House of Commons Hansard #88 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was products.


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12:40 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this very popular and trendy matter, and on the motion by my colleague from Louis-Hébert.

My colleague has done a tremendous job on this issue of genetically modified organisms. She is really qualified for this type of work. As we all know, she was the first woman in Quebec to graduate as a professional agrologist. She should be congratulated for her efforts and for her pioneering work at the beginning of her career.

She is very well informed on that subject. She has travelled all over the province, consulting people in every region. She held a town hall meeting in my beautiful riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, which I attended. There were about 50 people in attendance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Daniel Goyer, from the UPA, and Mrs. Monique Paquette, from the local agricultural training center. They both helped me to prepare this consultation process.

Amongst the 50 participants, there were farmer-producers, teachers, researchers, officials from the agricultural training center, formerly known as the Agricultural College, and organic farmers.

I have to admit that the discussion was slow to start, but we soon found out that everybody was interested in the matter of genetically modified organisms. All the participants showed concern about that.

The major concerns were coming from the big producers in my riding. They were wondering what would become of the land if they used genetically modified foods or products. They asked if they would be able to plant something other than wheat in two or three years. There is definitely a fear of so-called terminators.

The big producers said they felt compelled by Monsanto and other companies to use modified products, because if they did not, their next-door neighbour or someone over in the next riding would. Production costs vary greatly. With the terminators, there is no more need for pesticides, there is almost no need for spraying and one gets a yield.

Following that consultation and the story published in the local papers, I received hundreds and hundreds of telephone calls at my office. As a matter, the local journalists had done a great job. I tabled a petition in this regard in the House, signed by people who supported the motion by my hon. colleague for Louis-Hébert.

The petitioners asked that people at least be in a position to know what they were eating, to know at least whether the products they use contain GMOs.

The main concerns of the people who attended the meeting held in my riding, as my colleague for Louis-Hébert could confirm, could be summed up with these questions. Why are we genetically modifying plants, foods, organisms? Who benefits from that modification, the companies, the producers or the consumers? What are the benefits and the disadvantages for the producers? What impact do GMOs have on public health and on my own health? What are the issues revolving around this new type of farming and traditional farming?

Speaking of traditional farming, I want to digress to ask a question. Since the government over there is supposedly going to invest so much into research on genetically modified foods, is there still going to be money left for research on traditional farming? That is a question I have.

What are the effects of GMOs on the environment? What are the social consequences of the introduction of GMOs?

The 50 people that got together that evening had so many concerns that our meeting at a sugar shack, which should have lasted about two hours, from 7.30 to 9.30 p.m., as my colleague will recall, was still going on at 10.30 p.m. The discussion ran until 1.30 a.m., and the people of the community, farmers and the people involved in agricultural training, voiced all manner of concerns.

These were not ordinary people. They were people involved hands-on every day, the farmers of my riding, the berry producers, the field crop producers, the cattle farmers. I must also thank the presidents of most of the unions affiliated with the UPA in my region, who were also present and voiced many concerns.

As I was saying, this meeting raised a lot of questions in my mind. I am not necessarily against genetically modified foods. I am not opposed to the project. Before it is introduced widely into the market, however, the research would have to be more focussed and more detailed. I as a citizen would need to have a least some small idea of what the impact on my health might be.

I think that my colleague's motion calls for the minimum as far as the GMO issue is concerned, which is the labelling of the products on our grocery store shelves according to whether or not they contain genetically modified organisms.

I call upon all my colleagues, regardless of party affiliation, to support the motion by my colleague from Louis-Hébert, because this is, in my opinion, an issue with very considerable repercussions.

Right now, the Europeans are calling for the contents of products to be identified on the labels. Will Quebec and Canadian producers not end up having their products boycotted in five, ten or fifteen years, as was the case with asbestos? We could not sell our products in Europe or even in the U.S. If I am not mistaken, I think that the Americans are in the process of seeing to the identification of genetically modified products.

This is a worrisome question. We politicians, we MPs, will have to consider it and try to be as reasonable as possible. The first step is labelling foods we find everyday on the store shelves.

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12:50 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this very important issue. I represent a farming riding, at least in part, a significant part I might add. The issue with respect to genetically modified foods is a very important debate that is now taking place across Canada, and certainly in my riding. As a former farmer I have a very keen interest in the particular issue.

At the outset I want to say that Health Canada has a very strong responsibility to Canadians to ensure that all foods are safe. We know that and quite frankly take it for granted. We need to know that food and the food supply, even though it is foods derived from biotechnology, are safe and nutritious for all Canadians.

I want to take this opportunity to remind not only the members of the House but Canadians wherever they live in our great country that Canada in my view, and it is shared by many people, has the best food safety systems in the world. We need to remember that and ensure that we keep it in perspective.

For example, when manufacturers of novel foods are required to notify Health Canada before the sale of their products, this in effect means that Health Canada ensures that a team of Health Canada people reviews and scrutinizes those foods. They include people like toxicologists, molecular biologists, nutritional scientists and chemists to discuss, to look at and to conduct a thorough review as it relates to safety for Canadians.

To this end I remind the House that Health Canada has established under the Food and Drugs Act and regulations a new division that defines the concept of novel food and requires notification prior to the sale or advertising for sale of such products in Canada. This permits Health Canada to conduct a thorough safety assessment for each product. That is important. Canadians need to know that and take comfort in that fact.

Novel foods include but are not limited to food products derived from genetically modified organisms. These kinds of regulations as they relate to those foods were published as part II of The Canada Gazette on October 27, 1999.

In order to assist developers in collecting the information required to demonstrate the safety of their product, Health Canada has issued the publication entitled “Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods”. Health Canada's safety assessment approach for biotechnological derived foods reflect scientific principles developed through international expert consultations carried out by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, as well as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This is important because it underscores the commitment of the Government of Canada to work with global partners in ensuring that we have the kind of food and food safety that Canadians take for granted. This approach mirrors that of the regulatory agencies of Australia, New Zealand, United States, Japan and other countries, especially those in the European Union.

The approach used to assess the safety of biotechnological derived foods was first described in an OECD publication, “Safety Evaluation of Foods Derived by Modern Biotechnology: Concepts and Principles (1993)”. This publication was the report of a group of about 60 experts from 19 OECD member countries who spent more than two years discussing the challenge of how to assess the safety of novel foods including biotechnological derived foods.

The majority of the experts were all nominated by governments. They were regulatory scientists from government agencies and ministries in member countries who have the onerous responsibility of ensuring consumer safety. These people were well versed in the kind of issues at hand and the kind of requirements that needed to be put in place.

I should also remind the House that in 1996 after three years of experience in the safety assessment of various biotechnological derived foods participants at an expert WHO-FAO consultation again supported the approach used to assess the safety of biotechnological derived foods that was first described by the OECD.

As in the case for approval of most products by regulatory agencies around the world, companies or proponents of biotechnological derived foods are required to submit a set of data which must be of sufficient high calibre and meet the criteria specified in the guidelines. This information is reviewed by a team of scientific evaluators representing expertise in molecular biology, toxicology, chemistry, nutritional services and microbiology.

The scientific validity of study protocols used and the raw data submitted are critically analyzed as indeed they should be in a scientific review. If any part of the information provided is insufficient further studies will be provided by the company.

The safety assessment of technologically derived foods including consideration of the long term effects of such foods in the diet involves, first, how the food crop was developed, including the molecular biological data which characterize the genetic stage and change; second, the composition of the novel food compared to non-modified counterpart foods; third, nutritional information for the novel food prepared and compared to non-modified counterparts; fourth, the potential for new toxins; and, fifth, potential for causing allergic reaction.

One of the tools used in the safety assessment approach for biotechnological derived foods is based on comparing the biotechnological derived food with a conventional non-modified food with a long history of safe use. This is good science and it is appropriate that we in Canada would use it.

This tool is known as substantial equivalence. This does not mean that we approve biotechnological derived foods if they are substantially equivalent to their traditional counterparts. What this approach means is that scientists assess biotechnological derived foods against their traditional counterparts which have long been safely consumed in the human diet.

The comparative approach permits linking the composition of new foods to existing products with a history of safe use to permit predictions on the impacts of new foods in the diet. Differences identified in the comparisons are the focus for further intense scrutiny which will involve traditional, nutritional, toxicological, immunological testing or long term studies as appropriate.

One of the important benefits of applying the concept of substantial equivalence is that it provides flexibility, which is a very useful tool in food safety assessment. The application of the concept allows us to consider that everything that is the same between the biotechnology derived food and conventional food to be safe and to identify any differences intended or unintended which would be the target of the safety evaluation. Again this is important. It underscores the commitment of the government in terms of good science to ensure food safety not only in our system but for others to emulate around the world.

Scientists further focus on the novel trait or component introduced to foods using genetic modification. These novel traits or components are then assessed using the full range of methods which consider the impact of the new trait or component in a modified organism, characteristics related to the new trait or component in the final food, nutritional quality, the potential that the new component may be a toxicant or reduce the nutritional integrity of the food product, and its potential allergenicity as well.

Additional research or testing is often required if scientists are not satisfied. That is important to note because it underscores the commitment of the government to ensure that safety is the absolute key in this process. If there is not satisfaction at any stage in the safety assessment process, further measures are taken. Only if all of Health Canada's stringent criteria are met is a novel food allowed access to the Canadian market.

Concerns have been expressed by some advocacy groups that the foods and ingredients derived from biotechnology have not been adequately evaluated in terms of their potential long term impact on health, especially on human health. Health Canada's regulatory system already provides for the requirement of long term studies when they are necessary. It is important to note that Health Canada is taking a very keen lead role in this area knowing that Canadians wherever they live require it, demand it and insist on it, and rightfully so because of the importance of this issue. Health Canada is taking the lead required in this all important area. I will give an example.

If the application of biotechnology to a food resulted in significantly different nutrient combinations or other novel food characteristics not previously encountered in the food supply, long term studies would be required to further demonstrate the safety of the food. If longer term studies are required, the food will not be approved and the company or proponent will be obligated to carry out those studies and report as necessary the findings and results before any further consideration of its submission. Again this underlines the very stringent criteria Health Canada has in place in this very important area.

As the science of biotechnology continues to evolve on a rapid basis, the Government of Canada keeps pace by using the best technology available at the moment and continually reviews the effectiveness of its approach in all these matters. It plays an active role in the international arena, for example at the WHO, FAO, OECD and other places. It shares expertise in developing assessment strategies ensuring that Canada's strategies are as effective as those in other countries. We share our knowledge with others and they share with us to ensure we have the best science, the best data and the best expertise to ensure safety in the food supply for Canadians.

The federal government recognizes it must ensure that it will have the necessary scientific and regulatory capacity in order to adequately regulate the products of biotechnology as a science as it continues to advance and new products are proposed for commercialization. We see that in a non-ending pace. Everywhere we look new technologies are coming forward. We on this side of the House and Health Canada have to ensure that these kinds of protocols are in place to ensure that we have the best and safest food supply.

To this end, I remind all members of the House that an independent scientific expert panel on the future of food and biotechnology has been established to examine future scientific developments in food biotechnology. This independent expert panel will also advise Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada on the science capacity the federal government will require to continue to ensure the safety of new food products being developed through biotechnology in the 21st century. What an important expert panel that is in order to enable the government to ensure all Canadians that the kind of food safety system we have is the best in the world. It reflects the concerns of Canadians to ensure we have the processes in place to do precisely that.

The Government of Canada is absolutely committed to the ongoing process of ensuring that its regulations on genetically modified foods are appropriate for the state of science that exists presently as well as into the future and the types of food and plant products that are being developed through research. As a part of this commitment Health Canada has been engaged in formal consultations since 1993 regarding the assessment and approval of genetically modified foods to strengthen the protection of health and safety for Canadian consumers.

As I said at the outset, I come from a riding that is heavily farmed and which includes a great deal of agriculture and agri-food business. It is important that we look at food safety. Canadians are very interested in this matter. I am interested in it and I know my constituents are. It underscores the fact that Canadians want the best when it comes to food and food safety. That is a rightful thing to ask and it is rightful to ask the government to ensure the safety of the food ingested by us and our families.

I am pleased to report to the House and Canadians in general that Canada has the best food safety system in the world. In co-operation with other member countries around the globe, we work to continually ensure that through partnership and the kinds of efforts made through a number of organizations, bilateral agreements and arrangements, we are able to share expertise, skill, knowledge and science and make sure that we do the right thing when it comes to food safety. Why do we do that? Quite frankly we do it because it is in the interests of all of us as individuals and for Canada as a whole.

I am pleased the government has moved in this area in a manner that is consistent with the values that Canadians hold. I am pleased that Health Canada and other branches of the government are working diligently in a manner consistent with what Canadians want, desire and need in this all important area.

I was pleased to speak to this motion and indicate what we on the government side are doing to ensure that we continue to maintain good food safety for all Canadians wherever they live in this great country.

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May 2nd, 2000 / 1:05 p.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by my colleague from Waterloo—Wellington, and in some respects, I still have concerns on the work of the government.

First off, I have the impression that the government created a lot of committees and panels last year, to some extent in order to gain a little time and to some extent to move forward so that at a given point it will be impossible to stop or go back. Some things are being questioned, and the government is not admitting that. I think, for example, of the principle of equivalence disputed by a number of scientists. I am not a leading scientist, but I look at what is going on and it concerns me.

I wrote to the Canadian food inspection agency a year ago now, asking a simple question about how they approved genetically modified food. I have three boxes of documents. They are petitions I have been sent, it is crazy.

I look at how they approved “New Leaf Y” and “New Leaf Plus” potatoes. In the past two weeks, the push was on to approve these potatoes, because people were asking for them and Monsanto works with the government and was working in this case with potato producers. In my opinion, there is a lack of impartiality.

My question is as follows: given all of this, how can the member for Waterloo—Wellington say we are really safe and are doing the right thing?

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1:10 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reason I can say it is because it is true. The reason it is true is because the Government of Canada has long since gone on record and in fact in deed and in word has ensured that the food safety system is in place in a manner consistent with what Canadians expect, what they need and what they desire.

I want to point out for the hon. member that the government works diligently in this very important area not only with what she mentioned in reference to my speech about equivalents and other scientific ways of measuring safety and ensuring that it is in place consistent with good science, not emotionalism but rather good science, truth and consistency. I am pleased to be part of a government that is able to do that, has done so and will continue to do it. Canadians expect that of their government, they want it and they think that it is important.

I want to go on record to mention what I think is an important point that the people of Canada should know and I challenge the members opposite, especially the Bloc members to ensure that they mention it at every opportunity. The federal government encouraged the development of standards for the voluntary labelling of new foods. This project was launched by the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board with the goal of developing consistent codes of practice for labelling to keep Canadians better informed in this all important area. The Bloc members should mention that when they talk about food safety. They should give credit where credit is due and I am sure they will.

I conclude in answer to the hon. member's question by saying once again that we have the best food safety system in the world. The reason we have it is because Canadians want it, Canadians need it and Canadians deserve it. We as a government will continue to provide it.

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1:10 p.m.


Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address this issue, even though I did not really have time to prepare, because I was supposed to speak later. Still, I am pleased to speak from the heart about an issue which, I think, concerns all of us to a high degree.

I dedicate this speech to my brother's daughter, who should be born today, if she is not already born at this moment. I dedicate my speech to her, because today's debate concerns food safety, something she will have to live with, as will all of us.

I am also pleased, as the first critic on globalization in the House, to address a topic that leads us directly to the ethical issues to which globalization can give rise.

We are going through a number of revolutions and the case of genetically modified organisms is a telling one. Globalization brings about all sorts of things, and we have had, among other issues, to deal with food safety. We can now say that the Earth can adequately feed nine billion people. Our planet can feed nine billion human beings. Since there are only six to seven billion of us, there is an incredible abundance of food. But the problem, and I think everyone here will agree, is in how that food is distributed.

But even though this is a very interesting and relevant issue, it is not today's topic. Today's topic is not about who will eat, but about what we will eat. An increasing number—and this is a global issue—of people all over the world are concerned about what they are eating.

In 50 or 100 years, people might look back at the history of genetically modified organisms and talk about how the international community was concerned, and about GMOs scaring people. That may be true. Genetically modified organisms may be a step in the right direction for mankind and they may be something extremely positive. But, then again, they might not.

There are perhaps long term consequences for the environment, food safety and human beings. We cannot take chances when these are at stake. The fact of the matter is that, right now, we do not know, and that is what worries me. I am worried less by the positions being taken on both sides of the House than by the lack of knowledge about the long-term consequences of genetically modified organisms.

What I find more interesting—and this will be the thrust of my speech—is that this is a problem like many others, but one that has something in common with other problems we are experiencing right now which are caused by globalization, i.e. it is a globalized issue. I am going to use this expression because, when one talks about globalization, one can talk about the globalization of certain things, good or bad; but when I talk about a globalized problem, I mean that it concerns the whole world to the same extent ultimately. Everyone has the right to know what he is eating.

I am going to look at another aspect that concerns me and I will perhaps digress a bit from the issue of GMOs and take a look at globalized issues. I find it a bit—I will not say strange—but perhaps worrisome that we are still debating these issues nationally. We are facing a world problem that is being debated nationally and I am sure that a number of parliaments in the world right now are raising all these questions—perhaps not today, but they have already addressed them or are in the process of doing so—are engaging in this kind of debate, particularly in Europe, where the issue is very advanced. There have been international meetings where there was discussion about genetically modified organisms.

My question, and I put it to members of the House, is this: What is the role of parliamentarians with respect to issues that are now globalized? When I refer to globalized issues, I also refer to the problems now caused by financial markets, by ecological disasters, by environmental issues, by epidemics, by genetic codes of ethics and all the resulting scientific advances. Who oversees these issues? Should there not be an international authority? Several authorities may already be examining those issues. Who will be responsible for legislating? Who will have to establish an code of ethics on the use of science on humans?

People have been eating genetically modified foods for several years already without even knowing it, and I am sure that many members did not know it either. We have been eating those foods for several years now. Have we been used as guinea pigs? Are my fellow citizens and myself being used as guinea pigs? I am concerned. I believe that the research being done in this area is being conducted by multinationals, large companies which have huge financial resources and the means to call upon the brightest minds and the best researchers to work for these same companies producing genetically modified foods.

I am concerned about this extraordinary combination of science and financial interests of large companies, because we cannot deny that the first goal of those companies is to make profit and become more efficient for their shareholders. I have no problem with that. I am concerned however about who will establish the rules regarding the use of scientific progress because this has an impact on everyone.

When I listen to proponents of genetically modified organisms, I say “Yes, you may be right”, and when I listen to those who express some concern, I tell them “Yes, perhaps”. The problem is that I would like to be able to do like those multinational companies that call upon the best researchers and the brightest minds in the world to achieve technological breakthroughs.

From a political and democratic point of view, it is not time that we, as parliamentarians, be able to ask the best researchers in the world how GMOs could be used not to increase profits, but in regard to the safety of those organisms for human beings who eat them? I think this is a fundamental issue.

I find this topic of interest because all my reflection focusing on the urgency of discussing certain world issues more thoroughly relates to globalization. I have often said I have nothing against globalization, far from it. I am in favour of globalization if there are rules of ethics for the good of the people. That is what we need at this time.

Does this mean that the direction politics and democracy must take is to make use of parliamentary forums and tools, to make use of debates, in order to find a unanimous response to questions as crucial to food as those relating to GMOs? I believe that this entire issue must lead us to reflect on a new outlook, with an awareness of our limitations as members of national parliaments with regard to setting frameworks and drafting regulations that relate to problems that have now become global in scope.

Of course this can be discussed in the House. Canada can adopt a position and then defend it in the international forum. However, I think that the time has come to work in a different way, to work all together, saying “We have a common problem here, which is genetically modified organisms”. The problem is that we do not know what the long term effects of GMOs will be. The reflection will have to be focused on this with a view to a common solution, one which will some day bring all partners on line, I trust.

Today there has been considerable progress in this area, and everyone knows about GMOs. The process is moving along, more or less, but some work has been slow. Who is responsible? We have a pretty good idea. There is matter for concern, however.

I can see that the future will bring more and more problems and issues with it. It is our duty as parliamentarians to reflect on this. We must quickly start thinking of mechanisms that would better equip us to respond properly to problems such as the one we face at the present time, so that the public will no longer be used as guinea pigs.

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1:20 p.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech of my young colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean. I know he is greatly interested in globalization.

I also know that groups of opponents regularly stage big demonstrations, in Seattle or Vancouver, or in Montreal, as we saw recently. Their point, and I believe it is not well understood, is they do not want to be regulated by multinationals but they want citizens to be able to express themselves. They talk about health, the environment and biodiversity.

I would like my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean to tell us if he shares these concerns or if he is aware of this phenomenon. How could we stop it, or support it, if need be?

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1:20 p.m.


Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find this a very relevant question, as it deals with the civil society. It is thanks to the civil society that we are talking about these issues today. It is the civil society that appealed to us, and when I say us, I mean politicians. The hon. member will remember that Biotech Action Montréal appealed to us on these issues. It is the civil society that sounded the alarm by submitting petitions and by suggesting the introduction of bills.

In short, young activists wanted to stir things up on these issues, because they were concerned. The same happened with the multilateral investment agreement where, for the first time, we saw a activist movement globalize through the Internet, which led to these issues being raised. We saw this also in Seattle.

In conclusion, I think that, in a democracy, people need to be vigilant. In this case, it is the people who alerted parliamentarians to these issues. So I applaud all the activists and all the people who are interested in these collective issues that are of crucial importance for the future.

All my colleagues in the House certainly agree that we are confronted with so many increasingly complex issues that the civil society should act as a watchdog and alert parliamentarians to these issues before.

It is simply impossible for any member of Parliament to keep track of all problems. If the public is vigilant, issues end up in the political arena. An example of this is Biotech Action Montréal, which took an interest in food security, helped with research, raised concerns, underlined the long term impact of genetically modified foods, and informed the public.

That is exactly what should be done. It is wonderful. In this instance, the voice democracy was heard. I hope there will be more cases like this one. I encourage all citizens to be more vigilant. These issues are fascinating and very interesting, but, most of all, they are crucial for mankind.

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1:25 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this opposition motion of the Bloc Quebecois on the labelling of genetically modified foods, which reads:

That this House urge the government to demonstrate openness with regard to genetically modified organisms, starting by making it mandatory to label genetically modified foods or foods containing genetically modified ingredients, in order to enable Canadians to make informed choices about the foods they eat.

This debate deals essentially with the rights of citizens to get correct information so that they can make an informed choice.

This motion is of great importance considering the impact of all the new biotechnologies and the intensity of the debate surrounding the issue of genetically modified foods. Since the famous Aldous Huxley novel A Brave New World was published, the reality of new technologies has gone way beyond fiction.

One of the first stars of these new technologies was named Dolly. It was the first cloned animal. Something that used to be found only in science fiction novels became reality and it rekindled the debate on the relationship between ethics and science.

The same goes for foods containing genetically modified organisms. There is nothing wrong with the idea of modifying organisms such as plants to give them characteristics that they would not naturally have, to make them more resistant to diseases, for example, or more resistant to harsher climates—we know the climate in Quebec and Canada is often difficult for plants. Doing so to increase the productivity of certain varieties can also be considered progress. After all, we must feed the planet, which is faced with such problems as desertification and the decreased productivity of certain soils.

It could also be very beneficial to consumers like you and me. But it still raises several issues. For example, at this time, no one can predict accurately the long term effects of these modifications on the genetic heritage of our planet. Some people do not hesitate to call genetically modified foods frankenfoods. This is not very reassuring.

To illustrate this, I would like to mention a case that drew the attention of a lot of people recently. A Newfoundland researcher succeeded in modifying the growth process of a type of salmon, a species we know is on the verge of extinction. He managed to do that through genetic manipulation.

As seen on TV, the result was striking, the modified salmon was two or three times larger than a natural salmon of the same age. Of course, fishermen might be interested in catching such an extraordinary specimen, but what about when the salmon ends up on one's plate?

It is not inappropriate to call for a public debate, a broad discussion, since genetically modified foods, salmon being only one of them, end up daily on our plates without our really knowing it.

According to existing data, 50% to 60% of the food for sale in Canada or Quebec's food markets, food that we eat contentedly three times a day, sometimes even four, contain genetically modified organisms.

There are beautiful, unblemished tomatoes, perfectly symmetrical potatoes, corn, canola and soybean. This is definitely not a rhetorical debate, but one that concerns all Canadians, because it involves our food supply, our health and the health of our environment.

For that reason, the government must make it mandatory to label GMOs. The right to information exists; Canadians have the right to make choices, informed choices, about the foods they eat. Mandatory labelling does not mean a ban on these products. The object is to let the consumers know what is in the products they are buying.

Current regulations already require that labels on food products list all the ingredients. Have you ever looked at these labels, Mr. Speaker? Of course not, but I am sure you eat nothing but butter. I would suggest though that you take a minute to look at the long list of ingredients in ordinary margarine.

It would be most advisable to clearly identify GMOs, as we already identify other ingredients. Moreover, the fact that the GMO labelling is not mandatory will only make a good number of people suspicious, that is those who are aware of the potential risks this technology poses.

Mandatory labelling is not only for the benefit of consumers, but also for the benefit of producers. It could help to maintain the level of food and agricultural exports from Quebec and Canada. Many countries have already adopted measures to make labelling mandatory.

On April 12, the European Parliament amended its 1992 regulations, making GMO labelling mandatory. The products that contain more than 1% of GMOs will now have to be labelled in order to be offered throughout the European Union territory. We are talking about millions of people.

We can ask ourselves if the products made in Quebec and in Canada will still be allowed onto the European market. Could it be that by refusing to make the labelling mandatory, we could be putting our food and agriculture industry at risk?

Amongst the countries who have already adopted these kinds of measure are Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea. These countries are all in the Far East.

At the beginning of my speech, I talked about the ethical aspect of the issue we are debating today. Scientific research has to be governed by an code of ethics to guarantee that these studies are carried out in the best interests of the population and not in the sole and sacrosanct interests of the biotechnological companies.

First of all, there is the whole issue of intellectual property as it relates to living organisms. When a company succeeds, after much research and millions of dollars of investment, in isolating a given gene, at the present time it can then patent that gene. We must ask ourselves whether it is desirable for the genetic heritage of a planet to be privatized, in a way, solely and uniquely to benefit the biggest and most successful of businesses because they have more money to invest.

As well, if these few companies control a sizeable proportion of genetic engineering, one may well wonder also whether other researchers will be able to continue to move ahead in the same field.

Only a few companies control the world market in seeds, insecticides, herbicides and pesticides. I do not need to name names. Everyone knows who they are. This has significant consequences on supply prices and security, and on farmers' lifestyles.

As an illustration of this, there are two types of seed that have been modified to be herbicide resistant, both made by the same company. Farmers are therefore in a way slaves to a certain company. This does not strike us as being in the interests of the general public.

Another example is the so-called terminator technology, which produces plants whose seeds are sterile. This is getting pretty close to Aldous Huxley. Farmers, particularly those in the developing countries, are opposed to this technology, which prevents them from producing seed to sow for their next crop, thus creating dependency on the seed companies, which is both increasing and unavoidable. Strong objections have kept this technology from being put into application.

It is vital, therefore, for the government to act as a prudent administrator by making it mandatory to label genetically modified foods and by establishing measures for detailed testing in order to assess the long term impact of GMOs on human health and on the environment, as well as passing, after consultation, legislation on the safe and ethically responsible use of genetically modified organisms and on the creation of a structure for informing and educating the public.

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1:35 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with some interest to the member opposite. I can tell the House that I was born, raised and still live on the family farm. For me and indeed for all Canadians it is very important that we have very stringent criteria when it comes to food safety.

Why do I say that? The answer is clear: Canadians deserve and expect a food safety system that is in place and they expect their government to ensure it is in place in a manner consistent with what Canadians not only need, but require for themselves and their children.

I can tell the House that Canada has the best food safety system in the world. We have gone to great lengths through the years to ensure that we have a system in place that underscores the commitment of the government and our people to get the right quality of food, nutritious food and good high calibre food in keeping with the Canadian way. I think it is important that we emphasize that and that we understand that.

I also want to point out that Canada chairs the Codex Alimentarius committee on food labelling, which is an international body. It underscores the fact that Canada is part and parcel of partnerships throughout the globe when it comes to this all important area. I think Canadians, wherever they live in this great country of ours, need to know the high calibre and the high regard in which Canada is noted.

I also want to point out that our Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food on September 17, 1999 announced the voluntary labelling of foods derived from biotechnology. That was in partnership with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors as well as the Canadian General Standards Board. That too underscores the commitment of our government.

I have a question for the hon. member. I want to know if the sovereignists can tell us where the $37 million in federal money went which was allocated to farm insurance stabilization in Quebec. Why did the Quebec government not include it in its budget for the year 1998-99, as reported by the auditor general of Quebec on March 28? I want to know from the hon. member where the money went that was allocated for farm insurance stabilization. Where is the $37 million hiding? Where did it go? Why was it not spent in the appropriate place? Why was it not spent? Let us hear the sovereignists answer that.

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1:40 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, after having praised the quality of Canadian food products, which nobody denies, I am pleased to tell my hon. colleague, in response to his brilliant speech, that the money he mentions was handed over to the farmers.

I do not see how making labeling mandatory—because the issue, here, is voluntary labeling, and everybody knows what happens with voluntary measures—would undermine the quality and the reputation of food products coming from Canada.

One must have a very narrow vision to think that our reputation would be tarnished if we adapted to a new reality. My hon. colleague should be proud that there are in this parliament sovereignist members who want to have a debate on something that is fundamental for everybody, whether one is a sovereignist or a federalist. I would not want my hon. colleague, who is so brilliant, to lose some of his smarts after eating too much genetically modified food.

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1:40 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in the motion put forward by our colleagues in the Bloc. On the surface, when we first read it, it seemed to have merit. Why would we object to labelling on these foods so that the Canadian people can be sure that what they are getting when they go to the grocery store is safe and has passed all the appropriate tests? Who would object to that? It is an interesting concept.

When we look at what has happened in the area of GMOs, genetically modified foods, on the surface for the Canadian public it is a little frightening. We hear of huge cucumbers. They tried growing them in Newfoundland. Actually, they were sprung cucumbers. They sprung a leak and never got off the ground. They tried doing it many years ago. This is not new. This is rather old stuff. It did not work. The market was not there. People looked at these things and said “My God, what are they?” They did not feel comfortable with them. Even though genetically they had been altered, they were safe and there was no question of consumption or safety issues involved. However, it did not fly in the marketplace.

What is the issue around modifying food genetically and why would we be concerned about telling people on a label exactly what it is they are getting?

Unlike my colleague, I was not born on a farm, have not lived on a farm and do not live on a farm at the moment, but, as you can tell, Mr. Speaker, I enjoy food, as we all do.

On a serious note, if they are improving the crop, if they are improving the yield, if they are improving the quality of the product, is this not something that we should perhaps investigate to determine whether or not it is safe? I think we should.

Through motions like the one before us today and debates by some members in this place we create a sense of fear that we should not eat something because it will ruin our liver or whatever. In any event, we understand that it is creating an atmosphere of fear. The purpose of the motion is not to say that genetically modified foods are safe. It is to somehow try to paint the government into a position of being embarrassed because it does not want to share the information with people. That is not true. That is one of the fundamental flaws of a motion like this one.

Members opposite know that Canada leads the world in food safety. People come from all over the world to visit Health Canada and our other regulatory bodies so they can see what procedures we have in place to determine whether or not food is safe.

On one hand I say to Bloc members that I would like to think the intent of what they want to do is good. We want ensure the food that goes on our tables for our children is safe every day. On the other hand, I wonder if there is not a hidden agenda, particularly when funds, such as the $37 million my hon. colleague mentioned, are transferred to the provincial government only to disappear somehow magically.

They may show up as Premier Bouchard, the new reborn Mike Harris of the province of Quebec, finds a way to suddenly become a revolutionary and bring forth budgetary cuts and tax cuts. Maybe the money that was given to Quebec for the specific purpose of dealing with food safety will show up in some mysterious way in a tax cut. It would not surprise me. We have seen it before.

We have seen what Mr. Harris has done in that regard by simply borrowing money, increasing the total debt of the province of Ontario by $21 billion while somehow trumpeting the fact that he is giving a tax break. We all know that he is giving a tax break to his rich friends and not helping the people who need help. I digress somewhat from the issue but it will probably occur from time to time.

I have not had the opportunity in this place of listening to the position of the Canadian Alliance Party. It occurred to me that this would be a perfect motion for that party to debate because what we are seeing is a genetically modified political party. It is trying to turn itself inside out.

We all know that when we genetically modify a lemon we get a lemon. It might be bigger. It might be more yellow. It might be sweeter, but we still get a lemon. When a political party like the Reform Party is genetically modified we get a lemon again. I do not think there is any question about it. I have not heard its position. A little bird told me that it will support the government on this issue. Every time that happens I say to myself that maybe we are wrong, maybe we should revisit it. I heard someone else say that it would not support the government on this issue. Frankly that party has been all over the map.

I want to share a couple of quotes. I took a look at the new book of the genetically modified political party and I tried to see if there were any differences. It is pretty much the same old gang that cannot shoot straight. I do not know why this gentleman constantly gets quoted, but the member for Yorkton—Melville said in a local paper about his party that the principles and policies of Reform are in there.

My dear friend, the member for Wild Rose, said in a newspaper in his riding that he would always be a Reformer. He had his hat and boots on. He said that he would always be a Reformer and that this new party was based on Reform Party principles and platforms.

Where will that party go with genetically modified food? Will it change its position? We have seen more flip-flops on this issue, but it is still sticking by the old principles, and I know it is an oxymoron, of the former Reform Party.

The member for Lakeland said that they would stand for the same things that they were elected on. Will that be the case for GMOs? Will that mean they will line up and vote with the Bloc on this issue? Will they line up and vote here? It is truly a mystery. We can watch the process unfold. We can watch the fact that many members are busy working on various campaigns and trying to bring in members of the Conservative Party of Ontario that do not want to come. It is an absolutely amazing sight.

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1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

It is a mess.

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1:50 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

It is a mess in a political process.

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1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

The member is getting worried.

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1:50 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

I am not worried. What I am really curious about is what this group will do in relation to the particular motion.

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1:50 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening for some time now to what the hon. member has to say. I am usually very tolerant. On a matter of such importance, in a very serious debate on genetically modified organisms, how can we, in this House, let the hon. member go off topic and get into purely partisan issues?

Mr. Speaker, I ask you to call the hon. member to order.

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1:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I listened carefully to the comments made by the hon. member for Mississauga West. I heard him say the words genetically modified in his speech. That is why I did not interrupt him. While he is talking about a genetically modified political party, he is not too far off topic and, hopefully, he will soon get back to the motion before the House.

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1:50 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member should show a little patience because the point of what I am attempting to put across is simply that there are five parties in this place. Actually we are not sure how many parties there are any more. We know the position of the Bloc. I am trying to determine what will be the position of the official opposition or in fact whomever it is.

If the member wants me to be a little more serious about the issue, as he said, why would the Bloc put forth a motion to force mandatory regulation, to force the machinery of government into an industry that already has the safest testing methods in the world? I made that point earlier and I was being quite serious about it.

Is the Bloc doing this because it is concerned about the safety and quality of food or because it is one of those bugbears? This is one of those issues with which we can whip people into a frenzy: that if it is genetically modified it will cause an illness, will cause cancer, will lead to blindness or will do who knows what. We can fearmonger with any issue we want.

The member knows that the government led the way. We have been working with consumer groups. We have been working with agricultural groups. Health Canada continues to monitor the safety of food. If there were any doubt in that regard, perhaps the suggestion would make some sense.

We also chair an international body that develops food safety standards called the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labelling. We are doing work in this area. If the member wants to say that somehow we should eliminate this science, I would question that.

We are looking at the fact that in 2000 and the years to come there will be ways of increasing the productivity of agricultural food producers in this country and around the world. Lord knows, we have a serious problem in many parts of the world where this would be a major asset, perhaps allowing Canada to extend more of the already very generous foreign help that we offer throughout the world. In areas where there is famine and terrible tragedies, why should we not look at this? Instead of focusing on what may be politically exciting, why not focus on how we can improve science in this area?

I give the example of health products. We all know that there was quite a controversy. I recall going with the Minister of Health into an area of downtown Toronto where health products were being sold, all these different products that are for sale in drug stores now. Many of us take them on a regular basis in the belief that they are doing something for our systems. They are not based on prescription drugs but rather on natural products coming from the earth.

I believe they have an impact. I have no scientific proof of that. I am not a scientist or a doctor. I am not trained medically to make that decision, but I believe that they improve diet and health. Hopefully they will keep people out of hospital and out of the medical system.

The big fear about them and the reason there was a big question about whether or not they should be required to be regulated and licensed in the same way, prescribed by a doctor, kept behind the counter and away from the public, was some imaginary safety problem. The research was done by Health Canada. Our Minister of Health went out to that community and determined that they were safe products.

We have to ensure that the Canadian public has the confidence that the investigatory and regulatory bodies of this government and provincial governments where appropriate have done their homework. Because of that we have to know the various positions of those who would purport or wish to govern in any particular legislature or parliament. That is why I raise the issue of the flip-flops and concerns about the Canadian Alliance.

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member has five minutes remaining and I am sure he will fill them well.

Canadian Ethnocultural CouncilStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Mac Harb Liberal Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Ethnocultural Council represents a cross-section of the country and unites people under a common set of values and objectives to eliminate racism, to enhance Canada's cultural heritage and to remove barriers that prevent full and equal participation in society.

I therefore welcome the federal government's recent announcement supporting a multicultural information network. The project will improve communication between Canada's diverse ethnocultural communities and provide information on a variety of services, including specialized health care providers, religious organizations, ethnic media and publishers.

I am confident this project will go a long way toward enhancing multiculturalism in Canada and creating a better life for all.

Boyd AndersonStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to introduce to the House a great Canadian. In 1911 Boyd Anderson's parents moved to a vast, open range land near what is now Fir Mountain, Saskatchewan. There was no school, no town and no railway.

Boyd grew up to become a true professional cowboy and rancher. In his youth, Boyd and his brothers eked out a living during the depression by moving from ranch to ranch breaking broncos for riding. Boyd enlisted in World War II with the Canadian paratroopers. He was wounded in France and taken prisoner by the German army.

Boyd is known today as a rancher, a writer and a local government councillor. He was president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. He served with the Saskatchewan Stock Growers and the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

On February 9 Boyd Anderson was installed as a member of the Order of Canada. Canada's highest honour goes to this fine gentleman who has made a great difference to his community, to his province and to this country. He is a true Canadian who I am proud to call my friend.

Middle EastStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Sarkis Assadourian Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have recently returned from visiting the Middle East in the company of the Prime Minister and fellow members of parliament with ties to the region.

I was outraged with the unduly negative coverage of the trip by some members of the Canadian media, a viewpoint, by the way, which was not shared by the media in the Middle East.

In Syria for example, reporters had suggested we would be left waiting in an anteroom. The reality was that our delegation was greeted at the airport by no less than eight ministers as well as the prime minister of Syria.

Our groundbreaking trip included visits to the Israel-Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The visit was organized by the Canadian government to continue to expand relations with the Middle East and to increase opportunities for international trade. By all measures it was a resounding success.

National Canadian Liberation MonumentStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, 55 years ago Canadian soldiers were instrumental in the liberation of Holland.

This week Canadian veterans will revisit their old battlegrounds and pay homage to comrades in arms who lie in Commonwealth war cemeteries.

Today there is a very special ceremony to bear witness to the lasting friendship between the Dutch people and Canada. The people of Apeldoorn in the Netherlands are unveiling a National Canadian Liberation Monument in testimony to the sacrifices made by their liberators. The ceremony will be presided over by Princess Margriet who was born in Ottawa while the royal family lived here.

We thank the people of the Netherlands for this wonderful gesture of remembrance. It honours the sacrifice of those who served in Europe and reminds us of their gift of freedom which we have enjoyed these many years.

On a more personal note, I am pleased that the OPP Bear Hug band, with young Canadians, is assisting with the ceremonies in Europe this year. I wish them and all our veterans well.

Victims Of The HolocaustStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, with great pride and great sorrow I rise today in this House to recall the day set aside annually to remember the six million people who were victims of the Holocaust in the second world war.

This day keeps alive the memory of these millions of people who died and whose descendants live here in Canada and throughout the world. This day of Yom Hashoah will commemorate forever the tragic events surrounding their disappearance.

Our thoughts and our prayers blend with those of the many families and friends of the victims. Canadians join with me in the hope that this day of remembrance will remind all people of the events of the past and serve as a warning for those who today continue to commit genocide.

TaxationStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, you do not hear it often but I am going to tell you something that the government is really good at. With the annual tax filing deadline yesterday, Canadian taxpayers were reminded of how efficient the government is in separating them from their money.

We keep hearing the words tax reduction from the Liberal government, but the reality is there is no increase in take home pay. The finance minister is great at giving projections which sound good, but he is very slow in delivering real tax relief that Canadians can see.

Every taxpayer in the country is wondering, “Why should I send so much of my hard earned income to Ottawa when it wastes it so blatantly? Why should I fund a fountain in Shawinigan or dead rabbit art?”

Never in the history of Canada have so many given so much to so few to get so little. Yes, Canadian taxpayers are tired of being fleeced by the government. Only the Canadian Alliance with the 17% solution will give them true hope.