Mr. Speaker, we have returned to the House to once again debate the mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms or food. I guess in private members' business we can return to the same subject over and over as long as that bill comes up, but in listening to the speech of the member who sponsored the bill, I would say we have a situation where he and like-minded members of Parliament, and some members of the public and special interest groups who have a social concept of this issue, are basing the bill, as the member said, on public opinion polls.
That is what is wrong with the bill and that is why the bill was voted down in the last session of Parliament. The questions of labelling and food safety have to be based on science. They cannot be based on opinion. If social opinion were such that even if a majority of people felt a food that was not good for people must be good because they had been deceived through some kind of public relations program, would the government go ahead and say yes, that because they had asked for this unsafe food the government would give it to them? I do not think so, because the principle of science-based decision making on food safety and the laws that pertain to it is paramount over and above an individual member's belief as to whether or not Canadians should have food labelling.
The member talked about the study being done by our health committee, but he failed to mention that in fact another committee, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, also dealt with this issue. The committee did a report and made recommendations. I will refer to the Minister Agriculture and Agri-Food's response to the report. He said:
The Committee's report and hearings make a valuable contribution to public and government understanding of the complex and cross-sectoral nature of the genetically modified (GM) food labelling issue, and the implications of labelling for the agriculture and agri-food sector.
That is what we on the agricultural committee studied. The minister went on to say the following:
We believe that...[the] findings, along with those of the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee, provide the Government with strong support for a standardized but voluntary approach to GM food labelling--
That, of course, is to serve the consumer, and it is also to serve the interests of our trade, both for our exports and our imports, and the relationships we have with other countries.
That agricultural committee report was quite clear. Part of the issue that was dealt with was the fact that sufficient analysis has not been done and there is not a sufficient understanding of just what the trade implications are. If we have mandatory labelling here in Canada, for instance, we are telling countries like the United States and other countries that will be sending food into Canada that they have to meet certain labelling criteria set out by Canada. When it comes to trade, that very easily could be seen as a non-tariff trade barrier.
Obviously the world is working on a standardized system. I think that in the meantime we absolutely should wait and work through that process so that we do not end up trying to create these non-tariff trade barriers. That is exactly what is happening in the European Union right now. The Europeans are not against GMOs or advances in science. In fact, they have a mammoth industry right now in the research area of developing these very kinds of foods, as well as technologies and medicines in the case of health. In doing that, though, they are doing so in order to protect their agriculture industry, to keep imports out so they can just consume mostly their own foods and charge whatever price they want. That is why they are rattling the cages about this labelling and what they see as the right way to do it.
I would like to deal with the following point of view for just a moment, as I have touched on the economics of it and the trade implications that show this mandatory labelling bill is so wrong. From my comments it is obvious that neither I nor my party is in favour of this kind of legislation going forward. I find it strange to be siding with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food on this issue, but sometimes he is right and on this one he definitely is.
The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee has been mentioned. In this world, not everybody is so fortunate as to be from Toronto where people have good incomes and if they have some tough times and need food they can go to the food banks, and/or the government will provide them with some support. We can get a healthy diet here in Canada, but what about third world countries and those countries where there is virtually no income, or there are low incomes, and there are large populations that do need a healthy diet? We see mammoth social unrest around the world because of poor diets and poor education. I would just like to refer quickly to the fact that genetically modified foods have a very big benefit to the world, particularly in feeding the poor and providing a balanced, nutritious diet for them.
The biotechnology advisory committee report mentions vitamin E, saying that it “is the most important fat-soluble anti-oxidant in our diet” and that it is “associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers”. Through GMO research on canola and grains, researchers have been able to increase this active ingredient by more than 95% by introducing a gene that aids in the conversion of a certain chemical to provide vitamin E. The report also states, “Iron deficiency is one of the most common dietary deficiencies worldwide and affects an estimated one to two billion people”.
Here is what is wrong with the labelling and the scare tactics of this type of legislation. Of course, I see my good old friend Mr. David Suzuki here too, who also is getting some coverage on the Kyoto agreement. What is wrong with this is that we are scaring the living daylights out of people who do not have the scientific information being put before them in regard to GMO technologies. Before the pooh-poohers and the naysayers get at me on this issue, let me say that we need only look at Zimbabwe, where large numbers of the population are starving and a lot of food aid was sent in. What happened was that the government over there said it would not allow the food aid because there might be something wrong with the GMO corn that was coming in to feed its people. Any government that will let its people starve because it believes the scaremongers who say something is wrong with GMO food just flies in the face of reason and flies against all sense of humanity.
The member sponsoring the bill talks about the acceptance of GMO foods. In Canada we have been eating GMO foods for many years now. Around the world people have been eating it for many years, in corn, soybean, canola and other crops. These crops all provide the base ingredients for most of the foods we eat. We are already eating them and they are safe.
If we want voluntary labelling, which we do have right now, if we want to export and get into a niche market that wants GMO free food, through identity preservation, we can do that right now. We do not need mandatory labelling.