An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.


Charles Caccia  Liberal

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


Not active, as of Feb. 28, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 6th, 2002 / 12:40 p.m.
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Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address today's motion presented by the Canadian Alliance.

This motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should cease and desist its sustained legislative and political attacks on the lives and livelihoods of rural Canadians and the communities where they live.

Instead of using the term “attacks”, I would rather talk about a “lack of policies” on the part of the Canadian government. My definition of rural areas is much different from the one being discussed today. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food will have to make up his mind and decide how to manage the agricultural sector and how to harmonize rural areas with the decisions that will be made regarding agriculture.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is slow to release Canada's broad policy thrusts in the context of globalization. Meanwhile, the Americans are drafting their U.S. farm bill.

We also do not know what will be the place of the rural world, which is confronted daily with massive industrialization in the agricultural sector. This government likes to consult. I have been a member of parliament for almost five years now and whenever I hear the Liberal government, it talks about consulting. I just took part in one of these consultations across Canada regarding the mood of farmers. I can say that few people are pleased with the Canadian agricultural policy.

I also took part in two conferences on rural development. At the first conference, we talked about the importance for people to have access to the Internet. We talked about the Internet at a time when, in my riding and in several other ones in Canada, it is still possible to see five customers sharing the same telephone line. Just imagine: they wanted to hook them up to the Internet.

At the second conference, they talked about networking. They said “We have to talk to each other, we have to communicate”. From what I can see on the other side, they have a great deal of difficulty communicating between departments.

The federal government's famous tour, three years ago, resulted in the income support program. They used a very positive expression, namely the “Disaster Program”. This is the positive work done by the government when farmers are confronted with economic problems.

The Canadian government asked the standing committee to do another cross-Canada tour. By far the majority of agricultural stakeholders came to tell us that Canadian agriculture was in an impasse, if not a total crisis. Generations of them had devoted their lives to building a rural environment that was a pleasant place to live. Now, with agriculture becoming increasingly industrialized, the efforts they have expended are disappearing.

Everywhere in Canada, we heard one stakeholder after another speak of their concerns. This past weekend, the president of the UPA, Laurent Pellerin, used some clear language in La Terre de chez nous “Either we move ahead or we repeat history”. I will use an even more Quebecois expression, not advancing, not repeating ourselves, but “stuck like a broken record”. That means nothing is being done.

I share the concerns of the Quebec agricultural sector when the federal government, in yet another strategy document, does not directly address questions of supply and demand and collective marketing. The first step is to really determine what this government's orientation is as far as agriculture is concerned. Then we can start negotiations, so that we can find out how to manage our rural areas.

This government is trying to draft Canada-wide national standards in order to bind the entire agricultural sector with some great principles which will not meet provincial and regional aspirations. The agricultural sector throughout Canada is demanding more flexibility than that, in Quebec in particular.

There have been four rounds of consultations and two conferences on the rural problem, and there is still no sign of an agricultural policy. The Hill Times recently reported the minister of agriculture as saying that he was still prepared to consider other studies before releasing his policy.

What is the minister waiting for? While the government is consulting right and left, the Americans have almost finished drafting a national agricultural policy which will further add to market distortions. Once again, the Americans are getting ready to inject several billions of dollars in subsidies.

Again last week, members of the standing committee on agriculture put this question to four of the minister of agriculture's top officials, who are supposedly experts on strategy. They said they knew nothing about this upcoming American legislation, which will have a negative impact on all aspects of the agricultural market.

While we are getting nowhere, the Americans are drafting their next piece of legislation, the famous farm bill, which will increase financial assistance to farmers by close to $5 billion annually over six years.

Many countries are outraged at this increase, which is inconsistent with the U.S. support for the principle of reducing subsidies expressed at the last meeting of the World Trade Organization in November.

Nor does this bill have unanimous approval within the United States. Americans producing items which are not massively subsidized and those calling for a more equitable share of government support feel that this legislation is a disgraceful waste, which may well further depopulate American farm land. People are critical of the bill because they say it will make the rich richer, cause prices to drop, and eliminate even more small farmers. This looks a lot like what the Canadian government has been doing in recent years.

In Canada, the proposed U.S. legislation has caused a number of people to sit up and take note, including Saskatchewan's minister of agriculture who was critical of the farm bill for the negative impact it may have on Canadian farming. Provincial ministers are opposed to the bill. La Terre de chez nous still has much to say about it, as do the main farming associations, but the minister keeps saying that he knows nothing.

Yet this bill runs counter to the WTO rules on subsidies. It will mean that our farmers will no longer be able to compete on the market. The Americans have still not even complied with the GATT agreements, and now they are compounding this by announcing major subsidies for the near future. They are going to continue to target Quebec's agricultural policy.

Let us talk about this government's consultations. There is a more partisan group, the Liberal Party task force, set up by the Prime Minister to find out what was really happening in the world of agriculture. There are processes, parliamentary committees, and every one of us in our ridings is listening to farmers, and the Prime Minister created another committee to find out farmer's real needs. What a revelation.

This group recommended that the government invest more in agriculture to counteract the negative impact of inclement weather, the markets and income fluctuations. This sounds a lot like all of the demands that I have heard.

Again, we absolutely must settle Canada's agricultural policy first, before trying to deal with rural development, because whatever the government decides, in terms of types of agriculture it will support, will determine the future, or lack thereof, of rural areas.

I would like to broach another subject that was raised during the cross-country tour, that is labelling of GMOs. This worries people in rural areas. In the past, people pinned their hopes on organic farming. They made a great effort to get accredited. When another farmer uses genetically modified seeds or other genetically modified products, they can end up watching their crops being destroyed.

During this trip, I met an organic seed producer who told me that because of the carelessness of another farmer who had used genetically modified seeds, he lost $37,000. He lost it because there was no legislation for obligatory labelling of GMOs, whether it be seeds or products for consumption. But consumers should have a right to know what they are eating.

This, despite the fact that there have been two attempts in the House to solve this problem. The last time was in October 2001, when Bill C-287 was voted down. Yet it was a bill that was sponsored by a Liberal member. Fifteen Liberals from Quebec voted against this legislation, yet all of the consumers associations and rural populations were calling for it.

The true debate on the future of the rural sector ought to address protection of water and the environment, the emergence of agrotourism, and seeking to strike a balance among the various agricultural concerns. We know that, with the protection of farm activities and the advent of the right of production, agriculture is assuming a vital role in our rural areas. The countryside must not become exclusive to agriculture. It must also protect our irreplaceable collective heritage such as our lakes and woods. The debate that should take place on rural development must also address this aspect.

I would like to come back to the tour in order to show how I was approached about our the future of our rural areas. A number of groups and organizations came to express their grave concerns on the growth of agribusiness and all its potential consequences for the environment. Our rural areas have been totally ruined by the burgeoning giant pig operations in all provinces, Quebec in particular. Land prices, on which there is heavy speculation by those involved in vertical integration, have increased so much that in the very near future it will become more and more difficult for dairy and beef farmers to buy any land at a reasonable price, if they want to expand. Not only that, but young farmers wanting to start up an operation will face major obstacles in the increased land and production costs.

The rural communities understand all of this. In fact, in the past 10 to 15 years, agriculture has taken a turn toward agribusiness. The various levels of government have focused their assistance on that sector, abandoning the small farm operations. The famous U.S. bill is being criticized. If it gets enacted, there will no longer be any room for small operations, in Quebec or in Ontario. I have heard the positions of the associations on this. I asked them directly, “If the various levels of government continue to favour agribusiness almost exclusively, what do you see happening to our rural areas in the future?”

Their unanimous opinion is, “Our countryside as we know it will disappear. There will be nothing but giant farm operations managed by big agribusinesses, often even U.S. ones, which will replace us and do things their way”.

What many generations in Quebec, Ontario and the other provinces have built up will be lost. And this is where the focus needs to be when it comes to rural development.

The secretary of state is trying hard. He has even met with many well-intentioned stakeholders, especially in Charlottetown. However, his government is not giving him enough money to show the leadership needed to save rural areas.

Rural areas are also affected by all the efforts which have been made to implement farm tourism. Those who use our charming bike trails will quickly abandon them if they come up against the increasing affront to the nose from industrial farming operations.

A recent ad campaign by Quebec's federation of hog producers used the line “Spring is in the air”. When I was young, the air smelled good when you stepped outside. Now, if you put your nose out the door and the hog megaproducers have spread the liquid manure, the slogan “Spring is in the air” takes on quite a different meaning from the delightful one that would have occurred to me in the spring way back when.

The time has come to stop imitating the United States. I have spoken at length about the woes of the rural world. However, I have seen what is happening elsewhere. It is important for members of the House to get out and see what is being done elsewhere. It is as though we are obsessed with solely looking at what is happening in the United States.

Let me give the example of a country called Switzerland, where small producers practice farming to supply food, of course, but while protecting the environment at the same time. The environment must play a central role in the debate over rural development.

Nearly 80% of all Swiss farmers have switched to green practices, which were promoted in the early 1990s. In a referendum held in June 1996, 77% of the Swiss population supported a concept of agriculture that incorporated multiple functions to promote sustainable development. Canada is a long way from this reality.

In addition to the obligation to feed the population—close to two thirds of the food consumed in Switzerland is produced in the country—the agricultural sector has become a partner in implementing a sustainable development policy. Consequently, it works to ensure the protection of biological diversity by providing the necessary land for animal and vegetable species. This is a far cry from what we see in documentary footage on the treatment of animals here in our craze for mass production. Animals virtually never go outside, yet the land belongs to them.

There is also a connection between farming and tourism. Farms must be laid out in a decentralized manner, and must not spoil the landscape.

In closing, the Government of Canada must announce its policy direction regarding the agricultural model that it wants to pursue. More importantly, it must reflect on rural development as a whole and try to rationalize the industrial model with the family model and try to come up with policies that will meet the needs of our communities.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

December 10th, 2001 / 3:25 p.m.
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Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to present two petitions from citizens in the Peterborough area who are supporters of Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drug Act re genetically modified food. These people support mandatory labelling that would allow research and post-release monitoring of potential health effects of genetically modified food. They see this as applying to all stages of sale. It would require the genetic history of a food or ingredient to be recorded and traced through all stages of distribution, manufacturer processing, packaging and sale.

These petitioners call upon parliament to accept the principles of Bill C-287 and allow all residents of Canada the right to decide whether to purchase products containing modified material.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

December 5th, 2001 / 3:25 p.m.
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Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition from citizens of the Peterborough area who support Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act regarding genetically modified food.

The petitioners support mandatory labelling which would allow for research and post-release monitoring of potential health effects of genetically modified food. They call upon the Parliament of Canada to support the principles in Bill C-287 and to allow all Canadians the right to decide whether to purchase products containing modified material.

I wonder if I could have unanimous consent to return to motions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

December 3rd, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
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Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to present a petition today from citizens of the Peterborough area who are concerned about genetically modified organisms, particularly food.

These citizens were supporters of Bill C-287. They support mandatory labelling that would allow for research and post-release monitoring of potential health effects of genetically modified foods. They would have this apply to all stages of sale. It would require the genetic history of a food or ingredient to be recorded and traced through all stages of distribution, manufacturing, processing, packaging and sale.

These petitioners call upon the Parliament of Canada to support the principles embodied in Bill C-287 and allow residents of Canada the right to decide whether to purchase products containing modified material.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

October 24th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
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Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition in support of Bill C-287, which, unfortunately, has already been defeated in this House. The petitioners draw to the attention of parliamentarians the need for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Member'S Business

October 17th, 2001 / 5:40 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to order made Tuesday, October 16, 2001, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-287 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

October 17th, 2001 / 3:25 p.m.
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Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I present a petition signed by 2,162 people and stating that Canadians are not, at this time, in a position to know which food products contain genetically modified material.

The signatories of this petition call upon parliament to pass Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food).

Points of OrderOral Question Period

October 17th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my point of order arises out of events that took place during the last hour of debate last night on private members' business, Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), which stands in the name of the member for Davenport.

As the House will be voting on this bill this evening, I felt it was urgent to bring this matter to your attention.

I would like you as Speaker to examine the record pertaining to the debate on Bill C-287 last night, and attempt to find some remedy to avoid this problem in the future.

I refer here to page 919 of Marleau and Montpetit, which states:

Although there is no practice of a fixed pattern for the recognition of Members wishing to speak during Private Members' Business, the Chair seeks to ensure that there is a smooth flow of debate, providing opportunities for all points of view to be expressed.

The matter of speaking order and rotation during private members' business has been raised many times in the House. The procedure book cites the occasions of March 16, 1992, March 18, 1992, November 30, 1992 and October 18, 1995 as examples.

Most of the time the debate flows smoothly. Time is shared on both sides of the House and among members from all parties. Indeed, many times the Chair upon seeing a lot of interest in debate on the subject matter of private members' business will consult the House as to division of the remaining time, so that all those who are in the Chamber and who wish to participate may.

I was very frustrated by the flow of debate last night and raised this with the Acting Speaker at the time, who stated:

At some point in time the Chair had to make a decision to balance those who were for and who were against the bill. I wanted to ensure a better understanding for the public and for our colleagues in the House to help members make up their minds before voting tomorrow afternoon. That was the reasoning behind it. There was no offence intended. I was trying to accommodate as many members as possible.

I notified the Table early in the day yesterday that I wished to speak on this bill. I was continuously in the House from the very beginning of private members' hour and rose in my place several times, but to no avail. This matter did not just affect me. Other members in the House intervened with the Acting Speaker as well, but to no avail.

I hope you will understand, Mr. Speaker, my frustration in not being allowed to speak on this bill during debate last night, so that I could place on record my full support and that of my party on Bill C-287.

I certainly had a unique position to bring to the House on this bill, not just to speak in favour of it, but in fact to bring a different argument forward and to put that on the record, one that focused on the precautionary principle, guaranteeing food safety, health protection and survival of the family farm.

The Acting Speaker last night could not have known that these were the points I wanted to get on the record, yet he did state in the House that he knew that other speakers were speaking pro and con, which is why he recognized them.

I resort to raising this with you today because of my interest in this issue. I have been working hard on this matter in the House and in committee during this and the previous parliament. In fact, on March 28, 2001, I introduced my own private member's bill, Bill C-310, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, and I also brought forward a motion in May 2000.

To conclude, in the interest of ensuring as much debate as possible during private members' business, I wonder if it is possible that when a private members' bill is deferred by order of the House that the full hour, rather than 45 minutes, is allowed for debate, and that in fact you will review the record and my concern that all sides of the House and all members in the House who would like to participate in such debate have an opportunity to do so.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

October 16th, 2001 / 7:15 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr Bélair)

Since it is 7:15 p.m., the time provided for the debate is now over. Pursuant to the order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of Bill C-287 are deemed put, and a recorded division is deemed requested and deferred to the expiry of the time provided for government orders on Wednesday, October 17.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

October 16th, 2001 / 7:10 p.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to raise the fact that it is private member's hour where we have a long established tradition of private members' representing all the different political parties in the House having an opportunity to speak. It has always been the intention of this party to participate in this debate.

I stood in my place on numerous occasions to indicate my intention to speak. In the preceding three-quarters of an hour Your Honour has chosen to recognize two private members who happen to be Liberals. There may be some particular difficulties on that side of the House requiring the two opposing views to be presented to the House this evening, but in all fairness there needs to be some recognition of the five parties in this place and some recognition of members of each of those parties to speak.

I wanted to speak tonight and join in commending the member for Davenport on the bill. I wanted to give our support for his efforts and to make some recommendations. Given the traditions of the House, I would ask if you would seek unanimous consent to allow me to have 10 minutes to speak to Bill C-287.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

October 16th, 2001 / 6:50 p.m.
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Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few moments to remind the House and Canadians that October 16 is World Food Day. Today is the day when we commemorate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It was founded here in Canada, in Quebec City, on October 16, 1945. The theme this year is to fight hunger to reduce poverty. It underscores the need to alleviate hunger in order to eradicate poverty around the world.

I would like to first congratulate the member for Davenport for his work on this issue and particularly for his work on the environment. In saying that, though, I would have to say that I disagree with his approach on this issue.

I recognize that the labelling of genetically modified foods has become an important issue for consumers. However, I do not believe that Bill C-287 is the best way to achieve this goal. Clearly a public discussion involving parliamentarians needs to take place. I am glad that the government has done that and has asked the committee on health to look into this very important issue.

Let me turn to a few specifics for a quick overview of exactly what we do first here in Canada with regard to genetically modified foods.

Health Canada and, in particular, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, share accountability for food labelling policies under the Food and Drugs Act. Health Canada's responsibilities derive from its mandate for health and safety issues. I might say to all members of parliament and Canadians that we have the safest food standards in the world. We can be assured that Canadian food is safe because we have the people in place in the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and in Health Canada who take the time to look at these issues and to look at these foods before they are put on our plates.

I recognize that the labelling of foods derived from biotechnology has become an important issue for consumers. I am glad that the government continues to discuss these issues with groups within Canada and in international organizations.

Recognizing that there is a need for a public discussion involving parliamentarians, as I said, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister of Industry and the Minister for International Trade contacted and wrote to the members of the health committee asking them to look at this very important issue. There are a number of concerns, particularly in rural Canada, as was mentioned earlier, as to how this sort of labelling would take place and the onus it would put on Canadian farmers today to bear the cost of this labelling.

In addition, one of the initiatives underway in Canada is the development of a Canadian standard for voluntary labelling of foods derived from biotechnology in a project led by the Canadian Grocery Council of Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board, which are two groups of individuals who have taken the time to consult with Canadians across the country on this very important issue.

The draft labelling standard was put forward in July 2001 and is currently now open for comment from across the country. I would like to say that this group is accepting comments from Canadians who want to be involved and want to have a say on this issue until mid-October, with the final publication of the final standards hopefully by March 2002.

Another initiative underway is that of the Canadian biotechnology advisory committee, which is currently preparing advice for government on the regulation of GMO foods, including information provisions to support informed choice with labelling. I guess that is one of the concerns that a number of us had: that the choice of Canadians would be an informed choice. As the hon. member knows, being involved with the European parliamentary association, I do not think they have had the informed choice over there. We want to make sure that Canadians do in fact have that informed choice.

In its interim report released in August, the committee recommended that the government should support the development of an approach to labelling genetically modified foods. It suggested the implementation of a voluntary standard, such as what was being developed by the Canadian General Standards Board, at least initially, in order to test its adequacy and effectiveness and recognize the need for a reliable verification system to support labelling, whether it is a voluntary one or a mandatory one.

It also recognized that the government must continue to work with other countries to develop a harmonized international approach for labelling genetically modified foods. It is critical to have set standards for international trade and for our Canadian products to continue to go into places such as Europe.

The committee is seeking input on its final draft recommendations and we look forward to learning how Canadians respond to this interim report.

I want to talk a bit about what has been said in a few statements by these two groups. The first one is the Royal Society. The Royal Society is a group of Canadians consisting of scientists, researchers and people who are in the know about these sorts of issues. The government has called upon and relied on them to look at this very complex issue and to make some determinations. The Royal Society report stated:

In the end, however, the Panel concluded that there was not at this time sufficient scientific justification for a general mandatory labelling requirement. However, the Panel concluded that many of the concerns identified in this Report do call for a strongly supported voluntary labelling system for GM foods.

The report went on to state:

Many of the concerns voiced in favour of mandatory labelling can be addressed, at least in part, by voluntary labels. This is true, not only of the social, ethical and political concerns, but also of some of the risk-related concerns, especially those related to uncertainties and even fears about unsubstantiated risks associated with GM foods.

The panel believes that strong government support for voluntary labels is an effective way of providing consumer input into these issues, and encourages the Canadian regulatory agencies responsible to establish guidelines for the regulation of reliable, informative, voluntary labels.

The Canadian biotechnology advisory committee made the following recommendations. It said that Canada should develop a set of clear labelling criteria regarding the GM content in food and that further effort could be placed on the ongoing labelling initiative of the Canadian General Standards Board and the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors.

It also recommended we implement the labelling standard voluntarily, at least initially, in order to test its adequacy and effectiveness and widely promote its use so that people have real opportunities to make informed choices.

That is certainly the direction in which I think the government should go and it is a direction in which I think we as parliamentarians should go to make sure Canadians across the country have informed choice.

Bill C-287 raises a number of feasibility issues which I believe can be addressed and studied at the Standing Committee on Health. I would like to outline a few of the problems I see.

Amendments to the Food and Drugs Act, as proposed in the bill, would, I believe, create a two tiered system for genetically modified foods. Depending on the method used and the development of the specific foods, foods falling under the new definition would be required to be labelled to indicate the method of production while others derived from more traditional modification would be subject to voluntary labelling schemes. I think these sorts of issues need to be addressed at the committee.

What concerns me more is the fact that with the actual implementation of the bill mandatory labelling would require segregation in handling, transportation and processing systems and the cost would be borne by our farmers. The cost of changing the farms and the way they operate would put an undue hardship on farmers. I think that is why farm organizations across the country have looked at the bill and decided that there should be other ways to approach it. I am sure that they, along with consumer groups and other groups, would be more than happy to sit down and discuss the bill when the Standing Committee on Health takes a look at the issue.

Bill C-287 is intended to respond to consumer demand for choice. However the better approach to take is the approach being put forward by me, by rural Canadians, and by a group of other interested Canadians who want to talk about this issue and want to appear before the Standing Committee on Health.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

October 16th, 2001 / 6:30 p.m.
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Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak this evening to Bill C-287, which in my view is necessary.

It is vital that we recognize the desire of Canadians, which is consistent across the country, to ensure that labelling of genetically modified foods is made mandatory. This is the primary purpose of this bill.

As for the principle, I believe that the vast majority of Canadians are in agreement and I also believe that it is our duty to carry out their wishes.

Does the bill require any amendments, corrections or adjustments? Perhaps. It is in committee that this work must be done. I therefore intend to support the bill at second reading so that the appropriate House of Commons committee can study it.

It should be pointed out that supporting this bill is not voting against genetically modified foods. Some people make this connection. They say that anyone supporting this bill is automatically against the existence of genetically modified foods and the fact that they are sold on the Canadian market. That is simply not true.

The concept of mandatory labelling is not ipso facto systematic opposition to genetically modified food. On the contrary, it is instead a proposal of choice, relating to the principle that consumers are entitled to know what they are eating. Our bottom line is merely a call for support of that principle, the consumer's right to know what he or she is consuming.

That right manifests itself in the labelling of the foods we buy in our grocery stores. That is what this bill seeks to do.

Nor is this a vote against our farmers. I say the opposite is true; it is vote in favour of our farmers. If Canadian consumers no longer have the right to know what they are consuming as far as GMOs are concerned, the next step will be a food boycott.

Moreover, the desire to protect the farmer, which appears to be the motivation of those opposed to this bill, is in danger of turning against the very people it is trying to help, that is, this country's farmers.

This is not a vote against the farmers, nor against genetically modified foods. It is vote in favour of the consumers' right to know what they are consuming.

I must admit that I was somewhat stymied by a little document sent to our offices today encouraging MPs to vote against this bill. It comes from the agrifood industry. A number of points are raised in it and I would like to address a few of them.

One of the first, in which they claim a vote in favour of the bill is a vote of censure, states as follows:

A vote in favour of Bill C-287 means a vote of censure against our world-class regulatory bodies.

This is not the case at all. This means that if a vote in the House amends or expands upon a legislative measure, or some regulatory measure. it represents censure of the body responsible. This is not the case.

What it is instead is a demonstration that our society is evolving, our knowledge is evolving, our ability to genetically modify foods, non-existent fifteen or so years ago, now does exist and needs to be reflected in our regulations, in our legislation. This is not censure. Saying that it is, in a way, is taking us for fools.

The second point that is raised, I will read in English.

Mandatory labels on ALL food products containing GM ingredients, estimated at 60-70% of products currently on store shelves, despite the fact that they have undergone a rigorous approval process.

If we vote against Bill C-287, that is what this means. I have a serious doubt about that.

My colleague who spoke before me referred to a very important document, entitled “Recommendation for Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada”, prepared by an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada. It is important to note what they recommended for security in our food system. Recommendations 8.1 and 8.2 state:

The Panel recommends the precautionary regulatory assumption that, in general, new technologies should not be presumed safe unless there is a reliable scientific basis for considering them safe. The Panel rejects the use of “substantial equivalence” as a decision threshold to exempt new GM products from rigorous safety assessments on the basis of superficial similarities because such a regulatory procedure is not a precautionary assignment of the burden of proof.

The Panel recommends that the primary burden of proof be upon those who would deploy food biotechnology products to carry out the full range of tests necessary to demonstrate reliably that they do not pose unacceptable risks.

It seems that in some circumstances we are relying on the concept of substantial equivalence to determine that. The Royal Society has determined that it is not appropriate.

The third point made is as follows:

If the bill is passed, producers will be forced to reformulate their food products with ingredients that do not contain GMOs, as they have had to do in other countries.

This raises the following question: If it is what consumers want, then is it not up to vendors to ensure that they get it, especially when it is feasible? Who is deciding here? Consumers or vendors? Are we being asked to reverse the law of supply and demand? It is completely absurd. We could not, because we would have to change what we are offering consumers, and give them what they want. It is completely backwards.

We are told that if we support the bill there will be a drop in investment in biotechnology which will lead to the loss of beneficial genetic technologies and life sciences programs in Canada.

I would assert that the opposite is true. If this technology poses no risks, then why not be up front? The best way to do this is through mandatory labelling on genetically modified food products.

Over the years, consumers will become aware of what they are eating, which will have the opposite effect: a greater acceptance of the technology and therefore more private sector investment in order to offer more products. However, the opposite of what they claim is also true. If in fact the country does not require mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods, there may be a backlash. Consumers may well say “If you will not give us want we want in terms of information, we will obtain it some other way. We will insist on it”.

Some companies have already decided not to stock genetically modified products in their stores. The consequences for our farmers, agricultural industries and the agrifood sector are serious. We would be wise to think carefully before voting blindly.

Finally, they say a vote against Bill C-287 would ensure that food companies would continue their ongoing dialogue with consumers about manufacturing processes, including the use of GM ingredients, the toll free number and websites.

They have just given us the solution for mandatory labelling. It is very simple. We can design a symbol and that symbol could be affixed on food products, be they packaged or not. When people buy fresh food products, be they vegetables or fruits, they will find a sticker with numbers on them, including where they have been grown.

That symbol of genetically modified food products could become universal, as other symbols have become, and could be affixed on all food products, packaged or otherwise, with a website address or a 1-800 number for Canadians to call and get the information they want.

No one is asking that we put a label on each apple. However, a person could easily find out how a particular food product has been modified genetically through a website address or a 1-800 number, thereby giving the consumer what he or she deserves, that is, the information they want in order to determine what they eat.

That is what is at stake here. It is not a vote against genetically modified foods. It is not a vote against our farming community. It is a vote in favour of consumers.

Canada has a symbiotic relationship between the farming community and the urban community. Whenever our farming community needs help, quite often the urban community comes through, perhaps in some cases not enough and I recognize that, but it has come through by way of tax grants and programs.

The reverse is also true. Not only the urban community, where the bulk of consumers is located, but Canadians everywhere are demanding to know, via mandatory labelling, whether they are consuming genetically modified foods. That is to the advantage of our farming community as well.

When we vote on this tomorrow, I invite all my colleagues to vote in favour of sending this bill to committee so we can seize the government of this important matter.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

October 16th, 2001 / 6:20 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak in favour of Bill C-287 in principle, and I will expand on that later on.

The hon. member for Davenport is a very strong environmentalist. He has brought forth an issue which the vast majority of Canadians are asking for. They are asking for public debate on the labelling of genetically modified food.

We know from a myriad of public opinion surveys, which we should not use exclusively, that the vast majority of Canadians are in support of mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. A recent poll in the Globe and Mail cited it at 95.2% and a recent Decima poll had it at 87%.

Although this private member's bill replicates the Progressive Conservative position with respect to mandatory labelling of genetically modified food, we said in our election platform last November that we would work toward a law that would require the mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. We think that is where Canadians are and that is what we have before us today.

Bill C-287 tabled by the hon. member for Davenport has some very serious flaws which we would like to bring forth. The Progressive Conservative Party and our coalition partners in the DRC are concerned about them.

One is that the bill states that in order for a food to be defined as genetically modified free it must have a threshold of less than 1% of GMO. Even the best infrastructure we could have in place today would make that extremely difficult to utilize. The Europeans are using a threshold of 5%.

Another aspect we are immensely concerned about is the very real fact that the physical infrastructure is simply not in place to be able to, for example in the case of grains and oilseeds, separate those that are genetically modified from those that are GMO free.

The position we would like to talk about is quite simple. Bill C-287 is not intended to add health or safety benefits to the products of biotech. It is about Canadians' right to know what they are eating.

Although there is some difference of opinion about what the right approach would be, the Progressive Conservative Party and our coalition partners believe we should work toward a law to have mandatory labelling.

We are supporting this legislation in order to have the debate the Government of Canada should be having. That is why we are supporting it in principle at second reading. However the bill in its current form would be more difficult to support at third reading.

Biotechnology depends for its future success upon an informed and supportive public. Measures are needed to build public trust and gain the public's confidence in the safety of the food made using genetically modified plants and animals.

We believe that the biotech industry is a safe industry. This is not about the safety of our food but the minimum we should be providing to Canadians is the public right to know.

In the platform I spoke about earlier we said quite clearly that we would work toward a law requiring the labelling of genetically modified foodstuffs. We support Bill C-287 in principle on the basis of studying the matter further at committee. We need to say yes to debate and yes to discussion. That is the position we wish to follow at this time.

Mandatory labelling can occur in the future only if it is done in a cost effective way in concert with food labelling policies of other major food producing and trading countries. We are in a situation where there is not an established process with respect to mandatory labelling. The Europeans will have that in place very soon. We need to build more confidence in biotech. Labelling and having the confidence to label is a step in that direction.

There are countries that question the food safety or the marketability of the product. Our farmers know that they have to respond to this. The wheat farmers in Canada have said on previous occasions that they would prefer that we just get away from genetically modified wheat, that they do not want to be held at a competitive disadvantage either. Right now genetically modified soy cannot be marketed to Japan. Canola cannot be sold to Europe if it is genetically modified.

I would like to touch on a couple of issues that other individuals may raise throughout the context of this debate. There has been a fair amount of misinformation with respect to the report that was recently tabled by the Royal Society, in which voluntary labelling was recommended. That should be considered. I do not think that is where we will ultimately go.

With respect to its study, the Royal Society of Canada said that the panel recognizes there are broader social, political and ethical considerations and debate about mandatory labelling of GM foods that lie outside the panel's specific mandate. The discussion was not intended to provide an answer to the issue of mandatory labelling. It simply said that it was not within its mandate.

We have an august direction to take if a range of Canadians from 95.2%, as the Globe and Mail said, to 87%, according to the Decima poll,say that mandatory labelling is something they want to proceed with. It would be very wrong and very ill advised to vote against Bill C-287 and not at least have that discussion in committee.

That is what private members' bills are about: to educate the public, perhaps to embarrass the government on occasion if it is not going in a certain direction so that we can advance public policy. I want to congratulate the member for Davenport for bringing the bill forward although it has some very identifiable flaws in that we do not have the infrastructure in place today. The percentage he utilized is wrong as well. However it would be prudent for us to at least have a discussion at committee.

I am concerned on one aspect. I received a letter from the Minister of Health dated October 11, just five days ago, wherein he stated that voluntary labelling was the only route to take. I refer to a letter he sent to a constituent of mine who is a strong advocate of mandatory labelling, Sister Angelina Martz of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of St. John. She writes to me quite often. She consistently advances public policy. I was pleased to at least support the perspective of that constituent.

Canadians have made it very clear that they want to take this direction. We may have some concerns in terms of the timing of this initiative because the very last thing we would want to do is take even a nickel away from the farmers at the farm gate.

We are heading in the direction of mandatory labelling at some point in time. It is only prudent for us to at least have the discussion before Canadians and talk about the pluses and minuses and about the right timing to go forward with it.

We would like to vote in principle for the bill at second reading, but if the bill comes back at third reading in the exact form it is in right now, it will be difficult to support it.

Genetically Modified FoodsStatements By Members

October 16th, 2001 / 2 p.m.
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Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the need for a mandatory labelling system of genetically modified foods was made evident by the events of last summer. For example, we had the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors ordering major grocery chains to remove from the shelves labelled products or cover labels identifying products that are GM free.

One wonders whether it is fair to leave an issue as basic as the consumers' right to know what they eat to the whim of food retailers. Why are consumers denied the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions with regard to genetically modified foods?

I invite my colleagues in the House to give serious consideration to these questions and to support Bill C-287 when voting on it tomorrow.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 16th, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
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Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Discussions have taken place between all parties and the member for Davenport concerning the taking of the division on Bill C-287 scheduled for later today at the conclusion of private members' business. I believe you would find consent for the following:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on Bill C-287, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion for second reading be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to Wednesday, October 17, 2001 at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.