Seeds Regulations Act

An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm)

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Alex Atamanenko  NDP

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 3, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Governor in Council to amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

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.

Votes

Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), be concurred in at report stage.
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. For the purposes of section 2, “potential harm to export markets” exists if the sale of new genetically engineered seed in Canada would likely result in an economic loss to farmers and exporters as a result of the refusal, by one or more countries that import Canadian agricultural products, to allow the admission of any registered Canadian seed, or crops or products derived from that seed.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. In this Act, “new”, in respect of a genetically engineered seed, means a genetically engineered seed that was not registered in Canada before the day on which this Act comes into force.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. In this Act, “genetically engineered seed” means a seed that has been altered using recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account whether or not the variety of genetically engineered seed in question has been approved for use in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the economic impact on Canadian farmers and exporters whose established markets for registered seed or for the crops and products derived from that seed would be harmed as a result of the introduction of the new variety of genetically engineered seed.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the regulatory systems that govern genetically engineered seed and the crops and products that are derived from that seed in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause: “3. The results of the analysis referred to in section 2 shall be included as part of every application that is made for the registration of a variety of seed and any notification of the release of the seed in question into the environment.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 1 with the following: “gineered seed is permitted in Canada.”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 10 on page 1 with the following: “by the Government of Canada, published in the Canada Gazette and taken into consideration by the Government of Canada before the sale of any new genetically en-”
Feb. 9, 2011 Failed That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 1 with the following: “2. The Governor in Council shall, within 90”
April 14, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

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.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I am very disturbed to be here today and to hear this attempt to mislead farmers and Canadians.

This is not about farmers. This is about the NDP's opposition to GMOs, and everybody needs to understand that right off the bat. A perfect example of this is the fact that the member opposite is using the Triffid example of flax, which would not be impacted at all by this bill. I think he is doing that in order to scare the farm community. He should own up to that and admit that what is going on here because that example does not apply to his legislation.

I read the seed regulations and they are focused on seed characteristics and on science. To bring this bill into play would bring all of our seed regulations in a completely different direction. It would no longer be based on science and farmers need to be very wary of that.

Second, this bill is very vague, which I think was done deliberately, because legal challenges to this would be totally undefined. In the past, we have seen a real desire by some groups to take these kinds of things to court. This bill leaves that so wide open that anybody would be able to go to court on any issue. The member needs to explain a little more about the consequences from that.

Third, it is onerous and would require an entire new bureaucracy to be built.

Fourth, it is anti-farmer.

I would like the member to explain to me what would have happened in the canola industry and the soybean industry if this had been in place. Those opportunities and those billions of dollars of income in western Canada would have been taken away from western Canadian farmers.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, the reality today is that our flax farmers are in danger of losing money because exports were blocked to Europe. The reality is that we have developed a canola industry with further genetic modification. This bill should not affect them.

The reality is that another producer of GM organisms, such as Argentina, has a mechanism in place.

The reality is that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which represents something like 200,000 farmers, said in its press release:

“The varying levels of acceptance of GM-crops by key export markets is a reality Canadian farmers face”, said Laurent Pellerin, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. “Ensuring that these markets are not closed to us because of the technology we adapt should be a government priority as they are work to develop more export opportunities for Canadian farmers.”

The point is that regardless of the scare tactics that the member uses, such as the fact that it is vague, of course the bill needs to be worked through committee and fine-tuned. We can build on the model that Argentina has. I would urge the member to at least help us get it to committee so we can--

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his bill in the House. A lot of it piqued my interest in some respects. He will have to forgive me, because I am not as up on the subject as he is, but I do have one question in regard to assessments.

The assessments, as I understand it, follow the production and then, of course, just before sales. So the assessment is made on the GM seed. Would that not then stifle research and development for many of the people to look at ways of creating products that could be of service around the world when it comes to GMOs?

I understand there is talk about the negativity around genetically modifying anything but in this particular case I am wondering if this bill would stifle the research and development that creates a positive aspect of a genetically modified seed.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. We have to decide whom we want to help: the biotech industry or farmers. We have shown that we have canola and it has worked.

What if GE alfalfa is introduced into the environment and non-GE alfalfa becomes contaminated? What will happen to our export wheat markets if contamination is found in a good quality wheat that we export to other countries? That is the assessment that we have to do. If we do not do it, we are not doing any service to our farmers whatsoever.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-474 raises a complex and important issue that affects farmers and the agricultural sector.

Let me start by saying that the Government of Canada considers issues of safety to be the highest priority for all agricultural production. Canada's regulatory system requires that new agricultural products undergo science-based safety assessments before they can be cultivated by a grower, used in livestock feed, or made available to consumers. Safety comes first with all foods, including those derived through biotechnology.

Canada's science-based approval process would not permit any genetically engineered seed to pose a threat to health or the environment to be grown in Canada. Canada has one of the most stringent and rigorous regulatory systems in the world.

This system applies to genetically modified crops and foods, all of which must undergo a rigorous scientific approval process administered by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Canada's regulatory system for agricultural biotech products ensures that all of the possible precautions are taken.

The safety of new products is carefully and cautiously assessed before these products can be cultivated by a grower, be used in livestock feed, or be made available to the consumer.

The subject matter of this bill certainly raises questions concerning how best to manage the market impacts of genetically engineered products. However, our government, along with the vast majority of farmers and industry leaders, supports a safety approval process based solely on sound science. For example, in an article in The Western Producer, dated January 21, 2010, Rick White, general manager of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said he feared that this bill would make Canada's regularly approval system for genetically modified crops look more like Europe's. He said:

We strongly encourage Canada to stick to our guns on science based regulatory processes. Keep the politics out of it.

Mr. White added that growers could lose the agronomic and economic benefits GM crops have delivered to the canola industries if Canada moves from a science-based system to one based on an assessment of potential economic harm. He said that crop developers would be wary of spending money and time on developing new crops.

To remind hon. members, Bill C-474 states:

The Governor in Council shall, within 60 days after this Act comes into force, amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Contrary to what is stated in the bill, Parliament cannot instruct the governor-in-council to make a regulation.

Furthermore, a regulation to include the analysis of potential market harm cannot be made unless section 4.1 of the Seeds Act is revised to authorize the establishment of such a regulation.

In addition to the technical flaws of the bill, I believe the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has ignored a number of matters if Canada were to go to a market based system. For instance, there are implications for Canada's international trade position. We have to be wary that we do not undermine Canada's credibility internationally as we seek to keep markets open for our Canadian agricultural products.

Sound science is the foundation of Canada's position regarding trade disputes. Sound science must be the starting point of any discussion. Science-based arguments have been very effective for Canada in past cases that we have brought before the World Trade Organization, including cases won against the European Union.

In fact, science is the foundation of our argument in our current dispute with Korea at the WTO. Korea has been banning Canadian beef imports for six years because of mad cow disease.

We are putting pressure on our trading partners in order to gain full access to their markets in accordance with OIE standards.

We are making the same argument to other countries that have banned our beef or beef products.

If all of a sudden we start to apply different criteria from those that we are asking other countries to apply, we will most definitely weaken our case.

Science-based standards and policies put Canada on par with international trading partners.

It is highly probable that introducing socio-economic considerations into the discussion could give comfort to those who would block Canadian products with no valid scientific justification.

We also need to examine what kind of issues a market impact analysis would explore. For instance, the potential advantages to farmers of the new technology, such as yield increases and input cost reductions, would need to be weighed against potential market acceptance issues and their impact on sales. None of these can be predicted with certainty.

Bill C-474 would also add to the regulatory burden, discouraging innovation in the sector as well as crucial research and development investments.

If we introduce non-safety, non-science subjective elements into our system, we risk losing R and D investments to our competitors.

Furthermore, we would risk losing competitiveness to the United States, where decisions on GM plants are based on a scientific assessment of its risk to the environment.

From the beginning, this government has listened to and responded to farmers' needs. That is why we believe that industry is best positioned to understand and respond to market risks and opportunities of genetically engineered products.

In the past, industry has taken the lead on assessing market risks and opportunities of GM products. Decisions have been made on a crop by crop basis, with producers and processors charting the best path forward, depending on market conditions. Let me give the House a few examples of this.

The Canadian canola industry dealt with the potential market impacts caused by exporting GM canola to key export markets by choosing to segregate GM canola. The segregation process was developed by the industry and involved all members of the value chain, product developers, seed suppliers, grain handlers, processors and end-users.

The Canola Council of Canada and grower organizations had a strong relationship with customers in Japan and the European Union, which increased their confidence in the segregation system. When Japan approved the GM varieties in 1997, the segregation system was discontinued.

Today, the canola industry has adopted a voluntary policy not to commercialize new GM varieties unless they are also accepted in major export markets.

Following the lead of the canola industry, the soy industry responded to market signals and put into place an advanced identity-preservation system for non-genetically modified food-quality soy.

Canada's potato industry was able to expertly manage the commercial implications of consumer disinterest in genetically modified potatoes.

The control of the supply chain allowed the industry to quickly and easily remove genetically modified potatoes from the market.

Members of this House need to realize that this bill would compromise Canada's export markets, place a chill on innovation and put our producers at a competitive disadvantage.

If Bill C-474 passes, it will threaten the flexibility and market access that benefit our farmers.

We on the government side have given serious consideration to this bill. Bill C-474 is not in the best interests of our farmers. I repeat that Canada has one of the most stringent and vigorous regulatory systems in the world and it is based on sound science. This bill would undermine all that we have accomplished.

We do not support this bill.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations . The intent of the bill is to amend the seeds regulations in order to “require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”.

The wording in the bill is very simple. In reality however, its content and potential ramifications are tremendously complex. If enacted as it is currently worded, the bill risks wide-ranging, unintended and undesirable consequences. The member who tabled the bill stated that it is required in order to prevent potential damage to Canadian export markets by genetically modified organisms. He stated in the House and elsewhere that he developed the bill largely as a reaction to an incident that occurred last year concerning Canada's flax exports to the European Union and to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Specifically, the member referred to a case in Europe that arose in July 2009 when it was discovered that Canadian flax exports were unintentionally comingled with the GM flax known as triffid. The presence of triffid flax was found first in Germany in cereal and bakery products, and its subsequent tracing to Canadian shipments resulted in severe consequences for our flax producers. The EU, the market accounting for approximately 70% of Canada's flax exports, has a zero tolerance policy toward non-approved GM products and closed its borders to Canadian flax in September and October 2009.

The first question arises directly from the incident this bill is attempting to address and that is, if the bill had been the law at the time and a study of the potential harm to export markets by triffid flax seed had been conducted, as is suggested by this bill, for future GM seeds in Canada, would the knowledge gained from that study have prohibited triffid's exportation to the European Union and hence prevented the resulting market disruptions for flax producers in Canada?

The triffid flax that was found recently in Canadian flax shipments to the European Union was never approved for sale in Canada though developed a decade before the incident, and as such, any export market harm study as recommended in the bill, regardless of outcome, would not have prevented the comingling of triffid GM flax with non-GM flax seed.

This is a critical flaw in the bill that must be considered by the House, that it would not have prevented the very incident it wishes to address. Perhaps the real question is how to properly keep non-approved GMOs from entering the food system in the first place.

The bill does not question the legitimacy of GMOs as an agricultural tool. I am aware that for some, GMO use is an all or nothing issue, but let us be clear that the debate on this bill is neither about support for nor opposition to the use or manufacture of GM agricultural products. Those issues are not addressed in the bill. It must be noted that the bill, as it is currently worded, may actually present serious barriers to this burgeoning Canadian industry and potentially risks our competitive advantage in this cutting edge field of research and development.

Canada is the fifth largest producer of GM crops in the world. Canola, for example, from which is derived commonly used canola oil, is one major Canadian success story. Ninety per cent of the crop is genetically modified with a majority of our production going to export markets. Soybeans are another example. Seventy per cent of soybeans are genetically modified with the rest grown conventionally.

Further, there is compelling evidence that the smart, safe, secure application of GM food science will play an important role in the international community's continuing attempt to address the crisis of world hunger and malnutrition.

The United Nations predicts the world population will peak at 9.1 billion by 2050. That means the world will require a 70% increase in food production to meet the rise in demand. We must be ready and able to employ every resource at our disposal to assist in meeting this challenge, including building agricultural capacity in developing countries. That effort will likely hinge on how willing the developed world is to enhance and apply cutting edge food and agricultural technology, including in part, GMOs.

The next question that arises when considering the bill is what the potential consequences are for Canada's existing regulatory framework and agricultural industry, whether intended or unintended, should it become law.

It must be noted that the bill, as currently worded, actually holds the potential for a drastic departure from our current regulatory regime. The Canadian regulatory system that protects our health, safety and environment is one of the best, most comprehensive and respected systems in the world.

It is important to point out that its regulations are based on sound science, not the more subjective and fluid economic factors the bill proposes. In fact, the vast majority of developed or exporting countries' regulatory regimes do not include an economic analysis of genetically modified organisms' effect on local and international trade.

Canada's reputation and success as a trading nation has always depended on the consistent application of science-based decision making, and our substantial international credibility is due to the fact we have always relied on a science-based approach to health, safety and environmental issues.

During the BSE crisis, for example, Canada aggressively and successfully lobbied countries to make decisions on opening international borders for Canadian beef based on science, not unfounded fears. We did not stop beef production or sale because certain countries rejected our meat.

In addition, the wording of the bill does not define the scope or meaning of the words “market” or “harm”. One potential scenario is that a majority of importing countries may accept a GMO product, and a small minority may reject it. Hence, an entire world market could potentially be lost to our producers because of the theoretical risk of a GMO product being exported to the non-accepting market.

We look forward to having this issue clarified through debate in the House and, possibly, pending the outcome of that debate, a potential examination of it at committee.

Further, the prohibition measures the bill would put in place in the Seeds Act would only prevent a genetically engineered seed from being cultivated in Canada by our own agricultural industry. That very same genetically engineered crop could still be imported into Canada for processing or be used in feed, since these uses are regulated under different acts that only consider the health and safety aspects.

Australian states have implemented bans on planting genetically engineered crops, but are still allowing these crops to be imported for use in food or feed. It is possible, therefore, that should the House choose to adopt Bill C-474, we would only be restricting the competitiveness of Canadian farmers by the bill, and our markets would remain open to foreign GM seed imports.

Before I conclude, it must be said there is a clear consensus that strengthening our export markets is absolutely critical to the health of the Canadian agricultural industry. From seed developers to growers, to processors and shippers and, indeed, to all the hon. members of the House, everyone agrees that preserving our export markets is essential to the overall success of Canadian agriculture.

Nevertheless, the huge success of our export markets today is due in part to two relevant facts: that our agricultural production is generally accepted across the globe as safe and high quality; and that self-imposed barriers to industry have traditionally been avoided in Canada, unless absolutely necessary for the health, safety or true protection of market access.

It may be true there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, which is what the bill seems to advocate. The obligation upon any government, of course, is to err on the side of caution and to base these decisions upon a most rigorous scientific scrutiny.

The issue the member attempts to address with Bill C-474 is vitally important and deserving of attention and discussion. Our reading of the bill as currently worded is that though it is well intended, it has the potential to create far more difficulties than the problems it attempts to resolve.

We will support sending the bill to committee so there is the opportunity to more fully scrutinize the issues and make a well-informed decision on whether or not the bill should go any further and report back to the House with recommendations.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate on Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), introduced by the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior from the NDP. I sit on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food—a number of members of the committee have been there for more than five years now—with the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior. He is very conscientious and has introduced a bill on which he has worked very hard.

I am surprised at the reaction of the Liberal members a few moments ago who, despite their reservations about this bill, decided to refer it to committee. I think that is what is needed in order to look at this bill from all angles. We are referring this bill to committee in order to hear witnesses and perhaps even remove certain irritants from it to make it suit the agricultural community, in Quebec in my case, and in Canada for other members of the committee.

However, the Conservatives are closed-minded. They immediately rejected the bill and did not want to hear any arguments in committee. I deplore that way of doing things.

That is why the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill and wants to study it in committee.

We think it is important to consider all aspects of approving a new product, including its commercial consequences on foreign markets, before introducing it in the range of products already offered to producers in Canada and Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the bill is pertinent and constitutes the first step in regulating transgenic seeds, or GMOs.

We believe that the federal government must adhere to the precautionary principle so as not to deny our producers access to good markets.

Our agricultural producers already lack support from the federal government. We have to ensure they do not come up against more obstacles.

This bill requires the Governor in Council to amend the Seeds Regulations in order to require an analysis of potential harm for export markets to be done before allowing the sale of any new transgenic seeds.

In other words, the purpose of the bill is to require the government to assess the sale and use of new transgenic seeds for Canada from an economic perspective as well.

At present, the analyses required prior to the certification and sale of a new seed only address the safety of seeds with respect to health and the environment. This bill will add another component. It will allow another consideration to be taken into account: the impact of the entry of a new seed into Canada on international agricultural trade, particularly trade with the European Union, which, as we know, refuses imports of genetically modified foods.

It is important to consider export markets. Given Canada's dominant global position in the production of GMOs—we heard this from all parties who commented on the bill—it is very important to consider the development and evolution of the international GMO market. Canada is currently the fifth largest producer of genetically modified crops in the world, after the United States, Brazil, Argentina and India. We must maintain a market in order to sell these crops.

I just mentioned Argentina, which is one of the largest producers of genetically modified crops. I do not know whether the member for British Columbia Southern Interior looked at what is happening in Argentina. It has legislation that, oddly enough, closely resembles what the member is proposing. The release of GMOs requires an assessment of the biosecurity of the environment as well as a favourable assessment of the safety of the foods in their raw state and an assessment confirming that our exports will not be negatively impacted. I say “our exports” because I am quoting the Argentinian legislation. They established a national biosecurity framework in 2004.

The assessment is conducted by the Argentinian national bureau of agri-food markets. It involves an analysis of the current regulatory systems and the degree of acceptance by the public in countries that purchase their exports. The situation of commercial competitors, potential markets, the proportion of the crops in their trade with each country and the proportion of their imports in their total purchases are also taken into consideration in this Argentinian legislation which, as I mentioned, dates from 2004.

Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the Chilean secretariat for agriculture, livestock, fisheries and food must have the following technical advice: the impact of the mass culture on a commercial scale of the transgenic product in question on the agri-food ecosystem, as well as the safety of the food or livestock feed. It also requires an assessment of whether the market would accept the GMO.

Including analysis of the impact on exports in the GMO approval process is not extraneous, considering the important role of agri-food exports within Argentina's economy. It helps avoid unpleasant surprises.

We heard earlier about what happened in Ontario recently regarding flax, which was criticized. The committee must take a closer look at exactly what happened and consider whether this bill could help with that kind of problem. In any case, this is how it has been done in Argentina for six years now, and this has not stopped that country from being one of the largest GMO producers.

Here is an example of what can happen when GMOs pose a problem. China recently closed its market to Canadian pork because of the H1N1 flu virus, even though we know that people do not get the flu from eating pork. Fortunately, things are beginning to turn around, but we face this kind of problem every time a country decides to close its market. We do not have a key to open those doors; only the country in question does.

GM crop producers face these problems. In 2001, Chinese importers announced that they were refusing all canola, rapeseed and soy from North America. Of course Canada is part of North America. It was an economic disaster for American soy producers, because 70% of their crops are genetically modified, and China is the largest market for American soy. Countries that do not produce GMOs, including European exporters, took advantage of the situation.

The Europeans have been refusing to import GMOs for some time now, and they have convinced food processors to do the same. That is the case with McCain, a well-known company that, in December 1999, announced that as of spring 2000, it would refuse to purchase genetically modified potatoes. Producers in New Brunswick, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island who supplied McCain at the time and who farmed Colorado potato beetle resistant potatoes had to adjust. When that announcement was made, it was estimated that about 5% of the potatoes farmed in Quebec were genetically modified potatoes.

There is also the issue of genetically modified flax. Would my colleague's bill fix this situation? I am not sure, but we must not turn a blind eye to the problems facing our agricultural economy.

Since the start of September 2009, at least eight warnings have been issued in Europe regarding the presence of a variety of genetically modified flax in the food chain. European legislation has prohibited the use of these types of genes since 2004. Triffid, this species of flax, has been approved for consumption in Canada and the United States.

The European traceability system quickly determined the origin of the product and Canadian authorities were contacted to block entry of that product. The situation could be catastrophic since 68% of Canadian flax production was, until now, bound for Europe.

Some have expressed to us their support for Bill C-474, namely the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which recognizes how important it is to improve market assessments among current and potential trade partners. Laurent Pellerin said:

Avoiding the closure of these markets because of the technology we use should be a priority for the government when it is trying to increase export opportunities for Canadian producers.

As the agriculture and agri-food critic for the Bloc Québécois, I cannot see myself denying Bill C-474 the chance to be studied in committee.

This would allow us to get to know the ins and outs of this bill and make an informed decision on what to do next when the bill is passed or amended. It could be interesting to discuss this in committee.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-474, sponsored by my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. I really have a lot of respect for his tenacity in dealing with this issue. It takes a lot of work, as members know if they have ever developed a private member's bill. I know the member has done a lot of work on this file. He has consulted far and wide on this bill.

Contrary to the shrill comments that we have received from the government member across the floor, the fact of the matter is that it is very likely that we will be able to pass this bill, given that the Bloc member who just spoke made a very excellent speech regarding his approach to the bill, and the fact that he will be supporting its progress to committee. In fact, the Liberal critic before him, who spoke to the bill, was a little more negative toward the bill, but he, too, indicated that the Liberal Party would be supporting to get the bill to committee.

Once again the government is sort of on the short end of the stick here because we have three parties with the majority of the votes that can send this to committee. I hope that is in fact what happens.

The member has indicated in his introductory speech that he is open to amendments and further consideration at committee. That is the way we should be approaching subjects in this Parliament.

The bill calls for an amendment to the Seeds Regulations Act which would require an analysis of potential harm to export markets to be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. That seems to me to be almost a no-brainer.

Why would people invest in their plant, equipment and farm, and embark on a career to produce a product that potentially would not have a market? I would think they would want to investigate that before they took a chance on perhaps losing everything.

The member, as well as the member for the Bloc, pointed out that Argentina is a success story in this regard in that it takes this into consideration before it makes these approvals.

We see this over and over again with the government. It does not necessarily look at what works before it reacts. We see it with the crime bills. There is ample evidence that mandatory minimums have not worked in the United States for the last 25 years, so what does it do, it keeps trying to do the same thing.

We know that corporate income tax cuts have not actually had the desired effect of increasing investment in plants and equipment. What does the government do, it keeps reducing the corporate income tax.

Once again, the member from the Bloc pointed out that Argentina has the proper approach. It is not too late. It is never too late to learn new ideas. Perhaps when we do get this bill to committee, the members of the government will open their minds a bit and perhaps take a second look at this, and perhaps look at what in fact is going on in Argentina.

Perhaps there will be some meeting of the minds. After all, that is what a minority Parliament, in fact even a majority Parliament, should be able to accomplish. Particularly in a minority Parliament, there is something to be said for the process of listening to the other person's arguments before drawing conclusions.

I am aware that the majority of the European Union remains opposed to this. We are quite aware of the European Union being concerned. That is a risk that we have to deal with all of the time in agriculture. The issue is, why would we take a chance alienating a major part of the market?

I know that in the last several years, even though I represent an urban constituency, I was put on the agriculture committee of the Midwestern Legislative Conference. Members from the government side from Saskatchewan will know what the Midwestern Legislative Conference is all about. In fact, Saskatchewan was a member longer than us. We joined five or six years ago and we meet every year in conference.

Sitting on that agriculture committee for the last five years before I got elected to the federal House, I must admit that I got quite a crash course on agriculture issues. I learned that the discussion and process around the U.S. farm bill is a process that we would never want to replicate in this country. It is hardly a great example of how legislation should be put together. I think the member from Saskatchewan probably knows that when the U.S. farm bill is brought together over a five-year process, it is all glued and taped together with interest groups and other interests.

I do not have enough time to get into all of the different issues that have been put into the farm bill. The last farm bill, which I believe ran out just recently, had some provisions for big tax breaks for people who were not really even farmers. They were basically investors and they were getting all of these subsidies from Washington.

That is what we are dealing with here, in a way, because we are a smaller country. We have to deal with the Americans on the other side of the border. As a result, we do a lot of things in a policy sense that do not necessarily reflect where a lot of our people are at or that make sense globally. We tend to bow our heads to agribusiness and corporate farms, which we in the NDP have always been reluctant to do.

Look at the people who support this bill. The member indicated that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union have indicated support for this bill. I know that members will probably say that that is not a surprise because the National Farmers Union does tend to support many of the things that NDP members support. The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and the organic food and farm community are also in support.

If all of these organizations are in support of this bill, who is against it? As usual, we do not have to look too far to find out that the agribusiness people, the big money people, and the corporate farm people are pulling the strings behind the scenes. Members know that. The Conservatives know what is really going on behind the scenes here, but they are basically tied. I guess it is easier for them to take their marching orders from agribusiness and think that everything is going to be okay.

The world has developed that way, but there is a strong resistance against that approach. We are seeing that in the markets. We are seeing that in Europe. We are seeing people in European markets resisting and I predict it is going to happen in other markets as well. We are going to find more and more people. Maybe they want to go back to the past. Maybe we all want to think back favourably on the old family farm that many of us visited and many of us grew up on.

People say that we cannot go back there, that it is the past, and that we have to keep moving forward. They say that the trend is moving toward these huge multi-million dollar businesses, agribusinesses, use of pesticides and so on, and that we are basically polluting ourselves. That is not necessarily going to be the final answer here. We have to look at other alternatives. I think the member is giving us a good direction to move in.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

March 17th, 2010 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-474 on St. Patrick's Day today. I know that I only have a few minutes, but I can finish it another day.

As others have argued here tonight, we need to proceed with caution on Bill C-474. Canada's farmers, as we know, depend upon trade for their livelihoods. Canadians depend upon that same trade for jobs and prosperity. Canada's agrifood and seafood exports are more than $42 billion and contribute over $13 billion to Canada's trade surplus. In total, Canada's agriculture and food industry drives over 8% of our GDP, and one in eight of our jobs.

Our government is committed to the continued success of Canadian agriculture. We put farmers first in every decision we make on agriculture. It has to be that way. Our formula is simple and it works. We listen to farmers. We work with farmers and we deliver the bankable, practical results farmers need. Farmers need markets and that is why the minister, on behalf of this government, has been taking an aggressive approach, opening up international markets for our farmers.

Canada believes successful trade must be based on sound science and fair rules, and those are the key words in this bill. It has to be based on sound science, so we need to be very cautious of any move to introduce a subjective, non-scientific element to the discussion. I am referring to socio-economic considerations such as consumers' attitudes in other countries to genetically engineered foods. These matters are very important, but they are best resolved by the industry and the marketplace, not governments. We have seen, for instance, how the marketplace has responded to changing attitudes, vis-à-vis GE foods in a number of European markets. Our message as a trading nation must be consistent.

I will close in just saying that there is a lot more to be said on this, but we must base this on science. Genetically modified seeds have been around for 50 years and they are very important to agriculture.

Seeds Regulations ActRoutine Proceedings

November 2nd, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm).

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to introduce this bill to amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Markets have been closed due to contamination in flax of GM organisms. We need to have a thorough analysis of this. The bill would permit that.

Before we approve any GM alfalfa that could devastate, for example, our organic industry as we know that alfalfa is used in the fertilizer and farmers rely on that, we need a thorough analysis to investigate potential economic harm.

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