Evidence of meeting #135 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was organic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Louise Vandelac  Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives
Thibault Rehn  Coordinator, Vigilance OGM
Tia Loftsgard  Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association
Tyler Levitan  Manager, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs, Canada Organic Trade Association
Lucy Sharratt  Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
Gary Hazlewood  Executive Director, Canada Mink Breeders Association
Jason McLinton  Vice-President, Grocery Division and Regulatory Affairs, Retail Council of Canada
Tom McLellan  Former Vice-President, Canada Mink Breeders Association
Pierre Labonté  Board Member, Canada Mink Breeders Association

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. MacGregor, unfortunately we're out of time but I do know that Lloyd is very interested in that. I'm not putting anything in his mouth but I'm going to give Lloyd six minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Thank you for asking my question and thank you to all the witnesses.

I was thinking of CRISPR technology. We have studied that. I know there's a blurry line between GMO and CRISPR and gene editing and what really constitutes GMO. I think we did look at that a little bit in our study of GMO.

Could you answer Mr. MacGregor's question as to how that applies to your market?

11:45 a.m.

Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association

Tia Loftsgard

Obviously we don't have GE technology in organics. We always refer to GE and not just to GMO because it needs to be a more extensive definition. If the goal of GE technology is to reduce inputs, this is where organic comes in. We have techniques and methods that reduce input, that are phosphate-based or what have you.

We're ultimately looking not just at what we put on the fields but also at the fertilizers and how they're mined. We have a lot of synthetic pesticides. If anybody has been to the art gallery recently, you can see the effects of mining fertilizers on these things and on other aspects beyond agriculture.

I think we're looking beyond the field. We're looking at the earth. We're looking at what is happening on a much larger scale than what's happening for inputs going on to one farm. We all felt the effect of the GE wheat contamination. All sales got blocked by Japan and Korea. This included our products that are organic, that were tested for no GMO.

I really look at organic as a risk mitigation technique for Canadian agriculture and economy. All farmers can be more protected because we can adopt new techniques where we do not to rely on pesticides or GMOs. This is not to be a holier-than-thou discussion but these are tried-and-true techniques that have been around for millennia. GMOs are new. Synthetic pesticides are new.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Thank you for the answer. I hope that's okay for Mr. MacGregor.

The University of Guelph is involved in organics. It's also involved in gene editing and in working with minimizing the inputs onto fields through proper use of pesticides and fertilizers, as well as in things around the scientific analysis of maximum residue limits and how that applies to our trade. Last night, I had the opportunity to speak with the ambassador from Italy about Canadian wheat and the situation we're going through there in terms of maximum residue limits of glyphosate.

On the existence of organic in parallel with other markets, could you comment on the public trust in terms of knowing when an organic has been certified organic, how that relates to the rest of the market and whether there's space in the market for organic and non-organic?

11:45 a.m.

Tyler Levitan Manager, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs, Canada Organic Trade Association

In terms of how we relate to other markets, we have equivalency arrangements whereby our standards are compared to standards of other markets from our major trading partners. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency does a close comparison to determine whether or not the standards are deemed sufficiently equivalent. Then we go forward with these trade relationships to ease the trade between these major partners.

In terms of the issue of glyphosate, I'll speak to that with regard to what we're dealing with in terms of Italy. I think it's important that organics become a part of this conversation as well, because it's not commonly understood that there is contamination from the conventional farms that gets onto organic products, such as minute traces of glyphosate, which is having an impact on our trade with Italy and other European markets. It's something that we're in communication on with our organic partners and counterparts in Europe as well. It's something that needs to be discussed here in terms of following the label. We recognize that there are label directions, but they have to be followed strictly.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

And the science behind that....

It looks like we may have Ms. Vandelac back. Is that correct? I have a question for Ms. Vandelac.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Can you hear us, Ms. Vandelac?

11:45 a.m.

Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

Louise Vandelac

I just started hearing you again.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Okay. Thank you.

Just to build on the discussion around glyphosate pesticide, manipulating scientific data and the commercial agreement with the EU, how do we improve confidence there? You briefly mentioned that in your comment. I would like to try to get something from you in terms of building public trust, in regard to our report that we're working on.

11:50 a.m.

Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

Louise Vandelac

First of all, I think transparency issues are crucial.

The studies referred to by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, were carried out by independent researchers and not by industry, which is essentially the case in the evaluation [technical difficulties] the studies, which formed the basis of the 2017 report.

In addition, the IARC study—

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

I'm sorry, but we're going to run out of time.

Could I ask if I could get your answer in writing if you don't mind sending it in an email? We continue to have technical difficulties.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Ms. Vandelac, we're having a lot of difficulty hearing you properly. Could you send your answer in writing?

11:50 a.m.

Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

Louise Vandelac

Yes, I will be happy to send you an email.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We'll include it in the background documents of our study.

We'll now go to Mr. Breton for six minutes.

April 4th, 2019 / 11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank all our witnesses for being here.

Ms. Vandelac, we are happy to have you back, and we'll take advantage of the fact that the technology seems to be working again. You were interrupted during your presentation, and you didn't have a chance to finish. You were talking about Monsanto, I believe. I can give you a few minutes to finish your presentation. I think it's important.

11:50 a.m.

Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

Louise Vandelac

Thank you very much.

I think it is important to emphasize that studies reviewed by independent bodies such as the World Health Organization and its International Agency for Research on Cancer are studies that have been conducted by independent researchers and not by industry.

However, recently, a very well-known researcher conducted an analysis to try to understand why the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has data that is completely contradictory to that of IARC. The answer is relatively simple and here is an excerpt:

“In the core tables compiled by EPA and IARC, the EPA rely mostly on registrant-commissioned, unpublished regulatory studies....”

In 99% of cases, studies done by industry are negative. In comparison, studies validated by the scientific community are positive in over 70% of cases.

However, I would remind you that the analyses do not necessarily cover the same things. I have already explained that no farmer puts only glyphosate in the fields. Instead, the farmer applies glyphosate-based herbicides, but they also contain other elements such as heavy metals, which has been reported in several studies. In addition, in Canada, the spread mixture may contain up to 20% POEA, the permitted limit. In addition, several independent studies confirm that the co-formulants contained in the spread mixture can be up to 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. However, if only glyphosate is analyzed, the results will not necessarily be the same as if the whole mixture applied by farmers is analyzed. It makes sense.

Independent research work is therefore essential. This was the argument we pointed out [technical difficulties] to highlight what we thought was abnormal, that is, that there has been no systematic review of the recent literature on these issues to arrive at a research-based decision. This is the kind of problem that arises.

That being said, I would like to point out that the criticism is not directed at farmers at all. I think the Canadian public is well aware of the very serious challenges facing farmers. Your committee was right to highlight the high rates of psychological distress, even suicide, among farmers. According to an OECD report, public support for Canadian agricultural producers was four times higher 30 years ago. In comparison, this aid has only halved in the United States, Europe and OECD countries.

So I think we should look for more on this. In addition, glyphosate-based herbicides are not the only ones making headlines in Quebec. There is also the whole issue of neonicotinoids. Indeed, for the past two years, there has been frequent mention of the lack of independence of public research in this field.

The Quebec media regularly reports all these data. In particular, there have been several articles mentioning a worrying series of resignations within the Grain Research Centre, the CEROM, among researchers working on neonicotinoids in particular. You also know, since it has been widely discussed, that a reputable agronomist was fired for reporting interference from pesticide producers and companies. This question has been extensively documented for a large number of centres.

The agronomist, who is currently running for president of the Ordre des agronomes du Québec, also pointed out that the quantities of fertilizers recommended by Quebec are three times higher than in Ontario and up to six times higher than in American states. However, according to him, Quebec is “the only province where industry representatives sit and vote on the committee responsible for fertilizer recommendations”.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Vandelac. Unfortunately, time is up, but you still had the opportunity to share a lot of information.

11:55 a.m.

Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

Louise Vandelac

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Shipley, you have two minutes.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you very much.

I find it interesting, Mr. Rehn, that you said that only one person agreed that GMOs should be listed, and the rest of us don't listen to our constituents. I would have to assume that you know my constituents, which I know you don't. I take offence at your making general statements like that to this group of politicians and people who represent our people. To me, quite honestly, that reflects on the rest of your testimony a bit.

Are you a scientist, sir?

I can't hear you.

11:55 a.m.

Coordinator, Vigilance OGM

Thibault Rehn

[inaudible] materials engineering, and I have a degree in pure and applied chemistry from the University of Glasgow. I'm not an expert in GMOs.

I'm sorry if I offended you. I consulted the surveys, and I saw nothing in your riding, which I don't know.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Chair, what I find in this whole discussion is a lack of respect for the scientists we hire to work independently for the federal government.

There is support for other scientists outside who will come along, certain environmental or animal right organizations, to prove their point. I find that quite disturbing. The comment was that we need more scientists, and I think our farmers would agree with you on that. It's not because they don't know what they're doing. They want to make sure that farmers get access to products that are regulated and safe, so that they can decide whether to use them or not, because we're in a global competitive world.

With that, I am interested to know, Ms. Loftsgard, what do you tell people a GMO is?

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Shipley, unfortunately your time is up.

We have another panel coming after.

Thank you, everyone.

Ms. Loftsgard and Mr. Levitan of the Canadian Organic Trade Association, thank you so much for your testimony.

Ms. Vandelac, we finally managed to hear much of your testimony.

Mr. Rehn, thank you for your contribution today.

Noon

Coordinator, Vigilance OGM

Thibault Rehn

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

We're breaking for a couple of minutes, and then we're back with the second panel.

Thank you.