Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to respond to Motion M-230.
The motion by the hon. member for Louis-Hébert has two parts. The first part would make labelling a genetically modified food compulsory. The motion also calls for the government to carry out exhaustive studies on the long term effects of genetically modified foods.
Let me begin by saying that the protection of our food supply for the well-being of Canadians, animals and our environment is of the utmost importance to the government. Canada's food supply involves many hardworking partners from producers, processors and distributors to consumers. Throughout the system new food products, including those derived from biotechnology, are subject to stringent regulation, enforcement and inspection. Canada has high standards for new food products of biotechnology and we are known world wide for them.
On the question of labelling foods, our federal legislation calls for Health Canada to set the requirements for mandatory labelling. Each new food product, whether produced through biotechnology or some other process, must go through a rigorous pre-market safety evaluation before it can be introduced on to the marketplace. The data requirements for the safety assessments are established by Health Canada.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, on the other hand, is responsible for all aspects of the federal food legislation relating to non-safety matters, such as the control of fraud in food labelling. The agency carries out inspection and enforcement activities relative to food safety standards set by Health Canada. The CFIA also has responsibility for the environmental safety assessment of a number of agricultural products, such as plants, animal feeds and veterinarian vaccines, including those derived through biotechnology. In carrying out these responsibilities, the CFIA protects consumers from food safety hazards or product misrepresentation, as well, it protects the safety of animals and the environment.
Let me be clear that current labelling regulations in Canada require that all food products, including those developed through biotechnology, be labelled if a potential human health or safety issue has been identified or if foods have been changed in composition or nutrition. Labelling decisions are made by Health Canada and are based on the results of their food safety evaluations. These decisions are science based. In fact, the best available science is used to make these decisions.
Let me address the first part of the motion before us by reminding the House that several initiatives are already now in place to study the question of how and when to label a genetically modified food.
The government believes that all food labelling must be truthful, meaningful and enforceable. We have strongly encouraged the establishment of a Canadian standard for the labelling of foods derived through biotechnology. This standard will include provisions for clear definitions, acceptable label statements and claims in advertising, as well as compliance and verification measures.
The Canadian General Standards Board, under the sponsorship of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, is in the process of developing this standard through open and inclusive consultation.
Representatives and individuals from a broad range of Canadian interests have formed a committee to work on this standard. They have been working hard over the past year and are putting together a definitive draft standard which is expected to be completed over the next number of months. By endorsing a consensus based process to develop a labelling standard, Canada is indeed a leader world wide.
Just recently the U.S. food and drug administration announced its attention to facilitate a voluntary labelling approach, a development process that will start this fall. In addition to such initiatives, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food began its hearings on the labelling of genetically modified food this spring. It has already heard from Health Canada, the CFIA and consumer groups. Canada is leading the development of international standards governing how and when genetically modified foods are labelled.
As the hon. member is aware, Canada chairs a Codex Alimentarius committee on food labelling, otherwise known as the CCFL. At the May 2000 Codex meeting in Ottawa, Canada was recognized for its success in chairing the CCFL working groups that drafted key options and recommendations for the labelling of biotechnology derived foods. Again this year Canada has been asked to lead a working group to turn these May 2000 options into a Codex guideline that can be then implemented.
Informed consumers making informed choices is paramount. These initiatives represent a significant and dedicated effort by Canadians for Canadians as we seek the best way to make truthful, meaningful information available to consumers.
I reiterate that the House should not support Motion No. 230 on the basis of the first part of the motion on labelling and turn to consideration of the second part of the hon. member's motion.
The second part recommends that exhaustive studies be carried out on the long term effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment. The safety assessment of conventional products and products derived through biotechnology are both subject to stringent health and safety requirements under Canada's food safety system. The Government of Canada is diligent when it comes to food safety and the protection of Canadians, animals and the environment. Our regulatory process is fundamental to Canada's strong reputation as a producer of foods that are consistently safe, nutritious and of high quality. Canada built its international reputation by putting very rigorous regulatory systems in place.
Our approval systems are science based and transparent. The government's decision to accept or reject a product is based on sound science and factual information. Federal regulatory scientists have experience in a wide range of areas, including nutrition, molecular biology, chemistry, toxicology and environmental science to name just a few.
Canadian regulators set the comprehensive data requirements for the environmental safety of new agricultural products derived through biotechnology. These scientists demand that the quality of this data be of the highest calibre and that the research directly assess and address the potential risks of the product to human health and the environment. If there is any question as to the safety of these products, they are not approved. The government continually reviews the effectiveness of its approach.
The Government of Canada takes pride in advocating its science based approach around the world. It relies on the need for scientific research to settle questions related to long term health, safety and environmental issues. The government is committed to a regulatory system that meets the highest standards of scientific rigour.
This commitment is reflected in the establishment of two important groups, an expert panel and an advisory committee. The Royal Society of Canada has appointed an independent expert panel to examine future scientific developments in food biotechnology and to provide advice to the federal government accordingly. This proactive, forward thinking body would advise Health Canada, the CFIA and Environment Canada on the science capacity the federal government will need to maintain the safety of new foods being derived through biotechnology in the 21st century.
The royal society named its expert panel this past February. From examining the leading edge of this technology, the panel will recommend what new research, policies and regulatory capacity will be needed to ensure that Canada's standards of safety remain stringent for the next generation of biotechnology derived foods.
A number of challenges and opportunities associated with biotechnology require detailed consideration and public discussion. Food biotechnology presents Canadians with challenges but also great and unprecedented opportunities.
The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, or CBAC, will bring stakeholders and interested parties together to advise the government, to raise public awareness and to engage Canadians in an open and transparent dialogue on biotechnology issues. Canadians want to take part in the dialogue on food biotechnology.
The CBAC will create opportunities for Canadians to participate in its activities and discussions. This includes an interactive website for interested Canadians to review, consult and provide input into this topic among others.
The work of the royal society's expert panel will contribute to this balanced and consultative process where all questions and concerns can be thoroughly considered. The government looks forward to the contributions the expert panel and the CBAC will make to furthering the dialogue on biotechnology issues.
I assure the hon. member for Louis-Hébert that the government will continue to undertake the steps necessary to ensure the health of Canadians, animals and our environment.
The 2000 federal budget confirms this priority in Canada's regulatory system. The $90 million investment in the regulatory system for biotechnology products will allow Health Canada, through the CFIA and other regulatory departments, to continue to enhance and evolve their regulatory approach of safety first to keep pace with the next generation of scientific discoveries.
This increased investment illustrates the Government of Canada's continued dedication to supporting the regulatory system for the benefit of all Canadians. We can take pride in the steps the Government of Canada has taken. We have initiatives under way to ensure—