Mr. Speaker, what is before us today is a proposed amendment. It states that:
Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for the purpose of reconsidering Clause 2 with a view to making sure that both economic and environmental effects of introducing these regulations do not cause a negative impact on the environment or unduly influence commodity markets.
This bill has had relatively limited debate in committee. It probably has had more debate in the House around the various amendments that have been moved and now this amendment to send it back to committee.
What I believe this debate in the House reflects is a real concern by us in the New Democratic Party, by members of the Bloc to some significant degree, I believe, and even by some members of the Liberal Party, that this bill is being rushed through at a speed that does not take into account some very new realities that have taken place globally around the issue of the use of biofuels. It does not take into account “both economic and environmental effects” of the bill and its consequences if implemented.
I want to be very clear on behalf of my party that we have supported and will continue to support the use of biofuels. That is not really what this debate is or should be about. If properly managed, a biofuels program in Canada can have a positive effect on climate change while also helping farmers.
Members were in their ridings last week. I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to spend time with producers in the rural part of my riding. The debate is raging there.
The National Farmers Union has come out as very strongly opposed to this legislation. We see that the Federation of Agriculture is generally supporting it, but I can say that within both of those groups, and there are members of both of those associations in my riding, the debate is very real.
The farming community producers very much see the opportunity to increase their production and increase their incomes. Oftentimes it is the same producers who tell me the problem they have is that they are seeing this drive up other costs, such as the cost of feed for a number of fairly substantial poultry operations in the riding. The dairy and pork producers are saying the same thing. They are seeing their costs being driven up just for feed.
Of course, all of them are very concerned about the impact this will have on the cost of fuel, whether it is gasoline produced from biofuels or other parts of the market, particularly carbon based fuels.
That debate is going on. What I think has happened is that the reality, not only in Canada but across the globe, has not been taken into account anywhere near fully enough in the debate that took place in committee. We are very concerned as a party that the government is running roughshod over members and using some bullying tactics to try to force this legislation through, both in committee and now in the House. The full debate that should have taken place has not.
We hear from Conservative members of the House who say that we in the NDP do not really care about the producers or the farming community, and that is absolutely false. Again, when I talk to the members of my farming community in my riding, they are expressing similar reservations. How far do we take the biofuels issue? How much production do we put into it? Do we have absolute quotas that are being suggested and will be phased in under this legislation relatively quickly? Do we have the numbers right? Do we have the amount that we should be putting into other gasolines and other diesel fuels? Do we have the percentages right?
They are not convinced that we have the right answers. They are not necessarily saying that the numbers that are in this bill or that we believe will flow from this government are wrong, but they are certainly not convinced that we know for sure. That is the reason for the motion to send it back to committee and hear more from the producers, hear from the industry generally, and also look at what is happening in experiments going on elsewhere in the world.
In that regard, we have heard from various parts of the globe. There are sincere concerns about biofuels being part of the mechanism that is driving up the price of food dramatically. We are seeing that now. The price of rice in parts of Asia has gone up 73% in less than a few months, in some cases even doubling in a very short period of time. We have seen markets in Asia, again for rice specifically, being closed off.
Countries that had been net exporters are no longer able to do it and are shutting the borders, thus tightening up the markets internationally in countries that do not produce sufficient rice to feed their own populations and that now are not finding access to the markets for rice that is affordable for those communities and countries. We are seeing that.
We have seen the United Nations pass a resolution expressing very real caution about the use of biofuels and how extensively we use them.
If I could digress for a moment, the other part of this legislation that is really troublesome is that other alternatives in terms of creating energy for use generally in the market and also on farms right across this country, perhaps even internationally, have been pushed to the side and backed up. We can point to solar or wind, where the government has done little or nothing to allow those markets to develop and perhaps provide an alternative to the greater use of biofuels.
I know that some of this discussion took place, but I do not believe that it was anywhere near adequate in committee. We can go to the very basics. How much food, if any, do we convert to fuel? That question is still hanging out there.
Again going back to those farmers I spoke to in my community, this very much weighs on their minds. They got into farming to produce food. Their parents and grandparents were in farming to produce food, not to produce fuel. This is a very real new development for them. They are approaching it with an open mind, but they are also approaching it realistically. I cannot say that the government has done the same.
Farmers are very concerned about how much food, if any, we move into the fuel side of the equation. They do not believe that this legislation has had sufficient debate, sufficient analysis and sufficient research to answer those questions at this time. They are not prepared to say that holus-bolus we should just plunge ahead.
We hear from the government that it is time to move ahead, to move forward. That is a simplistic analysis. It is a simplistic approach to what is a very, very complex problem.
I want to be very clear that we understand the other issues that are going on, the other causes that are driving up the cost of fuel. Let me mention those quickly. We know there is some significant speculation going on. It is immoral what is going on in that regard. That is one part of it.
We know that the whole issue of global warming and climate change is contributing to the shortage of foods in certain parts of the world. That is driving up the price.
We know that in areas where before we could continue to expect growth in productivity, we are not seeing any, because we have maxed out the effect of using fertilizers and pesticides, although they are still being used. We are not seeing any further growth. There are those problems.
However, we know as well that the use of biofuels in certain countries in particular has had a negative impact. That impact has resulted in a diversion of crops. We see it in the United States. I am going to use the states as an example because I know, from the area that I come from and how close we are to states like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, that the amount of production moved from producing food to producing the same crop but producing fuel has been quite phenomenal.
There are areas in those states where as much as 35% of the corn crop now is being used for biofuels. In fact, I can speak very specifically about that, because a good deal of that production is coming into my area. There is an ethanol plant just the next county over. A good deal of the corn that is the source for that biofuel comes out of the United States. We are producing some in our area, both in Essex County and in Kent County, but a good deal of it is coming from the United States. It is part of that huge increase in production.
Up to this point in the United States, the Americans have been able to justify that, but again it begs the question. How much more they can allow it to go to or should they in fact be ramping it back down somewhat and producing more food and less fuel?
We are on the edge of making this decision, but we are not there yet. It does require further debate. It requires us to take a close look at what we are doing.
As well, I want to draw to the House's attention some of the other individuals and organizations that have expressed concern about this legislation and generally about the use of biofuels.
A little less than a year ago, David Suzuki made these comments:
Biofuels have many advantages, but we have to look at all our options and make sure we make the best choices to ensure a more sustainable future.
--attempting to save the planet by wholesale switching to biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel may unintentionally have the opposite effect.
This is the kind of risk that we are faced with. In that regard, I want to draw the House's attention to what we have seen happen in the last two years in Brazil.
After the second world war, Brazil made a very conscious decision to convert a significant proportion of its sugar cane crop to biofuels. Brazil started to do this way back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In some cases, as much as 50% of the fuel for its vehicles, mostly automobiles and trucks, comes from biofuel sources.
That has worked reasonably well for the Brazilians because of the vast quantity of sugar cane they were able to produce but, starting two years ago in that country, the amount they wanted to produce or allocate to sugar production, if I can put it that way, had to be reduced because of the demand. Their economy had grown so large, so many of their people were driving vehicles and the demand for fuel had gone up so dramatically that they decided they would begin to shift a greater proportion for it.
That has had a very negative impact on their food costs related to the production of sugar. It is a big part of their market and a big part of their food staples. In the last two years, this has had a significant impact on the cost of sugar in their country and therefore on the cost of a number of foods that contain sugar as a staple.
Again, it was an experience that worked quite well. I have looked to the Brazilians in the past and have said that Brazil is a country that thought it through and planned it out. For the better part of four or five decades, it worked very well for the Brazilians. Now it does not.
They are very concerned about what they are going to do. They are looking for alternatives to much of their sugar cane production going into biofuels so that they can shift that balance back more in favour of producing food products rather than fuel. That is just one example.
We can look elsewhere in the world where attempts have been made, and this is one of the other problems that we have with the legislation, in that when we look at what we are trying to do, can we say that we have gotten ahead of ourselves from a technological standpoint? In that regard we know that there are alternatives in food growth to actually using the food product. I am going to use corn again as an example. We know that we are close but we are not quite there in being able to use the cornstalk and perhaps the corncob as opposed to the corn kernel in biofuel production. We know there are other products where we can use chaff, straw and those kinds of items, but we are just not quite there.
I saw a program on one of the national TV networks last week when I was home in my riding. A company, which I believe is based in Quebec, is just beginning to put into production two or three plants and in fact is not using any food product at all. It is using chaff, leftover wood products, a number of products. We could be using those without having to be concerned about using any food products at all, but again, we are not there.
What this bill does is it leaves it wide open for the government to follow what was done in the United States and move huge percentages of production. There are no limits here. Under government regulations, it can simply authorize and in some respects when we look at Bill C-33 closely, can compel the use of biofuels. At the very least it is obvious that by way of financial incentives, it can encourage producers to use food products, when in fact there may be this much better alternative if we do not have to use any food product at all. We would use the corncob and the cornstalk right down to the roots.
We must be careful. I know, having grown up on a farm, that farmers put back the chaff, the roots, the leftover once the crop has been harvested as a way of rejuvenating the soil. Can we safely take 50% of the stalk, grind the rest up and let it go back into the soil and biodegrade and rejuvenate the soil, or can we only put 25% into fuel production and put 75% back into the soil? We do not know the answers to those questions.
This is the reason we brought the motion before the House to send this bill back to the committee to allow us to further pursue these questions. There are all sorts of experiments going on around the globe. This House needs more time and this country needs more time to properly assess it so that we do not make a major mistake.