Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to respond to Motion M-230.
The motion, from the hon. member for Louis-Hébert has two parts. The first would make labelling of 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 Government of Canada's commitment is always to safety first: safety for the protection of Canadians, safety for animals, and the safety of our environment.
Canada quite rightly prides itself on its regulatory systems. We know that Canadians, whether they are consumers, producers, distributors or health professionals, rely on and value these safety systems.
In terms of labelling, Canadian federal legislation calls for Health Canada to set the requirements for mandatory labelling. Health Canada sets the data requirements for the safety assessments of all foods and undertakes comprehensive pre-market reviews of new foods, including those derived through biotechnology. Every new food goes through a rigorous and thorough review process before being allowed on the market.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, carries out inspection and enforcement activities relative to the food safety standards set by Health Canada. The CFIA also has responsibility for the environmental safety assessment of a number of agricultural products derived through biotechnology, including plants and animal feeds. Based on its safety evaluations of foods, Health Canada determines if and when labelling is required. As I am sure the hon. member would agree, any authority for labelling must be based upon science.
I would like to emphasize that current labelling regulations in Canada require that all foods, including those developed through biotechnology, be labelled where a potential human health or safety issue has been identified, for example, for people with food allergies or if foods have been changed in composition or nutrition.
Let me address the first part of the motion before us by reminding the House that there are already several initiatives in place to study the question of how and when to label a genetically modified food. Canadians expect their views to be heard and the government is doing just that by listening to Canadians on how they want their foods to be labelled. The government is committed to exploring how labelling can best serve the public.
The government believes that all labelling must be credible, meaningful and enforceable. For this reason the Government of Canada has strongly encouraged the establishment of a Canadian standard for the labelling of foods derived through biotechnology. The Canadian General Standards Board under the sponsorship of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors is in the process of developing this standard through an open and inclusive process.
A committee composed of representatives and individuals from a broad range of Canadian interests has been established. This committee has developed working groups to look at areas such as definitions, labels, claims in advertising, and compliance measures. A completed standard is expected within the next six to 12 months.
The government continues to listen to all Canadians. Canada is the first country in the world to actively engage such a broad range of stakeholders on this issue. Canada is fully immersed in developing its own national standard in full consultation with stakeholders and in a way that is open and transparent to all Canadians.
My colleagues should be aware that by endorsing such a thorough process to develop a labelling standard, Canada is indeed a leader worldwide. We can see that the Canadian public is already strongly engaged on the issue of genetically modified foods.
It is also important to note that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food raised this issue of labelling in 1998 when it tabled its report “Capturing the Advantage: Agricultural Biotechnology in the New Millennium”.
On May 18 the standing committee will begin a series of hearings on the labelling of genetically modified foods. I would like to point out that in Tuesday's debate on this very same issue my colleagues from the Canadian Alliance called for a joint study by the health and agriculture committees on the issue of labelling.
Moreover, Canada is playing a strong role on the international stage to promote standards for labelling these foods. For example, Canada chairs the Codex Alimentarius committee on food labelling. We are also heading a subcommittee of this organization which has worked to draft recommendations for the labelling of biotechnologically derived foods.
Around the world Canada is regarded as a leader on this issue. In short, there are processes currently under way to address the information needs of Canadians on the issue of labelling. These processes must be given an opportunity to provide the recommendations before we hastily embark on another course of action.
The government recognizes that consumers want choice. We believe, and I am sure hon. members would agree, that Canadians want informed choice and labels which are meaningful. It is the government's goal to ensure that the information provided to Canadians enables them to make informed choices.
The House should vote down Motion No. 230 on the basis of the first part of the motion. Let me now turn to the second part, which urges the government to carry out exhaustive studies on the long term effects of genetically modified foods on health and the environment.
I would like to emphasize again that food safety and consumer protection are priorities for the Government of Canada. We are strongly committed to the safety of Canadians, animals and our environment.
Canada has certainly built a strong reputation as a producer of foods that are consistently safe, clean and of high quality. We built that reputation by putting very rigorous regulatory systems in place.
Our approval systems are science based and transparent. Our government's decision to accept or reject a product is based on sound science and proven facts. Our regulators include experts in nutrition, molecular biology, chemistry, toxicology, and environmental science to name just a few.
These regulators use the best available science from Canadian and international experts to determine whether these products pose any hazard to people, plants, animals or the environment. If there is any question as to their safety, we do not approve them for use.
Even after a product has been approved, its case is never closed. New scientific evidence is always taken into account and appropriate action taken immediately if any problems are detected.
The regulatory system assesses products on a case by case basis. The research on safety required for evaluation directly addresses the potential risks of the product to human health and the environment. The Government of Canada takes pride in advocating this science based approach around the world.
We recognize the need for scientific research to settle any questions relating to long term health, safety and environmental issues. With that in mind, I believe the House will applaud the efforts the Government of Canada has undertaken to maintain and even enhance the safety of genetically modified foods.
Canada is committed to a regulatory system that is based on sound science—a regulatory system that meets the highest scientific rigour.
That is why, for example, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of the Environment asked the Royal Society of Canada to appoint an expert panel on the future of food biotechnology. The Royal Society named its expert panel last February.
This proactive forward looking body will look ahead over the next 10 years to forecast the types of food products that are expected to be developed using biotechnology.
The Government of Canada's commitment to open an inclusive dialogue with Canadians has also resulted in the formation of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, CBAC. The committee will bring stakeholders and interested parties together to advise the government, raise public awareness and engage Canadians in an open and transparent dialogue on biotechnology matters.
I am sure the House will support the government's initiatives to make sure the regulatory system can effectively assess the health and environmental safety of genetically modified foods.
In conclusion, we have initiatives underway to ensure that Canada is well positioned for the future. In addition, the regulatory system in place is rigorous, thorough and scientific.
For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to vote against Motion M-230.