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.