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.