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.

Speaker's RulingSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are 10 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-474.

Motions Nos. 1 to 10 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table. The Chair does not ordinarily provide reasons for selection of report stage motions; however, having been made aware of the circumstances surrounding the committee's study of this bill, I would like to convey to the House the reasons involved in considering these motions.

The note accompanying Standing Order 76(5) reads, in part, “The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee.”

The Chair takes note that the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior sits on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which was mandated to study Bill C-474. Although I believe that the majority of the amendments in his name could have been proposed during the committee consideration of the bill, they were not.

The bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on April 14, 2010. The committee considered the bill on five different occasions either to hear witnesses or to discuss a work plan. Indeed, the committee was still hearing witnesses when its request for a 30 day extension was denied and the bill was deemed reported back to the House without amendment.

It is to this turn of events that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior referred in a letter to the Chair highlighting that the committee was thus unable to commence clause-by-clause consideration.

The member has therefore submitted at report stage the amendments he had intended to move in committee.

The Chair has carefully reviewed the sequence of events and the submission made by the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior and in its view it is reasonable to afford him an opportunity to propose these amendments.

Accordingly, I have selected them for debate at report stage. I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 10 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

moved:

Motion No. 1

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”

Motion No. 2

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-”

Motion No. 3

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.”

Motion No. 4

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.”

Motion No. 5

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.”

Motion No.6

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.”

Motion No. 7

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.”

Motion No. 8

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.”

Motion No. 9

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.”

Motion No. 10

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.”

Mr. Speaker, we are here to participate in debate at third reading of my Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). The purpose of this bill is to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

This is not complicated. It makes sense to me to conduct a risk analysis before embarking on something that is potentially risky.

The government clearly believes that the biotech industry should be the only ones with any say over marketing decisions on GM seeds. Perhaps we should consider for a moment how we came to confer this enormous privilege on big biotech.

Devlin Kuyek, from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a researcher who has written extensively on the seed system in Canada, recently told the standing committee:

To understand where we are with GMOs in Canada, you have to look at it as a deliberate policy shift that has taken what we call a public seed system with broad-based support from farmers, scientists, and the general public to what we have today, which is essentially a corporate seed system where the research agenda is in the hands of a very small number of corporations, most of them pesticide corporations outside of Canada.

He notes that billions in taxpayers' dollars have been spent over the last 30 years to support biotech companies, while public plant breeding programs have been slashed and privatized.

In September 2009, Canadian farmers and their European customers, who have a zero tolerance policy for unapproved GE crops and products, found that an illegal genetically engineered flax seed called CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports. Contamination reached 35 countries.

GE contamination is already hurting Canadian farmers and if a contamination incident similar to the current flax contamination crisis were to happen with wheat or alfalfa, the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating.

What is very disturbing is that we have not had a full and democratic debate at committee, because it was shut down by the Conservative government.

The Conservative government reneged on an agreement that would have given the committee more time to examine the advantages of Bill C-474. As a result, farmers no longer have a say and must resort to public protests in order to stop these big biotech companies that are threatening their export markets. It is completely unacceptable that expert witnesses from around the country, brought to Ottawa at taxpayers’ expense to provide testimony, were turned away at the committee's door when they arrived to make their presentations.

Let us hear what some of these presenters would have discussed with the committee members if they had been given the chance.

Bill Toews, from the Canadian Wheat Board, says that in order for the commercialization of a GM variety to benefit western Canadian wheat and barley producers, there would first have to be widespread market acceptance. He states, “This includes both what governments will approve and what customers will buy, which is not necessarily the same thing. There remains strong and widespread opposition to GM wheat or barley in about half of our markets. This includes, but isn't limited to, the governments of, and customers in, the European Union, Japan, Thailand, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and a number of African nations. Unfortunately, the markets that are most likely to demand non-GM shipments also have zero tolerance for unapproved GM content”.

Mr. Toews goes on to say that segregating GM wheat or barley throughout the bulk handling and transportation system would be impossible. In addition, he points out that there is currently no detection system available to quickly and accurately detect if a GM variety is present in a truck, rail car or vessel and to quantify that presence.

Dr. Rene Van Acker, professor at the University of Guelph, has done extensive research on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and trait movement from crop to crop. He has been involved in international collaborations, presentations and consulting work with governments and organizations in Denmark, Australia, Switzerland and the U.S.

According to Dr. Van Acker, “when novel traits are grown commercially outside for any length of time the movement of those traits beyond their intended destinations is virtually inevitable. Once a given trait has escaped into the environment, retraction is difficult if not impossible”.

Dr. Van Acker cautions that trait movement is extremely complicated. It occurs within a complex of crop subpopulations, including the crop and volunteer and feral subpopulations. Trait movement can occur via equipment and via human handling during planting, harvesting, seed cleaning, seed handling and seed storage.

He points to the failure of trait containment in the U.S. StarLink case, where GE corn, approved for animal feed but not human consumption, was found in a number of processed foods in 2000.

Recently, GM LibertyLink rice events escaped contained field trials and were eventually found in many elements of the U.S. commercial rice supply chain, including in certified seed, mills and final consumer products in key U.S. rice export markets. The economic impact to U.S. farmers was over $1 billion.

I would urge my colleagues to visit the online GM contamination registry, which tracks contamination events around the world. The register has documented over 20 unauthorized contamination events in 2010. We must not forget that once the genie is out of the bottle, it is farmers who pay.

Larry and Susan Black, who were also denied their time before the committee, have been farming in southwestern Manitoba since 1978. Their farm is Manitoba's first certified organic dairy farm. According to Mr. Black, “Organic farms have no way to avoid contamination if GM alfalfa is introduced. Alfalfa feeds our soil and our livestock and is an integral part of organic farming. Approving the release of GE alfalfa would threaten our very existence as organic producers. Organic farmers have invested and developed our industry. Government should not allow agri-business to destroy what we have achieved”.

Mr. Black goes on to say that not a single commodity group on the Manitoba Forage Council last year was in favour of the introduction of GM alfalfa.

Stewart Wells, the recently retired president of the National Farmers Union, wrote to the committee about the fact that farmers this year were having trouble selling newly harvested flax because the testing now required to ensure it is GE-free could not be done in a timely fashion, again resulting in further extra costs for Canadian farmers.

He wants to know why it is that because of failures in the regulatory system he should now be forced to pay $205 per test on flax that he has had in storage for several years.

Two varieties of GE alfalfa have already been approved by Health Canada and Environment Canada, and all Monsanto has to do now is register them before they can be marketed and turned loose into the environment.

I have to wonder how rigorous Canada's environment evaluation could actually have been, given a U.S. court ruling and a class action suit that came down recently. The judge ruled that plaintiffs' concerns that Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate natural and organic alfalfa are valid, stating that the USDA's opposing arguments were “not convincing” and do not demonstrate the “hard look” required by federal environmental laws. The ruling went on to note that “...For those farmers who choose to grow non-genetically engineered alfalfa, the possibility that their crops will be infected with the engineered gene is tantamount to the elimination of all alfalfa; they cannot grow their chosen crop”.

Arnold Taylor, president of the Canadian Organic Growers, writes in the final thoughts of his submission, “I have spent most of the past 10 years fighting in the courts to protect my organic farm and the organic sector from GE crops. Arguably, I should not have had to do this, as my government should have introduced adequate regulations that ensured organic farmers were not adversely affected by the introduction of GE crops”.

He says, “We have lost the ability to grow organic canola because of the introduction of GE varieties. We almost lost our ability to grow organic wheat, because of the potential introduction of GE varieties, and now industry is trying to introduce GE alfalfa”.

He continues, “Arguably, the threat to organic alfalfa is the most significant yet, because it is a soil builder that fixes nitrogen and other essential nutrients, and if it were to be contaminated with GE traits, this might destroy our way of farming entirely. Arguably, GE alfalfa is not needed in agriculture, as it really offers no benefits for conventional or organic farmers--”

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise again to speak to Bill C-474. I want to make it clear to the House of Commons and to Canadians that our Conservative government has been the only party that has been against the bill from when it was first introduced.

Bill C-474 is quite simply a bad bill, a bill that works against the best interests of the agricultural sector and we see that today with 10 amendments trying to change the bill, 10 of them all at once.

It seeks 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 details of how this analysis will actually be conducted are, of course, lacking, even in these 10 amendments.

If Bill C-474 passes into law, it would force Canada to abandon its long-standing position that these types of decisions need to be based on sound science.

It could also potentially devastate research and development within the agricultural sector, whereby R and D firms choose to invest their capital in countries where technology can flourish, not be threatened by a bill such as this one.

From the very beginning we asked ourselves, does the bill put farmers first? Clearly Bill C-474 does not meet this important criterion and this is why we will not support these amendments at the report stage.

Unfortunately, my opposition colleagues across the way have not asked themselves this very same question. The Liberal Party under the direction of its agriculture critic, the member for Malpeque, has supported Bill C-474 throughout this whole process. Even though he claims that the Liberals are in fact against the bill, the Liberals voted for the bill at second reading. They voted for extending its study at committee. They voted for extending its study in the House of Commons. It would seem to me that this is a lot of support from a party that says it is against the bill.

The members opposite, and in particular the Liberal members, do not understand the needs of farmers. If they truly understood farmers, the member for Malpeque and the Liberals would have helped our Conservative government defeat the bill.

By supporting Bill C-474 through all its stages, they have created uncertainty and instability in the agricultural community. I have had countless farm groups approach me and say that they are not sure if it is safe to invest in the agricultural sector here in Canada with the potential of the bill becoming law.

These amendments that the hon. member has put forward are harmful. Not only are they more punitive to farmers in research and development than his original bill, but they will continue to sow uncertainty within the industry.

A recent letter from a farmer, received by one of our caucus members from Alberta, stated, “As a farmer here on the prairies I depend on technology innovations to keep my farm afloat in these trying economic times and weather uncertain times. Machinery and chemical technologies have allowed me to save more soil and moisture, improve my crop quality and use safer and smaller amounts of chemicals that are more effective than ever before on the crops I grow”.

This farmer goes on to say that genetically engineered canola varieties have made a huge difference to his bottom line, outyielding the old short-season varieties even in bad weather conditions. He has serious concerns about Bill C-474. Canada has always used sound science to assess whether new ingredients, seeds and traits are safe for Canadian farmers to grow and consumers to eat. That policy makes us a leader in the world and is the only realistic way to assess risk with clear, sound scientific methods.

Most industry stakeholders, like this farmer, have concerns about support for this bill. They support an approval process strictly based on scientific principles. They are asking us to leave trade to the trade experts and safety to the scientists.

The majority of industry stakeholders, like this producer, also have concerns about supporting this bill.

The Manitoba Flax Growers Association issued a news release saying that it could not support it citing, “a lack of clarity about who would assess and decide on the issue of market harm”.

The press release stated:

Manitoba flax growers are...concerned that this legislation, in its present form, could be used to offer frivolous challenges that could stall or block the introduction of new technology that is desirable.

Flax farmers and all farmers in Canada depend on innovation to compete. That is why our government is investing in agricultural innovation like research clusters for pulse crops, flax and canola. That is why farmers across Canada have embraced research and development.

New biotechnologies, including those derived through genetic engineering, help farmers control potential devastating disease and pests, improve the safety and nutrition of food and reduce usage of costly inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and diesel fuel.

One only has to look at the remarkable growth of canola over the past 30 years to see the benefits that Canadian agricultural innovation has brought to our farmers. The 1970s saw the development of canola, a high-quality oil seed, which replaced the lower-quality grape seed varieties.

Over the past four decades canola has become a symbol of Canadian quality worldwide. Today the canola crop generates close to $4 billion in export sales for our farmers and economic activity estimated at between $14 billion and $15 billion annually.

If Bill C-474 had been law at the time, I can guarantee that things would not have worked out as well for our farmers.

The Canadian Canola Growers Association has no doubts on that front. As its general manager, Rick White, told the agriculture committee in June:

If the regulatory approach in this bill had existed 30 years ago, the $14 billion in economic activity that the Canadian canola industry generates annually would likely not exist today....future innovations and the competitiveness of the Canadian canola industry could be in jeopardy if Bill C-474 is passed through Parliament.

In the past, the industry was a leader in risk assessment and market opportunities for genetically modified products. This system was good for farmers. Decisions were made crop by crop, and farmers and processors determined the best way to proceed based on market conditions.

Let us talk about another success story, soybeans.

Today, three-quarters of all global acreage sown to soybeans are GE varieties. Like the canola industry, the soybean industry has also responded to market signals by developing an advanced identity-preserve system to handle non-GE food-grade soybeans. As well, the soybean sector has developed and invested in an ongoing segregation system to maintain market access and premiums for non-GE food-grade soybean exports to Japan, while also producing GE soybeans for domestic use.

These success stories and many others like them clearly demonstrate that the added red tape that the bill would impose is unnecessary and would be harmful. It also has the potential to stifle innovation.

As Mr. Jim Gowland, chair of the Canadian Soybean Council, told the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in June:

Capitalizing on these potential opportunities that can add value to Canadian soybean growers could be put into jeopardy with the introduction of Bill C-474 and place Canada at a competitive disadvantage.

Including a market impact assessment in the regulatory process would create unpredictability for the developers of new products, who invest millions of dollars into the development of each new seed variety before it even gets planted. The last thing our farmers need in today's competitive marketplace is to see industry innovators bypass Canada when they seek new markets for their innovations and take their investment dollars to our competitors.

Our government has been a long-standing proponent of giving farmers the freedom to make their own business decisions. The Minister of Agriculture has worked hard with industry to open new opportunities for our food producers and processors by ensuring that trade is based in fair rules and sound science.

Whether it is the beef ban in Korea or country of origin labeling in the United States, we stand up for our producers whenever and wherever their interests are in jeopardy. If Bill C-474 were in force, we would be holding our trading partners to a standard that we would not prepared to meet ourselves.

Canadian farmers need access to overseas markets to prosper. Our agricultural and food exports last year exceeded $38 billion. That is why our government takes an aggressive approach to opening up international markets for our farmers based on sound science. Indeed agriculture ministers from across Canada have agreed that a science-based regulatory system will not only foster innovation and drive the agricultural economy, it will create new markets and increase profitability for producers.

Farmers are best positioned to make decisions on what is best for their business. Our government understands that to be competitive, our farmers need timely access to the cutting edge technology in products. We must continue to put farmers first.

Bill C-474 will harm our agricultural sector, not help it. That is what farmers tell us. That is what farm groups tell us. That is why I call upon the member for Malpeque and the rest of the Liberal Party to put farmers first and help us defeat Bill C-474.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 6:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the parliamentary secretary's remarks, I will have to change my introduction somewhat.

First, I congratulate the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for putting the bill forward. After listening to the parliamentary secretary's remarks, like so much of what the it does, the government likes to bury its head in the sand and not recognize that there are some problems. It wants to limit debate.

The government tried to encourage Liberals, rather than have a serious debate on the issue, both pros and cons, to defeat it before it even got started. It is like what is done in the Senate. It shuts it down before there is a debate. That is the mantra of the government. It does not want to talk about the reality out there and there are some serious problems with alfalfa and wheat, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior said in his remarks.

Bill C-474 warranted a full review of the agriculture committee, but as a result of that review, it has failed the essential test of earning a greater degree of support. However, that hearing needed to be held. It is interesting. While the parliamentary secretary criticized the hearings, half or more of his quotes were based on what was said at the hearings. Parliament and debate is all about that, having discussions and bringing witnesses forward. Sadly, the government members on the committee jeopardized that debate by filibustering and not allowing the full discussion on the bill that the committee should have had.

Let me go to the bill itself. I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board is yelling over there, but that is not unusual.

The intent of the legislation is “to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. That is the major thrust of the bill.

The issue for the official opposition, in examining this legislation, was twofold. First, the bill did not challenge the integrity of Canada's current approval process for genetically-engineered or modified materials. Second, the bill did not provide an articulate and recognizable and objective process by which to conduct the analysis called for in the legislation. That is key.

The issue of GMOs and genetic engineering is one which has been controversial and is one which deserves serious debate. I mentioned a moment ago that the mantra of the government is to shut down debate before it even happens. A fact may come out with which it does not really want to deal.

As indicated earlier, Bill C-474 begins not from the position of opposition to GMOs or genetically-engineered seed or products, but from a position of accepting the reality of their use in the marketplace and ensuring they are safe and do not impact on markets negatively. As will be noted, in the content of the bill there is no reference to the mechanism by which the analysis of potential harm to export markets will be achieved.

During the course of the hearings by the committee, one of the major concerns was the means by which this analysis would be conducted in a fair and impartial way, precisely who would conduct the analysis and what kind of input stakeholders would have in determining the parameters of that analysis.

Ten amendments have put forward by the member. Really all the amendment in Motion No. 2 does is identify the Government of Canada as being responsible for doing that analysis, but the definition of how that analysis is to take place is not there.

That is the key component of this legislation. How would we do the analysis? What would be the role of the government, other than being responsible? What would be the role of stakeholders? What would be the role of our international competitors in the international marketplace? None of those questions are dealt with in this particular piece of legislation.

Another amendment, Motion No. 4, would make the economic analysis part of the current application process. However, no evidence was presented at committee to justify this addition.

What would be the implications, and this is a serious question, of that kind of analysis on the science-based system that we have in place?

So, those are key points that have not been answered by the discussions we had at committee, by the original proposal from the proponent of this bill or by the amendments we have before us today. I think that is a very serious shortcoming.

If I could sum up on that particular point, the parameters of the analysis on economic harm have not been identified. I think that could undermine our key science-based system we have at the moment and could have major implications on the advent of new products into the marketplace, on farmers' economic potential and certainly on our biotech research industry. There are just too many unanswered questions that, regardless of hearings having been held, have really not been answered at those hearings.

The legislation would apply to genetically engineered products developed and grown in Canada, but it would in no respect apply to the importation of similar products for processing or use in Canada. This is an oversight, I believe, that is not addressed by the amendments, which again undermines the basic integrity of the legislation.

Also, the introduction of an economic harm analysis prior to the sale, not the approval, of any genetically engineered seed would appear to layer a new and far more subjective approval process over the current accepted science-based approval process.

That is complicated wording just to basically say that there is not enough definition around what the member is trying to do with this bill, in terms of defining economic harm.

Just to sum up, yes, the amendment would make the government responsible. It does not define how it would be done or the parameters of that analysis. So I think there are major implications potentially on our science-based industry here, on the science-based approval process at the moment. Therefore, we cannot support the bill.

There is one last point I want to make, though, on the hearing process. We did hear from a number of witnesses. We were supposed to hear from several others. There is a serious concern that I think Parliament or Agriculture Canada or someone, certainly, has to address; that is, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior indicated earlier, that there is potential risk in the alfalfa industry by the introduction of GMO, genetically engineered seeds. It would be the same in terms of the wheat industry, over a slightly longer term.

We have to recognize that those issues have to be dealt with. That is one of the benefits of having had those hearings. We recognize there are problems. The minister should recognize there are problems and the government should recognize there are problems, and they should move to address them.

The bottom line is, based on the foregoing, that because of the risk as a result of this particular bill, Bill C-474, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7 p.m.
See context

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the deputy critic for agriculture and agri-food, I have the pleasure of rising today to discuss Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). This issue is of particular importance to me because there are many farms in my riding.

The purpose of the NDP member's bill is to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. In other words, it requires that the sale of new GE seeds in Canada be assessed from an economic perspective.

There is currently nothing stopping a new variety of seed from being sold and grown in Canada if it is registered and passes the environmental impact assessment required under the Seeds Regulations. The new seed variety must also be assessed by Health Canada under the Food and Drug Regulations if it is destined for human consumption or by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the novel feeds regulations if it is destined for the production of animal feed.

First of all, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-474. We believe that it is important to consider all aspects of approving a new product, especially its foreign trade implications, before adding it to the range of products already offered to producers.

At present, the trade implications of new products on the market are completely ignored in GE seed evaluations. The effects of the marketing of these seeds could be devastating for the economy. Many countries are very prudent when it comes to genetically engineered crops, and some even ban them completely. In 2010, we can no longer ignore this reality. In fact, more than 26 countries have import restrictions on genetically modified products.

In recent years, a number of factors have increased foreign countries' wariness with regard to genetically engineered seeds from Canada. The speedy approval of some of these seeds is one reason. In fact, Canadian GMOs are not systematically tested. The government relies on the companies that produce GMOs and simply reads their studies without any further assessment. It relies on the concept of substantial equivalence. If a genetically modified food is similar to a conventional food, it is not subjected to scientific testing. This is not reassuring for those countries that are proceeding with caution when it comes to GMOs.

The current trend of not evaluating economic risks could have a number of adverse effects on the Canadian market. The recent history of marketing GMOs has proven this numerous times. Take, for example, the litigation between the McCain company and Europe. In the late 2000s, producers from New Brunswick, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island sold potatoes to McCain, but the potatoes had been genetically modified to be pest resistant. In 1999, when McCain decided to stop purchasing genetically engineered potatoes, the producers were the ones punished; they were the ones who had to make adjustments and bear all the related costs. Farmers who cannot market their crops will face serious financial difficulties and even bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that is the reality for producers who are refused access to certain European or Asian markets.

I would like to quote something said by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell during the November 18 meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri Food. He was addressing the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and said, “...the more markets our farmers have to sell into, the better it is for our farmers.” Basically, the member is opposed to Bill C-474 and wants farmers to have access to a greater share of the market. Given that more countries are now tending to demand safe, GMO-free products, this bill would certainly expand markets for our producers. I would invite the member and his party to be consistent and support Bill C-474.

Furthermore, adding an economic assessment step to the regulatory approval process for new seeds is nothing new, per se. The industry has already voluntarily slowed or stopped the commercialization of new GM plant varieties because of market-related concerns. For instance, the GM flax known as Triffid, which has been approved for human consumption, was to have been introduced in 1998. However, in the winter of 1997, the European Union banned GM canola imports. The Canadian flax industry therefore decided not to go ahead with the marketing of the Triffid variety as planned, for fear that flax imports would be affected. In 2009, the European Union found traces of GM products in one shipment, despite all the precautions taken. It therefore decided to ban all flax imports from Canada.

Farmers are still paying the price for this unfortunate incident, given that, since 2009, all seed samples must be subjected to costly tests to ensure they are harmless. It is worth noting that, until then, 68% of Canada's flax production had been exported to Europe.

Thus, a huge portion of our production had to find other markets or was simply disposed of.

It is possible that the flax industry would have been better protected if there had been a market impact assessment before the Triffid variety was approved. Several hundred flax producers could have exported their products to the European market without any problem.

In 1995, the industry tried to compensate for the wariness of importing countries by developing voluntary guidelines. For example, the Canola Council of Canada developed a market access policy agreement that stipulates that no new varieties of canola will be sold to producers before being approved in all of the primary export markets. This policy has been respected by all stakeholders since it was developed. Thus, we can assume that if Bill C-474 were passed, it would be well received by the industry.

The type of economic assessment proposed in the bill is nothing new and it is currently being used elsewhere in the world.

Argentina has been studying the repercussions of its transgenic seeds on markets since 2004. Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the government must have expert opinions available on the impact of large-scale production on the agri-food ecosystem, the safety of livestock feed, and the absence of undesirable effects of its marketing on exports. This assessment includes an analysis of the current state of regulatory systems and the degree of acceptance by the public. Furthermore, 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. These new regulations have not stopped Argentina from remaining one of the largest producers of GMOs.

The Conservatives say that adopting Bill C-474 would result in scientific analyses being abandoned in favour of socio-economic considerations. That is false; they are not mutually exclusive. Scientific and economic assessments are complementary. There is nothing in this bill that leads us to believe that scientific assessments would be set aside.

On October 5, Mr. Matthew Holmes, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and had this to say:

Bill C-474 does not establish some unrealistic threshold, nor does it give economic considerations of veto over all other considerations. It simply provides policy-makers with one more tool with which to understand the implications of their decisions, and our sector feels this is a reasonable one.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), introduced by my hon. colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, the NDP agriculture critic and a tireless advocate for farmers and consumers.

Bill C-474 is an amazingly straightforward bill. In just 52 words it asks simply that the government consider the export market impact of any new genetically modified seeds to be introduced to the market before allowing their cultivation. This is the same request that farmers have been making for years. I would urge the House to consider carefully what they have to say and what is at stake with this bill.

As the government knows, in September 2009, inspectors in the European Union discovered that an illegal genetically modified seed strain, CDC triffid, had contaminated Canadian flax exports. European countries promptly began recalling and quarantining Canadian flax. Prices plummeted and Canada lost 60% of its export market overnight. This ban hit our farmers hard, and they are still paying for the testing and cleanup after this international scandal.

More and more countries moved to adopt laws that limit the use of genetically modified foods. The export market for Canadian crops will continue to shrink unless we change the way that we do agriculture. For example, the countries that make up 82% of our export market for wheat have already said that if Canada begins cultivating genetically modified wheat products, the result will be a disastrous total boycott of all Canadian wheat, whether it is genetically modified or not.

Farmers obviously do not want to grow a crop that no one will buy. This is why it is critical that any assessment of new genetically modified seeds in Canada be considered in light of the impact they will have on our export market. Canadian farmers are clear that this is something they want. Given the potential consequences of another international contamination scandal, I really have to ask why the government is so adamantly opposed to the bill.

When talking about genetically modified foods and seeds, it is also important to talk about the alternatives, things like small scale and organic farming. Far too often we forget about these other options. Perhaps that is because among our largest crops, genetic contamination is so widespread that it is not even possible to grow organically, as in the case of the canola crop in Manitoba.

Transnational conglomerates such as Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta and Bayer have been incredibly vocal in promoting themselves and their GMOs as the answer to problems such as world hunger and unpredictable crop yields due to environmental changes, all the while ensuring that their corporate bottom lines are priority number one.

Here are some important facts to consider: Eighty-seven per cent of the world's countries are GMO free. Over 90% of the arable land on this earth is GMO free. Over 99.5% of the world's farmers do not grow GMO products. In the United States, despite 20 years of research and 14 years of commercialization, GMO products have not significantly increased crop yields.

Let us be honest, GMO crops will not be the solution to things like world hunger, and the reckless use of genetic modification has the potential to do far more harm than good, both abroad and here in Canada.

Countries around the world are increasingly becoming aware of this, and that is why the market is actually turning against GMOs. The transnational corporations are aware of this turn, and that is why they vehemently oppose this market assessment of their product.

With the Conservative Party on side with these agricultural mega companies, I have to ask, whose interests is our government looking out for, those of the farmers or the conglomerates?

I would like to highlight some encouraging thoughts. While changing climates, drought and disease continue to plague farmers and their crops, exacerbating a global hunger pandemic that afflicts more than one billion people on earth, there are signs that important progress is being made without the need for genetic modification and unconscionable agribusiness practices.

One of the most important steps to improving crop yields was achieved as long ago as 1961. It was in that year that Norman Borlaug perfected dwarf wheat, a cultivar of wheat that did not topple over under the weight of its stocks, spoiling its yield. The results were staggering. By 1963 the wheat harvest was six times larger than it had been 20 years earlier. Literally millions of lives were saved. For his work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970. Even today his cultivars continue to be the staple food of millions of people worldwide, and all of this was accomplished without GMOs.

There are more success stories.

In Japan scientists have developed a drought resistant rice crop. In South Africa and the Philippines there are drought resistant maizes. The United States just developed an allergen-free peanut. In Kenya iron fortified corn has slashed the rates of childhood anemia.

All of these cultivars are making a real difference in the lives of millions of people worldwide, and all of them were done using traditional botanical graftings and selection processes, not genetic modification.

These very same botanical processes have been used for centuries. They were used to turn an ancestral inedible weed into what today we call cabbage, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Genetic modification has been proven to be wildly ineffective in delivering on its own promises. As more and more countries enact laws to ban their import, the economic risks for countries continuing to produce GMOs will continue to rise. Bill C-474 proposes simply that before new genetically modified seeds are introduced in Canada, the government must consider those risks.

Canadian farmers deserve protection from GMO contamination and from the catastrophic effects it could have on our export markets. We should not be bowing to the wishes of the transnational conglomerates that know that the market is turning away from their repressive products and practices.

Today I call on the House to vote in favour of Bill C-474 and enshrine in law measures that would ensure that farmers and consumers, not Monsanto, are at the heart of our food and seed strategy.

In closing, an issue like this is so important for farmers, for consumers and for Canada that it deserves more debate. Therefore, I move:

That, when the order for the consideration of Bill C-474 is next called, the time provided for the consideration of any remaining stages of the Bill be extended, pursuant to Standing Order 98(3), by a period not exceeding five consecutive hours.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:15 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, if one does not have content, I guess one can always play games, which is what we are seeing here today.

It is really disturbing to see the lengths the NDP is willing to go in order to almost destroy agriculture in this country. It is very unfortunate. The bill is an extreme bill. We heard the parliamentary secretary clearly delineate some of the problems with it and there are many. There are certainly huge problems in terms of the break from sound science.

I want to thank the Liberals this afternoon for coming to their senses and reverting to the position they held in the past when they were in government, and that is the position that we should be making decisions based on sound science. We heard the member for Malpeque say that he is willing to support the government's position on this. We think that is good for farmers. We are willing to work with him in any area where we can put farmers first. Certainly, being able to vote together on the bill will ensure that farmers are protected.

I am not sure why the NDP has consistently taken these positions that are so radically against the interests of farmers across this country. The interesting thing is I think the weakness of the bill is shown in the fact that the mover himself had to come back with 10 separate amendments in order to try to make the bill even palatable to his own people, never mind the rest of the population.

There are some very strange amendments with some very bad consequences for agriculture. One of them is Motion No. 5, which would add a new clause that states:

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.

This is a very strange amendment because now we are not only dealing with a challenge to our regulatory system in terms of the fact that the NDP members do not want to take science into account, they want to take some other ambiguous impacts into account. They want to go to other countries and actually interfere with their systems as well. That is extreme. The amendment is not even clear. It does not define what is being talked about in terms of agricultural products.

One would expect that the provision would be limited to seed or grain which originally was the context of the bill, but this term being used is much more general and it certainly could be extended further. Maybe the NDP is deliberately trying to do this to capture livestock, their products and their byproducts as well. We would be getting into a situation where there are consequences that we cannot even count because there is no way of knowing what they are. The process for determining which countries import Canadian agricultural products is going to be very time consuming. If we want to talk about putting bureaucracies in place, this would certainly do that. This would put bureaucracies in place in our country. It would put bureaucracies in place in other countries as well.

It is clear that a much better way of dealing with these issues is what the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has been doing. He has gone around the world and he has been able to bring about the trade agreements that are so important. He went to China last April and was able to open up markets in China will make a huge difference for Canadian farmers.

Another free trade agreement, which the NDP opposed but which we finally passed was the one we made with Colombia which was critical for our specialty crop producers, particularly in western Canada. The NDP fought and fought against farmers' interests in trying to keep that free trade agreement from coming to reality. The minister has shown tremendous leadership. The Minister of International Trade has shown leadership as well on these files.

That is what is really benefiting our farmers. We are able to take our products around the world. We are able to take new technologies and apply them. That is going to be the future of agriculture, not this backward looking, fear-mongering stance that the NDP continues to take in its agricultural policies.

The member for Malpeque mentioned another place where the NDP is far behind the times. Hopefully, he will be joining with us as well. That is the area of the Canadian Wheat Board.

Clearly the NDP do not want to see western Canadian farmers succeed. This is just one more place where they have stood in the way of success in western Canada. I find it absolutely amazing.

I actually think the Liberals will probably come around on this one.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

At some point, they have to understand that business needs to be done on the farm. We have young guys who are coming out to farm as there is such a call these days.

I wish the member for Malpeque would let me speak because I want to talk about young farmers. I know he may have lost touch with agriculture, but he could certainly let me have my time.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

December 1st, 2010 / 7:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are certainly glad to talk about Bill C-474. We need to put it in some context, and that is the context of success for farmers.

Obviously we cannot talk about farmers being successful in western Canada without talking about the freedom to sell their own products, the freedom to market their own products and the freedom to run their own businesses. Bill C-474 interferes with that almost as much as the Canadian Wheat Board interferes with that.

Mr. Speaker, you know how dead against Bill C-474 I am, so I am sure you have an idea of how important I think it is that our western Canadian farmers get freedom to market their own products, to go around the world to sell those products, to take those top-notch Canadian products across this globe so that people can understand far more than they do now how successful and how tremendous the farming sector in Canada can actually be. We would ask the other parties to join with us of course in providing that freedom for our farmers.

I will come directly back to Bill C-474 and to Motion No. 6, which is another one of the amendments that the mover himself has had to make in order to make this bill remotely palatable to even the people who want to support it.

In this motion, they want to add another new clause, which says:

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.

There is a whole host of problems with this. We are reminded of canola. As the parliamentary secretary mentioned so well earlier, when canola was developed in western Canada, it gradually took off. People did not know what the impact of canola was going to be when it was introduced.

The NDP is saying, through this bill and through this amendment, that we have to stop these things. We cannot let them come on to the marketplace. We cannot see what potential they might have. We need to look at the negative side of the equation but not at the positive side.

Canola has developed from a very small beginning, with rapeseed. Then they improved the seed varieties and brought in canola, and I believe it is accurate to say that a $14 billion a year industry has developed from canola. The NDP would stand against that. If its bill were in place, if it had its way, the canola industry in western Canada would be wiped out.

I can tell members that if it did that, there would be virtually nothing left of the grains and oilseeds sector in western Canada because canola is a critical crop for many producers, especially those who do not want to be forced to market their product through a central marketer. Those folks, who have chosen to grow canola, grow it because not only can we grow good canola and we can grow lots of canola but we also have the freedom to market it as we choose.

There is a whole host of reasons why we should not be supporting this bill. I am thankful and western Canadian farmers and farmers across this country are thankful that the Liberals have come to their senses and have said that they will be supporting us in our opposition to this bill, because it is critical for the future of Canadian agriculture that we make sure this bill is defeated.

It is too bad that the NDP itself does not see this, that the member himself would not voluntarily withdraw this bill, because it would be much better for Canadians generally. It would probably be better, even in the House here, for those of us who know agriculture to be able to say that we have joined together, all of us have joined together here and we are going to do something that is good for farmers, rather than having one group or a couple of the parties here making the decision, once again, that they are going to oppose Canadian agriculture and not give it the chance to be the best it can be.

I could certainly talk a little more about the methodology that is involved in this bill. It is just flawed from beginning to end. The member who brought it forward wants to talk about the negative economic impact that the changes might have. He does not address the fact that there might be positive impacts from new technology, and it is once again a backwards way of looking at agriculture. It shows a disconnect from the future of agriculture.

We go out on the farm these days and there are new varieties. There is new technology. For example, people now have GPS in their tractors, they have it in their sprayers and they have it in their combines. They know down to the inch what it is they are doing, what they are putting onto their farmland, and it is certainly the same with so many other areas of technology.

This bill goes against all of that. We need to oppose it and we are thankful that the other parties across the way have decided to join with us on that. We ask the NDP to do that as well.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-474. The intent of Bill C-474, an act to amend seeds regulations, is 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 intent of this bill is to require that the federal government amend the seeds regulations in order to require that that analysis be undertaken.

I will admit that I have mixed opinions on this bill, but I will say off the top of this debate that I am willing to allow the bill to go to committee. What in part prompted this legislation was the discovery, beginning in Europe in July 2009, that Canadian flax exports were contaminated with the genetically modified flax, Triffid. The presence of the GM flax was found first in Germany in cereal and bakery products.

Let us be clear. The GM flax in question had not been approved for use in Canada since 2001 and this bill would not necessarily have prevented the Triffid issue from happening. As the Flax Council of Canada confirmed to its members in October 2009, “No varieties of GM flaxseed have received regulatory approvals in the EU”.

The consequences on our flax exporters has been severe. According to a Globe and Mail story on October 27, 2009, the lucrative $320 million annual market for flax was threatened with prices declining from $11 a bushel to $2 a bushel. That is very serious.

It should be noted, though, that GM Triffid flax was developed in 1998 at the University of Saskatchewan. The Triffid seed is tolerant to soil residues and certain herbicides. In what I would call a smart and futuristic-thinking move, in 2001 Canadian flax producers, through the Flax Council of Canada, moved to have the CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, remove the variety registration for GM flax in order to protect their export markets. The EU accounts for approximately 70% of Canada's flax exports.

I make that point because the flax industry did everything it could to prevent genetically modified flax from affecting the European market. Yet it still did. Triffid got into the marketplace. This bill would not have prevented that from happening.

Let me turn to the issues that I believe need to be discussed in committee. There is a lot of debate around genetically modified and genetically engineered organisms and people have all kinds of wild and woolly stories. There is a lot of pressure from some in the farm community and some in the investment community not to allow this bill to go to committee.

We have to have the debate. We need to lay it on the table. I believe in a science-based system. I really do not know how the mover of the bill intends to measure market harm, but I am certainly willing to send it to committee to find out how the mover of the bill intends to do that. I am certainly willing to have a discussion with witnesses on both sides of the issue in a transparent way and deal with this proposal in a very constructive way.

The bill does not question the legitimacy of GMOs as an agricultural tool. The debate based upon the provisions of the bill need not become one which focuses on support for or opposition to the use of GM organisms.

Bill C-474 is seeking to propose the establishment of a means by which, prior to export of Canadian products, there can be developed a process by which “potential harm” of exporting GM products into markets which have not accepted their presence can be determined.

In a background note prepared for the agriculture committee on November 26, 2009, it was indicated that soya growers and exporters have taken an innovative approach by introducing a segregation system that allows them to supply their customers with different crops of soya with specific characteristics. However, this segregation system is not available to all varieties.

The economic harm test is established by the fact of a ban on certain GM content and the discovery of it in any shipment. However, the bill does not define how that economic harm would be determined. We will listen closely to witnesses to see if they can possibly put forward the method of defining that economic harm.

The wider issue remains the acceptability of GM organisms in the food system.

This is not the first time we have been faced with that kind of a decision. In 1994 Monsanto was pressing to have its product, Posilac, approved in Canada. Posilac, better known as rBST, is a synthetic growth hormone that increases milk production in dairy cattle. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its report of April 14, 1994, recommended a moratorium on the approval of rBST during which time there would be a review in greater detail of the impact of rBST on the costs and benefits for the Canadian dairy industry.

I bring this up because we are seeing the same kind of concern raised by researchers and some of the big companies right now. The response at that time from the industry to the work of the committee was to question why the committee would even do that work. I received a letter from the president of Ag-West Biotech Inc., a very successful biotech company in Saskatoon, in April 1994. He said:

I am writing to you with respect to agriculture biotechnology and my concerns regarding the recent actions of the Standing Committee on agriculture. The method they used to deal with BST has given me some real concerns for the future of the biotechnology industry in Canada.

He went on in the letter to say:

Their recommendations [meaning the committee] could have serious negative impacts on the future of Canadian agriculture. I trust that their recommendations won't proceed further, as they presently stand.

Another company that was very concerned was Monsanto, which wrote a letter on May 3, 1994. Monsanto said:

Since 1985 Monsanto has followed the current process for BST approval through Health Canada. We support a transparent and science based regulatory system. As developers, we believe this is essential to reassure the public on issues such as food safety...

Monsanto goes on to argue that, should the committee even study the issue, there would be loss of investment in Canada.

The point is that neither claim can be borne out. We made the decision as a committee. We debated the issue. As I understand it, rBST is still not approved for use in Canada. Monsanto and other research companies have continued to invest heavily.

Sending this bill to committee should not impact on investment in Canada. We should study the issue at committee and lay the facts on the table. I hear a government member laughing. I know the government hates to discuss issues. It likes to operate in secrecy. This issue should go to committee. It should be debated there. Proper witnesses should be brought in and then decisions made on the future.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-474, a bill that would regulate seeds, and in particular, genetically engineered seeds.

This is an important bill we have before us. I think it is an important part of a policy on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, that Canada should adopt. I will explain that and go into more detail later.

We must pass this bill. We are in favour of this bill because we must take into account the market losses that could be directly associated with some decisions made by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. We must consider the economic impact that the approval of genetically engineered products and substances could have.

We need to do more. Canada must agree to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. The purpose of this protocol is to govern and regulate genetically modified products. This protocol would also give substance to a declaration signed in Rio and to a fundamental approach, the precautionary principle, which is mentioned directly in the Cartagena protocol.

The Food and Drugs Act must be amended because genetically modified foods are not the same as conventional foods. Risk assessments should not and must not be the same for both categories. We have to go even further than that. We have to make sure that Canada has a policy and regulations for labelling products that contain GMOs so that people who go to grocery stores know what is in these foods. People have the right to choose. Canada's legislation has to recognize that right.

We have to pass this bill because there have been precedents. We have seen what happens. The case with China and Canada is an excellent example. A few years ago, in 2001 to be exact, China decided to ban imports of certain products made from genetically modified crops, such as canola, soy and rapeseed. These products were banned from China because they were genetically modified.

What was the effect of that ban on economic activity in the United States, where 70% of the soy crop is genetically modified? It was an absolute disaster for many producers.

That is why we have to be aware of the effect that approving genetically modified seed can have on our producers' economic security. The same applies to Europe. Asia and Europe are two markets that tend to ban imports of products containing GMOs. A Canadian Food Inspection Agency decision to approve a genetically modified product can have significant economic consequences for our producers.

Another example is genetically modified wheat. When Monsanto sought approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to market genetically modified Roundup Ready wheat, the Canadian Wheat Board immediately conducted an economic impact study.

The wheat board told the government to be careful, because if it approves genetically modified wheat, we could lose some of our market share. This bill would make the Canadian Wheat Board's measures mandatory, in order to protect our producers.

This bill needs to pass, but in my opinion, we need to go even further. We need to amend the Food and Drugs Act. At present, under that legislation, a genetically modified food, or a food item produced using genetically modified ingredients, is considered to be exactly the same product as a conventional food item. This is unacceptable. So we need to amend the Food and Drugs Act, to stipulate that a genetically modified product cannot be considered a conventional product, even though the two products may be very similar.

Nor is it true that once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency authorizes and approves a product, and there is a request from a developer to authorize another, that the study and risk assessment of a number of other products are automatically taken into account.

We have to change the Food and Drugs Act and make the distinction between a transgenic or genetically modified food product and a conventional food. What is more, we have to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. It has to be done. We cannot be the fifth largest global producer of GMOs and refuse to ratify an international protocol that simply establishes a framework for genetic modifications, the transportation of products and the creation of registries. It is our environmental and social responsibility.

What is Canada doing? It is applying the same logic as it does with the Kyoto protocol. Since Canada is a major polluter, it refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Since Canada is the fifth largest global producer of GMOs, it refuses to ratify the Cartagena protocol on biosafety.

We must ensure that responsible environmental standards are set for this type of product. We have to do so because that is what citizens are asking us to do. They are calling for information when they buy products in the grocery store or elsewhere. More than 90% of Quebeckers want mandatory labelling for GMOs once and for all, but the government has been dragging its heels for years. Whether it is a Liberal government or a Conservative government, the policy is the same. The government refuses to accept its responsibilities and we cannot accept that.

We are going to vote in favour of this bill because in our opinion it is one of the important pieces of a broader policy on genetically modified organisms, a policy that should include mandatory labelling and provide for a review of the Food and Drugs Act, which should also reflect this bill. When we have all four of the items I just mentioned, then we will finally have a policy that is respectful of the consumer.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm).

I thank my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, the NDP agriculture critic, for his work. It is fair to say that his intelligence in developing policies is exceeded only by his fairness with which he goes about his work in the House. I am also pleased to say that I seconded the bill.

The bill deals with the use of genetically engineered seeds. It would require the government to consider the harm to the export value of a crop before permitting the sale of any new genetically engineered seed. The policy basis of the bill is quite clear. It is needed to protect the economic livelihood of farmers and the soundness of Canada's agricultural policy.

The bill is good for agriculture, good for farmers and good for Canada. It represents the kind of progressive policy that is needed to move Canada forward in the 21st century.

Before I get to the crux of the bill, I want to address some of the broader issues that the bill raises.

My colleague and I are both from British Columbia, where we have a very proud farming tradition. Some of the world's best produce and products are grown on some of the world's best farmland. Family farms in British Columbia have been hard hit, like many farms across the country, but thousands of British Columbians take pride in the work they do every day to feed our nation and to feed many people of the world.

In British Columbia the value of quality farmland and sound agricultural practices has long been recognized. In fact, it is built into provincial legislation, which I am proud to say my party, the New Democrats, pioneered.

I want to take one example called the Agricultural Land Reserve. The New Democrat government of Premier Dave Barrett brought in a piece of legislation in 1973 called the Agricultural Land Reserve that essentially protects valuable agricultural land from development. It encourages farming and it controls non-agricultural uses of farmland. In other words, it takes land out of the potential for industrial and commercial development and it preserves it forever as agricultural land, some of the best land, as I have said, in the world. The ALR crew could be incredibly forward thinking. It is an example of the kind of vision of an NDP government.

Let us fast-forward to today. This was 1972, over 35 years ago. Today, we face the 21st century local food movement where we have concerns over climate change. We are talking about 100-mile diets and the importance of locally grown food and sustainable practices around the production of that food.

I want to point out that back in 1972, New Democrats in the country were already anticipating the vital importance that some agricultural practices and good food production have to our country.

The bill before us today shows the same kind of vision. The bill exemplifies the same kind of sound policy that we in the House want to support. The bill protects farmers of the future.

In my community of Vancouver Kingsway, people recognize the importance of local food production. They know that locally produced food reduces carbon emissions from transportation. It is healthier. Fewer preservatives are needed to keep it fresh. We have thriving local food movements all over Vancouver and in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway. The Trout Lake Farmers Market, which started up not that long ago, will be opening for the season in May. The Riley Park farmers market has now moved to Main Street Station. It was organized by a wonderful community activist named Mel Lehan. It also brings together farmers and local produce providers from around the greater Vancouver area right to the tables of Canadian families living in my municipality.

We recognize that a healthy agricultural policy is based on healthy components. We need healthy soil. We need healthy plants. We need healthy fertilizer practices and we need healthy, sustainable farm practices.

Many community gardens exist in my riding. We have the Cedar Cottage Community Garden that is driven by one of my constituents, Faune Johnson. We have the Cedar Cottage Greenway, one of the earliest gardens of the Greenstreets program, a city of Vancouver program that gives residents the opportunity to become volunteer street gardeners in our neighbourhoods.

I was invited by Beth Brooks to a community potluck to celebrate the success of this garden last summer and it was wonderful to see people brought together to help celebrate what could happen when a community gets in touch with our food production and our gardening roots.

At Windermere Secondary School in my riding, Vagner Castillho is a teacher who has a leadership class. As part of his sustainability initiative, students started a food garden and greenhouses. Individual families all over Vancouver take advantage of the Vancouver climate to grow their own food in backyard gardens.

I want to briefly address another quick farming issue because it is current before the House right now and it also speaks to the need for long-term vision from the government.

I am the vice-chair of the public safety committee and right now the committee is studying the government's decision to close six farms operating at correctional institutions across this country. On Tuesday, our committee heard nine witnesses as part of that study, people from the National Farmers Union, ex-convicts and a dean of law from Queen's University. We heard from sisters from a nuns order. We heard from rural municipal officials, the president of the National Union of Solicitor General employees, agri-business instructors at various institutions and from corrections officials themselves. Grouped together they illustrated the diversity of support for prison farms.

These nine individuals and many other supporters came to oppose the inexplicable decision of the government to close down prison farms, a win-win-win situation for Canadians that provides valuable rehabilitation for prisoners as well as marketable skills to aid these prisoners in reintegration. It saves government money by growing our own food and it is of value to local communities as an economic driver for agribusiness, providing healthy food for food banks and slaughtering services for local farmers.

I have spoken in broad terms about the importance of agriculture and local food. I want to now draw my colleagues' attention to the specific provisions of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to direct the government to amend the seeds regulations to require an analysis of the potential harm to export markets before approving the sale of any new genetically engineered seed.

Currently, GE seeds are approved for sale with no consideration for their impact on export. This is not a theoretical discussion. Already GE seeds have had a harmful impact on Canadian farmers. Last September, illegal GE flaxseed called the triffid was found to have contaminated our flax exports. The triffid flax was not approved for human consumption or environmental release outside of North America. In response, European countries pulled Canadian products from their shelves and Canadian flax shipments were quarantined. Some 60% of our Canadian flax exports currently go to Europe and Canadian flax farmers were harmed and harmed severely by this.

GE alfalfa has already been approved for release in Canada. Monsanto has relaunched research into GE wheat. This bill seeks to prevent an economic disaster for Canadian farmers and these other crops as well. The agronomic and environmental impact of GE seeds and GE crops is controversial. There is no scientific consensus at present and further research is most certainly needed.

The economic impact of GE seeds, however, is not in question and this is what Bill C-474 seeks to address. Other countries have taken clear positions about their domestic consumption of GE products. Many of these countries are major consumers of Canadian agricultural products. Canadian agricultural policy cannot exist in a vacuum. We cannot live in denial of the international market reality toward GE crops because Canadian farmers rely on these export markets for their livelihood. The government has a duty, we submit on this side of the House, to protect the livelihood of these farmers, and the government has a duty, we New Democrats say, to consider the impact of these livelihoods before approving the sale of GE seeds.

It is my understanding that the government spent $1.9 million to deal with the contamination of the GE flaxseed. Passing this bill would help farmers and save taxpayers money from having to pay for the cleanup of any future contamination.

The bill has the support of numerous farming organizations and environmental groups. It has the support of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture which represents over 200,000 farmers and farm families. It is endorsed by the National Farmers Union and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

I am pleased to support this bill and I urge my colleagues to vote to send it to committee for further study. I thank the hon. member for his work in this regard.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 6 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today to this important legislation, Bill C-474, an amendment to the seeds regulations.

I will begin by saying what a relief it is to hear the member for Vancouver Kingsway talk about how important the livelihood of Canadian farmers is. I know that in his care for Canadian farmers, he will also take the time to listen to them and stand up to get things like the Colombia free trade agreement passed, as the Canadian Pork Council and other industry leaders have come to us at our ag committee begging for us to expedite it.

I would also like to mention one other thing concerning the member for Malpeque who was speaking earlier. While he often has good ideas, sometimes he comes to them before or after he decides to vote. I am reminiscing back to the product of Canada labelling. He was for it before he was against it. With the budget, he was for it before he was against it. As the Attorney General of Canada, he was for cutting the budget for prison farms and now he is against it. With respect to the long gun registry, he was for it and now he is against it.

It really is difficult to pin down the Liberal Party and some of those members on exactly what their positions are. I cannot help but to be a little saddened by the position they are taking on this. It is a fundamentally dishonest position when they say that they want to sit and talk about this and they want to pass it through to committee knowing all along that they will vote against this bill and try to kill it in committee.

That being said, I would like to commend member for British Columbia Southern Interior. He has been an excellent member of the agriculture standing committee. Although I may not agree with all of his positions, he certainly comes to those positions through well thought-out time and effort. I know it is generally his intent to put good public policy forward.

That is why I raise these questions of concern with respect to the member for Malpeque. We should have honest debate on this, as I am about to participate in. It should not be political gamesmanship when it comes to Canadian farmers.

Bill C-474 would require the Governor in Council to amend the seeds regulations to require an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Canada is a true leader in agriculture science and innovation. It is important to look at this bill and look at the idea of putting an economic impact on our trade. What we are basically proposing here is to allow other countries to affect our variety regulation and they will do this based on their own internal trade, therefore affecting our own farmers and imposing a tariff on ourselves. That is basically what I see happening.

For generations, our farmers have practised selective breeding to improve the qualities and characteristics of their crops. In labs across the country, our researchers are working hard to develop new plant varieties and technologies that will continue to support a vibrant agriculture sector. New plant varieties offer a number of clear benefits, including more effective pest control, higher yields and reduced impacts on the environment.

Canada is proud to share our new technologies with the world. Canada's success in agriculture has long depended on the sector's ability to adapt to a changing marketplace by using new technologies to help lower production costs and to enhance the range of products available to meet new consumer demands.

I would like to spend a few moments highlighting one example of how Canadian innovation is helping farmers around the world, including farmers in poorer countries.

The Government of Canada has invested $13 million to combat wheat stem rust known as Ug99, a fungus which poses a threat to wheat production. Canada is a leader in this kind of research. Our scientists are doing important work to develop new varieties of wheat resistant to this fungus. A greater understanding of the biology of this fungus will make a major contribution to international efforts to combat Ug99 worldwide.

The late Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner plant scientist commended us on making this important investment in wheat rust research. He called it an important action to protect the wheat crop in North America and worldwide, and a major step forward in our efforts to stem the global threat of wheat rust. Recent predictions are that we will have to double global food production to feed the global population by 2050.

We must continue efforts to accelerate scientific research in order to feed the population of the planet. We must increase agriculture yields in a major way to meet the challenge of the future. Farmers are at the core of our efforts to meet this challenge.

We recognize that this bill raises important policy issues on how to manage the market impacts of genetically engineered products. We need to be very cautious of any move to introduce a subjective, non-scientific element to our oversight in the introduction of new technologies. I am referring to socio-economic considerations like consumers' attitudes in other countries to genetically engineered food. These matters are not science-based and can change overnight. The industry is divided on the prudence of introducing non-science criteria into the process.

I will quote a letter from Doug Robertson, a canola producer from my home province of Alberta, regarding this bill. Mr. Robertson writes that GM canola has helped him improve his yields and helped the environment despite the coldest and driest spring in recent memory. He states:

Canada has always used sound science to assess whether new ingredients, seeds and traits are safe for Canadian farmers to grow and consumers to eat. That policy makes us a leader in the world and is the only realistic way to assess risk, with clear, sound, scientific methods.

I want to emphasize that, “with clear, sound, scientific methods”.

Canada's food supply is safe already thanks to our sound science system we have in place. Over two decades of studies have proven that. We don't need non-science corrupting our approval system.

I know from round tables that I have done across my province and my riding that this is the overwhelming opinion of the producers in our area that rely on canola, wheats and barley.

In other parts of the world, we are also seeing changing attitudes vis-à-vis GE foods, particularly in a number of European markets. Canada has been a strong proponent of science-based trade, whether it is BSE hormones in cattle or genetically engineered foods. We understand that trade must be rooted in science. Our regulatory system works to ensure that the products we sell to the world are safe and of the highest quality.

It is an efficient system that has put Canada on the map for food safety and quality. Adding in trade and other issues unrelated to science could set a very dangerous precedent. We want to ensure we do not risk bogging things down in red tape. We want to ensure we can continue to bring new technologies, such as our research into wheat stem rust, to the world. Anything short of that would be a tragedy.

I am proud of the action Canada is taking to help its farmers. Canada is blessed with the best farmers in the world and some of the best land in the world. We are a fortunate nation and we are committed to sharing our resources with those around the world who desperately need it. We are committed to finding new and more efficient ways to grow crops. We understand the need to keep a strict and unwavering watch on the food we produce and sell to the world. We just want to ensure we can get new technologies to those who need them with as little delay as possible.

The future of Canadian agriculture depends on innovation and trade, and those important elements are cornerstones of growing forward, our new policy framework for agriculture. With growing forward, we are putting more investment in innovation, from idea to invention to consumer. We are building new opportunities that support innovation and competitiveness. In fact, we have invested $158 million in the new growing Canadian agri-innovations program.

We want to help the sector to succeed, and a big part of that success depends upon being able to accelerate the development of new products, practices and processes for new and value-added markets.

Growing forward builds on our international trade success through industry-led marketing strategies, a Canada branding strategy, market intelligence and services for exporters and actions to maintain and improve market access.

Growing forward takes action on the environment by supporting on-farm, sustainable agriculture practices.

Finally, growing forward builds on Canada's food safety systems with new traceability and bio-security programs so that Canada continues to deliver the safest, highest quality foods to Canadians and our global customers.

Science-based trade works and it brings real results for our farmers, the sector and our industry, and it is science-based trade that we must maintain in order to keep the stability that our industry so desperately needs in these very tough times.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). I want to particularly acknowledge the hard work that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has done on the bill. It is a very important bill.

I know we have heard other discussions in the House. I want to emphasize that this bill is actually narrowly focused. We are not talking about the scientific approval of GE crops. We are not talking about mandatory labelling.

What we are talking about is that the bill requires an amendment to the Seeds Regulations Act to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets can be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

Currently, approvals of genetically engineered crops for human consumption and environmental release are based on safety alone with no consideration given to any potential harm to export markets and the resultant economic harm to farmers. I think that is a very important statement.

I know that in my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan we have a very active food security community. I want to acknowledge the work that the Cowichan Green Community does around the development of a food charter, engaging the community in conversations and practices that not only look toward protecting our farmers and making sure that our local farmers have an adequate living but also ensuring that people have access to quality, affordable nutritious food.

We have many bakeries and in Nanaimo--Cowichan there is a famous wine region. Therefore, we are very conscious of the importance of farmers making an adequate living. That is part of what the bill is addressing. It is protecting farmers' incomes.

In the work that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has done on the bill, he has identified a number of problems which the bill attempts to address. He said that a GE crop that is not approved in our export markets has little value to farmers. GE contamination is already hurting Canadian farmers and if a contamination incident similar to the current flax contamination crisis were to happen with wheat and alfalfa, the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating.

Currently, Bill C-474 is meant to provide a mechanism missing in the regulations that can protect farmers from economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.

I have had so many letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents. I just want to read one because I think it captures some of the concerns that people have been talking about. This is an e-mail we received from Heide Brown. She said:

The Bill would support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”.

This Bill is really important because, as we know from experience, the introduction of new genetically engineered (GE) crops can cause economic hardship to farmers.

Farmers are at risk when GE crops are commercialized in Canada without also being first approved in our major export markets.

Flax farmers in Canada are now paying the price for this exact problem.

Late last year, Canadian flax exports were discovered contaminated with a GE flax that is not approved in Europe or any of our other export markets.

Flax farmers actually foresaw that GE contamination or even the threat of contamination would close their export markets. That is why they took steps in 2001 to remove GE flax from the market. Despite this measure, flax farmers were not protected.

The GE flax contamination has created market uncertainty and depressed prices. Farmers are also paying for testing and cleanup and may be required to abandon their own farm-saved flax seed and buy certified seed instead.

These costs are an unnecessary and preventable burden.

We cannot allow our export markets to close like this again. It is the government's responsibility to protect Canadian farmers from predictable problems caused by the introduction of new GE crops that have not yet been regulated in our export markets.

--please support Bill C-474 and protect Canada's farmers and our markets.

That is fairly typical of a number of e-mails that I have received in the riding. I think one can tell from that letter that people are well informed about what the issues are that are facing farmers, about the impacts on the economies of farming, about their concerns around GE contamination, and how it impacts on our export markets.

It is important that we listen to the people who have written about this.

Some of the argument is that it is not do able. I want to point to the precedent of Argentina. Argentina is well aware that it is not just growing crops for domestic consumption,so it has a process lined out. The Government of Argentina's National Biosafety Framework, 2004 states:

In addition to the environmental biosafety assessment, a GMO release also requires a favourable food safety assessment...and the assessment of the absence of negative impacts on our exports.

Specifically, when it is looking at market impacts, it states:

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.

This specific assessment is carried out by the National Bureau of Agrifood Markets...and it includes an analysis of the current status of regulatory systems and public acceptance in the countries that buy our exports.

If Argentina can put in a system that examines the economic impact that could happen on its export market, surely Canada could do the same thing. As others have mentioned, a number of organizations are absolutely in support of this.

The CFA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in a news release of March 17, stated:

The varying levels of acceptance of GM-crops by key export markets is a reality Canadian farmers face...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.

It goes on in the news release to say:

Having a system in which GM-crops are authorized in one country and not in another means that the inadvertent commingling of crops and crop types while they are being transported to export markets will increase the potential for future market closures.

I want to turn, now, to a briefing that went to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. It has a detailed briefing, but I want to touch on a couple of points.

It lays out its initial ask by saying there are two actions required:

Potential harm to markets needs to be considered before any new GE crop is field tested or commercially released in Canada.

The entire regulatory system for GE crops and foods needs to be reviewed and reformed.

The second point is outside the scope of this bill, but I want to touch on the negative economic impacts.

In its statement, it states:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency...approves genetically engineered crops for environmental release without regard to the impacts on markets for Canadian farmers. Canadian regulatory agencies have no mechanisms by which to evaluate the economic risks, and approve or deny the introduction of GE crops based on this consideration.

In my closing minute or so, I will touch on a couple of items that are not in this bill but are very important to people in my riding. Again, I remind people the focus of this bill is on the potential economic damage for our farmers on export markets where we have countries that will not accept GE crops and are concerned about contamination.

However, in addition, CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, identified a couple of other areas of concern. It indicated that there is inadequate science and lack of transparency.

The Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology stated:

The lack of transparency in the current approval process, leading as it does to an inability to evaluate the scientific rigor of the assessment process, seriously compromises the confidence that society can place in the current regulatory framework used to assess potential risks to human, animal and environmental safety posed by GEOs [genetically modified organisms].

It went on to highlight a number of other areas of concern, including incomplete environmental risk assessments and inadequate monitoring and surveillance.

In its conclusion, it stated:

The regulatory system for genetically engineered organisms in Canada is not built to include consideration of the potential negative market harm caused by the introduction of GE crops, and is not adequately constructed to assess the complex environmental and health risks of genetic engineering.

I urge all members of the House to support the member for British Columbia Southern Interior's very excellent bill, Bill C-474, and to protect those markets for our farmers.

Seeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

April 1st, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to first thank all of my colleagues who took part in the debate on Bill C-474. It is my hope that they will work hard to convince members of their respective parties to move this bill forward to committee.

It is vital that we have a thorough and democratic debate on the economic effect on farmers of any further introduction of GE organisms into the environment. At the end of the day, it is up to parliamentarians to do all we can to help our farmers.

Before I move on, I would like to clear up a misconception. It was mentioned a number of times that had this bill been in place, it would not have helped the flax farmers. That is not entirely true because in 1996 Triffid received feed and environmental release approval. In 1998 it received food safety authorization.

Had the bill been in place at that point in time, the economic impact study would have shown that it would have been unwise to continue releasing flax into the environment. It was not until 2001, because of the pressure by farmers, that flax, which already had been released into the environment, was taken out and cancelled. I wanted to clear up that misconception.

The other point that is often mentioned is that somehow this is science-based technology. Let us be clear. The yield increases in crops are due to traditional breeding. For example, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is looking at methods now that are capable of increasing more of the crop yield, using a high tech genomic approach or marker-assisted selection. These are non-GE methods and they are the ones that actually increase the yield.

I do not have a great deal of time, so I will concentrate my remarks on the alfalfa industry. Mr. Paul Gregory of Interlake Forage Seeds in Manitoba states that most family-owned seed companies are against the further advancement of GM traits, especially in the forage seed business.

Mr. Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed Ltd. also of Manitoba, writes:

--the users, producers and wholesales/retailers of alfalfa seed and hay are opposed to the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa and yet we are at risk of the release of this product.

He also cites the case of a U.S. seed company, Cal/West, which lost its market due to GE contaminated seed. The key word here is “contamination”.

According to the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, it will be impossible to prevent the spread of GE alfalfa beyond the fields it is planted in for the following reasons.

First, alfalfa is pollinated primarily by leafcutter bees, which often drift several miles in search of better bloom, and also by honey bees, which have a range of up to four miles. Actually, a U.S. study has shown a contamination radius of up to 1.7 miles already.

Second, GE alfalfa for hay is often cut after the blooming starts and, therefore, the pollen is easily transferred to non-GM crops. Third, alfalfa seed crops produce a percentage of what is called “hard” seed that can germinate several years after the field has been plowed up.

Once contamination is discovered, countries that currently reject GMO crops, food and feed, will obviously then reject our alfalfa. Also, a large portion of our alfalfa pellet and cube market would be lost. Our organic livestock industry would also be hit hard if GE alfalfa contamination were to be found.

Consider Argentina for example. Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the government must have in hand the technical advice, including whether the market would accept the GMO, in the absence of potential negative impacts on Argentinian exports.

The government officials responsible for allowing this technology onto the market need a mandate to consider what the impact of doing so will have on our export markets. Bill C-474 will provide the mechanism to give them this mandate.

I urge my colleagues to send Bill C-474 to committee so that we can have a thorough and democratic debate.

Farmers are in difficult times. Let us not throw more obstacles in front of them by carelessly allowing the release of GE crops that can lead to economic harm.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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)