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.