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.

Sponsor

Charles Caccia  Liberal

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

Status

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

Elsewhere

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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Bloc

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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Liberal

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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Liberal

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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Liberal

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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Bloc

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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Liberal

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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NDP

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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NDP

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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Liberal

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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Liberal

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.
See context

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.
See context

Liberal

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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Liberal

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.

Food And Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

June 6th, 2001 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

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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Bloc

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

Liberal

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.
See context

Liberal

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
See context

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

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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Bloc

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.
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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.
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Liberal

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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NDP

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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Liberal

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)