Mr. Speaker, it is with some pleasure that I enter this evening's debate. Obviously this is an issue that the New Democrats hold near and dear to our hearts as the history has been recounted in this place.
Bill C-517 is almost, word for word, the same bill as the one introduced by my colleague for Winnipeg North during the 37th Parliament and then introduced by my colleague for British Columbia Southern Interior in this Parliament. This is a necessary and long overdue bill and I am pleased to support it.
To recount the history of how this bill has been making its way through this place steadily parliament after parliament, it seems clear to me and to many others that it is a response by politicians representing different parties to a need expressed by Canadians.
This bill attempts to allow people a greater certainty to have as much information as possible on the products they are buying for their families, the food they are consuming. Many people have approached me and I am sure many of my colleagues in this House have been approached as well. People are confused and concerned about what it is they are buying in the stores. They want to know what the chemicals and other ingredients that are listed on the back of products actually are.
Most folks are not organic chemists. Most folks do not spend a great deal of time researching on the Internet each chemical additive to the products they are buying. Certainly there are very few, even those who specialize in organic chemistry, who understand the interaction that occurs when chemicals come together and what it means for the consumer, for the human form and for our environment in general.
When we step into the realm of genetically modified foods and products, we step into an entirely new conversation. This conversation about what the consequences are has not been properly had in this Parliament, in many of our legislatures and in the homes of Canadians. We need to understand the ethical, moral and environmental implications of the genetically modified foods that we consume, the foods that we put on the table for our friends and family, foods that have been modified at the genetic level.
Of course many on the big agriculture side, the Monsantos of the world, will say that foods have been modified for centuries. They will say that they have been trying to make crops grow better under certain conditions by only picking out the wheat that grows best or the cow that produces the most milk and that that is a genetic modification. It is patently false to try to compare those two systems and assume that they are one.
On the one hand we are choosing from the herd the cow that might produce more milk. In this case the genetic modification of food is when a scientist comes along and pulls genes from an organism at the molecular level and replaces them with genes from an entirely different organism. Genes from salmon are being put into genes that are meant to grow corn. Genes from a whole myriad of organisms are being placed into other organisms.
There is a fundamental principle that is absolutely missing from the legislation that governs this country. That is the precautionary principle.
We were very proud last year that a bill that New Democrats put forward to ban a series of dangerous chemicals from products in Canada was debated and modified at the environment committee and passed unanimously in this place and went to the other place. It applied the precautionary principle as its foundation. It said that in the absence of 100% evidence, which is sometimes the excuse I have heard from Health Canada and Environment Canada officials, that we do not have 100% conclusive evidence on a thing and in the overabundance of evidence pointing us in a certain direction there is something to be worried about with a new chemical or product, the precautionary principle says that we must act in a cautious way because otherwise the full testing of that product is taking place with the public in the marketplace. That is not responsible government.
We often have debates in this place about what the real role of government should be, what should government do and what should it not do. In this case, the setting out of the basic rules and principles as to what will be safe and what will be considered unsafe is clearly a role for government, because at the individual consumer level it is impossible.
It is an impossibility to say that rampant individualism will rule the day and people will simply know enough and will have done enough research themselves that they will conduct themselves in a safe manner and will ensure that nothing unsafe will end up on their kitchen tables. It is foolish. Every day in this place we pass security bills, crime bills and environmental legislation that we hope provides the rules and the framework in which industry and individual consumers can guide themselves, can participate in the rules. This place is a referee for what is fair and unfair, what is safe and unsafe.
There is another very important issue, and that is the reversal of the burden of proof. The industry, which profits from genetically modified foods, should be responsible for proving that its products are safe before putting them on the market, and not the government.
However, the onus of responsibility is somehow reliant upon government to prove a thing safe, to run the tests. We know scientists in Health Canada and Environment Canada, and it is not only this administration but with the previous administration as well, have brought forward concerns about genetically modified products. They have said that in certain circumstances they have had some scientific concerns. We know a number of things have happened to them, and promotion has not been one of them. They have been terminated. They have been threatened. They have been muzzled.
This goes beyond the ideology of one party or another. This goes to the safety of Canadians and the freedom of science to conduct itself in a rational way, to provide advice and guidance to the government of the day.
We know in recent magazines the government has been noted as a so-called enemy of science, fearful of the science. That was in relation to issues around climate change and the resistance to meet the preponderance of evidence saying the climate science was in and that we needed to conduct ourselves in a different way.
We have never seen this in the history of Parliament, in Westminster tradition, but the government is filibustering a private member's bill at committee, delaying, denying, stalling hour after hour, not letting the democratic will of this place and the country to be expressed.
Is there anything more fundamental than what we do here? It is to allow the free and fair exchange of ideas and debate, to allow the best ideas to come forward and to allow the will of Parliament to be expressed, the will of the voters who put us in this place and to whom we are responsible to conduct ourselves.
What do we see from the government? It simply does not like the bill put forward by the leader of the New Democrats, the member for Toronto—Danforth. Its response to disliking environmental legislation, environmental initiatives like this one, is to filibuster, delay, deny the existence of this and therefore abdicate its responsibility.
This is consistently why New Democrats have found a lack of confidence in the government, an inability to support it in its agenda. It conducts itself in a way that is unsupportable.
We feel that if genetically modified foods are a safe thing, if the government feels it has the science and the evidence on its side to say that this is safe, 100% guaranteed, then the labelling of such products, the identification of those products, should not be a problem. Consumers will then have a choice between a product that has been genetically modified or one that has not. Consumers will vote with their feet, will vote with their dollars and they will choose products that are safer for their families.
I urge all members from all parties to take this bill into consideration, to let their conscience guide them, to support it, allow it to see debate and eventual passage so we finally feel full confidence in the products that appear on our shelves and on our tables.