Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm still a little disappointed in how we came to this, but that's fine. We're here now. We need to deal with the motion as is.
The concern I have isn't necessarily with the motion itself.
Wayne, I think your heart's in the right place here. When I go to my farmers in my area—we have a lot of alfalfa production—they're concerned about Roundup Ready alfalfa. There's no question about it. They don't know what the drift tolerance is or the pollination areas are. They've heard stories out of the U.S., and they've heard stories out of Canada. There is a lot of information that needs to be looked at and talked about here, for sure. There's no question about that.
I get a little concerned, though, when we start using U.S. data, because you can't use data out of Arizona and then take it into northern Saskatchewan.The logistics are summer versus winter. We have this thing called “winter”. We have our leafcutter bees that go into hibernation, where in alfalfa they could be going year round. The pollination areas can be totally different. I just use that as one example.
But I don't want to defend it; as I said, my farmers are saying very clearly that they have some serious concerns. That's where I was hoping in our biotech report that we could actually start to flesh out what those concerns were and then flesh out what the industry was saying with regard to how they're handling it. I wanted it with Canadian data, not American or European data, because the environmental situation around that data is totally different.
You can't take a data pack out of Arizona and take it into northern Saskatchewan. It just does not work. We need to see that in northern Saskatchewan, if that's the way we want to go.
Now, my understanding is that in 2005 the Liberal government went through the regulatory process on this product and actually approved it. It actually has regulatory approval here in Canada. But I also understand that there is no variety in the registration process at this point in time that is coming forward for this year. This is something that is happening in the U.S.
Now that it's happening the U.S., I have some concerns about the pollution coming up here if they're not able to keep the integrity of their system. Do we do as they did with the honeybees, where they banned all the queen bees coming out of the U.S.? Do we ban all the alfalfa coming out of the U.S. to keep our integrity? Is that where we're going? I really don't know. I don't know what the answer is. But that was point of the study. That's my concern. We're coming out, before we finish the study, with recommendations that may or may not be right. I really don't know.
I'd like to hear all sides of the story before I say yes or no. I just feel I don't have the information in front of me to say yes or no. How do we move forward on this? This is the problem I have, because there are concerns. There is no doubt about that. I think everyone around this committee would say that our farmers are very concerned about the usefulness of alfalfa, especially Roundup alfalfa.
We also understand how important alfalfa is in the fertilization process for the organic sector. They can substitute to peas or lentils in certain parts of the country of Canada to get their nitrogen requirements, if that's an option. But again, I'd like to see the data set here in Canada.
We did have a data set done under the regulatory side of things, to say that it's safe for human consumption. As a government, when you take a step back, when we're talking about human consumption, they're saying there's no issue here, but there is a marketing issue. There is a marketing issue in terms of whether the Europeans will accept it and some of those things.
Those concerns are definitely valid concerns, but what is the role of the Canadian government here? Is it the role to start restricting where and who and what we can sell and where we can sell and what we can't sell? Or is it just to ensure that what we do sell, what you put on your table what you eat, is actually safe to consume, is actually safe for the cow to eat? That's where it starts to get really dicey, because we start going into a grey zone now. Where does it start and where does it stop? You could say, in this situation, on alfalfa, this might be a good example of where you may want to go into that grey zone and say, no, we don't want it.
But then what about canola? If we would have used that example in this scenario, we would not have some of the GMO varieties of canola. We would not have yields pushing 50 or 60 bushels an acre right now in western Canada. We would not have the infrastructure of crushing plants, the employment and the value-added sector in Saskatchewan and Alberta. All that was because we used safe science as the approval mechanism to ensure that the food that we got, the oil that came from the canola seed, was actually safe to eat.
That's why you need to have the science approach, and that's why I'm not willing to bend on the science approach at this point in time unless there's a reason to do it. Is there a way whereby we can accommodate the farmers who don't want to do it? Is there a way to ensure that the guys in organics won't have cross-pollination? I'm not sure. We need to figure that one out.
That is definitely an issue that needs to be discussed, but I don't want to put something like this motion in front of somebody right now without hearing all the sides. That's the concern I have. It's really awkward to have this motion now just because of that: we don't have all the facts in front of us.
I know you'd agree with me, Mr. Atamanenko. You want to hear all the sides before you make a decision.
In some ways, this motion would be better as a recommendation in the biotech study itself. Then we would at least be able to back it up with witness testimony from both sides, and then we could probably address it better.
As I said, though, it's sitting here in front of us, and we need to deal with it. We need to figure out what Mr. Easter is talking about.
He mentions in the motion “Canada's ability to ensure the genetic integrity, production and preservation of a diversity of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), non-GMO and organic alfalfa production”. Well, those issues aren't just in alfalfa. If we were to look at a GMO wheat or a GMO barley somewhere down the road, those issues would also have to be re-addressed in this situation.
Again, you take the balancing of what we need for food requirements throughout the world. We know that organics aren't going to feed the world. I don't care what anybody says. That's pretty well agreed upon among the experts around the world. So if we're going to have people starving just because we want to go to organics, is that the right way to go? Is that a responsible measurement for farmers?
We also know that the organics have a right to make a living. We understand that. They have the right to market their products to be able to put a label on something they believe is right, even if that label has some conditions around it, has some.... I'm looking for the proper word. I don't want to offend anybody. “Regulatory” isn't the right word; what I'm trying to say is “standards”.
When we look at the organic sector and when we're pulling organic vegetables out of the U.S. and Mexico, the standards they're using for their organics sector are very questionable compared to the standards we use here in Canada. Canada has a much different standard system. But the reality is that when we put the label “organic” on there, the consumer doesn't necessarily know which standards are being followed for that product. They know that for wheat it's one set of standards, and they know for lettuce it's another. But if it's coming out of a third country and we have no clue what their standards are, we cannot ensure what they're claiming is true.
So again, it creates an issue in the organic sector of getting them into a situation where they have a set of standards that can accommodate the need for other farmers to use GMO products. What we're talking about is low-level presence so it still meets the organic standard the consumer wants, with the understanding that the farmer next door is producing safe food also and isn't restricting his options.
There are so many issues in this debate. To try to round it up into one motion is very awkward. And I think it's unfortunate, because we have a good study going and we're actually bringing forward a lot of good witnesses.
Even Mr. Atamanenko would agree with me; it's given him an opportunity to bring forward the concerns he had when he brought through Bill C-474. Even though I could not support his motion or his bill--I think he understands why I couldn't support it--I think he appreciates the fact that he can still vet the problems and concerns that he is hearing.
We need to see that report finished before we can start making motions and recommendations. I feel we're only halfway through it.
Mr. Chair, I'm looking at this and I'm just thinking it's premature, at this point, to take any “yes” or “no” on this thing. I really don't know.
I will reiterate, though, that the farmers in my riding are concerned about Roundup alfalfa. It is an issue, and we need to deal with it. We need to have some imagination to do it in such a way that we do not chase away that investment in the GMO and the biotech sectors. As we have heard, GMO is just one small tool in the biotech sector. A lot of the companies are saying it's too expensive a tool to use, so they're using other methods that are non-GMO to bring forward new products.
The pulse sector is a good example of that. If we look at the new varieties coming out of the pulse sector and what they're addressing--the need for fertilizer, the need for water--there is a good example that I think we can look at to see advancements in varieties that are non-GMO that work for everybody.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'll wrap up my concerns. I'll turn it back to you.