moved that Bill C-220, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill C-220 is to require mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.
Mandatory labelling would ensure that the genetic history of a food or food ingredient is recorded and traced through all stages of distribution, manufacture, packaging and, finally, sale. These steps would then ensure the integrity of the documentation trail, accurate labelling and would also prevent incorrectly labelled material from reaching the consumer. The Minister of Health would thus be able to monitor the presence of genetically modified foods in the food chain and conduct intensive research into the potential long term effects of genetically modified foods on human health.
Public concern with regard to genetically modified organisms, commonly referred to GMOs, is reflected in the result of public opinion polls. Canadians overwhelmingly support mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods. The most recent poll commissioned by the Government of Canada reveals that 84% of Canadians support labelling genetically modified foods.
As members may recall, Bill C-220 was introduced during the last session of Parliament as Bill C-287, which the procedure committee saw fit to deem votable. Bill C-287 received 91 votes in this Chamber and prompted the government to request a study by the Standing Committee on Health.
The study so far is not completed and is in limbo because last September Parliament was prorogued. In the meantime, the government relies on appointed bodies to study the question of mandatory labelling. One so-called consultative body the government turned to is the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, to which I will refer to from now on as CBAC.
CBAC was charged with initiating a national dialogue on issues relating to biotechnology, including labelling. Its discussion paper and workshops produced very little response. Last August CBAC recommended against mandatory labelling. It said that it was too expensive, that it would lead to trade wars, that industry was not ready for it and that it would be better to go for voluntary labelling and check back in five years perhaps to see whether mandatory labelling might be advisable then.
While industry and lobbyists argue that mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods will result in consumers having fewer choices in future, their claim is also to the effect that labelling GM foods will result in mass consumer rejection of these products. However research exists to disprove this claim that, quite the contrary, labelling will not only recognize consumers' rights to know, but also, when given an informed choice, suspicion and reticence by consumers would be dispelled and they might even accept GM products.
Had the government decided to label GM foods as of the day they were introduced on the market, we would not have the problem of consumer acceptance. Consumers' reluctance, as we find it today, can be linked to the government's preference to deny consumers information about the food they eat.
In addition to this problem there is another one. Industry seems unwilling to recognize the fact that Canada is increasingly losing agricultural export markets because of our unwillingness to label genetically modified foods.
Moreover, other countries are developing the agricultural capability to capture these markets where they want the labelling of genetically modified food. Canadian canola farmers, for example, would benefit from mandatory labelling because presently they are unable to sell their product to the European Union. At present it is difficult to know precisely the economic losses being incurred as a result of the loss of export markets, but they are probably considerable given the fact that 37 countries, including the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, China, Mexico and Japan, now have in place or are developing the necessary legislation requiring mandatory labelling of genetically modified food.
Furthermore, we have the paradoxical situation whereby we label products for export so as to conform to foreign mandatory labelling regimes, and yet continue to tell Canadians here at home that it cannot be done for domestic purposes. Of course this inconsistency erodes public confidence.
The lack of consumer acceptance of genetically modified food has led a number of companies not to buy genetically modified ingredients. Canadian companies are not able to supply such companies because they cannot obtain from the Canadian regulatory authorities a certification that would say that their product is genetically modified organism free even when it is.
The case of Unibroue, a Quebec based brewery, illustrates the damage of the absence of a mandatory labelling system. It was notified by the government of France that it could export its beer to France only if it provided a certification that it did not contain genetically modified ingredients. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency certified Unibroue's beer as free of genetically modified ingredients. However the very same agency unexpectedly went to court to prevent Unibroue from using this certification and as a result Unibroue had to seek a European genetically modified organism free certification. The lack of mandatory labelling almost cost Unibroue its entry into the entire European Union markets.
While the Europeans now benefit from knowing that Unibroue's beer is genetically modified organism free, Canadian consumers are denied this information. In addition, concerned about the unclear genetic integrity of Canadian corn, Unibroue had to import from France corn certified as non-genetically modified. Thus we are importing corn of which we produce plenty.
The conclusion for the rationale behind Bill C-220 is simply that Canadians do want to know what they eat and Bill C-220 addresses this right. Hopefully the health committee will conduct its study and provide recommendations for the government on the desirability of having mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.
The fact is clear, whether the committee conducts its study or not, that five years, as recommended by CBAC, the committee I referred to earlier, is too long for Canadians to wait just for the possibility of introducing mandatory labelling by the year 2008.
The government, I submit, should act now in the public interest, and also in the interest, and this is never sufficiently and strongly enough underlined, of Canadian exporters, as the example I gave of Unibroue earlier indicates, by introducing mandatory labelling next year so that it can apply to the products we export and so that the consumer in Canada is also made aware of what we are facing domestically on the shelves.
To conclude, it seems to me that we are badly behind other nations on the labelling of genetically modified organisms, and procrastinating the appropriate action is definitely not in the public interest.