to the safety of Canadians, animals and our environment.

Canada has certainly built a strong reputation as a producer of foods that are consistently safe, clean and of high quality. We built that reputation by putting very rigorous regulatory systems in place.

Our approval systems are science based and transparent. Our government's decision to accept or reject a product is based on sound science and proven facts. Our regulators include experts in nutrition, molecular biology, chemistry, toxicology, and environmental science to name just a few.

These regulators use the best available science from Canadian and international experts to determine whether these products pose any hazard to people, plants, animals or the environment. If there is any question as to their safety, we do not approve them for use.

Even after a product has been approved, its case is never closed. New scientific evidence is always taken into account and appropriate action taken immediately if any problems are detected.

The regulatory system assesses products on a case by case basis. The research on safety required for evaluation directly addresses the potential risks of the product to human health and the environment. The Government of Canada takes pride in advocating this science based approach around the world.

We recognize the need for scientific research to settle any questions relating to long term health, safety and environmental issues. With that in mind, I believe the House will applaud the efforts the Government of Canada has undertaken to maintain and even enhance the safety of genetically modified foods.

Canada is committed to a regulatory system that is based on sound science—a regulatory system that meets the highest scientific rigour.

That is why, for example, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of the Environment asked the Royal Society of Canada to appoint an expert panel on the future of food biotechnology. The Royal Society named its expert panel last February.

This proactive forward looking body will look ahead over the next 10 years to forecast the types of food products that are expected to be developed using biotechnology.

The Government of Canada's commitment to open an inclusive dialogue with Canadians has also resulted in the formation of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, CBAC. The committee will bring stakeholders and interested parties together to advise the government, raise public awareness and engage Canadians in an open and transparent dialogue on biotechnology matters.

I am sure the House will support the government's initiatives to make sure the regulatory system can effectively assess the health and environmental safety of genetically modified foods.

In conclusion, we have initiatives underway to ensure that Canada is well positioned for the future. In addition, the regulatory system in place is rigorous, thorough and scientific.

For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to vote against Motion M-230.

Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization And Dissolution Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. An agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or Standing Order 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-11, an act to authorize the divestiture of the assets of and to dissolve the Cape Breton Development Corporation, to amend the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings of the said stage.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Labelling Of Genetically Modified Foods
Private Members' Business

May 5th, 2000 / 1:40 p.m.

Reform

Grant Hill Macleod, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Motion No. 230. The motion calls for the compulsory labelling of genetically modified foods and for exhaustive studies on the long term effects of these foods. This is a topical debate and one which I think should take place.

I would like to split this debate into three components. I will talk about science as it has been in the past, as it is in the present, and then I will talk about solutions.

Traditionally we had used genetic modification to improve foods, crops and animals. This was a natural process of slow selection which had few surprises. With a plant or an animal that had good characteristics we would try and bring the characteristics through the genetic tree.

As an example, I think of new varieties of garden corn which have a short growing time and which can grow in a cool climate. There are early ripening varieties. I cannot imagine anyone being concerned or feeling negative about that process.

However, even with this gradual process of improvement, we have occasionally had problems. I would like to mention a plant that was brought to North America in the early 1900s called kudzu. This plant came from China. It is a very powerful vine-type plant and there are no natural insects that prey upon it. It has no natural enemies. This plant has now taken over seven million acres of land in Texas and Louisiana. We have what some would call a fairly natural process of planting a foreign plant in North America and having it grow quite wild. There were concerns and problems even with the old mechanism of the natural, slow process of improving crops and animals.

If I could move toward science today, we now have the capability at the microscopic level of manipulating the genetic tree. We have an intervention in fact, at the molecular level, going on. We are even capable of taking DNA from one species and linking it with the DNA of another species. The difference between science today and science in days of yore is that these changes now can be quite rapid. There are some scientific concerns on this issue and some scientific debate. That is why I say that this debate is timely and worthwhile.

What are some potential benefits of this new form of genetic manipulation? I will not be exhaustive, because time is relatively short, but we could have seeds and crops that would not require pesticides or herbicides. Most people concerned about the environment would say that is positive. We could have new medicinal properties brought more quickly to the market from these processes. We could also see land that is less fertile bearing crops and being productive. Those are just some of the potential benefits. As I said, this is not exhaustive at all.

What do individuals see as potential hazards in this area? There are potential hazards if we had unsuspected effects on the human organism, on ourselves, from eating or being around such genetically modified foods. We could have wild strains, much like the kudzu plant I mentioned, overwhelming some of our natural strains, having unsuspected effects on domestic plants.

Let me give an example from the medical field of changes that are going on in our environment, in our society, which might be related to these sorts of things. If we look at population dynamics we see that young adolescents are going through changes earlier than they did some years back, specifically young adolescent females having the onset of periods earlier than they did some 30 years ago. There is some medical information that this may be related to estrogen-like compounds that are circulating in our environment. Here we have estrogen-like compounds that could come from genetically modified organisms, possibly changing the whole hormonal balance in a large population set, those of young adolescent women. This is not a theory. This is not a guess. This is actually physically happening now and we have to figure out how and why.

On this scientific debate there is some legitimate argument on both sides and we should be open to those discussions and arguments.

As to the solution from my perspective, I believe that the consumer who has a concern about genetically modified foods should have that information available. I believe that people who do not want to take genetically modified food into their bodies—a crop, a cereal or a product—should have that choice.

It is technically very difficult to label all genetically modified foods. For instance, pasta has constituents that come from various sources and a genetically modified component would be difficult to isolate. It could be done, but it would be difficult. I feel it would be better to modify genetically modified free food, rather than all those that have genetically modified components in them. In my mind, this would give those who want to make the choice the ability to do so.

I would actually propose a mechanism to label those genetically modified free foods. It would be a graphic label. The one I have chosen is a microscope with an x across it, which would show all consumers that there is no genetically modified food in that product. It would be a little similar to the marketing mechanism used for organic grains. Those who do not want to have pesticides or herbicides in their growing process could choose that strain.

Also, I would suggest that this be voluntary. This is where I digress from my colleague a little. The mandatory component is something that smacks of bureaucracy and of people telling us what to do. I favour small where small will do when it comes to bureaucracy. I would much prefer a voluntary process driven by the market. As an individual, I could then choose genetically modified free foods. That is the process I would use.

The issue of science is where I think we should try not to be political. Good science is science that can stand close, careful scrutiny. We should try not to have a big political debate on this. I have listened to some organizations politicizing this. They seem to ignore good science on the one side and only pay attention to the science on the other side. That does not make any sense to me at all.

The principle that I would use on this issue is the principle of letting the consumer know. Let the consumer be aware and let the consumer choose.

The issue of the long term studies that my colleague has suggested makes eminent sense. We saw a big debate on recombinant bovine somatotropin, the substance used for augmenting milk in cattle. rBST is being used in the U.S. It is not being used directly in Canada. What a perfect opportunity to look at the two populations. Scientists are, in fact, able to do that. I hope that those people in the U.S. who are using rBST would not be guinea pigs in this issue, but they are certainly a good case study for a long term debate.

My congratulations to my colleague for bringing this debate. I hope the House will consider it carefully. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this subject.

Labelling Of Genetically Modified Foods
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I also want to begin by indicating my appreciation to the hon. member for Louis-Hébert for bringing this important issue forward. It is certainly a topic that has been in the forefront of the minds of many Canadians.

Many young people I know are dealing with the issue of what they call franken foods. This is an issue that has the general public so concerned that they are calling my office and other members' offices. They are looking to government for some direction in this matter.

Canadians have clearly indicated in every poll, survey and study that they want to know what they are eating. I would take that one step further. They have a right to know what they are eating. It is a basic, fundamental, health issue right. They have made that abundantly clear.

I would put it to the hon. member from the Canadian Alliance that voluntary compliance is not working. He actually contradicted himself in the arguments we just heard. He said that Canadians have a right to know and then they can make their own informed choice. How would they know without adequate labelling on the package? He is denying them their right to choose by not clearly stating what kind of product they are eating.

The whole premise of the argument I will be making is that Canadians are justifiably concerned about the quality of the food they eat.

I believe the government has abdicated its responsibilities in this matter by trying to promote voluntary compliance and by not clearly stating what government agency will have jurisdiction over this important matter. At the present time we have a hodgepodge. It is an absolute mess. The government is readily conceding that Canadians have a right to know and that they need to know, but there are three different government agencies that have been partially responsible for telling Canadians what they need to know.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is involved. It deals with the policing of plants and slaughterhouses, the storage of unsafe items and so on. Health Canada has a role, but we are not sure where one jurisdiction starts and the other stops. Health Canada approves products with respect to quality and safety. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada assists in food production. Which jurisdiction is it? If we could establish that first we could then move the issue forward by demanding that the federal agency do its job.

I come from an area with a large agri-food industry. In Manitoba agriculture is key and paramount to the health of our economy. I hear stories from Manitoba farmers about their concern over genetically engineered and genetically modified seed crops and oilseed crops. The hon. member mentioned canola oil as an example. I have some personal knowledge of how concerned Manitoba farmers are about the genetic engineering of canola. One company had a monopoly on the seed stock. If farmers wanted to buy seed they went to go to a certain company, but they also had to sign a contract with that company indicating that they would sell all of their yield to that company. Farmers could not have the seed unless they promised to sell their yield to the company. The real stinger was that the seed had been genetically modified to have a terminator gene in it so it could not reproduce itself.

Since time began farmers have set aside a certain amount of their crop for re-seeding in future years. Farmers cannot do that any more. They have to go back to the source company, a chemical company, and buy their seed for the following year, which turns out to have a genetic terminator. Perverse is the word for it. Most Canadians are horrified when they discover how people are manipulating our food supplies through genetic engineering.

At the very least, the government owes it to Canadians to let them know whether the food they are eating is genetically modified. Never mind if it is safe or not safe. The jury is still out on that issue. We do not know. But let us not use the absence of absolute, hard scientific evidence as an excuse for not taking the precautionary measures Canadians are asking for. Canadians should be given the right to choose. They should be able to look at the labelling on a package and decide for themselves whether they want to ingest the material.

There have been mistakes. There have been recent examples which gave consumers cause for alarm. Recently a gene from a Brazil nut was introduced to a foodstuff. This resulted in people suffering a severe nut allergy, even though they were eating a product that had nothing to do with nuts. People suffered severe anaphylactic asthmatic reactions from a product that had nothing to do with nuts. People had no way of knowing because in Canada there is no obligation to tell.

The rest of the world seems to be further advanced than Canada. That is ironic, as Canada is one of the leaders in agri-food and agri-business. Europeans do not want genetically modified food on their shelves. They demand to know if the food they are eating is genetically modified.

The United Nations biosafety protocol was negotiated in Montreal during the last week of January. Several large and well known companies began taking their first steps away from genetically modified crops. They started to make noise in the right direction, but not on any moral or ethical ground or even out of fear for public safety. I think what they were really afraid of was a consumer backlash. They know that consumers are becoming better informed about this issue and are demanding to know if a product is genetically modified, because if it is, they do not want it.

We do have large companies like Frito Lay, the big potato chip manufacturing company, which told its suppliers not to send any more genetically modified corn for their corn chips, but it stopped short of telling them not to send any genetically modified potatoes for its potato chips. It produces about a thousand times as many potato chips as it does corn chips.

As I said, the voluntary compliance side of things is starting to catch on but in a very marginal way not in a meaningful way. I do not believe in voluntary compliance measures in anything, frankly, whether it is workplace safety, health or whatever, because when the bottom line is profits to shareholders, corporations have a vested interest in doing whatever is expedient from a profit point of view and not doing what is right from a moral, ethical or even public health point of view.

Seagrams, another major company, told its suppliers not to bring it any more genetically modified corn but it fell short of making a public announcement. It did not want to rock the boat. It will not publicly say that its products are made without genetically modified corn.

Loblaws has quietly made plans to stock its first genetically modified free products in some stores. It will have separate shelves. It will have genetically modified food on one shelf and it will have genetically modified free food on another shelf. Obviously it has sensed the concern in the general public. Loblaws of Canada is not stupid. It has sensed that consumer awareness is growing to the point where many Canadians will demand pure food instead of frankenfood.

Who knows if our corn flakes might contain a gene from some mutant fish? We just do not know the kinds of things that are being done. The classic example is when some people got Brazil nut genes in food and ended up having nut allergies. It is a terrible problem.

Borden Foods, which makes Catelli pastas and sauces, has issued a statement saying that its products are genetically modified free. However, it has had to do that on its own as an individual initiative. There is no obligation and no duty to do so. Personally, I will look for Catelli products when I go shopping because I appreciate what Borden Foods has done.

I have told hon. members about the impact that the whole genetic engineering industry is having on the farm community where I come from with the terminator gene. I think there is a healthy distrust for the people who are engineering and genetically altering our foods. It is an area of science that is new to most Canadians. There is not a level of comfort yet for most Canadians.

Even in the absence of absolute, hard, scientific fact that says genetically modified foods are bad for us—and I am the first to admit that we do not have that hard, scientific evidence—at least the government should be taking steps to err on the side of caution and err on the side of the well-being of Canadian people and not on the profit motives of the food producers in the agri-food business.

Let Canadians choose. Let them know what it is they are actually eating. Make labelling mandatory. Yes, it is a burden and maybe even a cost factor for the producers. They probably will not like it. However, I would urge the government to show leadership and to show that it cares for the consuming public by mandating the labelling of foods so that we can make an informed choice.

Labelling Of Genetically Modified Foods
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Charlotte, NB

Madam Speaker, what an interesting debate. As I said the other day, there are many different points of view. If any of us speak long enough we will probably disagree with ourselves at the end of the day because it is a very complex topic.

I will begin by basically paraphrasing a former prime minister with regard to a position on an issue. It might be ours and it could be about any party's position in the House of Commons: mandatory controls if necessary, but not necessarily mandatory controls, because we do not like to see that type of rigid enforcement.

With the demise of one of the big players in the field, Monsanto, there has been a slowdown in recent months in terms of genetically modified foods. Monsanto's market share has plummeted as compared to where it was in the marketplace over a year ago. One of the reasons for that is the so-called frankenfoods, to quote that term.

I want to speak specifically to that. The hon. member from Winnipeg mentioned the controversy surrounding the Brazil nut. He spoke about the crossing of genes from the Brazil nut with that of a soybean. As members well know, the soybean is a major source of nutrition for many parts of the world and they had invented a product that would take on many of the characteristics of the soybean or the Brazil nut in terms of the strength and durability of the seed or the plant.

However, by crossing these genes they unknowingly brought in the same characteristics and allergic reactions from the Brazil nut. It was science doing one thing for a net gain to the public but inadvertently creating another problem, which was the allergic reaction to a new product that no one imagined would happen. The good news is that it was, thankfully, pulled from the market shelves by the agricultural community before it actually reached the marketplace.

Michael Lipton, an economist at the University of Sussex in England, does research on poverty and the demographics of food distribution in the Third World. He said that when electricity was first invented if the first two products of electricity was the electric chair and the electric animal probe where would we be today.

I think that is one of the problems that this science has experienced in regard to genetically modified foods. There have been some horror stories coming out and, suddenly, because they are the first products, there is some fear-mongering, and rightly so, and some uncertainty on the part of the consumer which is showing up in the marketplace, hence, I guess, the demise of companies like Monsanto.

That is not to say that they are going to die a natural death. They will always be around because of some of the positive benefits of the alteration of species, plant breeding and so on, but what they have done in some of these cases is just taken it a step too far and that has cost them. It has cost them a lot of confidence in the marketplace which, at the end of the day, will determine whether some of these products survive or not. As consumers, we will determine that.

Animal genes are being crossed with food products, or plant genes, to create a product that will withstand, for example, cold temperatures. One of the recent discoveries was the taking of genes from a fish that lives in the North Atlantic, some of the coldest waters in the world, and crossing it with a strawberry. They are taking an animal gene and putting it into a food product with great success. One of the biggest enemies of the strawberry plant is cold and frost, Madam Speaker, which you well know coming from the province of Quebec where there is a huge strawberry industry. They have been very successful in doing that.

What happens is that this conjures up all the fears we have as consumers. I only have to mention mad cow disease. What was being done there was that they were feeding cattle their own entrails, after going through a heat process. They were feeding their own meat to their own species which in turn created a problem within the cow. There is some evidence now that mad cow disease has jumped the species barrier. I have asked the Minister of Health what the department was doing and how it was monitoring that. We have evidence that the disease has entered the food chain and human beings are now being associated with that disease. It seems to have gone from animals to people. That is the result of science gone crazy or the application of science not benefiting mankind as we would like it to do.

Another example of that is atomic energy. Look at the gains we have made in this world when we cracked the atom. Some of them are very positive and some of them are very disastrous. The result is that atomic energy can produce a very clean power but because of mistakes made in the past, the atomic energy business is almost at a standstill. It is almost dying on the vine, yet it is something that should be growing. Scientists got off the track and the monitoring and procedures that would be used to keep people in check have not been there and we have seen a demise in that industry.

The same is occurring in the genetically modified food industry. There are so many examples of where science can do good. One of them is in a new product called golden rice. A couple of scientists, one is from Germany and I believe the other is from Austria, have developed a gene which they placed into a rice plant. It allows the rice plant to generate vitamin A, a missing ingredient in the diets of about two billion people on the face of the earth.

Last year over 200 million people died because of malnutrition, because they simply did not have vitamin A in their diets. We are talking about those societies that depend on rice crops.

They put in beta carotene, or vitamin A; there is a connection between the two. They call it golden rice because of the beta carotene which is what is in a carrot. They have put it into the white rice crop with huge benefits. None of us disagree with the benefit side of it.

We have to know where it will lead and where it will stop. Is government going to put a check on these advancements and how rapid will these be?

The other day I mentioned what they call the terminator seed. It comes from the famous movie, the Terminator . Think about it. A company like Monsanto, with the power that exceeds the power of some governments, came up with a terminator seed. For example if we are talking about a wheat crop, the wheat would grow but the seeds that the crop would produce could no longer be used. They could no longer reproduce because the seed had been genetically modified so only that company could sell the seed. It is a monopoly on seed and food production. That is what scares a lot of us in the House. It is called the terminator seed.

Imagine the repercussions in the third world. Countries would be forced to buy seed. They could not save their own seed for the next year for planting and eventually harvesting.

Those are examples of science going too far. None of us will deny the benefits of the science, but we want to see a check on it. We hope that mandatory restrictions will not be needed and that voluntary compliance will work. If it does not, we are suggesting that government at that point does have to step in.