Mr. Speaker, I speak to Bill C-517 with a great deal of concern, because while the intent sounds reasonable, there are other and better ways of addressing the intent of this bill.
The consequences of this bill would impose costs on Canadian consumers, producers and processors, either driving up the costs of food, or driving down producers' returns, or more likely both, and for what gain? This bill would do absolutely nothing for the safety of food and it would not really clarify choice for consumers.
As the member who spoke before me said, there are already regulations coming into effect that can give consumers that clarity of choice. That is the new Canadian certified organic system under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. When these new regulations come into effect on November 14 of this year, consumers can be assured that when they choose products carrying the Canada organic label they are choosing foods that do not contain products of biotechnology. Beyond that, if consumer demand is there, industry can use voluntary labelling--in fact, that was being done in Prince Edward Island with Island natural pork--as long as that labelling is truthful and abides by the laws of the land.
The bill, other than to say something is a genetically modified food, which to be honest happens in both natural breeding and scientific means, I think we ought to be blunt about it; it does actually cater to emotion and to people's fears about the unknown, and genetically modified foods are certainly a bit unknown. To be blunt, with this bill there is absolutely no gain in addressing those fears, but there is a tremendous cost. Let me turn to what some of the organizations have said.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association said:
We believe that if enacted, the provisions of this bill could have a very detrimental effect on the ability of our members to continue to deliver innovative products.
The association went on to say, and this is important:
[Our members] support the rigorous system of assessment in Canada, and expend many human and financial resources to participate in it. Biotechnology is likely the most scrutinized of all of the tools we use to bring innovation to agriculture and agri-food. New products derived from biotechnology are subject to the approval of three different government departments working with 5 different pieces of legislation and associated regulations.
It is very concerned. The bottom line is, who will pay these costs? The costs are substantial. Maple Leaf Foods and others in a letter stated:
This Bill will impose hundreds of millions of dollars of unnecessary cost to the agri-food industry without providing any benefit to Canadian consumers.
The fact is producers and consumers will pay the costs of this mandatory labelling legislation. I would say the bill is a bad investment for no gain, other than to play on people's emotions. Let me list the organizations which have said they are strongly opposed to this bill. They are substantial and they represent a lot of investment in this country: CropLife Canada; Food and Consumer Products of Canada; Maple Leaf Foods; Canadian Egg Marketing Agency; Casco; Canadian Seed Trade Association; Canadian Horticulture Council; Quebec's food processors association, CTAC; UPA in Quebec, the major farm organization there; Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers; Food Processors of Canada; Canadian Meat Council; Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities; Canola Council of Canada; Canadian Canola Growers Association, BIOTECanada, and the CFA.
This is a substantial list of organizations. I underline the fact that these are not just organizations; they are also Canadian consumers who have the same concern about food as others in our society.
Let me turn to a statement that was made by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. He said:
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.
I agree with that, but the bill would do absolutely nothing to deal with this concern. Others have raised questions about scientists not being able to speak out, and I agree with that fact. I faced that when I fought rBGH, the drug hormone being put into dairy cattle. We managed to get that specific product stopped. Yes, scientists were shut up, but the bill would do nothing to deal with that issue. Therefore, let us concentrate on where the real problem is rather than bring in a bill that requires mandatory labelling, but does nothing about what people perceive the problem to be.
The bill is not about a safety issue and it would do nothing to clarify what is in food. If consumers have a concern about GM foods, they can turn to their organic labelling product. Industry can also use voluntary labelling. Mandatory labelling will be costly, and I outlined many of those costs.
The bottom line is the bill would not do what it is intended to do. Therefore, I believe it should be stopped at this stage and our time should be invested in dealing with the real issues.