Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to this important legislation.
I will begin my comments by noting that Bill C-517 is identical to Bill C-456 and Bill C-410. Bill C-456 was tabled by my colleague, our agricultural critic from B.C., and Bill C-410 was tabled by my colleague from Winnipeg.
I think the reason people are concerned about this issue, an issue with which our party has been seized and which has been our party's policy for a long time, is essentially from many points of view but it comes down to the right to know. In a democracy, it is extremely important to have transparency.
In terms of food safety, which has been an extremely important issue to Canadians and to people around the world recently because of many of the concerns around food safety, one of the things we need to invoke, as was mentioned earlier by another member, is the precautionary principle.
The precautionary principle, as it relates to GM, genetically modified foods, is that we have some tracking and predictability and at the end of the day we have not only sufficient information for consumers, but also for farmers, which is important.
We know that recent actions of the EU and other jurisdictions have required that GM be noted on all food products. We need to take that into consideration as to what the government's role is to help farmers, as well as consumers. On this side of the House, we believe, and have believed for quite a while, that requires legislation and, quite frankly, support.
We have seen in the past that large agri-businesses have foisted certain products upon farmers, only to find out that sometimes these seeds during planting drift over to other farmers' fields, corrupting their product and their food. Once that happens, it can corrupt and infect a whole crop when these things are not tracked and traced.
Those stories are well-known. I am sure every member of the House is aware of scenarios where, through no fault of the farmers, they discover that some genetically modified seeds have blown over into their fields when they did not ask for them.
When we look at GM labelling and the importance of the consumers' right to know, it also applies to farmers.
When we look at the peer review on this, the independent testing of the environmental and health impacts of growing and eating GM food, it is important to apply the precautionary principle.
I would submit that if we look into policies of the government, certainly of Environment Canada which claims to invoke the precautionary principle, in rhetoric certainly, but we want to ensure it does that in practice.
What are some of the potential adverse effects of GM food consumption? They have to be taken into consideration. The jury is not out. The studies need to be done. Some government members in the House have posited the benefits of it. I have mentioned some of the concerns that have affected farmers. The EU has suggested that GM foods need to be labelled and that there needs to be a clear and transparent process around that. There is the market share for Canadians and for Canadian farmers, which is another reason.
I should note that Canadian companies like McCain have successfully removed GM ingredients in their potatoes, in this case. They were responding to market pressures. Let us not say that it cannot be done. It can be done in terms of tracking and, in this case, removing. However, what we believe must be done without compromise is to bring in the labelling.
I am sure members will be interested to note that the biosafety protocol for countries like Canada will soon require that we supply, as an exporter of GM foods, detailed information on GM products. These products are exported to about 141 countries around the world. It is not only the EU.
Mandatory GM labelling would help Canada and its farmers to continue to have access to the markets. It is a right to know for citizens and consumers, and to help farmers gain access to markets. It is something to make sure that Canada is in line with other countries on a multilateral basis.
In Canada there have been many civil society groups and NGOs that have spoken out on this issue, such as the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, the National Farmers Union and the Rideau Institute. The USC, which has its headquarters in Ottawa, has spoken out very strongly on this issue. I should note that one of the most prominent experts on this issue, Pat Mooney, has actually given advice to various Liberal and Conservative governments. He has been very clear on the concerns that he has about what GM foods do to our food supply and also the sources of seeds for our foods.
All of this should be taken into account. That is why we should be providing this legislation for Canadians, for our farmers, and to bring us up to speed on our international agreements and commitments.
It is also important to note that there are other pieces of legislation which touch on this. I would perhaps declare a conflict of interest here. I have a private member's bill that would not only ask that GM foods be labelled but that we also include meat products and what antibiotics are in the meat products. We want to know what rendered slaughterhouse waste was used and are there hormones in the food. These are the questions that Canadians have.
Canadians remember the mad cow crisis and the failure of our food system, notwithstanding the warnings from scientists at Health Canada that rendered feed would corrupt our meat system. Certainly that happened. Two years prior to the mad cow crisis one of our scientists, who blew the whistle, was fired for doing his job. We were told that if we did not keep an eye on rendered feed that was fed our cows that there would be an outbreak of mad cow disease. He told us that two years before the first case was detected. This scientists is still fighting the government in court because of his actions on blowing the whistle.
It is all about time. It is not about waiting any longer. If we are going to be competitive in the world and provide safe foods for our citizens, as well as an advantage in the export market, this is the bare minimum.
A member of the Liberal Party mentioned the issue of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling which has essentially been ignored by the government. This is another indication of the government not wanting to be a relevant actor on the international stage and following multilateral approaches in my opinion.
It is important that Canadians are in line with the international commitments and protocols that exist. The Codex Committee on Food Labelling is asking our government and other governments to bring forward legislation such as Bill C-517. It is another validation by a third party on why the bill should be passed.
I might add that I recently met with a group who is concerned about baby formula and the fact that it does not have sufficient labelling. We know that baby formula companies are going into hospitals and having access to new mothers and providing formula, instead of urging breastfeeding as the best way to feed babies. I thought those days were over. We know that there is not sufficient labelling on that formula.
The bill before us is the bare minimum for the international commitments that Canada has made for food safety for Canadians and for farmers gaining access to international markets. On this side of the House we strongly support the bill. We have supported the bill in the past and we will support it in the future. It is about time that the Conservative government passed this bill.