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.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2001 / 7:05 p.m.
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Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will start this evening by recognizing all the hard work that the hon. member for Davenport has put into the bill. It is an extremely important piece of legislation and the work he has put into it reflects the quality of the representation that he brings into the House.

The bill deserves the support of all political parties in the House. The New Democratic Party is fully in support of the legislation. It has been reflected in our policy for some time and was adopted overwhelmingly in our convention in 1999.

I also want to take this opportunity to recognize the work that my colleague from Winnipeg North Centre has put into this area. She has done much to promote the labelling of genetically modified organisms. In addition to this private member's bill, she also has a private member's bill on the same issue.

It is important to reflect on what has happened in the country in terms of this type of legislation. In that regard I will quote a couple of statistics. More than 80 groups have joined in support of the bill. They have educated the Canadian public about the importance of implementing a mandatory labelling scheme so that the public is made aware of genetically engineered foods before consuming them.

In addition, more than 35 countries around the world have adopted or are in the process of adopting mandatory labelling. The interesting part about that, and maybe the scary part about it, is that Canada is seen now as having fallen significantly behind these other countries. I believe it was my friend on the Liberal side of the House who made a point that I want to echo. As a result of falling behind we face the possibility as a country of losing access to international markets.

Our farming industry is not in great shape, as we all know, and adding to its problems is the last thing the government and the House should be doing. Support for labelling is important from that perspective.

I want to note some of the countries that have adopted or are in the process of adopting standardized mandatory labelling. The United Kingdom, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and at least 14 of the European Union countries have gone down this road, much in advance of us.

Bill C-287 would also assist us in complying with our international responsibilities. We have adopted the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. We met internationally. We have debated the issue. We have accepted that protocol. We have to follow through on it. In that regard the bill would allow for the labelling of food or food ingredients that contain genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology. That is right in the definition section of the bill.

When one looks at the details of the bill it is important to note, and again this is some praise to the hon. member for Davenport, that it traces genetically modified organisms that are added to food through all stages of production, distribution, manufacture, packaging and sale. It is extremely important that it is detailed to that degree.

Again I echo the importance, as has been indicated more eloquently by other members, of the basic right of all Canadians to know what is in the food they are consuming. It seems to me that right of the consumer is ingrained in all sorts of legislation. It reflects the consumer movement that has been alive and healthy for a good number of years. In that respect every public opinion poll shows that the vast majority of Canadians believe they have the right to know what is in their food.

Coming back to the 80 groups that have lobbied around the country and have educated the public, they have moved that consciousness in the Canadian public quite significantly over the last five years or six years. We now see that 70%, 80% and sometimes 90% of respondents in these surveys indicate that they believe they have a right to know what is in the food they are consuming.

Some argue that the industry should do it itself, that we should go to voluntary labelling. We have seen in any number of areas that simply does not work. We strongly supports that part of the bill which makes labelling mandatory.

It is interesting to note the excellent work that ended in the report of the Royal Society of Canada earlier this year, in February, I believe. In that report there was a very damning condemnation of the practices of this government as far as food safety is concerned. The society was critical of the government, saying that in fact Canadians do not know enough about genetically modified foods, about what is safe and what is not. The society argued quite strenuously in that report that this is because the process itself is so flawed, so problematic, that governments approve food for human consumption using a methodology that just simply is no longer acceptable.

The precautionary principle should be applicable here. To a significant degree it is reflected in the clauses of this bill. In this situation, that precautionary principle would ensure that if we are not sure about the safety of GM food we do not allow it on the market. If scientists cannot tell us whether it is safe, not only in the short term but in the long term, then it does not go into a product that is sold for human consumption. It is simply not allowed in the marketplace.

It is time for the bill. It is time that we get in line with the international community and with a great deal of our trading partners. It is time to catch up to them. It is time to bring in the bill and pass it in the House so that our society has that protection.

It is a unique opportunity for the House to reflect on the work that has been done by the member for Davenport. We should send this over to committee, let it do its review, then bring it back to this House once it comes out of committee and pass it into law.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2001 / 7 p.m.
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Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act specifically concerning genetically modified food.

This is a very simple piece of legislation. New section 7.1(1) states:

7.1(1) No person shall sell—a food that contains more than one per cent of a genetically modified food, unless it is labelled with a statement a ) that it is or contains an ingredient that is genetically modified, and b ) which food or ingredient is derived from genetic modification.

Earlier, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis told us that it was very important to know what we eat. I think it is a fundamental individual right to know what we eat. But to know it is, this information must provided on the label of the product that we buy at the store.

The member who spoke before me suggested that we consult all the experts, take into account their point of view and look at the findings of the research done before supporting this bill.

If we have to wait for all scientists to agree on the effects of genetically modified foods, and for all the scientific results of the impact of these foods, a lot of water will go under the bridge before we take any action at all.

I think that it is important that labelling be made mandatory. Already, almost 88% of farmers say they are ready to label. Why should we have to have pressure put on us by lobbyists?

Very often I hear members speak who are themselves farmers, and who do not always mention that they are judge and jury in this process.

We are here to pass laws to improve the health of the public. The Canadian Alliance speaker said that he was on the Standing Committee on Health and that he was going to ask, on the committee's behalf, that the bill not be supported.

I hope that it is. If the public is to remain healthy, I would hope that we could at least know what sort of junk we are eating, in order to be able to decide whether or not to buy it. If we do not know what we are eating, it is fairly obvious that the impacts can be horrendous.

Consider what is going on in our society, what we are eating, and in what kind of environment we are living, that there are as many cancers as there are today. We have to wonder. Why are there more and more people being born with all sorts of disabilities, and with much more severe ones? Naturally, people are living longer, and we know more about diseases.

Surely there is something that explains what is going on right now in our world. I think it is important that we support this bill. We must start somewhere. Recently, we did much worse for young offenders than what this bill wants to do with the food we eat.

It seems to me that we could take a first step. If ever this turns out to be completely ridiculous or impossible, it will always be possible to turn around and say that we made a mistake. Then we can change our minds and take a different approach.

I wanted to talk about something that is going on right now. We want this to be done on a voluntary basis. A brewery called Unibroue asked the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to issue a certificate officially guaranteeing that its beer was free of genetically modified organisms.

It was a long process that started on June 22, 2000 and ended around April 24, 2001. Finally, just a month ago, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a certificate guaranteeing that the beer produced by Unibroue was GMO-free. Unibroue needed this certificate to launch a major marketing campaign on the European market, which it did.

What happened next is somewhat catastrophic. When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency saw that Unibroue was using this certificate for marketing purposes and to sell its product, its beer, it decided to withdraw the certificate. It told the company that it could no longer use the certificate, that it was taking it away. The company was told by the agency that it had no right to use the certificate for marketing purposes.

The agency issued the certificate on April 24, 2001, only to withdraw it in June of 2001. It is totally ridiculous. This kind of thing should not happen. It makes no sense.

I am very happy to think that such a bill could be passed. I will certainly recommend that my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois support this bill, even though we are free to vote as we please on private members' bills.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2001 / 6:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill C-287 put forward by the member for Davenport. The member's bill calls for mandatory labelling of foods that contain genetically modified organisms.

I represent a constituency that has agriculture as its main industry. It seems to me that the bill would hurt the farming sector in a very negative way. I have received many letters from agricultural groups that have serious concerns with the legislation.

Mr. Roy Button, president of the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, stated in a letter to my office that if mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods is established for some concerned customers then “the cost of food production for all consumers will be increased and there will be no improvement in food safety”. These costs would then be passed on to the producer, resulting in lower commodity prices.

Mr. Ray Hilderman, president of the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association which represents 40,000 Saskatchewan canola producers, states that a recent study by the Canola Council of Canada showed that canola producers were saving $5.80 an acre by growing transgenic canola. The study said transgenic canola resulted in higher yields, lower dockage for foreign markets, better returns, less field tillage, less use of pesticides and less consumption of fuel, which not only saves the producer money but benefits the environment as well.

He also states that there would be a problem with the labelling of canola oil. As the bill stands now, products derived from genetically modified plants must be labelled. However tests conducted on canola oil cannot differentiate between genetically modified and non-genetically modified canola.

The Ontario Corn Producers' Association, which represents 21,000 corn growers in Ontario, stated in a letter to the member for Davenport that it has found most farmers to be supportive of biotechnology as a means of improving their product. The benefits of biotech include reduced pesticide use and improved pest control, which also benefits the environment.

The OCPA also pointed out that the intention of the bill to abandon the novel crop and food regulations, against which all new crops and foods must be tested, could introduce “new corn varieties made using wide crosses with bananas or barnyard grasses, for example, or soybeans with peanuts, with no requirement for testing”.

The National Dairy Council of Canada states in a letter from its vice-president, Mr. Pierre Nadeau, that the bill raises complex scientific and technical questions. First, what is meant by traditional breeding? What techniques would be classified as biotechnology? Second, how would the 1% threshold be calculated? Would it be calculated on the amount in the food, the per serving amount? Would it be calculated by volume? Would it be calculated by weight?

It appears to me that the legislation is very reactionary. Currently the Canadian General Standards Board is developing a voluntary labelling program for genetically modified foods. With help from over 60 concerned industry and consumer groups, the CGSB is ensuring a labelling standard that is informative, understandable and supportable.

Consumers are demanding that products they buy in stores be properly labelled so they can make wise and informed choices. Government should not interfere in something consumer demand can rectify.

As Mr. Nadeau of the National Dairy Council of Canada stated in his letter:

There is no question that mandatory labelling at this time is driven in large part by perception. People are always afraid of what they do not understand. The question becomes: should legislation be implemented in response to public perception at a particular point in time, or should legislation be the result of enlightened governance?

It seems clear that the legislation was not drafted in an informed light. Why should we force something down the throats of food processors that they themselves have been working on for the last couple of years?

In conclusion I will say that there is a much better way to go on this issue. We should treat it the same way we treat organic foods. Organic foods are labelled on a voluntary basis. That is much more sensible and it is the only practical approach.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2001 / 6:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-287, regarding the labelling of genetically modified foods.

I come from two perspectives. First, I am a member of the health committee. As the deputy health critic in this whole area of genetically modified foods, I believe it is important to see it from a health perspective.

Second, I have quite a bit of firsthand experience in dealing with genetically modified foods. I farm and have grown genetically modified foods for a number of years. I know a little bit of the science and know what actually happens at the farm gate and in the farmer's fields when growing these genetically modified foods.

Some of the confusion for consumers when they look at the whole area of genetically modified foods is whether it is really important. They ask questions such as what is a genetically modified food and is it safe? The whole idea of genetically modified foods is that it is sort of a Frankenstein food.

We need to have a good debate about that before we get into the idea of whether or not we should label it. Once we ask those questions and answer them, we will have a better discernment of exactly what we are trying to label.

We must first understand the degree to which genetically modified foods are being grown in the world today. Some 33 million acres of genetically modified crops, which represents 10% of the world's supply, is actually being grown right now. That is a tremendous number. However, we have yet to see any harmful repercussions from the usage of genetically modified foods.

We should take a look at the long term effects because people are saying our foods maybe become eroded and may not have the same nutritional values that they used to, yet the statistics show a different picture. The statistics show we are living longer and have more active and healthier lives now than ever before. If our food sources were to become polluted or dangerous, the opposite of that would actually take place.

Opponents of this would suggest that is yet to come. It is something we should be cautious of in the future. I would suggest that if that is true, then we should do it on a scientific basis. We should look at genetically modified foods from a scientific perspective as to whether we should label them or not.

The population of the world is exploding. There are more than six billion people right now. How many hungry mouths would we have if we did not grow genetically modified foods? The projections are that we will grow to nine billion people very soon and it will continue to escalate. The technologies that we develop are very important.

Genetically modified foods, depending on how we see them and how we discern what a genetically modified food is, have been around from the beginning of time. We have modified foods for a number of years. Today we have 600 million hectares of wheat grown worldwide. If we were using the same technology that we used in 1965, we would need another 850 million hectares of land to grow that same amount of wheat.

We have hybridized and genetically modified foods for many years. It has now become a bit of a phobia because of what our European neighbours have been doing with regard to genetically modified foods, and suggesting that there is something dangerous and sinister about using them.

If they were honest with the world and with their own people they would be more realistic. They would say they were using opposition to GM foods as a marketing tool. I do not argue that they should not do that. I just argue that they are maybe not being straight up with their population. In Canada we use modified foods and have for a number of years. I think we have proven them to be very safe.

To get a genetically modified food in place, one needs to do a number of things. First, it takes seven years to get it on the shelf. We do not just snap our fingers and make it happen. Seven years of work goes into it. Members must realize that GM foods do not go straight from Monsanto's labs onto the market.

I oppose labelling because the science shows nothing to support it. On that basis, I think we should stay with the science and we will not go wrong.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2001 / 6:30 p.m.
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Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted by the existence of Bill C-287, which concerns genetically modified food. I congratulate the member for Davenport for introducing it into the House.

Much more than a matter of labelling, this bill represents the ability of each individual to make a personal choice on the essence of life within an open and democratic society.

In each area that touches our life, we make choices, and we have the right to do so. We choose our children's schools, a doctor, where we will live, where we will build our home, a type of car or of clothing, and so on.

However, when it comes to the food we eat—the simplest and most vital element in our lives—we cannot make a reasonable and intelligent choice.

If I prefer to eat a natural fish rather than a fish from aquaculture or fish farming, I cannot make that choice because no information in the stores differentiates one from the other. In the same way, when it concerns genetically modified foods, no labelling at all distinguishes them from non-modified foods.

Yet if this information were available, I believe that the great majority of people would most definitely opt for non-modified foods. I certainly would.

I realize that proponents of genetically modified foods will adamantly advance the idea that their products are totally safe and present no dangers to our health. Certainly this has been the pitch that the big proponent of genetically modified foods and seeds, Monsanto, has been advancing for several years, now that it has staked its future on genetically modified seeds and crops.

My colleague's objectives in presenting the bill are simple. First, it gives citizens a choice through labelling. This is the fundamental case in his bill. If there is labelling, as he suggests there must be, then obviously citizens are faced with a normal choice. They choose GM foods if they want to or they leave them aside and choose natural foods.

There is a second objective in his bill. Even if science regarding genetically modified foods is not conclusive, we should use the precautionary principle so that we are put in a position where we use caution and the benefit of the doubt in advising people that there may be a potential danger. When science is not conclusive, the precautionary principle, which our country adopted during UNCED at Rio, clearly states that we should use caution regarding any danger or any potential danger to health and environment.

How can we exercise this caution? How can we be preventive? Without labelling, how can we be cautionary and precautionary if we do not know whether the food is of a certain type or not?

As the bill reminds us, Canada has embarked on various international engagements regarding the potential labelling of food. Both the Codex Alimentarius Commission guidelines of 2000 and more recently the biosafety protocol always point toward caution and toward labelling. Bill C-287 would provide a stringent monitoring and recording of all stages of production of genetically modified foods, which would enable correct labelling to be achieved.

Opponents of labelling have been saying for years that we cannot label genetically modified foods because it is almost impossible to separate them from other foodstuffs because they are an intrinsic part of all foodstuff. Yet if the bill were followed, if there were strict monitoring of all stages of creation and production, of food growing, of recording of all the stages, then we would be able to label foods to a sufficiently clear and reasonable degree such that people could make a choice.

In presenting the bill, in having it made votable before the House, and in us having a chance to debate the very issue of labelling, I think Bill C-287 is doing our country a great favour, because so far all the steps we have taken have been voluntary steps. In fact, we are doing Canada a big favour economically because, more and more, various countries will refuse to accept any food exports from us which may be genetically modified.

I urge all colleagues to strongly support the bill to ensure that labelling becomes a legal reality. Certainly in labelling our foods, we will benefit not only the health and the environment of our society but we will help our exports in the long run. I urge all colleagues to back Bill C-287 and vote in favour of it at second reading.

Genetically Modified OrganismsStatements By Members

May 9th, 2001 / 2 p.m.
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Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Monday several members opposed to Bill C-287 quoted the recent report of the Royal Society of Canada as saying there was no need for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods in Canada.

What the members neglected to mention was the very next sentence in the report. I quote:

The Panel wishes to emphasize, however, that these conclusions are premised upon the assumption that the other recommendations of this Report concerning the conditions for the effective assessment and management of the risks of GM organisms are fully implemented by the regulatory agencies.

We have a very long way to go before we can dismiss any need for mandatory labelling. I encourage all members to read the full report before they so disingenuously cite it.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2001 / noon
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Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am sure my colleague, the hon. member for Davenport, has the right motivation in bringing forward Bill C-287. However let us reflect for a moment.

The Government of Canada asked the Royal Society of Canada to examine how we should prepare to regulate food biotechnology in the future. The Royal Society came to the conclusion:

There are not currently sufficient reasons to adopt a system of general mandatory labelling of GM foods.

The Royal Society came to this conclusion after examining whether food biotechnology causes health or environmental risks that would warrant general mandatory labelling. The panel concluded that such risks do not exist.

That is not to say labelling of biotechnology foods should go unregulated. The Royal Society concluded that labelling should be mandatory in certain circumstances, such as when the food could cause allergic reaction or where the modified food has a different nutrient profile than the original.

These conditions for mandatory labelling, recommended by the independent experts, match the rules Health Canada already has in place. If a genetically modified food is potentially allergenic it absolutely must be labelled. If a food's nutrient profile is significantly changed it absolutely must be labelled.

In short, both the Royal Society and Health Canada agree that if there are health or safety reasons to label biotechnology foods then labelling will continue to be mandatory.

This takes us to the next question, the question of voluntary labelling. Here again it is useful to refer to what the Royal Society panel of experts concluded in its report to the government. The report reads:

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

What the Royal Society is calling for is already well underway. The Canadian General Standards Board has a comprehensive process in place to develop a national labelling standard for foods from biotechnology. This is an excellent approach to the biotechnology food labelling issue. By working together the stakeholders will develop a national labelling standard that will meet the needs of consumers and be workable.

The European Union rushed to put labelling regulations in place. It was among the first in the world to have a mandatory regime in place. However the result of rushing has not been positive. Few products are actually labelled because the scheme is not practical.

The virtue of the Canadian General Standards Board process now underway is that the participants intend to come up with a practical approach. A dialogue is taking place among all the players so that everyone clearly understands what is practical and what will meet the needs of consumers.

One final issue needs to be addressed. Public opinion polls are telling us that the vast majority of Canadians want mandatory labelling rules for foods from biotechnology. We have an obligation to consider the views of our electorate. At the same time, however, the people most intimately involved in the labelling debate are coming to a different conclusion.

We have a split between informed opinion and opinion as measured by opinion polls. Canadians are concerned and they have a right to be concerned. When people become more knowledgeable or engaged in an issue they often change their minds. I submit that we need to listen to informed views. We need to listen to Canadians. We should let the Canadian General Standards Board complete its work. We should not pre-empt informed debate on this topic. We should not quash the work they are attempting to conclude.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2001 / 11:50 a.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand in the House today to represent the position of the Progressive Conservative Party on Bill C-287.

First, I congratulate the member for Davenport who is seen in the House as being an effective spokesperson for the environment and a very passionate advocate with respect to mandatory labelling.

The Progressive Conservative Party does say quite emphatically that it would work toward mandatory labelling and do so in a very logical and cautious way. We will initially support the legislation in order to move it into committee because there are a number of areas that need to be debated and discussed.

I sit on the agriculture committee. I must congratulate a previous member, Ms. Hélène Alarie, who was a passionate advocate of this particular topic. She put forward a private member's motion which I and my party voted against. We did not vote against it because we did not feel very strongly about mandatory labelling but because the agriculture committee was going to strike a subcommittee to discuss in detail the positives, the weaknesses and the flaws in mandatory labelling.

Many questions on mandatory labelling need to be debated and the best place for that debate would at committee where the necessary stakeholders, consumers, producers and corporations can put their positions forward on mandatory labelling.

It is refreshing to see a bill come forward from a member of the government where it is contrary to government policy and a votable item. It will be interesting to see how the government deals with this particular issue.

The bill does have a number of flaws. One of the specific flaws is that the bill calls for a very narrow definition of GM food to go into the Food and Drug Act. Canada's novel food regulations uses a very broad definition in capturing the regulatory system of anything with a novel heritable trait. This minimizes negative environmental and biodiversity impacts. Because the FDA supersedes the novel food regulations, the breadth of the products that go through the regulatory system would be narrowed to the product of one GM technology and everything else would pass into the food chain unregulated.

It is clear that most Canadians support the principle of openness and transparency within the bill. However, achieving the end results will be a very difficult task, as I am sure the member for Davenport accepts.

The Progressive Conservative Party believes that Canada's biotechnology industry, along with genetically enhanced food, has for the most part benefited our agriculture and agri-food sectors, and Canada as a whole. Biotechnology offers major opportunities to improve both our environmental integrity and improve our food quality.

The challenges that we must face in creating a solid and dynamic biotechnology industry are twofold. First, we must create a climate in which industry sectors can flourish, both here and internationally. International trade is very important.

Second, we must meet the public's concerns about their own health, environment and the safety of GMOs.

It would be unrealistic to think that we can put an end to the biotechnology advancements. We do not want that. I do not believe anyone in the House believes we should stop the advancements of biotechnology. What we can do is find ways to improve the system as it stands today and help improve consumer confidence in the foods that we eat.

During the last federal election, our party stated that it would ensure greater public involvement in the setting of policy and regulations.

We would work closely with the provinces, industry and the large number of consumer stakeholders interested in the question of biotechnology generally and GMOs in particular. We would work to create ways in which the industry's need and the public's real concerns about the health and environmental safety of genetically modified foods could be addressed and resolved.

We would commit to a law requiring the labelling of all genetically modified foodstuffs and products for human consumption. It would include a caveat that mandatory labelling could only occur in the future if done in a cost effective manner, in concert with food labelling policies of other major food processing and trading countries, and by using standards consistent with those of current Food and Drugs Act regulations and international standards. That goal could be achieved if these conditions are met.

There are few issues today that are as complex and as detailed as the issue of labelling food products derived by genetically modified means. There have been ongoing discussions on this topic for over 10 years.

One of the benefits of the biotechnology and GMOs is their multitude. They increase our competitiveness as Canadian agri-food processors and producers. They increase the yields needed to compensate for the increase in world population. They develop more sustainable agricultural practices like zero till and less pest control. In our opinion we should look forward to the benefits of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms.

However there are some issues that are still outstanding with mandatory labelling such as, as was mentioned earlier, the segregation of foodstuffs. We have some difficulty right now in our food production, segregating the food product itself, for example the grains we put into the international marketplace. We have to get that aspect under control as well.

Testing is a very important aspect of the whole issue. We have to know that testing can be done economically as well as effectively so that we know which is a genetically modified organism and which is not.

We also have to look at world standards. We have to make sure we work in concert with the rest of the world. We cannot sit in isolation, deal with mandatory labelling and put in different standards that are not accepted in the world marketplace. Our export markets are absolutely vital to the lifeblood of agriculture. Therefore we must make sure that any standard we set with labelling is a standard that is acceptable by our trading partners.

There is unfortunately no standard at this point in time. We have labelling rules that are being set by communities throughout the globe that are totally different from others. For example, the United States, our major trading partner, is currently only looking at rules for voluntary labelling and not mandatory labelling.

In the European Union all products containing 1% or more GM material must be labelled. Japan is looking at some new changes to its labelling process. It is to take effect this year and require mandatory labelling for food products and processed foods that include one or more genetically modified organism as one of the top three ingredients include. Australia and New Zealand have some very strict labelling requirements, whereas in China there are no labelling requirements at all. We must get together and try to work out a standardized world labelling system so that we can compete in a very competitive world market.

As for our position, it is clear that consumers demand to be informed and we as legislators should look at ways to make changes to cater to these demands. A substantial amount of misinformation continually comes forward with respect to genetically modified organisms and labelling. As parliamentarians we must make sure that the misinformation is backstopped by the proper and correct information. To stick our heads in the sand and not have this go forward is not the way that producers would have us look at the changes in our products and how we market those products.

I would like to see this go forward, with the condition that we do not compete with those people who are already out there doing an awful lot of work on GMOs. We should sit down and listen to all the stakeholders. We could then decide how best to put the rules and regulations into place. The proper rules should be in place that would be accepted by consumers and by the marketplace.

Finally, but certainly not least, the rules we put into place should be accepted by the food producers, those in the agricultural community, our constituents.

I look forward to perhaps debating the bill in committee. We will wait and see how far it can go.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2001 / 11:30 a.m.
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Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), which was introduced by the hon. member for Davenport and aims at making mandatory the labelling of all the food that is genetically modified or contains more than 1% of a genetically modified food.

For almost three years now the Bloc Quebecois has been demanding mandatory labelling of genetically modified food and food products. In November 1999, the Bloc undertook a consultation and an information tour in all the regions of Quebec. This tour was a huge success.

The Bloc also had a petition circulated that gathered close to 50,000 signatures and was tabled in the 36th parliament by the then hon. member for Louis-Hébert, the former Bloc member who, I want to remind the House, rose dozens of times in the House to demand again and again the very same thing, the labelling of GM0s. Why? Because the Bloc Quebecois feels that each and every citizen has the right to know exactly what is in his or her plate. In spite of all the efforts the Bloc made in order to get this government to listen to the concerns of the population of Canada and Quebec, the federal Liberals turned a deaf ear on the demands made by the Bloc Quebecois, which are broadly supported by the population.

The single, and minimal, action taken by the government on GMOs was to strike committees to address the question.

GMOs have been on the market for five years now, and at this time committees are looking at labelling standards. Is this a really serious approach? One might well ask.

What is more, it is already predictable that these standards will be voluntary, and there is nothing to indicate that they will be adopted by companies not currently labelling GMOs.

Perhaps this government needs to be reminded of a few facts that seem to justify its laxness in the field of GMOs, since its position, essentially, like the major food industries, is that there is no proof that GMOs are harmful to health.

This argument is correct, so far, of course, but that may be because there have been no studies on the medium and long term effects of GMOs on human and animal health, or on the flora and fauna.

I would ask this. Can a responsible government treat such risks so lightly? Of course not, particularly since we know that food products containing GMOs have been on the market for the past five years and that 42 genetically modified plants are authorized for use in Canada.

David Suzuki, a well known journalist whose background is in genetics, has already said that politicians who insist GMOs are without danger are either liars or fools.

We know that the countries of the European Union recommend caution: first, in the absence of scientific proof, a prudent approach must be taken in order to prevent potential damage by GMOs to health and the environment.

Second, preliminary studies by scientists in a number of countries indicate that certain GMOs had negative effects on rats, insects and bacteria. These studies, while not involving humans, should encourage us to further investigate their effects and to expand them to humans.

Third, it should be noted in passing that the companies claiming the GMOs they produce are risk free also oppose any sort of regulation that would make them responsible for damage caused by their genetically modified products.

If these companies refuse to assume this responsibility, if preliminary studies indicate that there are effects on certain beings, if certain countries are moving very cautiously on the issue of GMOs, is it not simple justice to give consumers freedom of choice to decide whether or not they want genetically modified foods in their plate?

By playing the game of the food industry and not requiring it to separate products containing genetically modified foods from those that do not, the government is running the risk, over the medium term, of finding itself locked out of certain foreign markets.

We will recall the remarks by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in his report, and I quote:

Genetically modified crops constituted a relatively small proportion of this amount (roughly $840 million or four percent); however, because Canada's bulk commodity handling and transportation system is not currently equipped to segregate genetically modified varieties from the non-modified varieties, all exports of those crops ($2.8 billion) could have been affected.

From this perspective, farmers could find their genetically modified crops and food products made from them banished from the export markets of Europe and Asia. Mexico and the U.S. are currently looking at mandatory labelling of GMOs, and in Canada, some of the major companies, such as McCain and Frito-Lay are no longer buying GMOs.

Food distributors or exporters could also risk losing market opportunities for food products not labelled in such a way as to indicate that they contain GMOs.

In concluding, allow me to mention that, fortunately, some members opposite are well aware of the problems to which Canada might expose itself by not clearly identifying foods containing GMOs. These members finally understood that people's freedom to choose what they eat is a basic right. So voices are being heard from within the government party itself. As proof, this bill was introduced by a member of the government party.

I know that the hon. member for Davenport has his heart set on labelling genetically modified foods and that he supported the efforts made in the past by the Bloc Quebecois in this regard. I sincerely hope that the introduction of his bill will get his party's other members and the ministers thinking about this so that the Canadian government, like several European countries, will make it mandatory to identify foods containing GMOs.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2001 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-287, which deals with mandatory labelling, as put forward by the member for Davenport, represents a personal interest of his. I sat on the environment committee that he chaired.

The member is speaking on behalf of farmers and farm organizations. The member should look at what the letters which received from the farm organizations actually state. They do not support mandatory labelling.

For quick reference, I will refer to a letter from the National Dairy Council of Canada addressed to the member for Davenport, which is also supported by corn and grain growers and other farm groups. The essence of their letter was that:

We find it difficult to appreciate the need for mandatory labelling legislation at this time. It is certainly not a food safety issue, as CFIA and Health Canada are reviewing stringently the safety of those products. We doubt it can be a nutritional or allergy issue, either.

Those are also dealt with by the people who regulate our food safety in this country.

Not only do we have to look at the arguments put forward by the member for Davenport, we also look at the arguments of other players in this issue, including the many millions of Canadians who do not want mandatory labelling. They want a voluntary labelling system that responds to their consumer demands.

I note that Bill C-287 acknowledges there is no safety risk to our food supplies. Clause 7.1(1) states:

No person shall sell or offer for sale a food that contains more than one per cent of a genetically modified food.

If we are going to allow 1%, then we are consuming it. The bill itself states that the food is safe. The argument then gets down to why would we have mandatory labelling? It is due to a response that the member feels a significant number of consumers want it. There are a significant number of consumers, people in agriculture in particular, who say that mandatory labelling is not required and let consumer demand, through the retailer and the wholesaler, make the case. The consumers of course is spending the dollar, so if the demand is there the dollar will be spent on what the consumers wants. If they are demanding mandatory labelling, they will say that they will not buy unlabelled food. That is clearly not the case.

I will not be supporting Bill C-287 because it will implement the mandatory labelling, which is not the right approach for Canada. The majority of farm organizations that I met with were not in favour of this.

I would also point out that the Royal Society of Canada expert panel concluded in its report:

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

That is the essence of the argument. There is no safety issue. The response to the consumer is the important thing. I am a farmer; a cattle rancher. I respond to the consumers and give them the products they want and for which they are willing to pay. That is the same with this labelling issue. There is no reason to have mandatory labelling. It should be left up to the consumer. The Canadian Alliance policy refers to the fact that we support voluntary labelling.

Those are the comments I would like to make in this debate.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2001 / 11:05 a.m.
See context


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

moved that Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, the bill is in favour of mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods in Canada, and for, understandably, good reasons.

First, let me say that the debate today is timely. Just last week Ottawa hosted a meeting of the Codex Alimentarius Commission's Committee on Food Labelling.

Last month Canada signed a biosafety protocol to regulate the trade on living modified organisms.

Finally, the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and others are developing or implementing legislation requiring mandatory labelling on genetically modified foods.

Against this background, the issue of labelling genetically modified foods requires urgent attention because Canada's domestic labelling policy has implications for people, for international trade and for Canada's compliance with international agreements.

Let me explain. Members of the House, either through media or from letters, have been made aware of growing concerns over the pervasive presence of genetically modified foods in the food chain. There is definitely a lack of public confidence due in good part to having been kept in the dark, beginning with the fact that the public does not know which foods are genetically modified and which are not.

What is the purpose of the bill? Members of the House have probably receive all sorts arguments against the mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods. I urge hon. members to keep in mind that this is not a complex, scientific nor technical issue. It simply comes down to the fundamental right of people to know. Canadians want to know what is in their food. It is as basic as that.

Is a mandatory labelling system feasible? Let me describe the key features of C-287 with respect to feasibility and reliability of a mandatory labelling system for GM foods.

What are genetically modified foods? There is confusion surrounding which foods should be labelled. Should foods that are the result of traditional breeding be labelled? The answer is, no. The confusion arises from the fact that genetically modified foods in Canada fall under the broad definition of novel foods in the Food and Drugs Act.

By contrast, international agreements are clear on that issue. As a result, members will find in Bill C-287 that genetically modified food is defined in accordance with the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. This protocol has been signed by Canada. Consequently, the labelling would apply only to food or food ingredients that contain genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology. Nothing more, nothing less.

Having clearly defined GM foods, the bill aims at ensuring that the genetic history of a food or food ingredient be recorded and traced through all stages of production, distribution, manufacture, packaging and sale. This is the only way to ensure the integrity of the documentation trail, to provide accurate labelling and prevent incorrectly labelled material from reaching the consumer. The result of the documentation trail is that no person can sell genetically modified foods unless it is labelled “This food is genetically modified”. Foods that have not been genetically modified do not need to bear this label.

This proposed system does not prevent a vendor from voluntarily applying a label describing the food as genetically modified free, if that is the case.

Why mandatory labelling? Opponents to mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods often refer to the process set up by the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors under the auspices of the Canadian General Standard Board. They form the committee called, and I quote, “The Committee on the voluntary labelling of foods obtained or not obtained through genetic engineering”.

Regrettably, there has never been a consultation through this committee on whether to proceed with a mandatory or a voluntary labelling system for genetically modified foods. The committee on voluntary labelling was struck to work only on a voluntary standard for labelling on genetically modified food. I submit that such a voluntary system offers no guarantee that all foods containing genetically modified material will be labelled.

Under a voluntary labelling system, some foods may be labelled and others may not be. This would be confusing and deceptive to consumers who want to know what they eat. Separation and tracking of genetically modified foods in our food system, as proposed in the bill, are essential features to providing consumers with accurate information. This accuracy cannot be achieved with a voluntary system.

Moreover, a voluntary labelling system cannot offer any guarantee of the genetic integrity of experts to our trading partners.

The committee on voluntary labelling is currently contemplating a voluntary labelling system with four different labels: genetically engineered, genetically modified, non-genetically modified and non-genetically engineered. This is utterly confusing to say the least.

Bill C-287 would put in place a simple mandatory label stating “this food is genetically modified”, or “this food contains an ingredient that is genetically modified”.

The committee on voluntary labelling has had eight meetings since November 1999. It may be meeting for a long time before it can reach consensus on a standard for voluntary labelling. In the meantime, Canadian consumers and trading partners are kept waiting and will continue not to be informed about the content of the food.

Let me also mention this very important fact about voluntary labelling. It is already possible under the Food and Drugs Act to identify biotechnology products under certain conditions. In fact, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency states “Consumer choice can already be accommodated through Canadian legislation via voluntary labelling companies”. Yet, although it is currently permitted under the law, food companies have not seen the necessity to label their products containing genetically modified ingredients. Hence the need for a mandatory labelling system requiring companies to inform Canadians.

I have a final note on the voluntary labelling committee. I believe industry sponsored, closed processes are inappropriate for dealing with an issue as important as food safety and the right to know what we eat. Such debate belongs here, in parliament, and this is one of the reasons for bringing Bill C-287 before the House.

I want to say a few words about the advantages of tracing genetically modified food and of labelling. A mandatory labelling system would make available crucially needed information. It would indicate where genetically modified foods can be found in the food chain, something we are not sure of at this moment. Scientists and medical professionals have frequently made that request. Let me quote from a statement last year by the British Medical Association:

Genetically modified foodstuffs should be segregated at source, to enable identification and traceability of genetically modified products. This is important as there are considerable doubts about the behaviour of GMOS once they are released into the environment, and this will also facilitate monitoring in the interests of public health. It is unacceptable that at present some GM and non-GM products are mixed at source, and are not adequately labelled.

This is quite a firm statement by a medical source.

The current Canadian policy is to limit labelling where there are proven health or safety concerns. However, how can potential long term health effects that may arise from the consumption of genetically modified foods be proven a priori in advance?

In Bill C-287 at least we address this question by mandating the Minister of Health to use information provided by the labelling system and conduct research into the possible long term effects of the consumption of genetically modified food on health. This approach is consistent with the precautionary principle, which Canada adhered to in 1992 at the Rio convention.

I have a few words now about the loss of export markets. Hon. members are being told it is not feasible, too costly and not in Canada's interest to label genetically modified foods. This is not the case. Mandatory labelling is necessary for trade and economic reasons. Our farmers and agribusiness have already incurred costs as the result of the loss of export markets. Without a reliable system for separating genetically modified crops from non-genetically modified crops, we continue to lose export markets in countries that have banned genetically modified foods or require the labelling of genetically modified foods.

We can no longer export canola to Europe. We will soon not be able to export soya to Japan. The Canadian Wheat Board is pleading with the Canadian regulatory agency not to approve genetically modified wheat for fear of losing export markets. As a major agricultural producer and exporter of crops such as wheat, canola, corn and soya beans, Canada relies on their European market for export of agrifood products. Canada cannot continue to lose markets because of an obsolete policy which is increasingly out of sync with the rest of the world.

About the feasibility of separating GM crops and private sector initiatives in response to consumers' demands, this can be said. There is the argument that it is not feasible to separate GM crops from non-GM crops. There are many initiatives by the private sector to the contrary. For example, Casco Inc., a milling industry, announced in spring 1999 that in order to retain its European customers it would no longer be buying varieties of genetically modified corn.

In September 1999 the agribusiness company Archer Daniels Midland asked corn and soya bean suppliers to keep their genetically modified crops separate. Then Commercial Alcohols Inc., Nacan, A.E. Stanley, McCain, Gerber baby foods and Seagram have joined the ranks of food processing companies that will not use genetically modified foods.

Similarly, members of the Prairie Oat Growers Association issued a news release stating that they do not favour the commercialization of any genetically modified oats until there is a clear market signal in consumer acceptance to do so.

As members can see, the private sector is already responding to consumer demand by separating genetically modified crops from non-genetically modified crops so as to continue to supply to expanding markets.

I submit that it is time for Canada to establish a system for separating genetically modified crops from non-genetically modified crops and go for a mandatory labelling system in keeping with market demands.

I have a few words about farmers and genetically modified crops. Some will tell hon. members that genetically modified crops benefit farmers and are necessary for their survival. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the National Farmers Union adopted a new policy in December of last year which called for a moratorium on the production, importation, distribution and sale of genetically modified food.

In the policy, the farmers union speaks of markets in Europe, Japan and elsewhere that are closing and domestic markets that are being likewise threatened. It states that closing markets and falling prices threaten to overwhelm any small, short term economic benefit genetically modified crops or livestock may offer. The farmers union makes the very important point that the proliferation of some genetically modified crops has effectively deprived many organic farmers of the option to grow those crops. The National Farmers Union also states that:

Food products which contain genetically modified ingredients must be subject to clear, consistent, mandatory labelling.

Do we need more evidence? Is it not abundantly clear that the uncertainty surrounding genetically modified crops and the lack of public acceptance, the trend in foreign markets and domestic markets are real concerns?

To conclude, it seems to me the necessity of mandatory labelling is evident. We cannot wear blinkers and pretend this is strictly an issue of our domestic regulatory system because it is not. The rest of the world has recognized the need for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods and is moving ahead. Canada will be left behind.

I would like to reiterate the fact that mandatory labelling is a response to a basic right and that is that Canadians want to know what they eat. Mandatory labelling is in Canada's economic interest. Mandatory labelling corresponds to Canada's international commitments. Mandatory labelling is relevant to human health.

Opponents of labelling say there are already too many genetically modified foods on our store shelves to make labelling meaningful, that the horse is out of the barn and that it is too late to fix the stable door. These arguments are weak. The fact is that having invested so much in the diffusion of this technology we have an obligation, a clear interest and a responsibility to label. Moreover, mandatory labelling would actually increase the public's acceptance of this technology. It would remove the suspicion that there is something to hide. It would reduce the public's distrust in this technology.

Finally, without mandatory labelling we would deny Canadians the fundamental right to know how the food they eat has been produced and to make an informed choice. It that not the essence of democracy?

Food And Drugs ActRoutine Proceedings

March 28th, 2001 / 3:15 p.m.
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Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-310, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a bill to amend the Food and Drugs Act with the specific purpose of legislating mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.

The bill flows from growing concerns about the rapid entry of genetically modified organisms into the marketplace without the benefit of long term safety studies and without public information.

The bill provides for the full public disclosure of all genetically engineered products and gives consumers the right to choose.

I would like to credit the work of a former Bloc member for Louis-Hébert, Madam Hélène Alarie, who worked diligently on this matter and had actually introduced a similar bill in the last parliament.

I also want to acknowledge the work of the member for Davenport who introduced Bill C-287 which also deals with the question of genetically modified organisms and which has been deemed votable.

I think all this shows the growing concern in parliament for this matter.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Food And Drugs ActRoutine Proceedings

February 28th, 2001 / 3:10 p.m.
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Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-287, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food).

Mr. Speaker, the bill, as you have already indicated, would provide for a mandatory labelling system of all food ingredients that are or that contain a genetically modified organism.

The bill would require the genetic history of a food or food ingredient to be recorded and traced through all stages of distribution, manufacturing, packaging and sale. This requirement would ensure accurate labelling.

The precautionary approach adopted in the bill would allow the Minister of Health to monitor the presence of genetically modified foods in the Canadian food chain and to initiate research into the potential long term effects of the consumption of genetically modified foods on human health.

Finally, the bill would also enable food manufacturers and consumers to make an informed decision when purchasing products containing genetically modified material.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)