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.