moved that Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to stand here today before my colleagues to talk about Bill C-474. It is not every day one has a chance in the House of Commons to bring a piece of legislation forward for debate and a vote.
My bill proposes to amend the seeds regulations to require that analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.
It is well known that our farmers are having a difficult time as it is, without more obstacles being thrown at them. The scenario goes something like this: if GE alfalfa or wheat is introduced into the environment, at some point in time, sooner or later, it will contaminate non-GM varieties. Once this happens, our international customers who are buying non-GM alfalfa and wheat will refuse to do so. This will hurt farmers. That is why we need to have a mechanism in place to assess potential harm to our export markets before this happens.
As everyone knows, our farmers were hit hard when they learned that an illegal genetically modified flax seed had contaminated Canadian flax exports. Europeans then started pulling certain products and varieties of products off their shelves, and entire shipments of Canadian flax destined for Europe were quarantined.
At the end of 2009, 35 countries indicated that they had received contaminated flax from Canada, causing our export markets to be shut down. Now, prices have dropped, uncertainty has seized the markets, and farmers must absorb the costs of tests and cleanup measures.
As we saw in the Western Producer on March 4 of this year, a testing protocol for flax established by Canada and the European Union is proving too onerous for Canadian exporters and shipping companies. Flax destined for Europe must now be tested for GE evidence at three stages: delivery to country elevators, loading onto rail cars and at the transfer of the contents onto ocean-bound vessels. Due to logistical pressures, tight shipping schedules and test result delays, this protocol is unworkable.
Already, the federal government has committed up to $1.9 million to help the flax industry with testing and to build back good trading relations with Europe. This is a small indication of the costs of unexpected GE contamination that can affect trade. This $1.9 million did not compensate farmers for the added testing costs or loss of market.
What does contamination really mean? Contamination so far has meant economic trouble for farmers and government. In its submissions to the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, as well as the National Farmers Union of Canada, expressed their strong opposition to the APHIS decision to grant non-regulated status to two GE alfalfa lines produced by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International.
This decision has no built-in protection for farmers to guard against contamination. We must also remember that contamination does not respect international borders. Basically, if APHIS deregulates the production of GE alfalfa in the U.S., the likelihood of contamination is a virtual certainty.
What are the consequences? The ability of farmers to produce organic or conventionally grown alfalfa will steadily deteriorate. Markets for organic alfalfa will be lost, as will those for any organic production where alfalfa is used either as a natural fertilizer or feed stock. It is one of the most widely planted crops by area in Canada since it is used for a variety of functions in farm systems.
Alfalfa is the most important forage crop in Canada used in the beef and dairy industry. The Canadian alfalfa processing industry, also known as the dehydration industry, ranks in the world's top five largest exporters of alfalfa pellets and alfalfa cubes. Alfalfa is deeply integrated into the entire organic food and farming system in Canada.
The Manitoba Forage Council has already passed a resolution saying that it will hold Ottawa directly responsible for any economic loss experienced as a result of trade injury incurred due to the loss of export markets of alfalfa seed and other legume and grass seed crops related to the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa in Canada. To date, Canada has four GE crops: corn, soy, canola and white sugar beet. Bill C-474 should not affect them since any further introduction of GE varieties would probably not close down their markets.
We need to have a very close, objective look at what the market reality is for Canadian farmers. The reality in the world today is an unending controversy over GE that is impacting our export markets. For example, every year new questions are raised about the robustness of the agronomic benefits of GE crops. Every year there are new contamination incidents with unapproved GE events. For example, Liberty Link rice resulted in economic damage of over $1 billion, a cost that was borne by American exporters.
Every year there are multiple new reports from credible sources that project contradictory ideas and findings to those put out by proponents of biotechnology. Every year we are seeing more associations of scientists and medical professionals, farm organizations and NGOs, who work with farmers on other food issues, rising up to protest against GE.
All of these feed the global controversy that affects our export markets. Monsanto has just reported, from evidence from one state in India, that Bt cotton is no longer working and is failing to resist the pests it was designed for. Just this February, we witnessed opposition that was so strong and loud from the people of India that their government was forced to halt the approval of Monsanto's GE eggplant.
We also see popular and widely watched films, such as The World According to Monsanto in which documented evidence is presented that paints us a not very reassuring picture about the behaviour of a corporation to which a great deal of power over the ownership and production of seeds has been granted by many governments, including our own.
Here are just a few other indications that the controversy is far from over. Currently, six EU member states, Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg, have imposed bans on growing GM corn even though it has been approved by the European Commission.
On March 8, the Swiss parliament extended its national moratorium on the cultivation of GM plants by three years to 2013. Enacted in 2005, the moratorium was established after a national referendum.
Last year, GM cultivation in the European Union actually decreased by 11%.
Last year, Scotland's environment minister, Roseanna Cunningham, strongly reaffirmed the Scottish government's anti-GM stance, saying:
We are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with other nations who are opposed to GM and fight for what our people want.
Flax farmers have long understood the market reality very clearly. They knew that contamination of Canadian flax with a GE flax would close their European market which represents 60% to 70% of our flax exports.
In 2001, the GE flax that has now been found in Canadian flax exports was de-registered because of their efforts. The GE flax seed was made illegal to sell in Canada to prevent this exact scenario of market chaos.
We must now follow the example of flax farmers who have had the foresight to know the economic risks that GE flax posed to their export markets. The flax farmers took concrete steps within their power to prevent this but we let them down.
In the Toronto Star, January 9, 2001, Don Westfall, bio-tech industry consultant and vice-president of Promar International, was quoted as saying:
The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with genetically modified organisms] that there's nothing you can do about it. [You just sort of surrender.]
What if the European Union does not surrender any time soon? Are our wheat farmers to surrender their export markets instead, or our alfalfa processors? After all this time there is no sign of surrender and no amount of wishful thinking on the part of the industry will change that fact. The market may be flooded but resistance in our export markets is relentless and growing.
In spite of the rising tide of concern over GE crops, there are those who feel that the answer lies in introducing more and more GE crops in the world. Although there is a great deal of evidence to the contrary, they still see this as the only way to double the world's food production.
What we must do today is ensure that, because of today's reality, alfalfa and wheat farmers never ever suffer from severe economic hardship through a rejection of our exports as a result of unwanted GE contamination.
The Government of Argentina understands this and has already set the precedent. Argentina has historically been unwilling to authorize GM crops prior to European approval. The likely impact of the GM crop on exports is actually a consideration in its approvals process.
In addition to the environmental and food safety assessment, the Government of Argentina includes an assessment of the absence of negative impacts on their exports. It describes:
A key part of the GMO regulatory process consists of verifying that the commercial approval will not have a negative impact on our foreign trade.
Argentina is the third largest GM crop growing area after the U.S. and Brazil, with India as fourth and Canada as fifth. GM soy, corn and cotton are grown in Argentina which translates into 21.3 million hectares of GM crop area. So Argentina has not suffered from this policy but has thrived. Argentina is not a marginal player when it comes to GM globally, but is the third biggest grower of GM crops.
Surely Canada can implement something similar to protect our trade in agricultural commodities?
Our regulations are not harmonized with those of any of our trading partners, aside from the United States. They likely will not be in the near future, given the enormous pressure that voters have put on politicians in other countries to maintain a zero-tolerance approach to genetically modified contamination, and to implement strict policies regarding genetically modified crops.
The purpose of Bill C-474 is to add a mechanism to the regulations that would protect farmers from the economic uncertainty caused by the marketing of genetically modified seeds or the contamination of their crops by these seeds, given the market's widespread opposition to these seeds.
We need to get Bill C-474 before committee where we can start looking at the details that will enable us to offer some degree of protection for farmers.
I would just like to emphasize, as I mentioned in my press conference yesterday, that it is about the pocketbook. People say that it is political or that it is emotional. It is very possible that the decisions in Europe are political and are emotional but that is its business. If its decision is to shut down markets, we need to be able to react by protecting our farmers. Our decision needs to be based not only on science but also on the economic reality to farmers.
I am counting on the support of my colleagues in the House to make this happen.