moved that Bill C-517, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with emotion and pleasure that I speak to you and my colleagues in this House to express my point of view on genetically modified foods.
I would ask for your indulgence as I make a brief aside in my speech to commend two young people in my riding, Claire and Norbert. On December 11, they sent me an email, which I have before me, encouraging me to ensure mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods. Claire and Norbert even called me at my office and, together with their teacher, Marcel Parizeau—whom I salute this evening—invited me to discuss this with them. This was a very pleasant meeting. To my great surprise—you too will be surprised, Mr. Speaker—Claire and Norbert, who I met with at the Coeur à Coeur alternative school in Saint Eustache, are roughly 12 years old. I was surprised that young people that age had concerns about the food they eat.
I would also like to pay tribute to and thank my friend from Brossard—La Prairie, for supporting this bill.
Bill C-517 before us this evening is not an original bill. This is a topic that has been dear to the Bloc Québécois for many years. The hon. member for Drummond, in 1993 and 1994, had concerns about genetically modified foods. In 1999, my friend, Hélène Alarie—who is surely watching me this evening because I told her I was going to talk about this—tabled a bill in this House. By the way, Hélène was the first female certified agronomist in Canada. Ms. Alarie could speak at length about genetically modified organisms. I salute you, Hélène.
In 2001, an hon. Liberal member, Mr. Ciaccia—if my memory serves me correctly—tabled a bill calling on the government for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.
The summary of this bill reads:
This enactment amends the Food and Drugs Act to make the Minister of Health responsible for establishing that a food or one or more of its components has been genetically modified. If it is established that a food or one or more of its components has been genetically modified, the Minister shall cause the name of the food to be published in the Canada Gazette. The Minister shall also prepare a list of all such foods and cause a copy to be sent at no cost to any one who requests it.
No one may sell this food or a food product containing this food in a package unless a label is affixed to the package containing the following notice:
This product or one or more of its components has been genetically modified—
In addition, no one may sell this food or a food product containing this food in a package unless a poster in the prescribed form has been placed near the food containing the following notice:
The main goal of this bill is not to put genetically modified foods on trial, but to inform consumers about what they are eating and to give them a choice between consuming genetically modified foods or not. That is a democratic choice.
This is bound to be a very popular bill, and I invite all members of this House to read their local papers to find out what is going on and what their constituents want. Between 79% and 90% of Canadians—the average is 83%—want foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labelled. In the Quebec nation, 86% of people want labelling, and 80% of agricultural producers support implementing mandatory labelling standards. In my youth, there was a saying that went “What the people want, God wants”. I would amend that by saying that what the people want, we, their elected representatives, want. This is what we, their elected representatives, want.
Another very important aspect of labelling is food safety. As a result of globalization—and we have examples—any type of food product can be found on our grocery store shelves and consumers may not know what it contains. For instance, there were cases of toothpaste that contained antifreeze. We must be careful. Therefore, there is also the issue of food safety. Given the lack of information about the medium- and long-term effects of GMOs, it is only natural to have concerns. You surely have concerns about the long-term effects, as I do.
In order to approve a transgenic product, the federal government relies on studies made by companies, which I will not mention, and merely reviews them. It does not conduct a systematic second assessment of all the plants and foods that are put on the market. Consequently, there is very little public or independent expertise in the evaluation of transgenic foods. The approval process must be more accessible and transparent in order to help the public better understand the risks and benefits associated with GMOs.
In March 2004, the government established a voluntary and ambiguous labelling policy.
It is so ambiguous that no foods on our store shelves are labelled to indicate whether or not they contain GMOs. There are none; we can find none. The policy is so confusing, everything is so mixed up that it would be too complicated. If there are no genetically modified organisms in the food, the producer should not have any trouble labelling it. However, the voluntary labelling system is so complicated and confusing that no one even wants to start the process.
In four years, the voluntary labelling program has failed to yield any results. None. In September 2003, after four years of consultations, the Canadian General Standards Board published voluntary labelling rules for products containing GMOs. I will repeat that it was a compromise, a complex and unclear system of labelling, left to the discretion of the industry and, above all, not suited to the needs of consumers.
We have witnessed a part of history in the last couple of years. I would like to talk about José Bové, the Frenchman—as he is called—who spoke out against GMOs. After many battles, Mr. Bové was able to get France to ban all GMOs for human consumption. And so it started.
Mr. Bové served three or four months in prison. He has done it all. He had the nerve to destroy entire crops, but he won. Europe is currently looking at the possibility of banning any food destined for human or animal consumption that contains GMOs—genetically modified organisms.
What I find surprising is that only Canada, the United States and New Zealand have yet to take this position. Why are European countries and other countries throughout the world completely opposed to genetically modified organisms?
One benefit of labelling GMOs is that consumers will have relevant information about the products they are consuming, so that they can make an informed decision, a cultural decision, a personal decision or a religious decision. It is up to agricultural producers to ensure they have access to the markets by complying with the current national and international standards. This would open up the European market to wheat producers.
What is a GMO? All living organisms have a multitude of genes that determine the colour and shape of their fruits and leaves. A GMO is a living organism to which has been added one or more genes to give it a special characteristic. For example—