Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to Motion No. 230 with regard to genetically modified organisms.
I would like to point out that my speech will be relatively short. I found the solution to long speeches in this place when I had a farm accident and broke my leg. As a result I cannot stand for long periods, so I will make my speech relatively short.
I have been listening to the Bloc Quebecois talk about genetically modified organisms. What I hear throughout their speeches is in essence fear-mongering to the Canadian public that there may in fact be something wrong, that there is a time bomb on our plates.
This kind of discussion appeals more to the emotions of Canadians and not to the scientific evidence that is in place. When it comes to issues of food and food safety in Canada, we have to rely on science, not on emotion. The scientific facts are that Canada's food supply is safe and that it is going to continue to be safe because we have a bureaucracy in this country that is reflective of Canada's desire for a safe food supply.
I can tell members absolutely that in the agriculture standing committee I have asked every witness who came forward this question “Are you aware of anyone who has ever become sick or ill from eating genetically modified products or who in any way felt that food they ate that contained genetically modified products made them sick in any way?” Every one of them said that not in any place in this whole world has there been a case like that.
Even if the science is not 100%, and there is always risk in everything, I think the scientific evidence to date is very clearly on the side that shows foods produced from plants that have had a genetic modification for disease resistance or pest resistance are in fact safe. Until there is some kind of evidence or until something shows up that would actually indicate a threat of any kind to human health, or an unacceptable risk even, I will even go that far. There is no unacceptable risk at this time. I do not believe that our scientific community or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would ever let that happen, because nothing gets onto our plates that has not been fully checked.
The Canadian Alliance strongly believes that consumers must be given a choice in the products they purchase. A consumer driven, voluntary labelling system for GMOs should be put in place immediately, which would market GMO-free products in a way similar to organic foods. No one is saying that we should not have labelling if the wholesalers, retailers and consumers want it.
Our government on the other side, the Liberal government, has been very slow in bringing about the necessary studies and research to indicate what should be on a label if in fact a food distributor wanted to put something there. We are not against labelling but we are against labelling that is mandatory, that would be put in place right now like the Bloc would have it, without any knowledge about what in fact should go on the label. In effect it would be like trying to tell people that we do not have any real scientific evidence but they should be afraid of something that has GMO on it.
Certainly Canada's position right now not to support mandatory labelling is the right one, because there is no consensus as to what should even be on the label. If food distributors start putting big scientific explanations on labels, I guarantee that the very consumers the Bloc is talking about will not understand it and will not be any better informed than if there is nothing on there and they rely on the food inspection agency, which guarantees that the food is safe, that it will not harm them.
I have mentioned that regulatory decisions involving Canada's food supply must be based upon clearer scientific information. There is no alternative to that. Emotion cannot be the deciding factor, or provinces or countries which for economic reasons might want to use the big GMO scare as a non-tariff trade barrier or protect some other social or economic issue they feel is pertinent to their region. I am thinking either of Canada or, in the case of our trading partners, the whole world, the best example being European countries.
It is a clear fact that the European countries, the very ones the Bloc is saying are in favour of mandatory labelling, are proceeding with scientific research and development of GMO products. If we do not continue with our scientific endeavours, the economic future of the new technology and new industries that will be important in years to come will be located in Europe, not in Canada or North America.
I also hear the scare about big companies, those ferocious companies that will ruin the world. That is a very socialistic kind of concept. Big corporations provide us with a lot of our jobs and have the wherewithal to make scientific advancements like we see happening in space and in biotechnology. These things would not happen without the corporate structure to drive them.
We have seen countries like the Soviet Union that have tried to do it through regulatory processes. That does not work. In a market driven economy consumers will tell retailers. Retailers who want to make a profit will respond by saying that it seems folks want mandatory labelling showing that the corn, for example, has been genetically modified. Therefore they agree, the food is safe, and wholesalers respond.
While that is all well and good, those three levels must understand that there is a cost to everything. That cost cannot be passed on to grain companies that pass it along to farmers. Our farmers cannot afford the cost of segregating grain and delivering it through to elevators and railways.
I did not hear the Bloc Quebecois saying anything about how mandatory labelling would be paid for. I guarantee that by hook or by crook it will not be western Canadian farmers who produce canola and whom the Bloc has identified as culprits in the GMO issue.
I have laid out the position of the Canadian Alliance. We want consumers to choose and for the government of the day, which after November 27 will be the Canadian Alliance, to put in place a very clear voluntary labelling system so that retailers know what kind of informative label to put on.
I expect to be back here in January 2001. I do not expect to be sitting on this side of the House. I expect to be on that side of the House. I do not expect to see the member for Brandon—Souris here either.