This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and if you seek it I think you would find unanimous consent for the House to go to presenting reports from committees to permit me to table a report of the Special Committee on the Non-medical Use of Drugs.

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent to to go to presenting reports from committee?

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the interim report of the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs entitled:

“Policy for the New Millennium: Working Together to Redefine Canada's Drug Strategy”.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 11:08 a.m., the House will now proceed to private members' business as indicated on today's Order Paper.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, this debate has come back to the House again and, unfortunately, it will have to come back several more times before people realize that consumers have the right to decide what they eat.

The previous comments are quite shocking, in my opinion. The suggestion is that if people don't like genetically modified foods and if they want these foods to be labelled, then it is because they are suspicious and want to hurt trade.

Like the hon. member who just spoke, I served on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. We heard experts speak about genetically modified foods. I also had the opportunity to sit once or twice on the Standing Committee on Health, which was discussing the same subject matter. I attended the committee's meetings and heard different sides of the issue.

Last year, along with my hon. colleague who is the Bloc's international relations critic, I also attended an event on World Food Day. We heard people working in developing countries speak about their experience.

I remember the urgent appeal they made when they said, “Be careful of genetically modified products, because this is not a way to help developing countries”. This is not known this for sure.

For example, when the day comes that only a handful of companies own all the seed, this is not going to help the developing countries. If we are going to provide them with food, this may be open to question, but if we want to make it possible for them to be self-sufficient--the old saying about teach a man to fish, or to garden--there is no proof that genetically modified foods are going to attain that objective.

I am scandalized by the fact that about 95% of the population simply wants to know what it is eating. That is not complicated. The purpose of this bill—which, incidentally is not votable, unfortunately, and which was defeated when introduced last time by the colleagues of the member who introduced the bill this morning—is to require mandatory labelling, to inform the consumer if products sold or purchased contain more than one per cent of a genetically modified food.

It is simply a matter in my opinion of respect for the individual, the consumer. Consumers, it is increasingly said, can influence voting. I remember hearing in committee that consumers are not in favour quite simply because they do not know what will happen 20 years down the road with a transgenic product.

This is, I think, a good reason to question transgenic products, which may well be good. But why should I, as a consumer, not have the right to say that I do not trust them at this time? I am waiting for the results, I would like to have a choice about what I eat.

So let us label the foods we eat, the ones that contain GMOs. That does no harm. We are not pulling genetically modified foods from the market or making it any easier for them to get onto it, just giving the consumer the freedom to choose. I think that there is no greater right than the right to choose what we eat.

I recall mad cow disease 20 years ago in Europe, England in particular. They said it was not serious because sick animals are slaughtered and the meat is edible. As soon as it was well cooked, there was no longer any problem. Twenty years later, it was discovered that the disease could be transmitted to humans. It took 20 years to find that out.

So when I hear a consumer tell me “let us be cautious here”, that is exactly what I as a consumer want to be.

I would like to be able to choose what I eat. For that reason, I do not think mandatory labelling hurts anyone. If there is nothing to be afraid of, if “There is no problem for health”, as indicated by the hon. member, if there truly is no problem for health, then what is there to hide? Why is there resistance to mandatory labelling? If there is no problem, if I have no doubts, if I need not have any doubts, then there is no reason to hide that the food I buy contains genetically modified products.

Out of respect for the consumer and to be able to compete on the European market, labelling should be promoted. In Europe, it is not easy to sell products that are genetically modified. In fact, in some European countries, consumers want to know if the products they buy are genetically modified.

Trade is international. Those are arguments we heard during committee meetings. No one has said, “I guarantee you that genetically modified food does not present any problems”. No one has said that. Everyone says, “It is too new, it is just the beginning. It has already been available on the market for some time now and it will become increasingly available. It is not thought to pose any health risks”. However, no one can confirm this, here, or elsewhere in the world.

I remember taking a trip to Germany with some committee members. In Berlin there was a discussion specifically on the topic we are debating this morning. There too, according to several experts at the table, namely doctors and specialists of all kinds, no one was able to say that GMOs are absolutely safe. Nor could anyone say, “There is a risk”. However, it was agreed that “Time will tell”.

In the meantime, there is no reason not to allow consumers, who know no more than others, to have a choice when it comes to their foods. Choice means labelling and mandatory labelling. Obviously, we support this bill. Unfortunately it is not votable; it will only be debated. However, it allows us to discuss the issue once again. It also allows people to have a voice and to exert pressure.

As I was saying earlier, we are talking about the greatest respect that we could have for consumers. After all, why do the agricultural sector and the food industry exist in the first place? They exist because there are consumers. Without consumers, there would be no agriculture.

I remember, from when I used to work at the UPA in Quebec, that the main concern was always to satisfy consumers. The best way to satisfy them in this case—and it would be easy—would be to say, “We will tell you what you are eating. We will give you a choice. If you like genetically modified foods, you will know that you are eating them. If you want to avoid them, you will probably be able to choose to avoid them”.

In fact, this reminds me that a brewery in Quebec, Unibroue, has announced a GMO-free beer. I do not have to buy this beer, but if I am afraid to purchase other beers, and if I am assured that there are no GMOs in this particular beer, I might choose it. And why should I not have the right to make this choice? I think that we should have mandatory labelling out of respect for consumers. Out of respect for everyone. Labelling would also promote new technologies. It would allow us to learn more about GMOs. It would allow us to take this further.

The Bloc Quebecois supports this bill. However, we do not feel that it goes far enough. Unfortunately, this debate is only for debate's sake, because there will be no vote on the bill.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in this debate on Bill C-220 introduced by the hon. member for Davenport.

As indicated by the previous speaker, it is disappointing that it is not a votable bill. There are a number of items that have come up for debate in the House that are not votable. Many of us would like to see more votable bills. I guess until that process changes we deal with what we have and make a point of getting the message out to Canadians knowing that when pressure comes from Canadians there is greater pressure on the government to address their concerns.

My colleagues in previous debates this year, as well in other years, have brought up the issue of genetically modified products. That is not the crux of the issue that we are talking about here even though the question of whether or not there is a need for everything to be modified genetically does come into question when there is a situation where crops are made in such a way that the seed cannot be planted again.

There is a shortage of food in numerous countries. The idea that any company would see it as an essential thing to modify a seed so that there would not be regrowth is somewhat astounding. It is one of those areas where it is the final straw for a good number of people to realize that it is just something where a company is out to make money and it is not for the benefit of society.

The issue of whether or not labelling should be mandatory is extremely important. It has been suggested that voluntary labelling would do the trick. However, we have often seen that anything voluntary within business does not work. Those who see that--

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

That is just not true.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

My hon. colleague says that is just not true. In a good number of instances it is the only way to make it work because there are some businesses that, quite frankly, want to save every little bit of cost and therefore deny the right of consumers to know what they are eating in this case.

Approximately 90% of Canadians want to see labelling on food products that are genetically modified. For a variety of reasons over the years different types of labelling were suggested. At one point I asked, is it that important to even mention that there is a slight bit of nut oil in something? Then we saw tremendous allergic reactions to different nut products. We were more conscious of it and were not willing to see even one person die as a result of an allergic reaction simply because people could not find out if that product had nut oil in it.

Over time I have come to realize that it is crucially important that whatever consumers need in the labelling process it should be made possible for them to make an informed decision as to whether or not they would consume that product. We as a Parliament must ensure that the information is there. Voluntary labelling would not cut it. What happens within a society is, if there are a good number of products that are voluntarily labelled, there is a tendency for the public to think that the government has already established that foods must be labelled, so if it does not say it, we are okay. Quite frankly, that is not the case.

There are a number of Canadians out there to whom it has been brought to light on numerous different issues where they thought something existed because it was always done that way, but there was no legal responsibility and, as a result, they suffered the consequences. That is what the hon. member for Davenport has indicated in his years of experience in the House and within the environmental aspect of things.

I put a lot of value on his experience. The fact that he would come before us and say that we need mandatory labelling itself is a point that the government should be looking at. It is not often that I will sing the praises of any individual from the governing side, however the hon. member for Davenport has been extremely good in this regard, as have my colleagues from Palliser and Winnipeg North.

There is no question that 90% of Canadians want to see mandatory labelling. The government is ignoring that. Some 75% of processed foods found on our supermarket shelves contain some kind of genetically modified product. I must tell the House that since this debate has become more open I have started looking at things and reading more about it. I am shocked at the number of genetically modified products.

I know people who have different symptoms that are sometimes related to some of the things found in genetically modified products, or there is an indication that they may come from genetically modified products. Those individuals deserve the right to know so that they can make informed decisions as to whether they want to take chances with their lives. There is also an indication that some genetically modified products, apart from having allergenic concerns, may be toxic or even carcinogenic.

It is not a matter of saying that we do not know for sure because there have not been enough studies. I do not know about everyone else, but when I see that kind of wording I think, yes, but I have the right to make the decision as to whether or not I will be a guinea pig. I do not want myself being a guinea pig and I do not want my children being guinea pigs while someone decides whether or not it is a problem. I do not want my grandchildren being guinea pigs.

We should have the right to make informed decisions as to whether or not we would take those chances with our lives. If other people still want to take those chances, so be it, but surely we must allow individuals to have the right to make those choices by having an informed labelling process which would allow them to make those choices based on proper information.

I am looking forward to hearing further debate on this. The real disappointment is that it is not votable. I wish to acknowledge again the work in this area by the hon. member for Davenport.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have to get this debate back on track again. I heard what the member for Churchill had to say. First, this is not an issue of food safety. I have heard the fearmongering and the scaremongering. The member said that they wanted to ensure that the foodstuffs we consumed were safe.

Canada has safer food than anywhere else in the world. We have an organization called the CFIA that, with science, has proven that the food that we eat and ingest is safer than anywhere else in the world. Therefore this is not an issue about food safety, and I want to put that to rest right now.

We have been eating genetically modified foodstuffs for decades. We just now recently extended the life expectancy of Canadians to I believe 78 or 79 years, which is one of the longest life opportunities anywhere in the world. Please, this is not about food safety.

I obviously have touched a nerve with the member for Churchill. The fact of the matter is genetically modified foodstuffs have been with us for a long time.

The member also said that there was no benefits to society, that this was only a business benefit. The New Democratic Party is anti business, anti corporations, anti agriculture and anti just about everything.

This has nothing to do with non-societal benefits because right now society itself would love to have foodstuffs generated and grown that require less pesticides. Is that not wonderful? Would it not be nice to ingest less pesticides in our foodstuffs, the potatoes and the cereals we eat? Guess what? Genetically modified organisms allow for less pesticides to be used in the production of potatoes, canola and wheat. That means less pesticides go into the systems, and that is very positive.

Genetically modified products bring societal benefits. The same member said that there is a real serious problem for society because of the allergens. Now if that same member could only say that there is the possibility, through genetic modification or through biotechnology, that we could take the allergen out of the peanut, would not that be the best thing for society? I know from personal experience just how serious the peanut allergen can be. There is a good possibility, through the biotech industry, that could be taken out. That would be a huge benefit to society.

Here we have on one hand an individual who is arguing against genetically modified products and on the other hand is saying it is those same allergens that they would like to have removed from some of those products.

Let us move back to the issue here, the bill proposed by the member for Davenport. This is not the first time a bill requiring mandatory labelling has come forward. It came forward before, was voted on in the House and was defeated. This issue has been debated not only on the floor of the House but in numerous committees as well. Report after report say that voluntary labelling is the supported way to go, not mandatory. There are a couple of reasons for that.

A lot of the fearmongering that we have heard comes from a lot of the environmental activists. However, as was mentioned earlier in a comment from the Alliance, a lot of that is more of a non-trade barrier put into place for trade, not because of the GMO but because they do not want our crops and products to have access to their marketplaces. Let us ensure that we talk about this with some knowledge, first, and, second, with not quite as much emotion and passion that has been put forward by the environmentalists.

I would have preferred to have heard from the agriculture critic for the New Democratic Party, who obviously has been very instrumental in a lot of the committees in which we have been involved. He hears, he has heard and he is a very knowledgeable individual. I wish he could have talked to this as opposed to someone who has never had any experience in those committees or who has never heard the other side of the argument.

The other side is quite substantial. There are three things about which we should know.

First, the agriculture committee sent forward some recommendations in a report on genetically modified organisms. One recommendation was that we ensure we got the right information to the public and that we educate it properly so it would have the proper information that would backstop a lot of the misinformation which had gone out from the activists. That is extremely important. We have to know exactly with what we are dealing. It goes back to what I said initially. It has to be based on science, not simply a motion. Therefore the first thing is we have to educate the public.

Second, we have to ensure that the public and the House recognize that we have a requirement to maintain international standards, for two reasons. We have to access export markets because, from an agricultural perspective, we export a lot of product. We have to ensure that we can access those markets. We need to have the same standards as set in other countries.

The proposed legislation calls for a 1% tolerance. The tolerance being recommended is 5%. It is almost impossible to deal with a 1% tolerance. Therefore we have to ensure that is identified and recognized.

Third, we have to recognize that every report I have on my desk right now says that voluntary labelling is the way to go. Our report, the blue ribbon report and other reports all say voluntary labelling, not mandatory labelling. If it was mandatory, the third problem we would have would be cost.

The recommendation from the agriculture committee was to ensure that we identify the real cost would be to producers and consumers. There is a thing here called segregation. We have to ensure that we segregate products, that is GM and non-GM. To do that and to ensure that we can testify that the product has less than a 1%, 3% or 5% tolerance will cost a lot. In fact some people who appeared before the committee said that it would be almost impossible to segregate GM and non-GM.

We have products in our country right now, canola, soya, corn and even potatoes, that were genetically modified for the right reasons and not just because big business wanted it. Not only was it good for the producer but it was also good for the consumer. However we have to segregate that to say that unequivocally on mandatory labelling that there is less than a 1% tolerance. It cannot be done and the cost to do it would be passed on to the consumer. Therefore those same consumers, the 90% that the member for Churchill has indicated have stood up, waved their flags and said they want mandatory labelling, have no idea of the cost.

If we want to make an analogy between that and Kyoto, which again is a bit of an irony because the member also supports Kyoto, the public now after being faced with some of the true costs are now turning against Kyoto. They are saying that they want to know the real plan. They want to know what the costs will be for consumers when and if Kyoto is implemented. The same thing is true of genetic modification. Consumers have a right to know what the costs will be for them to achieve that 1% tolerance and that mandatory labelling.

The member for Davenport brought the bill back. It is not votable this time like it was last time, and it was defeated. I suspect the member for Davenport will continue to bring it back until he gets his way. The fact is he is whistling in the wind and everybody who knows about the issue realizes that voluntary labelling is the way to go and it is not an issue of food safety. The food that we consume is the safest of any country. We should never try to put food safety and genetic modification in the same breath.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington Ontario

Liberal

Larry McCormick LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Davenport for bringing this issue to the attention of the House again. I hear people discussing this from all sides of the issue. They are not really that far apart. We are talking about voluntary labelling, mandatory labelling and we are making some really good progress toward this.

I want to acknowledge the great work on the GMOs and on any environmental issue by one of the great deans of the House, the member of Parliament for Davenport, who I respect. I thank him for his work and is always sharing it with Canadians. I also want to thank the excellent work done on this issue by Dorothy and Lauchlin Chisholm, residents from the great riding of Ottawa—Vanier and formerly of HFL&A, Napanee, friends of the riding and personal friends of my wife and mine forever.

We may differ a little bit on this but as the House may be aware, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency share accountability for food labelling policies under the Food and Drugs Act. Health Canada's responsibilities derive from this mandate for health and safety issues, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for protecting consumers for misrepresentation and fraud and for prescribing basic food labelling and advertising standards.

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recognize that the labelling of foods derived from biotechnology has become an important issue for consumers. The Government of Canada continues to discuss an appropriate approach for the labelling of biotechnology derived foods with Canadians and international standards organizations around the world. Several initiatives are underway to determine the most appropriate mechanism for providing consumers with information necessary to make informed food choices.

We are here to discuss a private member's bill, Bill C-220, which was put forward in the House and which was defeated in October 2001. Like the previous bill, this bill proposes amendments to the Food and Drugs Act to make labelling and post-market monitoring of genetically modified foods mandatory. Specifically, the bill proposes mandatory labelling of food containing more than 1% genetically modified material, either as a genetically modified food, a genetically modified food ingredient or an ingredient derived from genetically modified organisms.

It should be noted that one initiative currently underway in Canada is the development of a Canadian standard for the voluntary labelling of foods derived from biotechnology, a project led by the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board, CGSB.

The development of the draft standard involved the participation of a committee composed of approximately 100 organizations, including consumer groups, food companies, producers, environmental groups, general interest groups and government, in several meetings held since November 1999. The proposed standard describes requirements for making positive or negative labelling claims regarding the presence of a food or food ingredient that is a product of genetic engineering for either single or multi-ingredient foods. A tolerance level of 5% is being proposed with verification by either analytical methods or proper documentation.

We would like to note that significant resolution has been achieved by the CGSB committee since the first ballot vote held in January. If the second ballot is successful, the final standard could be published as early as spring 2003.

Like the CGSB's voluntary standard, the bill provides a narrower definition of genetically modified food than what already exists under division 28 of the Food and Drugs Act, also referred to as an novel foods regulation. Under division 28, “genetically modified” includes modifications obtained through the use of more traditional techniques such as chemical mutagenesis and conventional breeding as well as those obtained from modern biotechnology.

The novel foods regulation permits Health Canada to assess the safety of all novel foods, irrespective of the method used for the development and thus including genetically modified foods prior to their sale in Canada. Only after a novel food is determined not to pose a health or safety concern is it allowed to be sold on the Canadian market.

Mr. Speaker, we have the safest and I would say the best food in the world today.

Health Canada notes that Bill C-220 proposes a 1% tolerance level but does not provide a rationale for the specific tolerance level, nor does it define specialty foods which the bill proposes to exempt from the prescribed requirements. In addition, it remains unclear how this tolerance level would be applied to multi-ingredient foods.

Health Canada also notes that the proposed amendments would apply to products such as oils and refined sugars which contain neither recombinant DNA nor expressed protein after processing. For these products, verification would have to rely on documentation alone.

Bill C-220 also proposes that the Minister of Health maintain a publicly available list of all foods offered for sale in Canada that contain more than 1% genetically modified material.

In view of the diversity and constant evolution of the Canadian food supply, the maintenance of such a list of individual marketed foods that have a content of more than 1% material that is derived from a genetically modified organism would demand a considerable investment of time and resources.

For example, it is estimated that today the average grocery store contains more than 20,000 different products, approximately 70% of which are multi-ingredient processed foods. As a result there is a large number of foods on the shelf today which at one point or another may contain one or more GM ingredients or no GM ingredients at all. This is because manufacturers regularly change the formulation of these foods, depending upon the availability and price of individual ingredients. Overall the large number of products affected and the frequent changes in product formulations make the maintenance by the department of a current list of products containing more than 1% GM material challenging and impractical.

In addition, to facilitate the creation of this list, effective strategies for segregation and tracking throughout the food production and distribution chain would have to be developed for all commodities.

Bill C-220 also proposes that the Minister of Health be responsible for conducting research, including post-market monitoring of genetically modified foods.

The government invested $90 million to enhance the regulation of biotechnology in budget 2000. Health Canada and other departments have established research programs which are aimed at further enhancing the scientific capacity underpinning our safety assessment of biotechnology products.

The research program conducted by Health Canada includes projects on post-market monitoring approaches for biotechnology derived products, including genetically modified foods; animal models for assessment; and toxicity testing of whole foods. This investment further confirms the federal government's commitment to ensuring that products allowed on the market in Canada are safe and nutritious.

I know the debate will continue for a long time. As I said earlier, I think we are close to getting together on this. It is a matter of education. Do people want to have all the products in the grocery store with a GMO label on them, or do we want to arrive at say, a 5% level where we could work together on this?

In conclusion, the bill was clearly intended to respond to consumer demands for choice. However as I have noted, there are several elements in the bill which require greater consideration.

The government will continue to work with all relevant stakeholders and indeed all interested Canadians to develop mechanisms that provide meaningful information to Canadian consumers regarding food derived from biotechnology that is consistent with international approaches. We will continue to have the best and the safest food in the world.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Mr. Speaker, this debate is all about choice. It is a debate on which Canadians have made their opinions very clear. Canadians are calling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms.

Under the Food and Drugs Act as it stands right now, the government and others certainly are able to undertake a voluntary labelling approach. There is a Royal Society of Canada report that is often quoted as saying that it had accepted voluntary labelling, but let us be clear. The Royal Society of Canada report identified 53 recommendations that were absolutely imperative to implement before undertaking any form of voluntary labelling. Until those recommendations are met, this is not something on which Canadians can go forward with a great deal of confidence.

One has to understand the issues that were raised in the Royal Society report. The Royal Society is an independent scientific body of experts which identified issues around making regulations and risk assessments which are absolutely vital to restoring the confidence of Canadians.

The Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee was also charged with initiating a national discussion on the issue of biotechnology. Unfortunately many criticisms of this process have been put forward, including that the group has a very strong industry bias. It is interesting to note that very few members of civil society provided input into those discussions, yet the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee was able to come forward with a recommendation for voluntary labelling.

As I pointed out, with a group that has such a strong industry bias, that ability already exists. There is a demand in the public for choice and choice will only happen with mandatory labelling.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

Earlier today the Speaker's office received notice from the opposition House leader that he wanted to raise a question of privilege. The hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast has the floor.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

December 9th, 2002 / 12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege to charge the Minister of National Revenue with contempt for her failure to comply with a legislative requirement compelling her to table a report on cases of theft, fraud and losses of taxpayers' money in the Public Accounts of Canada as required by the Financial Administration Act.

Section 79 of the Financial Administration Act mandates the reporting of losses of money or public property. In the national accounts, the report is made in volume II, part II, chapter 3, which is “Supplementary Information Required By the Financial Administration Act”.

Section 23(2) states:

The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the appropriate Minister, remit any tax or penalty, including any interest paid or payable thereon, where the Governor in Council considers that the collection of the tax or the enforcement of the penalty is unreasonable or unjust or that it is otherwise in the public interest to remit the tax or penalty.

In the case of the GST fraud, the government has elected to remit the tax. Subsection (4) provides that a remission pursuant to this section may be granted:

(a) by forbearing to institute a suit or proceeding for the recovery of the tax, penalty or other debt in respect of which the remission is granted; (b) by delaying, staying or discontinuing any suit or proceeding already instituted; (c) by forbearing to enforce, staying or abandoning any execution or process on any judgment; (d) by the entry of satisfaction on any judgment; or (e) by repaying any sum of money paid to or recovered by the Receiver General for the tax, penalty or other debt.

Section 24(2) states:

Remissions granted under this or any other Act of Parliament during a fiscal year shall be reported in the Public Accounts for that year in such form as the Treasury Board may direct.

I stress the word “shall”.

An article in the National Post on Saturday describes how the government has kept Parliament in the dark. Since 1995 it failed to report hundreds of millions of dollars in public money due to fraudulent claims for GST refunds.

Federal tax officials are required by law to inform Parliament about such theft and fraud. I stress the point that federal officials are required by law to inform Parliament about such theft and fraud. The government has failed to comply with this statutory requirement and therefore is in contempt of Parliament.

According to the National Post in the 1994 public accounts, Revenue Canada reported 12 cases of GST input tax credit fraud. While the total losses were reported by the department as $1.9 million, the department could not establish how much, if any, of that money had been recovered.

As more criminals exploited the scheme and fraud losses began to rise in the mid-1990s, the National Post reported that the information regarding such frauds vanished from the annual public accounts, with one exception. The department disclosed a case in 1995 regarding one of its own employees.

The National Post article references a CBC report that revealed that GST fraud has cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. It said, “One expert told the public broadcaster that taxpayers may have lost $1 billion over the past decade”.

A spokesperson for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency claimed that it stopped reporting these losses because they were not losses. I am not an accountant, but since the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency cannot recover the money, I would declare those losses as losses, as I am sure, would all other Canadians.

A footnote in the 1995 public accounts says that tax officials are unable to add up the losses from the GST fraud because their systems cannot provide the information. That is no justification for not informing Parliament.

The National Post reports that the former Auditor General, Denis Desautels, reported in 1990 an unidentified case of GST input tax credit fraud involving more than $20 million in fraudulent refunds.This loss was not reported in the 1990 public accounts report or any report since.

We have experienced eight years of delay and the government has decided to refrain from collecting this tax because, by its own admission, it is unable to collect the tax. The government has not reported these losses to Parliament as required under the Financial Administration Act.

On November 21, 2001 the Speaker delivered a ruling in regard to a complaint by the member for Surrey Central who had cited 16 examples where the government had failed to comply with legislative requirements concerning the tabling of certain information in Parliament. In all of the 16 cases raised on November 21, a reporting deadline was absent from the legislation. As a result the Speaker could not find a prima facie question of privilege.

However, on November 21, 2001, the Speaker said in his ruling at page 7381 of Hansard :

Were there to be a deadline for tabling included in the legislation, I would not hesitate to find that a prima facie case of contempt does exist and I would invite the hon. member to move the usual motion.

The deadline in this case is an annual requirement for the government to table public accounts in the Parliament of Canada. It would appear this has not been done since 1995. This legislated deadline has not been met and therefore a prima facie question of privilege does exist.

All Canadians have a right to hear from the Minister of National Revenue and the former minister of finance to find out why this was not reported to Parliament so that Canadians could have a look at this. This is a terrible affront to Parliament, to all members of the opposition and government backbench members who are not involved in the cabinet, to know that a cabinet deliberately hid this information from Canada and all members of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you find that there is a prima facie question of privilege and, if you agree, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

This is indeed a serious matter and I will take it under advisement for the Speaker to rule upon as soon as possible. The hon. government House leader.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief because an important debate will commence momentarily.

The House leader of the official opposition referred to the fact that a remission may be granted. As a matter of fact there is a government program, known as the fairness package, that would invoke this. He indicated that there was a requirement that should this take place then the government shall report. He also added that, and I do not know if I have cited the words correctly, it should do so in the form that the Treasury Board will authorize.

The case has not been made that the form which the Treasury Board authorizes was in fact breached. That was not being invoked by the hon. member at all.

I will verify as to these facts and perhaps return to the House to make a further contribution on this point. If in fact there has been no breach pursuant to the methods established for reporting by the Treasury Board, it means that the hon. member is not correct.

Even if all that were true I am not at all convinced that there is a question of privilege here. There may very well be an interesting issue to raise at question period and perhaps in a subsequent adjournment debate, but that is not the same as claiming a question of privilege.

PrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I will take the matter under advisement and send it to the Speaker for a ruling.

Kyoto ProtocolPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with regard to Government Orders, Government Business No. 9, I move:

That debate be not further adjourned.

Kyoto ProtocolPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion in order. Pursuant to Standing Order 67.1(1), there will now be a 30 minute question period, starting with the hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Kyoto ProtocolPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian AllianceLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, there is no need for me to go on at length about how shameful this is. It speaks for itself. Even the former finance minister has commented on how unsatisfactory the consultations on this issue have been with both Parliament and Canadians.

Now the government is pursuing yet another agenda where its targets and its costs are unclear. The government has an abysmal track record when it comes to ramming policies down Parliament's throat without adequate consideration of costs in particular.

We have a gun registry that has gone 500 times over budget. We have the sponsorship scandal where millions was wasted. The HRDC has a billion dollar boondoggle.

Kyoto ProtocolPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Canadian Alliance West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

The GST.

Kyoto ProtocolPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stephen Harper Canadian Alliance Calgary Southwest, AB

Our House leader just mentioned the GST rebate fiasco.

We have the capacity for this once again. Already an internal audit of the environment department group overseeing Kyoto reveals the potential for, and I quote from its report, “errors, delays in processing requests, and...incomplete records”.

Today we see in the newspapers that the government is playing around by guaranteeing large industries some kind of cap, a cap of maybe $15 a tonne on the costs they would have to incur on emissions reduction, when most international forecasts peg the costs at well above that, up to $80 per tonne.

My question is quite straightforward. Could the Minister of the Environment tell Canadians what steps he has taken or is taking to ensure Kyoto does not become yet another in the long list of multibillion dollar boondoggles?

Kyoto ProtocolPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Victoria B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson LiberalMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the steps we have taken have been to work closely with the provinces and territories since not only Kyoto but also going back to the Rio agreement when Canada not only signed on to the Rio agreement but ratified it, ratified an undertaking not to allow human induced impact on climate to reach dangerous levels. Canada ratified that 10 years ago and since that time we have had continuous discussions with the provinces, the territories, a number of private sector groups and we have had a number of debates in the House, including the debate we had most recently on the ratification of Kyoto, which went on for over eight days in the House and involved some 33 hours of discussion time. There has been, clearly, very extensive consultations.