Ninety-one percent of Quebeckers want mandatory labelling. Though not unanimous, the vast majority of Quebeckers want it, so my colleague decided to introduce this critical bill. The purpose of the bill is to set up a transparent food system so that we know where the things we eat, the foods we put on the table, come from. If genetic modification has taken place, consumers will know about it before making these decisions.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a colleague who passed away over the weekend, the former member for Davenport, Charles Caccia. He was the environment minister a few years ago. He first came to the House in 1968 and, as an environmental warrior, he spent 36 years in this House trying to convince as many voters as possible that we need to protect the environment. A real fighter, in 2001, he introduced a bill for mandatory labelling. We must not forget that Charles Caccia, who died this past weekend, had been trying since 2001 to convince parliamentarians here to bring in this mandatory system. Unfortunately, the House rejected his bill, 126 votes to 91. This bill thus has a history.
I remember my former colleague, Hélène Alarie, the representative for Louis-Hébert, who was the first to get a motion passed about setting up this regulatory system. Unfortunately, the House of Commons has repeatedly rejected the new standards, which should be mandatory.
What does Bill C-517 set out to do? First, the minister would be responsible for establishing that a food has been genetically modified. Second, the minister would also be responsible for preparing a list. Third, under the legislation, no one would be allowed to sell genetically modified products unless clear information is made available to the consumer indicating that the product or one or more of its components has been genetically modified.
How did we arrive at this legislative measure today? In 2004, the federal government did not pass a mandatory approach, as most Quebeckers and Canadians wanted, but a voluntary approach leaving it up to the industry to label genetically modified foods.
What does this voluntary system achieve? Four years later, because of this chance the industry has been given, we cannot identify any genetically modified products on our grocery store shelves. This proves that the federal government's voluntary approach has been a failure across the board.
What were these standards adopted by the Standards Council of Canada all about? The standard was that a product was considered genetically modified if more than 5% of its ingredients were the product of genetic modifications.
The standard is 5%, while Europe has adopted a standard of 0.9%, or close to 1%. Similarly, the Quebec ministry of agriculture, fisheries and agri-food had proposed to the federal government, during consultations on GMO regulations, a standard of about 0.9%, in other words, a standard extremely similar to the European approach.
This 5% safety threshold adopted by the federal government is clearly inadequate for the people of Quebec, the government of Quebec and those who expect more transparency from the federal government.
There is something else to consider in the federal government's proposed figure. For products containing 5% genetic modifications or more, the product label would not use the term GMO, as prescribed in the international standard set out in the Codex Alimentarius. Instead, the term GE, or genetically engineered, or GEP, genetically engineered product, should be used. Again, the federal government's approach is nothing less than an attempt to disguise where the products on our shelves truly come from and what they truly contain.
In short, we should first remember that the proposed regulations are voluntary, and therefore implementation is at the discretion of industry. Second, the term used misleads Canadians. Third, the safety thresholds are too high; Quebec is asking for a lower threshold of almost 1%, like the one adopted by Europe.
As I said, this approach has failed. However, there are precedents. I am thinking of Russia and China, which have already adopted mandatory labelling of GMOs. Why am I bringing up these two precedents? Quite simply because our exports to Asian countries are on the rise. I am thinking of the wheat issue, for example. When the time came to approve Roundup Ready wheat in Canada, the Canadian Wheat Board advised against it because Canadian farmers would lose some of their market share.
Therefore, Canada should follow the move to make the international standard more transparent in order to avoid reducing market share for those goods it sells in Canada and abroad.
This morning, my Conservative colleague told us that a multitude of studies have shown that this does not pose a threat to our health or the environment. However, all these studies were conducted by the industry and the multinational known as Monsanto. The Royal Society of Canada established a few years ago that the only valid studies are independent studies. I invite our colleague, if he believes that this does not affect our health and the environment, to order this government to fund independent studies that will shed light on this issue.
In closing, I would say that this bill is essential because its main purpose is to better inform citizens about the products they eat. I would add that, contrary to what some would have us believe, this bill presents an economic opportunity for Canadian farmers to embrace and join the international movement to make labelling of transgenic products mandatory.