Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise in debate and add my voice on behalf of the people of Yellowhead in regard to this private member's bill, Bill C-517.
I have to qualify my remarks prior to proceeding. I have worked with genetically modified foods. I have farmed all my life. I have also worked with conventionally grown crops and have a background in understanding crop development, how species grow, and what benefits or risks may exist with regard to genetically modified foods, as I have had the experience of growing them for several years.
On first looking at this bill, the question has to be asked: what is the problem with labelling the food that is grown and products that are on our shelves in Canada? My argument is that whatever label goes on those products has to be accurate. It cannot be misleading. It must inform the consumer in Canada as to exactly what they are eating and the risks that may or may not be associated with foods.
This is where I would like to start my remarks, because Canada has some of the very best foods in the world. Canadians know that, but they need to be reminded, and I am reminding them here and now that we have some of the safest and best quality food products in the world. That is important, because so many in the population now do not grow their own foods. That generational shift has happened over the last couple of generations in Canada and around the world.
Therefore, it is more important now than ever before that the safety measures are in place to ensure that safety is never compromised. Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency together have the mandate to make sure the products on our shelves are as safe as they can possibly be.
The OECD nations, as well as the World Health Organization and the FAO of the UN, all have worked together on genetically modified foods to make sure there are standards and an agreement not only in Canada but around the world and across many jurisdictions to make sure these products are safe.
The argument is this. If there is any health risk at all with genetically modified foods, we should not just label them but eliminate them. If there is not a risk, we should accept them and use them as an advantage for our crops and foods so that we provide them not only for Canadians but our trading partners.
It is also important to know that when a genetically modified food is put on our shelves or examined by either Health Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, there is an extensive seven year process of analyzing, assessing and determining whether the product meets the safety standards in Canada. It is very important to understand that.
Some labelling of our food is very important. We fully recognize that when it comes to allergens. Some foods contain allergens and it important to label them because they can cause serious health risks for consumers. We make sure those allergenic foods are labelled. It is very important to do so.
With what we are seeing with genetically modified foods development in Canada and around the world, it is crucial that we understand the risks and perhaps the benefits, because if we do not understand them, then we are really not fully understanding as consumers what we are trying to do.
My fear is that if we put a label on genetically modified foods the electorate would not quite understand what it means. In fact, I would suggest that there is a real strong debate, both in this room by many members of Parliament and by members of the public, as to what is a genetically modified food. Is it just a food that has been developed by taking better foods and the best of generation after generation to enhance the performance of that commodity? That is one way of doing it.
When a food is genetically modified, we can be looking for dealing with a pesticide that is much safer and easier to use. One way of genetically modifying some of the canolas that we have been working with is to spray a light amount of pesticide on them. Those plants that survive are bred to one another so that eventually a product is developed that is resistant to that herbicide or pesticide.
That is one way of doing it. We have seen some tremendous advancements in some of the canola products that we grow in Canada. In fact, canola is a Canadian product, and that is why I refer to it. It is our own invention, which has provided a tremendous product. It is one of the lowest saturated fat food products on the planet. Compared to corn, which is about 20% saturated fats, soy, which is about 15%, and palm oil, which is about 50%, canola is only 7%. It is a tremendous alternative to some foods we have.
While we are looking at labelling, I note that there is a massive debate going on in the House and across Canada as to whether we should get rid of trans fats. A perfect alternative to trans fats is to move to non-hydrogenated canola oil, which is 7% saturated fat rather than 50%.
As we move away from trans fats, we are looking for options that will be healthier for the population. I say that in the context of why it is so important that we label. We have moved to labelling on trans fats. Why? Because trans fats are not healthy and there is scientific evidence that they should not be in the marketplace. The food industry is checking itself by making sure the consumer is not having an overabundance of trans fats. We have moved so that at least 40% and probably closer to 50% of the trans fats are eliminated from our diet.
Genetically modified foods are different from that. After 14 years or more of those products being on our shelves, and after 20 years or more of genetically modified foods being in our products, there has yet to be scientific research that shows those novel foods are less safe than the conventional ones. In fact, the last study that I saw was out of Europe. Europe has not embraced genetically modified foods, although France is now starting to flirt with using genetically modified corn and so on, so it is progressing. To date, though, I would say that broadly the continent has said no, that it will shy away from genetically modified foods.
However, this study in Europe took place over 15 years for 400 different genetically modified products. The final analysis showed that the genetically modified food was healthier than the conventional foods, because much less pesticide was used. In the long run, the product was much safer as far as the health of the individual was concerned.
I am concerned as a farmer and as a Canadian about the amount of pesticides we use. When we use a genetically modified food we are using the highest of technology as far as the new pesticide products are concerned. There are virtually zero residuals. Some of the pesticides that I used to use on the farm had seven-year residuals. They would stay in the soil for seven years before they would break down. Some of the new ones now are neutralized on contact. There have been tremendous advancements in the safety of the technology of the pesticides that we use today compared to what has been used in the past.
Why is that important? Because this is not only about the safety of food. It is about the environment. If I have a concern about genetically modified foods, it does not lie in the safety of the food but in the environment. It is about making sure that we are not creating a “super plant” that could get away from us.
There are 10 groups of pesticides that we use. On the farm, we start by using one group. Then we get some resistance and a mutation in the plants and we have to go to a different group of pesticides to be able to counter that. Therefore, we have to make sure that the balance is there, that we do not grow a super plant that creates a problem in the environment and causes tremendous havoc in the agriculture community.
I am a little concerned about that with genetically modified foods, but I am also very confident that Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are watching that very closely. To date I have not seen a significant problem on that side of it. One of the reasons is that the technology has allowed for a terminator gene to be put in so that the new generation of those seeds is not allowed to reproduce and cause that kind of problem.
I said earlier that it is important to have truth in labelling. We must realize that 75% of the processed food on the shelves in Canada contains some degree of genetically modified foods or novelty foods. Therefore, if we are concerned about eating genetically modified foods, then there should be truth in labelling.
The only reality and truth that we could find in labelling would be to use what is a growing industry, which is organic foods. Organic foods not only have virtually no genetically modified foods in them, but they have zero pesticides. The option is there for the consumer.
However, if we were to put a label of genetically modified foods on every product in Canada, we would be misleading the consumer. We would be saying to the consumer that we are a little concerned about genetically modified foods or we would not be putting this on a label, and that the foods do not meet all the safety standards, which they do.
I am all for truth and I am all for more information for the consumer, but it has to be real information. This piece of legislation, although well intended, is going in the wrong direction, I believe, because it makes this compulsory. I believe we need to make sure we have the options for the consumer. If consumers are nervous about genetically modified foods, they can go to organic foods. If not, then leave it the way it is.