Mr. Speaker, I would like to first thank all of my colleagues who took part in the debate on Bill C-474. It is my hope that they will work hard to convince members of their respective parties to move this bill forward to committee.
It is vital that we have a thorough and democratic debate on the economic effect on farmers of any further introduction of GE organisms into the environment. At the end of the day, it is up to parliamentarians to do all we can to help our farmers.
Before I move on, I would like to clear up a misconception. It was mentioned a number of times that had this bill been in place, it would not have helped the flax farmers. That is not entirely true because in 1996 Triffid received feed and environmental release approval. In 1998 it received food safety authorization.
Had the bill been in place at that point in time, the economic impact study would have shown that it would have been unwise to continue releasing flax into the environment. It was not until 2001, because of the pressure by farmers, that flax, which already had been released into the environment, was taken out and cancelled. I wanted to clear up that misconception.
The other point that is often mentioned is that somehow this is science-based technology. Let us be clear. The yield increases in crops are due to traditional breeding. For example, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is looking at methods now that are capable of increasing more of the crop yield, using a high tech genomic approach or marker-assisted selection. These are non-GE methods and they are the ones that actually increase the yield.
I do not have a great deal of time, so I will concentrate my remarks on the alfalfa industry. Mr. Paul Gregory of Interlake Forage Seeds in Manitoba states that most family-owned seed companies are against the further advancement of GM traits, especially in the forage seed business.
Mr. Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed Ltd. also of Manitoba, writes:
--the users, producers and wholesales/retailers of alfalfa seed and hay are opposed to the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa and yet we are at risk of the release of this product.
He also cites the case of a U.S. seed company, Cal/West, which lost its market due to GE contaminated seed. The key word here is “contamination”.
According to the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, it will be impossible to prevent the spread of GE alfalfa beyond the fields it is planted in for the following reasons.
First, alfalfa is pollinated primarily by leafcutter bees, which often drift several miles in search of better bloom, and also by honey bees, which have a range of up to four miles. Actually, a U.S. study has shown a contamination radius of up to 1.7 miles already.
Second, GE alfalfa for hay is often cut after the blooming starts and, therefore, the pollen is easily transferred to non-GM crops. Third, alfalfa seed crops produce a percentage of what is called “hard” seed that can germinate several years after the field has been plowed up.
Once contamination is discovered, countries that currently reject GMO crops, food and feed, will obviously then reject our alfalfa. Also, a large portion of our alfalfa pellet and cube market would be lost. Our organic livestock industry would also be hit hard if GE alfalfa contamination were to be found.
Consider Argentina for example. Before a GMO is approved for marketing, the government must have in hand the technical advice, including whether the market would accept the GMO, in the absence of potential negative impacts on Argentinian exports.
The government officials responsible for allowing this technology onto the market need a mandate to consider what the impact of doing so will have on our export markets. Bill C-474 will provide the mechanism to give them this mandate.
I urge my colleagues to send Bill C-474 to committee so that we can have a thorough and democratic debate.
Farmers are in difficult times. Let us not throw more obstacles in front of them by carelessly allowing the release of GE crops that can lead to economic harm.