House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large Corporations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large Corporations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Accordingly, the vote on this motion is deferred until the conclusion of government orders tomorrow, February 9.

Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large Corporations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large Corporations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is it agreed?

Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large Corporations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large Corporations
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 1 consideration of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, as a farmer and a member of the agriculture committee, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-474. Even though I am not in favour of the bill, I believe it is very important that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has brought the bill forward at this time so we can discuss the future of growing crops in Canada.

There is a prediction that in the year 2050 we will need to feed ten billion people on this planet. Also, Canadian citizens want to have safe and healthy food. Thus food will be a very important issue in this upcoming decade.

We often read in the Economist and newspapers after having gone through the economic crisis, we will be going into a food crisis. We will see food being discussed more and more, with food becoming a problem and how we produce food becoming a concern.

Just this morning, a headline on the front page of the Globe and Mail states, “A warning to Canada: start growing”. It describes how a decade ago Canada was the third largest exporter of food in the world. We are now ranked seventh. Our exports have dropped 10% in the last year, but our imports are also rising. Up to 2% more imports are coming into this country. Thus we are not really eating more local food either and our exports are dropping.

What is happening? The article talks quite a lot about innovation and even knowledge. It mentions that agriculture and agrifood generate two million jobs, a dollar value of $154 billion in food and beverage consumer sales, accounting for 8.2% of our GDP in this country. Those are big numbers, as far as the value of food production is concerned and how important it is to Canadians.

We must have a balance going forward in what we should be producing and how we should be producing it and so that consumers are confident our food is safe and healthy.

These conclusions in the Globe and Mail this morning were laid out by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, a non-partisan group that assesses the food industry, where it has been and where it should be going. It says that Canada should develop a new agriculture policy framework and that we have the potential in Canada to double our agrifood exports to $75 billion.

What does that mean to double our agrifood exports? How many countries on this planet can produce twice as much food within that short time? Brazil is increasing quite a bit. That is why we are ranking lower than Brazil, as it has increased its production considerably with technology and new varieties. It says here that we could be playing one of the biggest roles in the future in feeding the planet and that we could produce 75% of our own food by 2025.

I would say as a farmer that because of our winter climate, it will be pretty challenging to produce 75% of our own food by 2025. However, with greenhouses and technology we can come close to that, together with consumers thinking locally and buying local products, and with our supply management and how that protects our local food production. We have to work on more models like that.

It is also stated that the regulatory system should be overhauled to promote sustainability and foster innovation and collaboration among Canadian producers. We must have the right “climate” here and the right set-up and the right mechanisms to make that happen. We have the land; it is just a matter of having the right climate as far as investment and people stepping up to the plate are concerned.

The bill would really add uncertainty to the current regulatory science-based process for the approval of GMOs. The bill has also failed to provide the details of how this process would be established, what criteria would be applied and who specifically would provide the assessment.

There is no process in place for what the NDP wants to do with this bill. There is no responsible body. Is it the federal government that is going to do this? Is it a private body? Is it a public body? There was no process attached to this.

Bill C-474 is not an anti-GMO bill, but that is how it is evolving here, into whether or not one is for or against GMOs. That is not what it is all about; it deals how we should be producing more crops in this country in a safe manner.

When the bill was reintroduced, Liberals gave their support to studying the bill at the agriculture committee. That would have been the place to start, because there was already a controversy about it. We figured that the agriculture committee would be the best place to go through the bill to see if it should be amended. The intentions were good with the bill, but it had holes in it. It just was not the right thing for the time. At that time, the agriculture steering committee decided to discuss the bill and hear from all sides, the scientists, farmers and consumers.

There were lots of outstanding concerns about GMOs. People have called them “Frankenstein food“ and things like that. However, the reality is that we have a good system in our country, where we allow food products and crops from a science-based approach.

We started with the process at the agriculture committee and heard testimony from stakeholders on both sides of the issue to determine if this bill had a mechanism to address some of the concerns related to the potential negative impacts on agricultural imports. As a result of the hearings, it became evident that the bill had failed to provide that mechanism.

Canadian consumers and farmers want to know more about this issue, but the Conservatives cut short the debate and questioning on this bill; they did not want to hear any more of it. There were some really good presentations in committee, which we could have brought forward to the House so that members would have a good understanding of where food production is going. However, the Conservatives simply rejected the concerns and really did not want to really discuss them.

Many times that is the way it works in the House. The Conservatives believe in a certain thing and do not want it discussed or to be sent to committee. Moreover, the NDP comes up with ideas and sometimes it is just not the right way to go in light of the practicality of our economics and business. On the Liberal side, I think we have a balanced approach. I was hoping that the committee would deal with a lot more, but it did not.

I have stated that potential food production in this country is just phenomenal. Canada is not the only country faced with this dilemma. When we look at the situation around the world, we know that the Europeans are more resistant to GMOs and have more regulations, and the Americans are more lax on regulations for GMOs.

I have to give credit to the Americans. They are looking at this in Congress and at a framework to protect farmers. We should also protect farmers who are not going to grow GMO foods. There is still going to be a market for people who do not want to eat GMO food, even though science says it could be healthy, but we have to protect farmers.

Therefore, there needs to be a proper framework in place. Argentina has the proper framework in place and we should be looking at that model. Maybe that is one of the reasons it is passing us in exports.

Everything should be science based when we are moving forward, but we also need to look at the market and at protecting farmers. The potential for GMO foods is phenomenal in the next 10 years. When we look at the hunger in Africa and many parts of Asia, GMO foods could help them there with micronutrients and drought resistance. Even when there is a lot of flooding, some plants could be more adaptable.

Canada needs to be at the forefront in developing new crops and technologies that will help feed the world. We have the capacity and we have the land. However, we need to have the right regulatory framework in place as we move forward so farmers are protected, so consumers feel safe with the products they are eating and so we can expand on our exports.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on private member's Bill C-474 put forward by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

The New Democratic member has done a great deal of work in this area. I have heard the term “science” bandied around by both sides of the House, from the Liberals and the Conservatives, and at committee on numerous occasions. We have talked about science. I heard it from CFIA when we had the listeriosis crisis. We talked about the science, how it had to be science based and accurate and how science is always wholesome.

I would remind my friends that science changes from time to time. Science said that the Earth was flat until someone decided that maybe it was not flat and that it might be round or spherical.

We can look at science as a wholesome subject when we are talking about transgenics and GMOs. It reminds me of my science teacher from many a year ago when I first started high school who talked about gene pools and how inside a gene pool what we really wanted to have was a great deal of material so that we could actually use it to enhance and develop better pieces from that gene pool.

What we have with GMOs are specific genes doing specific things that enable a specific company to make money. It may, in some cases, actually add to the gene pool in the sense of enabling a particular crop to be better. One need not look any further than clingstone peaches in Niagara which used to be canned in St. Davids. The canning factory left, so they do not do that anymore. That genetic material for clingstone peaches may indeed be lost in this country because we do not can them. We now get them from China, but that is a different debate.

The clingstone peach was developed because it was an easier canning peach than a regular peach that we would consume off the fresh market. How did we do that? Some might call it gene splicing but we actually did it by grafting and doing all of the other things. We see that with vinifera grapes across the peninsula. It is a similar idea.

We did not develop the clingstone peach so that we could spread one type of round-up or one type of herbicide or one type of other pesticide. We developed that gene pool to enhance the product, not so that we could simply use one type of pesticide.

It reminds me that if we are going to do science, why do we not do it in that wholesome approach that benefits two groups of individuals or people around this world? Those of us who are non-farmers are consumers because most of us eat every day. I know we might skip a meal now and again, and I would imagine in the wider public it might be said that politicians never skip a meal. The bottom line is that we do eat every day and some of us do not produce.

Then we have what my good friend from Cape Breton, a farmer who understands the needs of farmers, says, which is that we also need to help them ensure that the materials they will get, the seeds and other inputs that they need, will enhance their ability, as he quite ably pointed out, to feed the world. He is absolutely right when he says that there is a need to feed the world.

However, to actually limit that science is a fundamental issue. We are actually allowing corporate entities to decide that there will only be this amount of science to deal with rather than the whole body of science. There are many around who actually talk about that.

I will quote from a few places where they actually talk about the fact that we are losing some of the science because of the pressures that are exerted by some of these multinational corporations that are absolutely huge. If we want to talk about some of these corporations, we should talk to farmers about the price of fertilizer. Let us assume that fertilizer companies decide to change how they do that genetically, which is not beyond the realm of possibility. Farmers already believe that input is way overpriced.

What happens if they decide, because they have a somewhat semi-monopoly on that now, to change that again and change the make-up and composition of that because, as we see things evolving even further, the genetics can change?

It is interesting to read an article written by Don Lotter entitled, “The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science”. It talks about the history and rise of plant transgenics. Convincingly, he argues that it is the political and economic power, not scientific rigour, that has driven the technology's ascent, talking about basically GMOs. He shows that the hyper-liberal U.S. regulatory regime around GMOs stems not from an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence but rather from close, often revolving door ties between the industry and the U.S. administration actually going all the way back to Reagan. He says that we should take the assumption that transgenic foods have been proven to have no ill effects on human health. Far from being studied, it turns out that the question has been basically ignored.

Therefore, the regulators have basically said that it does not look like it is that bad because using us as the guinea pig or the canary in the mine takes a long time because it takes us generations to actually go through that process.

In science, normally we use lab animals. That is how science gets done. In some cases, it is rats. In some cases, it is mice. It used to be primates at one point in time but we tend to do that less. We do that simply because we can have multi-generations to look at. Science is actually done in a lab.

If we look at a study that was done with lab animals in Austria, it shows that we can find mutations in the ability of those lab animals to reproduce effectively based on GMO consumption. That is a scientist doing work in a lab.

Some will say that it was not on humans. I would remind everyone in this House that when we develop vaccines, new medicines and other new technologies we actually put them through rigorous lab testing but we do not use humans in those testings. Sometimes we do when we go to clinical trials but it is pretty tough to conduct a clinical trial over multi-generations with GMO foodstuffs with humans. It would take us approximately 140-odd years probably, which is a long time to be consuming product that may or may not be safe.

However, assuming it was safe, what have we lost in the meantime? Have we lost all of that other genetic material? There are seeds that are being captured because we are losing that ability to do those things, whether they be what are now called “heirloom tomatoes”. Heirloom tomatoes are called that simply because they were once grown but then someone decided we should have what is now called “beefsteak tomatoes”. They are those big red ones. In certain markets we can find orange striped tomatoes and green ones. We would find a multitude of things but with that genetic material under the GMO way of doing things they would all be lost because the GMO group would say that we should only have this one and should only grow that one. However, if we only have that one, we then lose all the other pieces and all the attributes of that genetic material.

Imagine us as GMO clones. I would not use me as representative. I would choose to use someone taller than me for sure, because I have always wanted to be tall. I would be happy to take my colleague from Cape Breton and say that all of the male gender should look like that member. That would be somewhat akin to ensuring that we grew the same alfalfa through GMO, or the same wheat through GMO, or all of the other things through GMO.

What we are hearing from the seed companies in this country is that that is not a direction they necessarily want to go in.

In the U.S., we have seen the regulations change on alfalfa where it has now allowed it to happen.

Those of us who are either on the agriculture committee or who happen to live in the country or who just know a bit about science know how the bees cross-pollinate. They fly from flower to flower and they do a wonderful job. The problem is that the bees do not recognize the 49th parallel so they move back and forth and sometimes beekeepers move them back and forth but at the end of the day we get cross-pollination.

What we are going to do to organic farmers in this country is drive them out of business for no other reason than we allowed something to happen that may not actually be in our best interests. We are not certain that is what farmers truly want.

Farmers want good science but we do not get good science necessarily. We get one-dimensional science. What we need is pure applied science that comes from non-regulatory bodies where they do not have a patent waiting at the end of the day so that they can make a buck. We need good science that farmers can use every day to ensure that we feed not only ourselves but the rest of the world.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I listened with attention to the last two speakers and the last one really created a scientific soup. He had everything in there from transgenics, et cetera. There is not a lot of understanding on exactly what genetic modification of seed stocks in this country is all about. I think part of the problem of why Canadians are confused is when they hear people who should know but do not.

Today we are really discussing the ability for these decisions to be made on sound science or, in the case of this particular private member's bill, an ideological stance that is basically non-GM, non-trade. Let us all go backward 50 or 60 years and take agriculture out of the loop.

The first speech given by the member from Sydney—Victoria talked about the growing demand for foodstuffs around the world and the growing demand that Canada double its food production, not to go backward. As we lose arable land around the world under asphalt and a number of other factors, it will be incumbent on countries like Canada that actually has the potential to double its output. We can do it but it will take biotechnology to make that happen.

We base everything on sound science as we move forward. Those sound scientific principles are actually global in nature. There are governing bodies. There is one called Codex which sets out the rules and regulations on plants and does start to make a lot of the scientific framework that Canada bases our situations on a case by case basis. Then we get into the other sector of animals with the OIE, which has regulations based on them.

I am a little concerned when I see that soup bowl mixed together and ladled out as though somehow we need to go backward to do better. I think that is absolutely wrong. I think that is politics at its worst and ideological situations at their worst.

The agriculture committee, as the members have said, did a tremendous amount of study on this but there was not a lot of support for Bill C-474, including the flax industry in Canada. The situation it faced in Europe was the genesis of this particular private member's bill, but even the flax industry is saying that this would not get the job done. What we need are changes in low level presence. That would have taken that particular situation right off the map.

That is the argument that I have been taking to the European Union. I have been working with my colleagues in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, other grain-producing countries such as Australia and so on and talking about getting away from zero tolerance.

Canada is in that zero tolerance range too but we do it on a case by case basis. We analyze using sound science as to whether there are any kinds of health situations or standards that could be breached, and we have made those changes on the fly.

The European Union says that zero is zero. With the testing efficacies that we have now, it means that scientists can find one seed in 40,000 seeds and say that it is not fit for European consumption. However, they are starting to get their heart and mind around the fact that it does not work for them any more either. They are looking at food security and sustainability. They are looking at the need to import more and to grow more themselves and they are starting to accept biotechnology as the right way forward.

A lot has been said about Brazil moving up to that third spot. Actually, the story in the Globe and Mail today was not very factual. Canada is still number four in the world when it comes to the export of foods. We are seventh when we talk about processed foods, but that is another argument for another day. We are not allowed to process in western Canada on our grains because of a little thing called the Canadian Wheat Board. Again, that is another argument for another day that needs to happen in order to move forward and double the production that the rest of the world is asking for.

It is a shame that the member from British Columbia Southern Interior could not have been at the discussions held in Saskatchewan today. A good friend of mine, Mark Wartman, who was the agriculture minister in Saskatchewan under the NDP government at that time and who is now working at the University of Saskatchewan, said, “I would make the appeal that what needs to be used in this area in particular is the very best of our science”.

I could not agree more. It is a shame that the member from B.C. could not have been there to hear that. I know that he and Mark have had discussions over the years because Mark and I have had those same discussions. He also said today, “We've seen, I think, some real pitfalls by just having a public forum where you've got population bases that really have little to no understanding of agriculture and agriculture biotechnology”.

That is the politics of this situation and that is what we heard in that last speech, which is not really on the mark at all when it comes to GMOs.

The situation that would be created by Bill C-474 would be another layer of red tape. The government is against red tape. The business community, including farmers, really takes that to heart and is happy about it. That red tape, which would be instilled under Bill C-474, would mean no innovative new varieties would ever have a chance of being populated in Canada.

The agricultural sector in Canada is very sophisticated. We have global position satellites that control our tractors and combines now. We are spraying to within an inch on each pass. We are using less chemical, less fertilizer and a lighter environmental footprint because of GM in crops like canola. Canola is now king in western Canada. It is no longer wheat. We grow more canola and make more money back for farmers on canola because they have the right to market it, the timing of the marketing and so on. We also have a lot of value added happening on canola, which adds to that exported value. We have seen that happen.

Canadian productivity has jumped some 300% since the 1950s and a lot of that can be pointed to the sound scientific base on which we put things. When my grandfather was farming, he produced enough food to feed 10 people. Today's farmers feed over 120 on that same land mass. What they do is exceptional.

Agriculture is the third-largest contributor to the GDP, one in eight jobs. Forty billion dollars worth of our exports come out of agriculture. A good chunk of that are soybeans, canola and corn that are GM products. The world has asked for better quality products and higher nutritional values. Sound science allows us to do that.

The point has been made about the expansions to the population and how we need to step up and feed that. However, when short-sighted ideas like Bill C-474 come forward, we know we never have a chance.

I want to quote a Manitoba flax producer who was before the committee during the initial hearings on Bill C-474. He said:

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.

It may not even be a farm group that raises those roadblocks. It could be somebody who does not understand the benefits of this. Our system in Canada has served our farmers and consumers well. It will serve the rest of the world extremely well, as we know.

The canola industry would not have happened without GM varieties that are out there now. We can argue about input costs. We can argue about pesticides and chemicals. The whole purpose of a lot of this GM product is to lighten that cost, to lower the demand. It is better for the environment. It is better for the economy of farmers to have those varieties available to them.

We stand fully and squarely against Bill C-474. We have always stood there, unlike my counterparts the Liberals who have waffled back and forth. Hopefully they are with us tomorrow night when this comes to a vote and we will finally put an end to this type of non-scientific nonsense that we are treated to here.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into the debate on Bill C-474.

I begin by thanking and recognizing the contribution my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior is making to not only this debate, but to democracy generally in the House of Commons. This is an historic victory for democracy.

Instead of listening to the wild-eyed rhetoric from some ideological zealot like our Minister of Agriculture, we can have an honest and fair debate on a subject of pressing interest, not only to the well-being of 1.4 billion farmers who rely on farm-safe seed, but on the matter of exports of our Canadian agricultural products around the world and our ability to be a world leader in agriculture. It is a shame the Minister of Agriculture would not stay to listen to this entire debate. It is a matter of utmost importance to the prairie region that I represent. It is a debate that is current—

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre knows that he cannot refer to the absence of members in the House. He will want to contain himself in his remarks and set an example for all other hon. members in that regard.

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was only trying to point out that I wished the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food could hear the entire debate tonight. Rather than just the wild-eyed rhetoric of that ideological zealot, he could hear a necessary and important debate about the very future of agriculture not only in Canada but in third world developing countries, the European Union and right around the world.

I do not believe anybody should be able to copyright life or living organisms. It is an affront to the natural order to copyright life. The whole notion of suicide genes in terminator seeds is an affront to the natural order, and I believe a lot of people agree with me.

Let me bring the debate back down to earth. It is my personal ideological belief that the minister criticized me for holding, but let me remind people what we are debating tonight. The bill put forward by my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior is eminent common sense, grounded and realistic in the health of our agricultural industry.

Bill C-474 calls for an amendment to the Seeds Regulations Act to “require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. What could be more common sense?

This is not wild ideology on the part of the NDP. I have strongly held views on genetically engineered products, but the bill is not about that. The bill is about protecting producers and our export markets and, ultimately, the 1.4 billion farmers around the world in developing nations, who depend on farm safe seed, from science about which we are not sure. It is using the precautionary principle for our export markets. That is common sense, that is reasonable debate and it is entirely appropriate before the House of Commons. It is a victory for democracy that we in the NDP managed to get an extra five hour debate on this subject tonight. Again, I compliment my colleague for it.

Who is driving this reckless, irresponsible drive toward GM and genetically-engineered crops? Believe me, the science is not in. The scientific community is being intimidated. Let me give an example.

The New York Times reported that 23 U.S. scientists recently signed a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency declaring that no truly independent research on GMOs could be conducted on many critical questions, partly because they were not allowed to even grow samples due to the fact that holders of the patents would not allow independent scientists to grow samples to test the impact.

Stunningly, The New York Times went on to report that the 23 scientists withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. They are being intimidated, muzzled and silenced so even independent scientists who we should be trusting cannot really enter into this debate and conclude if one particular genetic modification is going to be harmful or not.

Who is driving things internationally? Let me point out an article from the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, which finds evidence that the United States embassy in Paris wants to penalize the European Union for France having the temerity to ban the Monsanto GM corn variety.

The U.S. ambassador in Paris is the business partner of George W. Bush. They used to own the Texas Rangers baseball team, by some happy coincidence. Recently leaked memos talk about intimidation and punitive sanctions being brought down on France for having the temerity, as I said, as a sovereign nation to choose to not have Monsanto's GM corn.

It is going to be slapped with all kinds of sanctions for interfering with the right of the U.S. company to tamper with the genetic makeup of the corn in that country. France has a right to determine if it will accept GM products or genetically-engineered foods, just as Canada has a right. We should not be bullied or browbeaten by American corporate interests for us to change the way we do the agriculture in this country.

The same report in the Guardian newspaper indicates that the Americans are going after the Vatican because many Catholic bishops in developing and third world countries are completely opposed to genetically engineered, genetically modified food because it completely wipes out the local agricultural economy.

It is like Wal-Mart moving into town and all the little businesses fold up. That is what happens when Monsanto blows into a third world country or a developing nation. The Catholic bishops and cardinals in those countries are speaking out against it.

Therefore, the United States goes to work on the Holy See. One by one it is trying to knock off the Council of Catholic Bishops, especially one cardinal, Cardinal Renato Martino, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the man who most represents the Pope at the United Nations. He had been passive about genetically modified food because he did not want to annoy the United States. He was trying to get it to see reason on Iraq. Cardinal Martino has changed his tune. He is now speaking out against genetically engineered and genetically modified foods and he has turned. Now the United States has turned on him in every way possible, trying to undermine and discredit this man who had the courage to stand up to Monsanto.

People in Canada have stood up to Monsanto and we have seen what happens when they have had the temerity to do so. I am thinking of Percy Schmeiser from the province of Saskatchewan, who blew the alarm on this many years ago.

I am ashamed that our country attends United Nations international conventions on biological diversity specifically to sabotage the international ban on terminator genes. We are one of three countries in the world that do not oppose suicide genes and terminator seeds. We are one of three countries in the world that does not believe farmers have the right to hold back some of their seed from the previous year so they can plant next year and do not become serfs to the agricultural corporate community.

It is the holders of the patents on genes that would have the temerity, the atrocity, the nerve to patent life. These people are now driving small farmers into bankruptcy because they can no longer hold back 20% of their seed to plant for next year's crop. Their seed will not sprout. It has a suicide gene implanted in it.

It is a sick notion and we should condemn it instead of going to these international forums and defending the right of Monsanto to tamper with life in this way to God know's what long-term detriment. We will never know because the scientists who could do independent research have been muzzled as well.

We go blindly forward, led by Monsanto, which tells us to trust it, that everything will be okay, as it browbeats Canadians, the Vatican, small countries, any European Union nation with the temerity to ask if this is a good idea or not.

At least we are having that debate in the House of Commons tonight. It is not a good idea. We should move cautiously before we lose our ability to export our genetically engineered foodstuffs. Other places like the European Union do not want GM foods. If we care about those markets, we should be cautious and we should follow the direction of Bill C-474 put forward by my courageous colleague the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to the bill today after listening to that ridiculous rant from the member opposite. I have a great deal of respect for the member, but it was a ridiculous rant. It was over the top. It certainly did not look at this subject objectively at all. After that, it is very tempting to go on a rant myself, but I will not. I will just point out a few things.

The member went so far as to point to the Vatican and bishops who oppose this. I have a lot of respect for bishops as religious leaders. I do not think bishops should be involved in issues like this. There is no evidence at all that genetically modified foods are unsafe. For centuries, modification of one type or another has been taking place when it comes to plants. What is being talked about here is a logical second step.

The party might not be that relevant, but what the member is proposing and what is being proposed in this private member's bill could do a lot of harm to many people who depend on this industry and in particular who depend on agriculture for their jobs.

On one side, I have heard the members opposite complain about the high cost of food and the problems it is creating in certain countries around the world. They rant and rail against the very change that is taking place in agriculture that will allow countries, poor countries in particular, which cannot afford high priced food, to produce food more effectively, more efficiently to better feed their own people.

We have always said we should proceed very carefully. We should base the decisions on science. The decisions on how these things proceed as long as they are based on science should be decided by the industry and by people involved in the science. That is what we propose.

This debate has been going on for more than a decade. I remember shortly after I was first elected 15 years ago there was talk about how, if people ate genetically modified foods, there would be terrible things happening. We have been eating them for 15 years and we have not seen that.

The scientific evidence that there is any danger in these products is not there, but certainly it is the type of issue that the NDP is choosing to instill fear in people about. What is happening here today, I would argue, is fearmongering. That is not an appropriate way to deal with issues in the House or anywhere else for that matter. Why do we not base these issues on science and allow science to determine what happens and, beyond that, let industry and trade take place?

What the members are proposing can be very harmful, because it could lead to barriers to trade that simply are not needed. Canada is a country in which 30% of our jobs depend on trade. In other words, if trade were shut off, as the NDP would like to see, 30% of all the workers in Canada would no longer have jobs. Members of the party always talk about being the party that supports workers when in reality many of their proposals, including this one, would lead to a massive loss in jobs. They cannot have it both ways.

Will members of the NDP go along with these carefully monitored, science-based rules or will they take this overreaction and fearmongering to another level and try to do things that will lead to job losses across Canada and other places as well?

That is the decision they have to make. Their fearmongering is not harmless.

I expect that we will let science and industry continue to drive this issue. I am very thankful the NDP is not more relevant than it is, because it could lead to some very serious issues if it were.

I encourage the members opposite to think about this and not base all that they do on radical politics and, instead, take a more reasonable approach. Do what is good for workers in this country, what is good for the agricultural sector and what is good for people in other countries who are finding the high cost of food difficult. Think about them as well.

The members opposite should allow the bill to go forward in a way that will allow people around the world to be much better fed in the decades ahead than in decades past. That is what we are talking about. Members of the NDP cannot have it both ways. I encourage the members to think about that.

Seeds Regulation Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the previous speaker's comments indicate he has been eating genetically modified food for far too long.

I rise today to join my colleagues in this historic debate in the House of Commons. It is historic because for the first time we are debating the issue of genetically engineered crops, known simply as GE seeds, and their impact on producers and consumers.

I wish to stress at the outset what other colleagues have pointed out, that on the issue of GE crops, Bill C-474 is purely about the economic side of this debate.

Its brilliance is that it is a simple bill that clearly and eloquently provides the federal government with a mandate to provide a mechanism currently missing in the regulations that can protect farmers from the economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.

We are not hypothesizing here. We have a real example cited earlier whereby the European Union, our largest market for flax, banned our imports because an illegal GE flaxseed called CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports.

The EU buys 60% of our flax. To my Conservative colleagues who like to proclaim their love of all things market-related and corporate-related I ask: What happened to flax prices? Those prices plummeted and our farmers lost out.

Jim Lintott, chairman of the Manitoba Forage Council, summed this situation up beautifully when he said:

The perception that Canada is a pristine and clean environment for the production of food is slowly being eroded. The introduction of unwanted GMOs is affecting not only the direct sale of crop and seed production, but also the sale of value-added products.

I want to point out that although there is no question that the Triffid flax situation has cost Canadian farmers and exporters a lot of money and their reputation, it has cost our customers, who then move that flax into value-added production, a far greater amount of money. Those customers will not easily forget what they have paid for buying Canadian.

According to Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada, that incident cost Canadian farmers and flax processors on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean tens of millions of dollars. Mr. Hall went on to say: “Canada's reputation as a supplier of quality flax has really been trashed...We've really been hammered over this”.

When the tables are turned, companies like Monsanto cannot wait to slap farmers with lawsuits.

Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed, notes:

We see instances in which Monsanto is not afraid to sue the producer if the producer uses its technology without Monsanto's approval.

I would like to think that the regulatory process that approved it, CFIA, or Monsanto itself would be the ones that I could turn around and sue if their gene entered my land and my seed crop where it is unwanted. Or is it just a one-way street so that they can sue whoever they choose to but they don't have to take responsibility for their technology?

Here we are with a simple piece of legislation that calls for factoring in the potential harm to export markets before any approval of GE crops is given. That is all.

What is so ideological or political for that matter when the economic impact of new GE crops is being considered?

Our agriculture critic, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, sought out the lowest common denominator with his bill in order to build consensus across party lines.

Here is what Matthew Holmes, executive director of Canada Organic Trade Association, had to say about the bill:

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.

Yet we have a typical ideological response from Conservative members in the House. They are blindly taking their cues from companies like Monsanto without the fortitude of questioning these companies' motives.

What is also reprehensible is the Conservative MPs behaviour at committee. They shut down committee just as witnesses, invited by the committee, arrived on the scene. What an insult to the witnesses and to the democratic process.

Addressing the economic implications of genetically modified crop is absolutely critical. Thousands of Canadians have written the government expressing their support for Bill C-474. Farmers are worried about whether their largest markets will continue to purchase Canadian seed.

The uniqueness of Nickel Belt is that it is a collection of small, but unique communities, each with their character and beauty. Many in communities such as Verner, Lavigne, St. Charles, Noëlville, Blezard Valley are home to farmers. While they were not affected by the ban on Canadian flax, I have learned so much about the many challenges facing farmers across Canada.

They have faced rising costs in areas such as energy and transportation, effects of climate change, local predators such as bears and other wildlife that destroy crops and infrastructure costs such as fences and tile drainage. Some cannot retire because their children lack the financial means to purchase the farms or cannot get loans from the banks to buy new equipment to enhance productivity.

Farmers in northern Ontario have to ship their products to Toronto before they are returned to the shelves of local grocery stores in Nickel Belt, Sudbury and other northern communities.

These challenges are not unique to farmers in my riding of Nickel Belt. Farmers across the country face huge hurdles, so why would Parliament not want to make one simple amendment to the Seed Regulations Act that would ensure the potential market harm would be considered before permission would be granted for production of genetically modified seed? After all, Bill C-474 is purely about economics. A GE crop that is not approved in our export markets has little value to farmers.

I want to close with a quote by Jim Lintott, chairman of the Manitoba Forage Council. It really packs a punch. Mr. Lintott says, “The bill is perfect the way it stands. It's a perfect requirement. Why would you produce anything with no market for it?”

Why indeed, unless one does not care about destroying the reputation of our farmers, unless one only cares about one's corporate buddies.

Here in the NDP we care about our farmers. We also care about Canada's reputation abroad. We know the Conservatives do not care about our reputation, but I do not understand my Liberal colleagues. They say that they are different from the Conservatives, yet they are joining with them in opposing this bill.

Our western farmers will remember tomorrow's vote. They will remember how each western MP voted on Bill C-474 and we will be sure to remind them as well.

I am proud of the work of my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior. I thank him for all his work on behalf of farmers. This debate is a historic one. It is also just the beginning.