House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, NDP members are voting yes.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Helena Guergis Independent Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of this motion.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


André Arthur Independent Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of this motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #136

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from November 30 consideration of the motion.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology concerning the extension of time to consider Bill C-452.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it I believe you will find unanimous consent to proceed with applying the vote from the previous motion to the current motion with Conservatives voting yes.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, members of the Liberal Party of Canada are voting yes.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, members of the Bloc Québécois are voting yes.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, members of the NDP will also be voting yes.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


Helena Guergis Independent Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I support this motion.

Industry, Science and TechnologyCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

December 1st, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.


André Arthur Independent Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am in favour of this motion.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #137

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:34 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Speaker's RulingSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are 10 motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-474.

Motions Nos. 1 to 10 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table. The Chair does not ordinarily provide reasons for selection of report stage motions; however, having been made aware of the circumstances surrounding the committee's study of this bill, I would like to convey to the House the reasons involved in considering these motions.

The note accompanying Standing Order 76(5) reads, in part, “The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee.”

The Chair takes note that the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior sits on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, which was mandated to study Bill C-474. Although I believe that the majority of the amendments in his name could have been proposed during the committee consideration of the bill, they were not.

The bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on April 14, 2010. The committee considered the bill on five different occasions either to hear witnesses or to discuss a work plan. Indeed, the committee was still hearing witnesses when its request for a 30 day extension was denied and the bill was deemed reported back to the House without amendment.

It is to this turn of events that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior referred in a letter to the Chair highlighting that the committee was thus unable to commence clause-by-clause consideration.

The member has therefore submitted at report stage the amendments he had intended to move in committee.

The Chair has carefully reviewed the sequence of events and the submission made by the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior and in its view it is reasonable to afford him an opportunity to propose these amendments.

Accordingly, I have selected them for debate at report stage. I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 10 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 6 on page 1 with the following:

“2. The Governor in Council shall, within 90”

Motion No. 2

Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 10 on page 1 with the following:

“by the Government of Canada, published in the Canada Gazette and taken into consideration by the Government of Canada before the sale of any new genetically en-”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-474, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 1 with the following:

“gineered seed is permitted in Canada.”

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The results of the analysis referred to in section 2 shall be included as part of every application that is made for the registration of a variety of seed and any notification of the release of the seed in question into the environment.”

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the regulatory systems that govern genetically engineered seed and the crops and products that are derived from that seed in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”

Motion No.6

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account the economic impact on Canadian farmers and exporters whose established markets for registered seed or for the crops and products derived from that seed would be harmed as a result of the introduction of the new variety of genetically engineered seed.”

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. The analysis referred to in section 2 shall take into account whether or not the variety of genetically engineered seed in question has been approved for use in the countries that import Canadian agricultural products.”

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. In this Act, “genetically engineered seed” means a seed that has been altered using recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology.”

Motion No. 9

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. In this Act, “new”, in respect of a genetically engineered seed, means a genetically engineered seed that was not registered in Canada before the day on which this Act comes into force.”

Motion No. 10

That Bill C-474 be amended by adding after line 11 on page 1 the following new clause:

“3. For the purposes of section 2, “potential harm to export markets” exists if the sale of new genetically engineered seed in Canada would likely result in an economic loss to farmers and exporters as a result of the refusal, by one or more countries that import Canadian agricultural products, to allow the admission of any registered Canadian seed, or crops or products derived from that seed.”

Mr. Speaker, we are here to participate in debate at third reading of my Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). The purpose of this bill is to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

This is not complicated. It makes sense to me to conduct a risk analysis before embarking on something that is potentially risky.

The government clearly believes that the biotech industry should be the only ones with any say over marketing decisions on GM seeds. Perhaps we should consider for a moment how we came to confer this enormous privilege on big biotech.

Devlin Kuyek, from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a researcher who has written extensively on the seed system in Canada, recently told the standing committee:

To understand where we are with GMOs in Canada, you have to look at it as a deliberate policy shift that has taken what we call a public seed system with broad-based support from farmers, scientists, and the general public to what we have today, which is essentially a corporate seed system where the research agenda is in the hands of a very small number of corporations, most of them pesticide corporations outside of Canada.

He notes that billions in taxpayers' dollars have been spent over the last 30 years to support biotech companies, while public plant breeding programs have been slashed and privatized.

In September 2009, Canadian farmers and their European customers, who have a zero tolerance policy for unapproved GE crops and products, found that an illegal genetically engineered flax seed called CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports. Contamination reached 35 countries.

GE contamination is already hurting Canadian farmers and if a contamination incident similar to the current flax contamination crisis were to happen with wheat or alfalfa, the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating.

What is very disturbing is that we have not had a full and democratic debate at committee, because it was shut down by the Conservative government.

The Conservative government reneged on an agreement that would have given the committee more time to examine the advantages of Bill C-474. As a result, farmers no longer have a say and must resort to public protests in order to stop these big biotech companies that are threatening their export markets. It is completely unacceptable that expert witnesses from around the country, brought to Ottawa at taxpayers’ expense to provide testimony, were turned away at the committee's door when they arrived to make their presentations.

Let us hear what some of these presenters would have discussed with the committee members if they had been given the chance.

Bill Toews, from the Canadian Wheat Board, says that in order for the commercialization of a GM variety to benefit western Canadian wheat and barley producers, there would first have to be widespread market acceptance. He states, “This includes both what governments will approve and what customers will buy, which is not necessarily the same thing. There remains strong and widespread opposition to GM wheat or barley in about half of our markets. This includes, but isn't limited to, the governments of, and customers in, the European Union, Japan, Thailand, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and a number of African nations. Unfortunately, the markets that are most likely to demand non-GM shipments also have zero tolerance for unapproved GM content”.

Mr. Toews goes on to say that segregating GM wheat or barley throughout the bulk handling and transportation system would be impossible. In addition, he points out that there is currently no detection system available to quickly and accurately detect if a GM variety is present in a truck, rail car or vessel and to quantify that presence.

Dr. Rene Van Acker, professor at the University of Guelph, has done extensive research on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops and trait movement from crop to crop. He has been involved in international collaborations, presentations and consulting work with governments and organizations in Denmark, Australia, Switzerland and the U.S.

According to Dr. Van Acker, “when novel traits are grown commercially outside for any length of time the movement of those traits beyond their intended destinations is virtually inevitable. Once a given trait has escaped into the environment, retraction is difficult if not impossible”.

Dr. Van Acker cautions that trait movement is extremely complicated. It occurs within a complex of crop subpopulations, including the crop and volunteer and feral subpopulations. Trait movement can occur via equipment and via human handling during planting, harvesting, seed cleaning, seed handling and seed storage.

He points to the failure of trait containment in the U.S. StarLink case, where GE corn, approved for animal feed but not human consumption, was found in a number of processed foods in 2000.

Recently, GM LibertyLink rice events escaped contained field trials and were eventually found in many elements of the U.S. commercial rice supply chain, including in certified seed, mills and final consumer products in key U.S. rice export markets. The economic impact to U.S. farmers was over $1 billion.

I would urge my colleagues to visit the online GM contamination registry, which tracks contamination events around the world. The register has documented over 20 unauthorized contamination events in 2010. We must not forget that once the genie is out of the bottle, it is farmers who pay.

Larry and Susan Black, who were also denied their time before the committee, have been farming in southwestern Manitoba since 1978. Their farm is Manitoba's first certified organic dairy farm. According to Mr. Black, “Organic farms have no way to avoid contamination if GM alfalfa is introduced. Alfalfa feeds our soil and our livestock and is an integral part of organic farming. Approving the release of GE alfalfa would threaten our very existence as organic producers. Organic farmers have invested and developed our industry. Government should not allow agri-business to destroy what we have achieved”.

Mr. Black goes on to say that not a single commodity group on the Manitoba Forage Council last year was in favour of the introduction of GM alfalfa.

Stewart Wells, the recently retired president of the National Farmers Union, wrote to the committee about the fact that farmers this year were having trouble selling newly harvested flax because the testing now required to ensure it is GE-free could not be done in a timely fashion, again resulting in further extra costs for Canadian farmers.

He wants to know why it is that because of failures in the regulatory system he should now be forced to pay $205 per test on flax that he has had in storage for several years.

Two varieties of GE alfalfa have already been approved by Health Canada and Environment Canada, and all Monsanto has to do now is register them before they can be marketed and turned loose into the environment.

I have to wonder how rigorous Canada's environment evaluation could actually have been, given a U.S. court ruling and a class action suit that came down recently. The judge ruled that plaintiffs' concerns that Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate natural and organic alfalfa are valid, stating that the USDA's opposing arguments were “not convincing” and do not demonstrate the “hard look” required by federal environmental laws. The ruling went on to note that “...For those farmers who choose to grow non-genetically engineered alfalfa, the possibility that their crops will be infected with the engineered gene is tantamount to the elimination of all alfalfa; they cannot grow their chosen crop”.

Arnold Taylor, president of the Canadian Organic Growers, writes in the final thoughts of his submission, “I have spent most of the past 10 years fighting in the courts to protect my organic farm and the organic sector from GE crops. Arguably, I should not have had to do this, as my government should have introduced adequate regulations that ensured organic farmers were not adversely affected by the introduction of GE crops”.

He says, “We have lost the ability to grow organic canola because of the introduction of GE varieties. We almost lost our ability to grow organic wheat, because of the potential introduction of GE varieties, and now industry is trying to introduce GE alfalfa”.

He continues, “Arguably, the threat to organic alfalfa is the most significant yet, because it is a soil builder that fixes nitrogen and other essential nutrients, and if it were to be contaminated with GE traits, this might destroy our way of farming entirely. Arguably, GE alfalfa is not needed in agriculture, as it really offers no benefits for conventional or organic farmers--”

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. I will have to stop the hon. member there as he has run out of time.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I am please to rise again to speak to Bill C-474. I want to make it clear to the House of Commons and to Canadians that our Conservative government has been the only party that has been against the bill from when it was first introduced.

Bill C-474 is quite simply a bad bill, a bill that works against the best interests of the agricultural sector and we see that today with 10 amendments trying to change the bill, 10 of them all at once.

It seeks to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

The details of how this analysis will actually be conducted are, of course, lacking, even in these 10 amendments.

If Bill C-474 passes into law, it would force Canada to abandon its long-standing position that these types of decisions need to be based on sound science.

It could also potentially devastate research and development within the agricultural sector, whereby R and D firms choose to invest their capital in countries where technology can flourish, not be threatened by a bill such as this one.

From the very beginning we asked ourselves, does the bill put farmers first? Clearly Bill C-474 does not meet this important criterion and this is why we will not support these amendments at the report stage.

Unfortunately, my opposition colleagues across the way have not asked themselves this very same question. The Liberal Party under the direction of its agriculture critic, the member for Malpeque, has supported Bill C-474 throughout this whole process. Even though he claims that the Liberals are in fact against the bill, the Liberals voted for the bill at second reading. They voted for extending its study at committee. They voted for extending its study in the House of Commons. It would seem to me that this is a lot of support from a party that says it is against the bill.

The members opposite, and in particular the Liberal members, do not understand the needs of farmers. If they truly understood farmers, the member for Malpeque and the Liberals would have helped our Conservative government defeat the bill.

By supporting Bill C-474 through all its stages, they have created uncertainty and instability in the agricultural community. I have had countless farm groups approach me and say that they are not sure if it is safe to invest in the agricultural sector here in Canada with the potential of the bill becoming law.

These amendments that the hon. member has put forward are harmful. Not only are they more punitive to farmers in research and development than his original bill, but they will continue to sow uncertainty within the industry.

A recent letter from a farmer, received by one of our caucus members from Alberta, stated, “As a farmer here on the prairies I depend on technology innovations to keep my farm afloat in these trying economic times and weather uncertain times. Machinery and chemical technologies have allowed me to save more soil and moisture, improve my crop quality and use safer and smaller amounts of chemicals that are more effective than ever before on the crops I grow”.

This farmer goes on to say that genetically engineered canola varieties have made a huge difference to his bottom line, outyielding the old short-season varieties even in bad weather conditions. He has serious concerns about Bill C-474. Canada has always used sound science to assess whether new ingredients, seeds and traits are safe for Canadian farmers to grow and consumers to eat. That policy makes us a leader in the world and is the only realistic way to assess risk with clear, sound scientific methods.

Most industry stakeholders, like this farmer, have concerns about support for this bill. They support an approval process strictly based on scientific principles. They are asking us to leave trade to the trade experts and safety to the scientists.

The majority of industry stakeholders, like this producer, also have concerns about supporting this bill.

The Manitoba Flax Growers Association issued a news release saying that it could not support it citing, “a lack of clarity about who would assess and decide on the issue of market harm”.

The press release stated:

Manitoba flax growers are...concerned that this legislation, in its present form, could be used to offer frivolous challenges that could stall or block the introduction of new technology that is desirable.

Flax farmers and all farmers in Canada depend on innovation to compete. That is why our government is investing in agricultural innovation like research clusters for pulse crops, flax and canola. That is why farmers across Canada have embraced research and development.

New biotechnologies, including those derived through genetic engineering, help farmers control potential devastating disease and pests, improve the safety and nutrition of food and reduce usage of costly inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and diesel fuel.

One only has to look at the remarkable growth of canola over the past 30 years to see the benefits that Canadian agricultural innovation has brought to our farmers. The 1970s saw the development of canola, a high-quality oil seed, which replaced the lower-quality grape seed varieties.

Over the past four decades canola has become a symbol of Canadian quality worldwide. Today the canola crop generates close to $4 billion in export sales for our farmers and economic activity estimated at between $14 billion and $15 billion annually.

If Bill C-474 had been law at the time, I can guarantee that things would not have worked out as well for our farmers.

The Canadian Canola Growers Association has no doubts on that front. As its general manager, Rick White, told the agriculture committee in June:

If the regulatory approach in this bill had existed 30 years ago, the $14 billion in economic activity that the Canadian canola industry generates annually would likely not exist today....future innovations and the competitiveness of the Canadian canola industry could be in jeopardy if Bill C-474 is passed through Parliament.

In the past, the industry was a leader in risk assessment and market opportunities for genetically modified products. This system was good for farmers. Decisions were made crop by crop, and farmers and processors determined the best way to proceed based on market conditions.

Let us talk about another success story, soybeans.

Today, three-quarters of all global acreage sown to soybeans are GE varieties. Like the canola industry, the soybean industry has also responded to market signals by developing an advanced identity-preserve system to handle non-GE food-grade soybeans. As well, the soybean sector has developed and invested in an ongoing segregation system to maintain market access and premiums for non-GE food-grade soybean exports to Japan, while also producing GE soybeans for domestic use.

These success stories and many others like them clearly demonstrate that the added red tape that the bill would impose is unnecessary and would be harmful. It also has the potential to stifle innovation.

As Mr. Jim Gowland, chair of the Canadian Soybean Council, told the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in June:

Capitalizing on these potential opportunities that can add value to Canadian soybean growers could be put into jeopardy with the introduction of Bill C-474 and place Canada at a competitive disadvantage.

Including a market impact assessment in the regulatory process would create unpredictability for the developers of new products, who invest millions of dollars into the development of each new seed variety before it even gets planted. The last thing our farmers need in today's competitive marketplace is to see industry innovators bypass Canada when they seek new markets for their innovations and take their investment dollars to our competitors.

Our government has been a long-standing proponent of giving farmers the freedom to make their own business decisions. The Minister of Agriculture has worked hard with industry to open new opportunities for our food producers and processors by ensuring that trade is based in fair rules and sound science.

Whether it is the beef ban in Korea or country of origin labeling in the United States, we stand up for our producers whenever and wherever their interests are in jeopardy. If Bill C-474 were in force, we would be holding our trading partners to a standard that we would not prepared to meet ourselves.

Canadian farmers need access to overseas markets to prosper. Our agricultural and food exports last year exceeded $38 billion. That is why our government takes an aggressive approach to opening up international markets for our farmers based on sound science. Indeed agriculture ministers from across Canada have agreed that a science-based regulatory system will not only foster innovation and drive the agricultural economy, it will create new markets and increase profitability for producers.

Farmers are best positioned to make decisions on what is best for their business. Our government understands that to be competitive, our farmers need timely access to the cutting edge technology in products. We must continue to put farmers first.

Bill C-474 will harm our agricultural sector, not help it. That is what farmers tell us. That is what farm groups tell us. That is why I call upon the member for Malpeque and the rest of the Liberal Party to put farmers first and help us defeat Bill C-474.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the parliamentary secretary's remarks, I will have to change my introduction somewhat.

First, I congratulate the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for putting the bill forward. After listening to the parliamentary secretary's remarks, like so much of what the it does, the government likes to bury its head in the sand and not recognize that there are some problems. It wants to limit debate.

The government tried to encourage Liberals, rather than have a serious debate on the issue, both pros and cons, to defeat it before it even got started. It is like what is done in the Senate. It shuts it down before there is a debate. That is the mantra of the government. It does not want to talk about the reality out there and there are some serious problems with alfalfa and wheat, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior said in his remarks.

Bill C-474 warranted a full review of the agriculture committee, but as a result of that review, it has failed the essential test of earning a greater degree of support. However, that hearing needed to be held. It is interesting. While the parliamentary secretary criticized the hearings, half or more of his quotes were based on what was said at the hearings. Parliament and debate is all about that, having discussions and bringing witnesses forward. Sadly, the government members on the committee jeopardized that debate by filibustering and not allowing the full discussion on the bill that the committee should have had.

Let me go to the bill itself. I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board is yelling over there, but that is not unusual.

The intent of the legislation is “to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. That is the major thrust of the bill.

The issue for the official opposition, in examining this legislation, was twofold. First, the bill did not challenge the integrity of Canada's current approval process for genetically-engineered or modified materials. Second, the bill did not provide an articulate and recognizable and objective process by which to conduct the analysis called for in the legislation. That is key.

The issue of GMOs and genetic engineering is one which has been controversial and is one which deserves serious debate. I mentioned a moment ago that the mantra of the government is to shut down debate before it even happens. A fact may come out with which it does not really want to deal.

As indicated earlier, Bill C-474 begins not from the position of opposition to GMOs or genetically-engineered seed or products, but from a position of accepting the reality of their use in the marketplace and ensuring they are safe and do not impact on markets negatively. As will be noted, in the content of the bill there is no reference to the mechanism by which the analysis of potential harm to export markets will be achieved.

During the course of the hearings by the committee, one of the major concerns was the means by which this analysis would be conducted in a fair and impartial way, precisely who would conduct the analysis and what kind of input stakeholders would have in determining the parameters of that analysis.

Ten amendments have put forward by the member. Really all the amendment in Motion No. 2 does is identify the Government of Canada as being responsible for doing that analysis, but the definition of how that analysis is to take place is not there.

That is the key component of this legislation. How would we do the analysis? What would be the role of the government, other than being responsible? What would be the role of stakeholders? What would be the role of our international competitors in the international marketplace? None of those questions are dealt with in this particular piece of legislation.

Another amendment, Motion No. 4, would make the economic analysis part of the current application process. However, no evidence was presented at committee to justify this addition.

What would be the implications, and this is a serious question, of that kind of analysis on the science-based system that we have in place?

So, those are key points that have not been answered by the discussions we had at committee, by the original proposal from the proponent of this bill or by the amendments we have before us today. I think that is a very serious shortcoming.

If I could sum up on that particular point, the parameters of the analysis on economic harm have not been identified. I think that could undermine our key science-based system we have at the moment and could have major implications on the advent of new products into the marketplace, on farmers' economic potential and certainly on our biotech research industry. There are just too many unanswered questions that, regardless of hearings having been held, have really not been answered at those hearings.

The legislation would apply to genetically engineered products developed and grown in Canada, but it would in no respect apply to the importation of similar products for processing or use in Canada. This is an oversight, I believe, that is not addressed by the amendments, which again undermines the basic integrity of the legislation.

Also, the introduction of an economic harm analysis prior to the sale, not the approval, of any genetically engineered seed would appear to layer a new and far more subjective approval process over the current accepted science-based approval process.

That is complicated wording just to basically say that there is not enough definition around what the member is trying to do with this bill, in terms of defining economic harm.

Just to sum up, yes, the amendment would make the government responsible. It does not define how it would be done or the parameters of that analysis. So I think there are major implications potentially on our science-based industry here, on the science-based approval process at the moment. Therefore, we cannot support the bill.

There is one last point I want to make, though, on the hearing process. We did hear from a number of witnesses. We were supposed to hear from several others. There is a serious concern that I think Parliament or Agriculture Canada or someone, certainly, has to address; that is, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior indicated earlier, that there is potential risk in the alfalfa industry by the introduction of GMO, genetically engineered seeds. It would be the same in terms of the wheat industry, over a slightly longer term.

We have to recognize that those issues have to be dealt with. That is one of the benefits of having had those hearings. We recognize there are problems. The minister should recognize there are problems and the government should recognize there are problems, and they should move to address them.

The bottom line is, based on the foregoing, that because of the risk as a result of this particular bill, Bill C-474, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the deputy critic for agriculture and agri-food, I have the pleasure of rising today to discuss Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). This issue is of particular importance to me because there are many farms in my riding.

The purpose of the NDP member's bill is to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. In other words, it requires that the sale of new GE seeds in Canada be assessed from an economic perspective.

There is currently nothing stopping a new variety of seed from being sold and grown in Canada if it is registered and passes the environmental impact assessment required under the Seeds Regulations. The new seed variety must also be assessed by Health Canada under the Food and Drug Regulations if it is destined for human consumption or by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency under the novel feeds regulations if it is destined for the production of animal feed.

First of all, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-474. We believe that it is important to consider all aspects of approving a new product, especially its foreign trade implications, before adding it to the range of products already offered to producers.

At present, the trade implications of new products on the market are completely ignored in GE seed evaluations. The effects of the marketing of these seeds could be devastating for the economy. Many countries are very prudent when it comes to genetically engineered crops, and some even ban them completely. In 2010, we can no longer ignore this reality. In fact, more than 26 countries have import restrictions on genetically modified products.

In recent years, a number of factors have increased foreign countries' wariness with regard to genetically engineered seeds from Canada. The speedy approval of some of these seeds is one reason. In fact, Canadian GMOs are not systematically tested. The government relies on the companies that produce GMOs and simply reads their studies without any further assessment. It relies on the concept of substantial equivalence. If a genetically modified food is similar to a conventional food, it is not subjected to scientific testing. This is not reassuring for those countries that are proceeding with caution when it comes to GMOs.

The current trend of not evaluating economic risks could have a number of adverse effects on the Canadian market. The recent history of marketing GMOs has proven this numerous times. Take, for example, the litigation between the McCain company and Europe. In the late 2000s, producers from New Brunswick, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island sold potatoes to McCain, but the potatoes had been genetically modified to be pest resistant. In 1999, when McCain decided to stop purchasing genetically engineered potatoes, the producers were the ones punished; they were the ones who had to make adjustments and bear all the related costs. Farmers who cannot market their crops will face serious financial difficulties and even bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that is the reality for producers who are refused access to certain European or Asian markets.

I would like to quote something said by the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell during the November 18 meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri Food. He was addressing the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and said, “...the more markets our farmers have to sell into, the better it is for our farmers.” Basically, the member is opposed to Bill C-474 and wants farmers to have access to a greater share of the market. Given that more countries are now tending to demand safe, GMO-free products, this bill would certainly expand markets for our producers. I would invite the member and his party to be consistent and support Bill C-474.

Furthermore, adding an economic assessment step to the regulatory approval process for new seeds is nothing new, per se. The industry has already voluntarily slowed or stopped the commercialization of new GM plant varieties because of market-related concerns. For instance, the GM flax known as Triffid, which has been approved for human consumption, was to have been introduced in 1998. However, in the winter of 1997, the European Union banned GM canola imports. The Canadian flax industry therefore decided not to go ahead with the marketing of the Triffid variety as planned, for fear that flax imports would be affected. In 2009, the European Union found traces of GM products in one shipment, despite all the precautions taken. It therefore decided to ban all flax imports from Canada.

Farmers are still paying the price for this unfortunate incident, given that, since 2009, all seed samples must be subjected to costly tests to ensure they are harmless. It is worth noting that, until then, 68% of Canada's flax production had been exported to Europe.

Thus, a huge portion of our production had to find other markets or was simply disposed of.

It is possible that the flax industry would have been better protected if there had been a market impact assessment before the Triffid variety was approved. Several hundred flax producers could have exported their products to the European market without any problem.

In 1995, the industry tried to compensate for the wariness of importing countries by developing voluntary guidelines. For example, the Canola Council of Canada developed a market access policy agreement that stipulates that no new varieties of canola will be sold to producers before being approved in all of the primary export markets. This policy has been respected by all stakeholders since it was developed. Thus, we can assume that if Bill C-474 were passed, it would be well received by the industry.

The type of economic assessment proposed in the bill is nothing new and it is currently being used elsewhere in the world.

Argentina has been studying the repercussions of its transgenic seeds on markets since 2004. Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the government must have expert opinions available on the impact of large-scale production on the agri-food ecosystem, the safety of livestock feed, and the absence of undesirable effects of its marketing on exports. This assessment includes an analysis of the current state of regulatory systems and the degree of acceptance by the public. Furthermore, the situation of commercial competitors, potential markets, the proportion of the crops in their trade with each country and the proportion of their imports in their total purchases are also taken into consideration. These new regulations have not stopped Argentina from remaining one of the largest producers of GMOs.

The Conservatives say that adopting Bill C-474 would result in scientific analyses being abandoned in favour of socio-economic considerations. That is false; they are not mutually exclusive. Scientific and economic assessments are complementary. There is nothing in this bill that leads us to believe that scientific assessments would be set aside.

On October 5, Mr. Matthew Holmes, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food and had this to say:

Bill C-474 does not establish some unrealistic threshold, nor does it give economic considerations of veto over all other considerations. It simply provides policy-makers with one more tool with which to understand the implications of their decisions, and our sector feels this is a reasonable one.

Motions in AmendmentSeeds Regulations ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), introduced by my hon. colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, the NDP agriculture critic and a tireless advocate for farmers and consumers.

Bill C-474 is an amazingly straightforward bill. In just 52 words it asks simply that the government consider the export market impact of any new genetically modified seeds to be introduced to the market before allowing their cultivation. This is the same request that farmers have been making for years. I would urge the House to consider carefully what they have to say and what is at stake with this bill.

As the government knows, in September 2009, inspectors in the European Union discovered that an illegal genetically modified seed strain, CDC triffid, had contaminated Canadian flax exports. European countries promptly began recalling and quarantining Canadian flax. Prices plummeted and Canada lost 60% of its export market overnight. This ban hit our farmers hard, and they are still paying for the testing and cleanup after this international scandal.

More and more countries moved to adopt laws that limit the use of genetically modified foods. The export market for Canadian crops will continue to shrink unless we change the way that we do agriculture. For example, the countries that make up 82% of our export market for wheat have already said that if Canada begins cultivating genetically modified wheat products, the result will be a disastrous total boycott of all Canadian wheat, whether it is genetically modified or not.

Farmers obviously do not want to grow a crop that no one will buy. This is why it is critical that any assessment of new genetically modified seeds in Canada be considered in light of the impact they will have on our export market. Canadian farmers are clear that this is something they want. Given the potential consequences of another international contamination scandal, I really have to ask why the government is so adamantly opposed to the bill.

When talking about genetically modified foods and seeds, it is also important to talk about the alternatives, things like small scale and organic farming. Far too often we forget about these other options. Perhaps that is because among our largest crops, genetic contamination is so widespread that it is not even possible to grow organically, as in the case of the canola crop in Manitoba.

Transnational conglomerates such as Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta and Bayer have been incredibly vocal in promoting themselves and their GMOs as the answer to problems such as world hunger and unpredictable crop yields due to environmental changes, all the while ensuring that their corporate bottom lines are priority number one.

Here are some important facts to consider: Eighty-seven per cent of the world's countries are GMO free. Over 90% of the arable land on this earth is GMO free. Over 99.5% of the world's farmers do not grow GMO products. In the United States, despite 20 years of research and 14 years of commercialization, GMO products have not significantly increased crop yields.

Let us be honest, GMO crops will not be the solution to things like world hunger, and the reckless use of genetic modification has the potential to do far more harm than good, both abroad and here in Canada.

Countries around the world are increasingly becoming aware of this, and that is why the market is actually turning against GMOs. The transnational corporations are aware of this turn, and that is why they vehemently oppose this market assessment of their product.

With the Conservative Party on side with these agricultural mega companies, I have to ask, whose interests is our government looking out for, those of the farmers or the conglomerates?

I would like to highlight some encouraging thoughts. While changing climates, drought and disease continue to plague farmers and their crops, exacerbating a global hunger pandemic that afflicts more than one billion people on earth, there are signs that important progress is being made without the need for genetic modification and unconscionable agribusiness practices.

One of the most important steps to improving crop yields was achieved as long ago as 1961. It was in that year that Norman Borlaug perfected dwarf wheat, a cultivar of wheat that did not topple over under the weight of its stocks, spoiling its yield. The results were staggering. By 1963 the wheat harvest was six times larger than it had been 20 years earlier. Literally millions of lives were saved. For his work he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970. Even today his cultivars continue to be the staple food of millions of people worldwide, and all of this was accomplished without GMOs.

There are more success stories.

In Japan scientists have developed a drought resistant rice crop. In South Africa and the Philippines there are drought resistant maizes. The United States just developed an allergen-free peanut. In Kenya iron fortified corn has slashed the rates of childhood anemia.

All of these cultivars are making a real difference in the lives of millions of people worldwide, and all of them were done using traditional botanical graftings and selection processes, not genetic modification.

These very same botanical processes have been used for centuries. They were used to turn an ancestral inedible weed into what today we call cabbage, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.

Genetic modification has been proven to be wildly ineffective in delivering on its own promises. As more and more countries enact laws to ban their import, the economic risks for countries continuing to produce GMOs will continue to rise. Bill C-474 proposes simply that before new genetically modified seeds are introduced in Canada, the government must consider those risks.

Canadian farmers deserve protection from GMO contamination and from the catastrophic effects it could have on our export markets. We should not be bowing to the wishes of the transnational conglomerates that know that the market is turning away from their repressive products and practices.

Today I call on the House to vote in favour of Bill C-474 and enshrine in law measures that would ensure that farmers and consumers, not Monsanto, are at the heart of our food and seed strategy.

In closing, an issue like this is so important for farmers, for consumers and for Canada that it deserves more debate. Therefore, I move:

That, when the order for the consideration of Bill C-474 is next called, the time provided for the consideration of any remaining stages of the Bill be extended, pursuant to Standing Order 98(3), by a period not exceeding five consecutive hours.