Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak in favour of Bill C-287 in principle, and I will expand on that later on.
The hon. member for Davenport is a very strong environmentalist. He has brought forth an issue which the vast majority of Canadians are asking for. They are asking for public debate on the labelling of genetically modified food.
We know from a myriad of public opinion surveys, which we should not use exclusively, that the vast majority of Canadians are in support of mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. A recent poll in the Globe and Mail cited it at 95.2% and a recent Decima poll had it at 87%.
Although this private member's bill replicates the Progressive Conservative position with respect to mandatory labelling of genetically modified food, we said in our election platform last November that we would work toward a law that would require the mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. We think that is where Canadians are and that is what we have before us today.
Bill C-287 tabled by the hon. member for Davenport has some very serious flaws which we would like to bring forth. The Progressive Conservative Party and our coalition partners in the DRC are concerned about them.
One is that the bill states that in order for a food to be defined as genetically modified free it must have a threshold of less than 1% of GMO. Even the best infrastructure we could have in place today would make that extremely difficult to utilize. The Europeans are using a threshold of 5%.
Another aspect we are immensely concerned about is the very real fact that the physical infrastructure is simply not in place to be able to, for example in the case of grains and oilseeds, separate those that are genetically modified from those that are GMO free.
The position we would like to talk about is quite simple. Bill C-287 is not intended to add health or safety benefits to the products of biotech. It is about Canadians' right to know what they are eating.
Although there is some difference of opinion about what the right approach would be, the Progressive Conservative Party and our coalition partners believe we should work toward a law to have mandatory labelling.
We are supporting this legislation in order to have the debate the Government of Canada should be having. That is why we are supporting it in principle at second reading. However the bill in its current form would be more difficult to support at third reading.
Biotechnology depends for its future success upon an informed and supportive public. Measures are needed to build public trust and gain the public's confidence in the safety of the food made using genetically modified plants and animals.
We believe that the biotech industry is a safe industry. This is not about the safety of our food but the minimum we should be providing to Canadians is the public right to know.
In the platform I spoke about earlier we said quite clearly that we would work toward a law requiring the labelling of genetically modified foodstuffs. We support Bill C-287 in principle on the basis of studying the matter further at committee. We need to say yes to debate and yes to discussion. That is the position we wish to follow at this time.
Mandatory labelling can occur in the future only if it is done in a cost effective way in concert with food labelling policies of other major food producing and trading countries. We are in a situation where there is not an established process with respect to mandatory labelling. The Europeans will have that in place very soon. We need to build more confidence in biotech. Labelling and having the confidence to label is a step in that direction.
There are countries that question the food safety or the marketability of the product. Our farmers know that they have to respond to this. The wheat farmers in Canada have said on previous occasions that they would prefer that we just get away from genetically modified wheat, that they do not want to be held at a competitive disadvantage either. Right now genetically modified soy cannot be marketed to Japan. Canola cannot be sold to Europe if it is genetically modified.
I would like to touch on a couple of issues that other individuals may raise throughout the context of this debate. There has been a fair amount of misinformation with respect to the report that was recently tabled by the Royal Society, in which voluntary labelling was recommended. That should be considered. I do not think that is where we will ultimately go.
With respect to its study, the Royal Society of Canada said that the panel recognizes there are broader social, political and ethical considerations and debate about mandatory labelling of GM foods that lie outside the panel's specific mandate. The discussion was not intended to provide an answer to the issue of mandatory labelling. It simply said that it was not within its mandate.
We have an august direction to take if a range of Canadians from 95.2%, as the Globe and Mail said, to 87%, according to the Decima poll,say that mandatory labelling is something they want to proceed with. It would be very wrong and very ill advised to vote against Bill C-287 and not at least have that discussion in committee.
That is what private members' bills are about: to educate the public, perhaps to embarrass the government on occasion if it is not going in a certain direction so that we can advance public policy. I want to congratulate the member for Davenport for bringing the bill forward although it has some very identifiable flaws in that we do not have the infrastructure in place today. The percentage he utilized is wrong as well. However it would be prudent for us to at least have a discussion at committee.
I am concerned on one aspect. I received a letter from the Minister of Health dated October 11, just five days ago, wherein he stated that voluntary labelling was the only route to take. I refer to a letter he sent to a constituent of mine who is a strong advocate of mandatory labelling, Sister Angelina Martz of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of St. John. She writes to me quite often. She consistently advances public policy. I was pleased to at least support the perspective of that constituent.
Canadians have made it very clear that they want to take this direction. We may have some concerns in terms of the timing of this initiative because the very last thing we would want to do is take even a nickel away from the farmers at the farm gate.
We are heading in the direction of mandatory labelling at some point in time. It is only prudent for us to at least have the discussion before Canadians and talk about the pluses and minuses and about the right timing to go forward with it.
We would like to vote in principle for the bill at second reading, but if the bill comes back at third reading in the exact form it is in right now, it will be difficult to support it.