First, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I speak on behalf of Vigilance OGM, which forms a network of associations and individuals from various backgrounds. So we have farmers, environmentalists, consumers and citizens.
One thing we want to make clear at the outset is that public trust is not a public relations exercise. For too long, the industry has been trying to educate farmers and consumers in its own way through aggressive and unethical communication, as highlighted by UN Special Rapporteur Elver in her last report. According to Ms. Elver, this aggressive and unethical type of communication could well also have an influence on you, members of Parliament, and on your political decisions.
People do not need better education, they need better agriculture and, therefore, better food for themselves and their families. To maintain the full confidence of the constituents you represent, you must improve the transparency of the regulatory system.
The first point of my presentation is entitled: transparency for consumers.
Canada and the United States are the last two so-called industrialized countries that have not yet implemented mandatory labelling of GMOs, while 64 countries around the world have done so. Over the past 20 years, through dozens of surveys, 70% to 90% of Canadians have asked you for mandatory labelling of GMOs.
However, on May 17, 2017—so not long ago—when Bill C-291 was voted on, 76% of MPs voted against introducing mandatory labelling in Canada. Only one person on this committee voted in favour of the bill. So she was the only one who listened to her constituents.
How can this difference be explained? How, in a democracy, do you, as members of Parliament, justify going against the people who elected you?
There is an urgent need for Canada to implement mandatory labelling of GMOs, particularly since our country has become the first and only place in the world where people have consumed a genetically modified animal, salmon.
The second point is entitled: independent and transparent science.
Right now, Health Canada, through its agencies, authorizes GMOs and pesticides based almost exclusively on industry studies that are not accessible to the public or independent scientists. Classified as confidential commercial information, this information is not disclosed. Under these circumstances, the government cannot announce that its regulatory system for GMOs and pesticides is science-based, if the science is not transparent and peer-reviewed.
This lack of transparency undermines public confidence in our agri-food and legislative system. The law-makers must prioritize science and put the interests of the people before those of a handful of multinationals. Without a transparent regulatory system, public trust is a lost cause from the outset.
It is your duty as members of Parliament to ensure that the process becomes more, not less, transparent, as the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) seems to want.
The third point is entitled: do not let farmers down.
In May 2018, Canada's Competition Bureau approved the merger between Bayer and Monsanto. This merger means that four multinationals now control the majority of the world's seed and pesticide market. This quasi-monopoly of this group of companies undermines the autonomy of farmers and their finances. The effect of monopolies is well documented: fewer choices and higher prices. This has been the case in Canada for a number of years now, in terms of seed selection and input prices in the agricultural sector.
It is therefore important that the government reinvest massively in independent agricultural research and development for the benefit of farmers across Canada. We also invite you to consult them when new GMOs are marketed. Despite the opposition of many Canadian farmers' groups to genetically modified alfalfa, including the Union des producteurs agricoles au Québec, the government finally approved it in 2017.
The fourth point is: stop funding lobbyists.
Last week, an article in the National Observer informed us that the documentary series Real Farm Lives was actually a public relations campaign on the part of pesticide vendors. Under the guise of neutrality, this series was in fact carefully developed by an international marketing and public relations agency for Canadian agri-chemical manufacturers. The industry has been developing those sorts of initiatives for a number of years because it can no longer get its misleading messages across to the public.
One of the best known marketing and public relations campaigns is the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CFIC).
The home page states, “The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) helps our food system ensure it is doing the right things to build trust by providing research, resources, training and dialogue”.
However, on closer examination, this integrity centre is largely funded by pesticide producers and sellers: Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow Chemical, to name a few.
In 2017, the CCFI received $90,000 in public funds, and the Canada Revenue Agency granted it a charitable number. Is it a charity to want to sell as many pesticides as possible? We find this outrageous.
Is the government funding tobacco companies to make us believe that smoking isn't dangerous? So why fund pesticide manufacturers who try to make us believe that eating dozens of pesticide residues every day isn't dangerous?
In conclusion, the solution to this crisis of confidence in our agri-food system is simple: transparency. However, it requires a strong political will to deal with agrochemical lobbyists. This desire seems to have eluded the Canadian government for too many years. It is up to you to change course.
The Canadian agri-food system will never have the confidence of the public and citizens if you don't impose transparency in regulation, traceability and research for the public good and farmers in this country.
Thank you for your attention, and I am ready to answer your questions.