Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-517 which seeks to require that all genetically modified food is labelled. As a representative of a riding with thousands of farmers and ranchers, I am opposed to this bill. As chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, I also oppose this bill.
Technically speaking, Bill C-517 provides a much too narrow definition of genetically modified food, narrower than that which already exists in the food and drug regulations. Under the current regulations the term “genetically modified” includes modifications obtained through the use of traditional techniques, such as chemical mutagenesis and conventional breeding, as well as those obtained from modern biotechnology.
Bill C-517 would create a two-tiered system for GM foods. Depending on the method used in the development of specific foods, foods falling under the new definition would be required to be labelled to indicate the method of production, while others derived from more traditional modification methods, such as mutagenesis, would not be subject to mandatory labelling.
Health Canada regulates GM foods as novel foods. This encompasses foods that may have undergone a significant change in composition or nutritional value as a result of a manufacturing or packaging process. It also encompasses any substance that does not have a history of safe use as a food. Under the current legislation, the novel foods regulations permit Health Canada to assess the safety of all novel foods irrespective of the production method used prior to their sale in Canada.
We have a rigorous process in Canada. For instance, Health Canada must be notified prior to the marketing of any novel food in Canada so that a thorough safety assessment can be performed. The basis of this assessment is a comparison of each novel food with a conventional counterpart and requires a critical evaluation of the scientific information and results of research studies.
The information requirements are comprehensive. They include a complete description of the food product, its intended use, a molecular characterization of any novel traits, biochemical and compositional analysis, not to mention toxicological, nutritional and allergy data, and an estimate of dietary exposure and anticipated use by the average consumer.
The government is committed to sharing information with Canadians on how products of biotechnology are regulated. Health Canada publishes on its website a list of approved novel foods and decision documents which describe how regulatory authorities determine the safety of each new food product and why certain conclusions were reached. Other information, including Health Canada's guidelines for the safety assessment of novel foods, fact sheets, and answers to frequently asked questions are also available.
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency post information about products that are under review on the CFIA website. This provides the public with an opportunity to provide input on scientific matters relevant to the safety assessment of submissions from certain product developers.
Health Canada's responsibility for food labelling falls within the department's mandate for health and safety issues. As with all foods, special labelling of GM foods is required in cases where potential health and safety concerns, which can be mitigated through labelling, are identified during the product's pre-market safety assessment.
In Canada it is not mandatory to identify the method of production, including biotechnology, that is used to develop a food product. Nevertheless, a voluntary method of production labelling is permitted, provided it is truthful, not misleading and in compliance with all domestic regulatory requirements.
These principles are consistent with policy for all foods under the Food and Drugs Act. In general, food products that are demonstrated to be safe and nutritious are treated the same way as their traditional counterparts with regard to labelling requirements.
Related to this is the CFIA's new regulations for organic products. The organic regulations will protect consumers against false organic claims and will govern the use of a new Canada organic logo.
The government is providing a competitive advantage for the Canadian organic sector and protecting consumers. Not only will Canadians be protected against deceptive and misleading claims on organic products, but the organic industry's capacity to respond to international and domestic market opportunities will be strengthened.
The Canada organic logo will be permitted for use only on those food products certified as meeting the revised Canadian standard for organic production and that contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Following a phase-in period, it will be mandatory that all organic products be certified for interprovincial and international trade.
This government has taken further action to make sure that Canadian families can go to the grocery store knowing the food they purchase is safe. The Prime Minister announced a new food and product safety initiative on December 17, 2007 to ensure that we are ready to meet the new challenges of a global market. The government's food safety action plan will enhance the safety and reliability of food and health products by modernizing our system to better protect Canadians in our global environment.
The government is working hard to ensure our food safety system evolves to meet the challenges posed by increased volumes of trade, consumer demands and differing food safety frameworks among countries. We are delivering on our promises with $113 million provided in budget 2008 for the product and food safety initiative.
This government's approach is threefold. It focuses on managing risk along the food continuum. It prevents problems early on so that quick action can be taken. It no longer waits for threats to emerge before reacting.
As a government we are proud that we have one of the most stringent food safety systems in the world. Our plan recognizes that product safety is in everyone's interest and that everyone--Canadians, industry and government--has a role to play.
In conclusion, Canada's long-standing policy for the labelling of GM foods allows for the provision of information to consumers while avoiding the costs and potential trade implications associated with the implementation of the requirements of Bill C-517. We are taking steps to protect consumers in the marketplace without needlessly damaging the agriculture industry.
As a farmer, I believe that we should let the market dictate how we produce our food. Consumer driven initiatives will essentially dictate to us on how we move forward with our production methods. I believe voluntary labelling of genetically engineered foods is the correct way to move forward on this issue.
On the news we always hear about increasing prices for grain products, particularly the staples of wheat, rice and corn. Everybody keeps talking about a food shortage. We know we are in a tight supply. Now is not the time to start talking about turning back the clock and going back to an organic production system, which would actually short the marketplace and create even more increases in food prices.
Farmers will decide what is the best way to meet this new world demand and allow the consumers to choose what is best for them, whether that is GMO or non-GMO. My father grew organic crops for over 25 years because the market was there for that product. We received a good return on our investment in growing organic crops. We also know there is greater need out there that can only be met through new technology and improvements to our production systems. Farmers should be allowed to adapt those to make the most money they possibly can and feed the world.