That, in the opinion of the House, the government should take the necessary steps to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Motion M-239, which asks that the federal government take the necessary steps, as soon as possible, to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
On January 20, 2000, the final text of the Cartagena protocol on the prevention of biotechnological risks related to the Convention on Biological Diversity was agreed to during an extraordinary conference of the parties to the convention.
The objective of the Cartagena protocol is to protect the environment and to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of living genetically modified organisms resulting from biotechnology, according to the precautionary approach.
Moreover, the protocol would allow countries to implement rules and procedures holding developers accountable for the costs and responsibilities of potential damage to health and the environment.
Finally, it would establish controls, as well as advanced agreement procedures on international exchanges of GMOs.
The adoption of the final text took more than four years of difficult negotiations and is a major move toward protecting global biodiversity. So far, 44 countries have ratified the Cartagena protocol; the number of countries necessary for the agreement to take effect is 50.
We must condemn Canada's attitude throughout these negotiations. The Canadian organization for civil societies said, and I quote:
As the main speaker for the Miami Group, which includes six member countries, Canada has given the impression that it valued its perceived economic interests in the export of genetically modified agricultural products more than the protection of world biodiversity and public health. This attitude significantly tarnished Canada's reputation among convention signatories and, more generally, among members of the United Nations Environment Program.
So far, the main producers, namely those of the Miami Group, have preferred to react with a surprising move forward. So, in the absence of rigorous biosafety requirements, over the past six years, they have multiplied by 30 the areas set aside for transgenic crops, from 1.7 million hectares in 1996, to 52.6 million in 2001. In 2000, already close to 16% of the world's cultivated areas were transgenic, with 30 million hectares in the United States, nine million in Argentina and three million in Canada.
Moreover, since these first generation GMOs are primarily made up of soybean, with 58%, corn, with 23% and canola, with 6%, they were introduced as oil, lecithin or starch in over 60% of North America's industrial foods, this unbeknownst to consumers, who are becoming increasingly suspicious.
I should also mention that genetically modified wheat will soon be introduced, even though its development and marketing have taken longer than those of the other major crops, namely corn, canola or soybean.
While many types of transgenic corn are currently being developed, it is the Monsanto wheat, called spring wheat, which could be the first one to be marketed. Incidentally, Monsanto recently applied to Agriculture Canada for approval.
There is already a major movement opposing the introduction of transgenic wheat, including spring wheat. That movement includes, among others, a number of stakeholders who are known for their moderate views.
Many farmers are strongly opposed, furthermore, to the introduction of Roundup Ready wheat. They fear having serious problems with weed control despite the claim that Roundup Ready wheat will make weed control easier. Consumer and environmental advocacy groups are worried about potential damage to health and the environment.
Implementation of the Cartagena protocol would also help connect the distribution of genetically modified organisms or living modified organisms to the precautionary principle in order to allow countries to ban GMO imports, if they believe that there are health and environmental risks.
Many countries including Croatia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Korea have been threatened by the United States with trade sanctions from the World Trade Organization for having included the precautionary approach in their GMO import legislation.
More recently, the United States asked for Canada's support in a future challenge of the World Trade Organization following the European Union's banning of GMO imports. We believe that, in considering the possibility of teaming up with the United States, the federal government is working against the interests of farmers and consumers in Quebec and Canada.
What the Americans are trying to do is block implementation of the Cartagena protocol, which is not under the auspices of the World Trade Organization and which the United States never needed. The United States tried to bypass negotiations on biosafety and to get trade in GMO products to go through the World Trade Organization.
Attempts by both the United States and the Miami Group failed. Implementation of the Cartagena protocol would prevent threats of WTO challenges by certain countries against others wishing to ban GMO imports based on the precautionary principle.
On November 2, 2000, the Quebec ministers of the environment revenue, and the national capital region, as well as its international relations minister, Louise Beaudoin, announced the Quebec government's decision to support Canada's signing of the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.
Both ministers also announced that work has started in order to provide Quebec with a strategy for enforcing this protocol. Noting Quebec's commitment to implement the Cartagena protocol quickly, the minister at the time, Mr. Bégin, said: “Today the Government of Quebec is the first government in Canada to formally indicate its support for signing the protocol, and implement a concrete mechanism for developing a government strategy to prevent biotechnological risks”.
Minister Beaudoin said that “the Government of Quebec intends to implement the protocol in Quebec, in addition to playing a prominent role in the final stages of this important international agreement that sets out rules governing the circulation, manipulation and use of genetically modified organisms”.
Moreover, Quebec's Department of the Environment has been given responsibility for coordinating the work of the Interdepartmental Committee on Biodiversity.
Today, with strong support from the Réseau québécois contre les OGM and Greenpeace, I am calling on Canada to ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, as proposed in the motion which I am sponsoring and which is being debated today in the House.
By ratifying the protocol, the federal government will acquire an effective legal tool for regulating the manipulation of living organisms modified in Canada and guaranteeing the accountability of developers for possible harm caused to health and the environment.
There is currently no rigorous biosafety legislation in Canada, while genetically modified crops cover an area of 3 million hectares. It is extremely difficult to guarantee full segregation of GM crops that can contaminate neighbouring crops at any time during transportation, handling or cross pollination.
Implementation of the Cartagena protocol will help decrease the risks of contamination caused by GM crops.
Motion M-239 being debated today is supported by Greenpeace, as I indicated, and the Réseau québécois contre les OGM, which is a network of roughly twenty organizations. Eric Darier, the network's spokesperson, said this morning:
—that the federal government must not be as hesitant about ratifying the Cartagena protocol as it was with the Kyoto protocol.
He is right.
Mr. Darier added:
—that the Prime Minister will add ratification of the Kyoto protocol on biosafety to his political legacy. It is important to put an end to the dissemination of GMOs in Canada. In the meantime, the government could start by imposing mandatory labelling of GMO containing foods, as 90% of Canadians are demanding.
In this connection, I would like to remind hon. members that, on October 18, 1999, my colleague, the hon. Bloc Quebecois member for Louis-Hébert, Hélène Alarie, got a parliamentary motion adopted calling upon the government to make the labelling of genetically modified foods mandatory and to carry out indepth studies on their long term effect on health and the environment. This was a first in the Canadian Parliament and opened up a debate among MPs on this issue so vital to environmental health.
A few years later, with his Bill C-287, the hon. member for Davenport hearkened back to the position of the Bloc Quebecois. We are in favour of mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods so that the consumer can have freedom of choice. As well, inspection and in depth testing to assess the long term effects of GMOs on human health and the environment are necessary. Finally, there needs to be strict legislation on the safe use of GMOs and an independent structure of public information and education.
On January 20, 2000, the Minister of the Environment made the following statement:
We believe that a strong Biosafety Protocol under the Biodiversity Convention is in the interests of all nations.
Canada wants a system that allows every country to feel secure as these technologies develop. All nations should be able and encouraged to make their own decisions regarding the importation of living modified organisms or LMOs with the help of a strong protocol.
That is what the Minister of Environment Canada had to say on January 20, 2000.
I will close by making it clear that the government has a unique opportunity today to honour the commitments it made in January 2000 on the occasion of the signing of the Cartagena protocol. It has a unique opportunity to honour its commitments by supporting my Motion M-239, which calls upon the government to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.