House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberals.


Opposition Motion—Tax Rate for Large CorporationsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from December 1 consideration of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.


Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, as a farmer and a member of the agriculture committee, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-474. Even though I am not in favour of the bill, I believe it is very important that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has brought the bill forward at this time so we can discuss the future of growing crops in Canada.

There is a prediction that in the year 2050 we will need to feed ten billion people on this planet. Also, Canadian citizens want to have safe and healthy food. Thus food will be a very important issue in this upcoming decade.

We often read in the Economist and newspapers after having gone through the economic crisis, we will be going into a food crisis. We will see food being discussed more and more, with food becoming a problem and how we produce food becoming a concern.

Just this morning, a headline on the front page of the Globe and Mail states, “A warning to Canada: start growing”. It describes how a decade ago Canada was the third largest exporter of food in the world. We are now ranked seventh. Our exports have dropped 10% in the last year, but our imports are also rising. Up to 2% more imports are coming into this country. Thus we are not really eating more local food either and our exports are dropping.

What is happening? The article talks quite a lot about innovation and even knowledge. It mentions that agriculture and agrifood generate two million jobs, a dollar value of $154 billion in food and beverage consumer sales, accounting for 8.2% of our GDP in this country. Those are big numbers, as far as the value of food production is concerned and how important it is to Canadians.

We must have a balance going forward in what we should be producing and how we should be producing it and so that consumers are confident our food is safe and healthy.

These conclusions in the Globe and Mail this morning were laid out by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, a non-partisan group that assesses the food industry, where it has been and where it should be going. It says that Canada should develop a new agriculture policy framework and that we have the potential in Canada to double our agrifood exports to $75 billion.

What does that mean to double our agrifood exports? How many countries on this planet can produce twice as much food within that short time? Brazil is increasing quite a bit. That is why we are ranking lower than Brazil, as it has increased its production considerably with technology and new varieties. It says here that we could be playing one of the biggest roles in the future in feeding the planet and that we could produce 75% of our own food by 2025.

I would say as a farmer that because of our winter climate, it will be pretty challenging to produce 75% of our own food by 2025. However, with greenhouses and technology we can come close to that, together with consumers thinking locally and buying local products, and with our supply management and how that protects our local food production. We have to work on more models like that.

It is also stated that the regulatory system should be overhauled to promote sustainability and foster innovation and collaboration among Canadian producers. We must have the right “climate” here and the right set-up and the right mechanisms to make that happen. We have the land; it is just a matter of having the right climate as far as investment and people stepping up to the plate are concerned.

The bill would really add uncertainty to the current regulatory science-based process for the approval of GMOs. The bill has also failed to provide the details of how this process would be established, what criteria would be applied and who specifically would provide the assessment.

There is no process in place for what the NDP wants to do with this bill. There is no responsible body. Is it the federal government that is going to do this? Is it a private body? Is it a public body? There was no process attached to this.

Bill C-474 is not an anti-GMO bill, but that is how it is evolving here, into whether or not one is for or against GMOs. That is not what it is all about; it deals how we should be producing more crops in this country in a safe manner.

When the bill was reintroduced, Liberals gave their support to studying the bill at the agriculture committee. That would have been the place to start, because there was already a controversy about it. We figured that the agriculture committee would be the best place to go through the bill to see if it should be amended. The intentions were good with the bill, but it had holes in it. It just was not the right thing for the time. At that time, the agriculture steering committee decided to discuss the bill and hear from all sides, the scientists, farmers and consumers.

There were lots of outstanding concerns about GMOs. People have called them “Frankenstein food“ and things like that. However, the reality is that we have a good system in our country, where we allow food products and crops from a science-based approach.

We started with the process at the agriculture committee and heard testimony from stakeholders on both sides of the issue to determine if this bill had a mechanism to address some of the concerns related to the potential negative impacts on agricultural imports. As a result of the hearings, it became evident that the bill had failed to provide that mechanism.

Canadian consumers and farmers want to know more about this issue, but the Conservatives cut short the debate and questioning on this bill; they did not want to hear any more of it. There were some really good presentations in committee, which we could have brought forward to the House so that members would have a good understanding of where food production is going. However, the Conservatives simply rejected the concerns and really did not want to really discuss them.

Many times that is the way it works in the House. The Conservatives believe in a certain thing and do not want it discussed or to be sent to committee. Moreover, the NDP comes up with ideas and sometimes it is just not the right way to go in light of the practicality of our economics and business. On the Liberal side, I think we have a balanced approach. I was hoping that the committee would deal with a lot more, but it did not.

I have stated that potential food production in this country is just phenomenal. Canada is not the only country faced with this dilemma. When we look at the situation around the world, we know that the Europeans are more resistant to GMOs and have more regulations, and the Americans are more lax on regulations for GMOs.

I have to give credit to the Americans. They are looking at this in Congress and at a framework to protect farmers. We should also protect farmers who are not going to grow GMO foods. There is still going to be a market for people who do not want to eat GMO food, even though science says it could be healthy, but we have to protect farmers.

Therefore, there needs to be a proper framework in place. Argentina has the proper framework in place and we should be looking at that model. Maybe that is one of the reasons it is passing us in exports.

Everything should be science based when we are moving forward, but we also need to look at the market and at protecting farmers. The potential for GMO foods is phenomenal in the next 10 years. When we look at the hunger in Africa and many parts of Asia, GMO foods could help them there with micronutrients and drought resistance. Even when there is a lot of flooding, some plants could be more adaptable.

Canada needs to be at the forefront in developing new crops and technologies that will help feed the world. We have the capacity and we have the land. However, we need to have the right regulatory framework in place as we move forward so farmers are protected, so consumers feel safe with the products they are eating and so we can expand on our exports.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on private member's Bill C-474 put forward by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

The New Democratic member has done a great deal of work in this area. I have heard the term “science” bandied around by both sides of the House, from the Liberals and the Conservatives, and at committee on numerous occasions. We have talked about science. I heard it from CFIA when we had the listeriosis crisis. We talked about the science, how it had to be science based and accurate and how science is always wholesome.

I would remind my friends that science changes from time to time. Science said that the Earth was flat until someone decided that maybe it was not flat and that it might be round or spherical.

We can look at science as a wholesome subject when we are talking about transgenics and GMOs. It reminds me of my science teacher from many a year ago when I first started high school who talked about gene pools and how inside a gene pool what we really wanted to have was a great deal of material so that we could actually use it to enhance and develop better pieces from that gene pool.

What we have with GMOs are specific genes doing specific things that enable a specific company to make money. It may, in some cases, actually add to the gene pool in the sense of enabling a particular crop to be better. One need not look any further than clingstone peaches in Niagara which used to be canned in St. Davids. The canning factory left, so they do not do that anymore. That genetic material for clingstone peaches may indeed be lost in this country because we do not can them. We now get them from China, but that is a different debate.

The clingstone peach was developed because it was an easier canning peach than a regular peach that we would consume off the fresh market. How did we do that? Some might call it gene splicing but we actually did it by grafting and doing all of the other things. We see that with vinifera grapes across the peninsula. It is a similar idea.

We did not develop the clingstone peach so that we could spread one type of round-up or one type of herbicide or one type of other pesticide. We developed that gene pool to enhance the product, not so that we could simply use one type of pesticide.

It reminds me that if we are going to do science, why do we not do it in that wholesome approach that benefits two groups of individuals or people around this world? Those of us who are non-farmers are consumers because most of us eat every day. I know we might skip a meal now and again, and I would imagine in the wider public it might be said that politicians never skip a meal. The bottom line is that we do eat every day and some of us do not produce.

Then we have what my good friend from Cape Breton, a farmer who understands the needs of farmers, says, which is that we also need to help them ensure that the materials they will get, the seeds and other inputs that they need, will enhance their ability, as he quite ably pointed out, to feed the world. He is absolutely right when he says that there is a need to feed the world.

However, to actually limit that science is a fundamental issue. We are actually allowing corporate entities to decide that there will only be this amount of science to deal with rather than the whole body of science. There are many around who actually talk about that.

I will quote from a few places where they actually talk about the fact that we are losing some of the science because of the pressures that are exerted by some of these multinational corporations that are absolutely huge. If we want to talk about some of these corporations, we should talk to farmers about the price of fertilizer. Let us assume that fertilizer companies decide to change how they do that genetically, which is not beyond the realm of possibility. Farmers already believe that input is way overpriced.

What happens if they decide, because they have a somewhat semi-monopoly on that now, to change that again and change the make-up and composition of that because, as we see things evolving even further, the genetics can change?

It is interesting to read an article written by Don Lotter entitled, “The Genetic Engineering of Food and the Failure of Science”. It talks about the history and rise of plant transgenics. Convincingly, he argues that it is the political and economic power, not scientific rigour, that has driven the technology's ascent, talking about basically GMOs. He shows that the hyper-liberal U.S. regulatory regime around GMOs stems not from an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence but rather from close, often revolving door ties between the industry and the U.S. administration actually going all the way back to Reagan. He says that we should take the assumption that transgenic foods have been proven to have no ill effects on human health. Far from being studied, it turns out that the question has been basically ignored.

Therefore, the regulators have basically said that it does not look like it is that bad because using us as the guinea pig or the canary in the mine takes a long time because it takes us generations to actually go through that process.

In science, normally we use lab animals. That is how science gets done. In some cases, it is rats. In some cases, it is mice. It used to be primates at one point in time but we tend to do that less. We do that simply because we can have multi-generations to look at. Science is actually done in a lab.

If we look at a study that was done with lab animals in Austria, it shows that we can find mutations in the ability of those lab animals to reproduce effectively based on GMO consumption. That is a scientist doing work in a lab.

Some will say that it was not on humans. I would remind everyone in this House that when we develop vaccines, new medicines and other new technologies we actually put them through rigorous lab testing but we do not use humans in those testings. Sometimes we do when we go to clinical trials but it is pretty tough to conduct a clinical trial over multi-generations with GMO foodstuffs with humans. It would take us approximately 140-odd years probably, which is a long time to be consuming product that may or may not be safe.

However, assuming it was safe, what have we lost in the meantime? Have we lost all of that other genetic material? There are seeds that are being captured because we are losing that ability to do those things, whether they be what are now called “heirloom tomatoes”. Heirloom tomatoes are called that simply because they were once grown but then someone decided we should have what is now called “beefsteak tomatoes”. They are those big red ones. In certain markets we can find orange striped tomatoes and green ones. We would find a multitude of things but with that genetic material under the GMO way of doing things they would all be lost because the GMO group would say that we should only have this one and should only grow that one. However, if we only have that one, we then lose all the other pieces and all the attributes of that genetic material.

Imagine us as GMO clones. I would not use me as representative. I would choose to use someone taller than me for sure, because I have always wanted to be tall. I would be happy to take my colleague from Cape Breton and say that all of the male gender should look like that member. That would be somewhat akin to ensuring that we grew the same alfalfa through GMO, or the same wheat through GMO, or all of the other things through GMO.

What we are hearing from the seed companies in this country is that that is not a direction they necessarily want to go in.

In the U.S., we have seen the regulations change on alfalfa where it has now allowed it to happen.

Those of us who are either on the agriculture committee or who happen to live in the country or who just know a bit about science know how the bees cross-pollinate. They fly from flower to flower and they do a wonderful job. The problem is that the bees do not recognize the 49th parallel so they move back and forth and sometimes beekeepers move them back and forth but at the end of the day we get cross-pollination.

What we are going to do to organic farmers in this country is drive them out of business for no other reason than we allowed something to happen that may not actually be in our best interests. We are not certain that is what farmers truly want.

Farmers want good science but we do not get good science necessarily. We get one-dimensional science. What we need is pure applied science that comes from non-regulatory bodies where they do not have a patent waiting at the end of the day so that they can make a buck. We need good science that farmers can use every day to ensure that we feed not only ourselves but the rest of the world.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Battlefords—Lloydminster Saskatchewan


Gerry Ritz ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I listened with attention to the last two speakers and the last one really created a scientific soup. He had everything in there from transgenics, et cetera. There is not a lot of understanding on exactly what genetic modification of seed stocks in this country is all about. I think part of the problem of why Canadians are confused is when they hear people who should know but do not.

Today we are really discussing the ability for these decisions to be made on sound science or, in the case of this particular private member's bill, an ideological stance that is basically non-GM, non-trade. Let us all go backward 50 or 60 years and take agriculture out of the loop.

The first speech given by the member from Sydney—Victoria talked about the growing demand for foodstuffs around the world and the growing demand that Canada double its food production, not to go backward. As we lose arable land around the world under asphalt and a number of other factors, it will be incumbent on countries like Canada that actually has the potential to double its output. We can do it but it will take biotechnology to make that happen.

We base everything on sound science as we move forward. Those sound scientific principles are actually global in nature. There are governing bodies. There is one called Codex which sets out the rules and regulations on plants and does start to make a lot of the scientific framework that Canada bases our situations on a case by case basis. Then we get into the other sector of animals with the OIE, which has regulations based on them.

I am a little concerned when I see that soup bowl mixed together and ladled out as though somehow we need to go backward to do better. I think that is absolutely wrong. I think that is politics at its worst and ideological situations at their worst.

The agriculture committee, as the members have said, did a tremendous amount of study on this but there was not a lot of support for Bill C-474, including the flax industry in Canada. The situation it faced in Europe was the genesis of this particular private member's bill, but even the flax industry is saying that this would not get the job done. What we need are changes in low level presence. That would have taken that particular situation right off the map.

That is the argument that I have been taking to the European Union. I have been working with my colleagues in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, other grain-producing countries such as Australia and so on and talking about getting away from zero tolerance.

Canada is in that zero tolerance range too but we do it on a case by case basis. We analyze using sound science as to whether there are any kinds of health situations or standards that could be breached, and we have made those changes on the fly.

The European Union says that zero is zero. With the testing efficacies that we have now, it means that scientists can find one seed in 40,000 seeds and say that it is not fit for European consumption. However, they are starting to get their heart and mind around the fact that it does not work for them any more either. They are looking at food security and sustainability. They are looking at the need to import more and to grow more themselves and they are starting to accept biotechnology as the right way forward.

A lot has been said about Brazil moving up to that third spot. Actually, the story in the Globe and Mail today was not very factual. Canada is still number four in the world when it comes to the export of foods. We are seventh when we talk about processed foods, but that is another argument for another day. We are not allowed to process in western Canada on our grains because of a little thing called the Canadian Wheat Board. Again, that is another argument for another day that needs to happen in order to move forward and double the production that the rest of the world is asking for.

It is a shame that the member from British Columbia Southern Interior could not have been at the discussions held in Saskatchewan today. A good friend of mine, Mark Wartman, who was the agriculture minister in Saskatchewan under the NDP government at that time and who is now working at the University of Saskatchewan, said, “I would make the appeal that what needs to be used in this area in particular is the very best of our science”.

I could not agree more. It is a shame that the member from B.C. could not have been there to hear that. I know that he and Mark have had discussions over the years because Mark and I have had those same discussions. He also said today, “We've seen, I think, some real pitfalls by just having a public forum where you've got population bases that really have little to no understanding of agriculture and agriculture biotechnology”.

That is the politics of this situation and that is what we heard in that last speech, which is not really on the mark at all when it comes to GMOs.

The situation that would be created by Bill C-474 would be another layer of red tape. The government is against red tape. The business community, including farmers, really takes that to heart and is happy about it. That red tape, which would be instilled under Bill C-474, would mean no innovative new varieties would ever have a chance of being populated in Canada.

The agricultural sector in Canada is very sophisticated. We have global position satellites that control our tractors and combines now. We are spraying to within an inch on each pass. We are using less chemical, less fertilizer and a lighter environmental footprint because of GM in crops like canola. Canola is now king in western Canada. It is no longer wheat. We grow more canola and make more money back for farmers on canola because they have the right to market it, the timing of the marketing and so on. We also have a lot of value added happening on canola, which adds to that exported value. We have seen that happen.

Canadian productivity has jumped some 300% since the 1950s and a lot of that can be pointed to the sound scientific base on which we put things. When my grandfather was farming, he produced enough food to feed 10 people. Today's farmers feed over 120 on that same land mass. What they do is exceptional.

Agriculture is the third-largest contributor to the GDP, one in eight jobs. Forty billion dollars worth of our exports come out of agriculture. A good chunk of that are soybeans, canola and corn that are GM products. The world has asked for better quality products and higher nutritional values. Sound science allows us to do that.

The point has been made about the expansions to the population and how we need to step up and feed that. However, when short-sighted ideas like Bill C-474 come forward, we know we never have a chance.

I want to quote a Manitoba flax producer who was before the committee during the initial hearings on Bill C-474. He said:

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.

It may not even be a farm group that raises those roadblocks. It could be somebody who does not understand the benefits of this. Our system in Canada has served our farmers and consumers well. It will serve the rest of the world extremely well, as we know.

The canola industry would not have happened without GM varieties that are out there now. We can argue about input costs. We can argue about pesticides and chemicals. The whole purpose of a lot of this GM product is to lighten that cost, to lower the demand. It is better for the environment. It is better for the economy of farmers to have those varieties available to them.

We stand fully and squarely against Bill C-474. We have always stood there, unlike my counterparts the Liberals who have waffled back and forth. Hopefully they are with us tomorrow night when this comes to a vote and we will finally put an end to this type of non-scientific nonsense that we are treated to here.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into the debate on Bill C-474.

I begin by thanking and recognizing the contribution my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior is making to not only this debate, but to democracy generally in the House of Commons. This is an historic victory for democracy.

Instead of listening to the wild-eyed rhetoric from some ideological zealot like our Minister of Agriculture, we can have an honest and fair debate on a subject of pressing interest, not only to the well-being of 1.4 billion farmers who rely on farm-safe seed, but on the matter of exports of our Canadian agricultural products around the world and our ability to be a world leader in agriculture. It is a shame the Minister of Agriculture would not stay to listen to this entire debate. It is a matter of utmost importance to the prairie region that I represent. It is a debate that is current—

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre knows that he cannot refer to the absence of members in the House. He will want to contain himself in his remarks and set an example for all other hon. members in that regard.

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was only trying to point out that I wished the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food could hear the entire debate tonight. Rather than just the wild-eyed rhetoric of that ideological zealot, he could hear a necessary and important debate about the very future of agriculture not only in Canada but in third world developing countries, the European Union and right around the world.

I do not believe anybody should be able to copyright life or living organisms. It is an affront to the natural order to copyright life. The whole notion of suicide genes in terminator seeds is an affront to the natural order, and I believe a lot of people agree with me.

Let me bring the debate back down to earth. It is my personal ideological belief that the minister criticized me for holding, but let me remind people what we are debating tonight. The bill put forward by my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior is eminent common sense, grounded and realistic in the health of our agricultural industry.

Bill C-474 calls for an amendment to the Seeds Regulations Act to “require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. What could be more common sense?

This is not wild ideology on the part of the NDP. I have strongly held views on genetically engineered products, but the bill is not about that. The bill is about protecting producers and our export markets and, ultimately, the 1.4 billion farmers around the world in developing nations, who depend on farm safe seed, from science about which we are not sure. It is using the precautionary principle for our export markets. That is common sense, that is reasonable debate and it is entirely appropriate before the House of Commons. It is a victory for democracy that we in the NDP managed to get an extra five hour debate on this subject tonight. Again, I compliment my colleague for it.

Who is driving this reckless, irresponsible drive toward GM and genetically-engineered crops? Believe me, the science is not in. The scientific community is being intimidated. Let me give an example.

The New York Times reported that 23 U.S. scientists recently signed a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency declaring that no truly independent research on GMOs could be conducted on many critical questions, partly because they were not allowed to even grow samples due to the fact that holders of the patents would not allow independent scientists to grow samples to test the impact.

Stunningly, The New York Times went on to report that the 23 scientists withheld their names because they feared being cut off from research by the companies. They are being intimidated, muzzled and silenced so even independent scientists who we should be trusting cannot really enter into this debate and conclude if one particular genetic modification is going to be harmful or not.

Who is driving things internationally? Let me point out an article from the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, which finds evidence that the United States embassy in Paris wants to penalize the European Union for France having the temerity to ban the Monsanto GM corn variety.

The U.S. ambassador in Paris is the business partner of George W. Bush. They used to own the Texas Rangers baseball team, by some happy coincidence. Recently leaked memos talk about intimidation and punitive sanctions being brought down on France for having the temerity, as I said, as a sovereign nation to choose to not have Monsanto's GM corn.

It is going to be slapped with all kinds of sanctions for interfering with the right of the U.S. company to tamper with the genetic makeup of the corn in that country. France has a right to determine if it will accept GM products or genetically-engineered foods, just as Canada has a right. We should not be bullied or browbeaten by American corporate interests for us to change the way we do the agriculture in this country.

The same report in the Guardian newspaper indicates that the Americans are going after the Vatican because many Catholic bishops in developing and third world countries are completely opposed to genetically engineered, genetically modified food because it completely wipes out the local agricultural economy.

It is like Wal-Mart moving into town and all the little businesses fold up. That is what happens when Monsanto blows into a third world country or a developing nation. The Catholic bishops and cardinals in those countries are speaking out against it.

Therefore, the United States goes to work on the Holy See. One by one it is trying to knock off the Council of Catholic Bishops, especially one cardinal, Cardinal Renato Martino, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the man who most represents the Pope at the United Nations. He had been passive about genetically modified food because he did not want to annoy the United States. He was trying to get it to see reason on Iraq. Cardinal Martino has changed his tune. He is now speaking out against genetically engineered and genetically modified foods and he has turned. Now the United States has turned on him in every way possible, trying to undermine and discredit this man who had the courage to stand up to Monsanto.

People in Canada have stood up to Monsanto and we have seen what happens when they have had the temerity to do so. I am thinking of Percy Schmeiser from the province of Saskatchewan, who blew the alarm on this many years ago.

I am ashamed that our country attends United Nations international conventions on biological diversity specifically to sabotage the international ban on terminator genes. We are one of three countries in the world that do not oppose suicide genes and terminator seeds. We are one of three countries in the world that does not believe farmers have the right to hold back some of their seed from the previous year so they can plant next year and do not become serfs to the agricultural corporate community.

It is the holders of the patents on genes that would have the temerity, the atrocity, the nerve to patent life. These people are now driving small farmers into bankruptcy because they can no longer hold back 20% of their seed to plant for next year's crop. Their seed will not sprout. It has a suicide gene implanted in it.

It is a sick notion and we should condemn it instead of going to these international forums and defending the right of Monsanto to tamper with life in this way to God know's what long-term detriment. We will never know because the scientists who could do independent research have been muzzled as well.

We go blindly forward, led by Monsanto, which tells us to trust it, that everything will be okay, as it browbeats Canadians, the Vatican, small countries, any European Union nation with the temerity to ask if this is a good idea or not.

At least we are having that debate in the House of Commons tonight. It is not a good idea. We should move cautiously before we lose our ability to export our genetically engineered foodstuffs. Other places like the European Union do not want GM foods. If we care about those markets, we should be cautious and we should follow the direction of Bill C-474 put forward by my courageous colleague the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to the bill today after listening to that ridiculous rant from the member opposite. I have a great deal of respect for the member, but it was a ridiculous rant. It was over the top. It certainly did not look at this subject objectively at all. After that, it is very tempting to go on a rant myself, but I will not. I will just point out a few things.

The member went so far as to point to the Vatican and bishops who oppose this. I have a lot of respect for bishops as religious leaders. I do not think bishops should be involved in issues like this. There is no evidence at all that genetically modified foods are unsafe. For centuries, modification of one type or another has been taking place when it comes to plants. What is being talked about here is a logical second step.

The party might not be that relevant, but what the member is proposing and what is being proposed in this private member's bill could do a lot of harm to many people who depend on this industry and in particular who depend on agriculture for their jobs.

On one side, I have heard the members opposite complain about the high cost of food and the problems it is creating in certain countries around the world. They rant and rail against the very change that is taking place in agriculture that will allow countries, poor countries in particular, which cannot afford high priced food, to produce food more effectively, more efficiently to better feed their own people.

We have always said we should proceed very carefully. We should base the decisions on science. The decisions on how these things proceed as long as they are based on science should be decided by the industry and by people involved in the science. That is what we propose.

This debate has been going on for more than a decade. I remember shortly after I was first elected 15 years ago there was talk about how, if people ate genetically modified foods, there would be terrible things happening. We have been eating them for 15 years and we have not seen that.

The scientific evidence that there is any danger in these products is not there, but certainly it is the type of issue that the NDP is choosing to instill fear in people about. What is happening here today, I would argue, is fearmongering. That is not an appropriate way to deal with issues in the House or anywhere else for that matter. Why do we not base these issues on science and allow science to determine what happens and, beyond that, let industry and trade take place?

What the members are proposing can be very harmful, because it could lead to barriers to trade that simply are not needed. Canada is a country in which 30% of our jobs depend on trade. In other words, if trade were shut off, as the NDP would like to see, 30% of all the workers in Canada would no longer have jobs. Members of the party always talk about being the party that supports workers when in reality many of their proposals, including this one, would lead to a massive loss in jobs. They cannot have it both ways.

Will members of the NDP go along with these carefully monitored, science-based rules or will they take this overreaction and fearmongering to another level and try to do things that will lead to job losses across Canada and other places as well?

That is the decision they have to make. Their fearmongering is not harmless.

I expect that we will let science and industry continue to drive this issue. I am very thankful the NDP is not more relevant than it is, because it could lead to some very serious issues if it were.

I encourage the members opposite to think about this and not base all that they do on radical politics and, instead, take a more reasonable approach. Do what is good for workers in this country, what is good for the agricultural sector and what is good for people in other countries who are finding the high cost of food difficult. Think about them as well.

The members opposite should allow the bill to go forward in a way that will allow people around the world to be much better fed in the decades ahead than in decades past. That is what we are talking about. Members of the NDP cannot have it both ways. I encourage the members to think about that.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the previous speaker's comments indicate he has been eating genetically modified food for far too long.

I rise today to join my colleagues in this historic debate in the House of Commons. It is historic because for the first time we are debating the issue of genetically engineered crops, known simply as GE seeds, and their impact on producers and consumers.

I wish to stress at the outset what other colleagues have pointed out, that on the issue of GE crops, Bill C-474 is purely about the economic side of this debate.

Its brilliance is that it is a simple bill that clearly and eloquently provides the federal government with a mandate to provide a mechanism currently missing in the regulations that can protect farmers from the economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.

We are not hypothesizing here. We have a real example cited earlier whereby the European Union, our largest market for flax, banned our imports because an illegal GE flaxseed called CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports.

The EU buys 60% of our flax. To my Conservative colleagues who like to proclaim their love of all things market-related and corporate-related I ask: What happened to flax prices? Those prices plummeted and our farmers lost out.

Jim Lintott, chairman of the Manitoba Forage Council, summed this situation up beautifully when he said:

The perception that Canada is a pristine and clean environment for the production of food is slowly being eroded. The introduction of unwanted GMOs is affecting not only the direct sale of crop and seed production, but also the sale of value-added products.

I want to point out that although there is no question that the Triffid flax situation has cost Canadian farmers and exporters a lot of money and their reputation, it has cost our customers, who then move that flax into value-added production, a far greater amount of money. Those customers will not easily forget what they have paid for buying Canadian.

According to Barry Hall, president of the Flax Council of Canada, that incident cost Canadian farmers and flax processors on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean tens of millions of dollars. Mr. Hall went on to say: “Canada's reputation as a supplier of quality flax has really been trashed...We've really been hammered over this”.

When the tables are turned, companies like Monsanto cannot wait to slap farmers with lawsuits.

Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed, notes:

We see instances in which Monsanto is not afraid to sue the producer if the producer uses its technology without Monsanto's approval.

I would like to think that the regulatory process that approved it, CFIA, or Monsanto itself would be the ones that I could turn around and sue if their gene entered my land and my seed crop where it is unwanted. Or is it just a one-way street so that they can sue whoever they choose to but they don't have to take responsibility for their technology?

Here we are with a simple piece of legislation that calls for factoring in the potential harm to export markets before any approval of GE crops is given. That is all.

What is so ideological or political for that matter when the economic impact of new GE crops is being considered?

Our agriculture critic, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, sought out the lowest common denominator with his bill in order to build consensus across party lines.

Here is what Matthew Holmes, executive director of Canada Organic Trade Association, had to say about the bill:

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.

Yet we have a typical ideological response from Conservative members in the House. They are blindly taking their cues from companies like Monsanto without the fortitude of questioning these companies' motives.

What is also reprehensible is the Conservative MPs behaviour at committee. They shut down committee just as witnesses, invited by the committee, arrived on the scene. What an insult to the witnesses and to the democratic process.

Addressing the economic implications of genetically modified crop is absolutely critical. Thousands of Canadians have written the government expressing their support for Bill C-474. Farmers are worried about whether their largest markets will continue to purchase Canadian seed.

The uniqueness of Nickel Belt is that it is a collection of small, but unique communities, each with their character and beauty. Many in communities such as Verner, Lavigne, St. Charles, Noëlville, Blezard Valley are home to farmers. While they were not affected by the ban on Canadian flax, I have learned so much about the many challenges facing farmers across Canada.

They have faced rising costs in areas such as energy and transportation, effects of climate change, local predators such as bears and other wildlife that destroy crops and infrastructure costs such as fences and tile drainage. Some cannot retire because their children lack the financial means to purchase the farms or cannot get loans from the banks to buy new equipment to enhance productivity.

Farmers in northern Ontario have to ship their products to Toronto before they are returned to the shelves of local grocery stores in Nickel Belt, Sudbury and other northern communities.

These challenges are not unique to farmers in my riding of Nickel Belt. Farmers across the country face huge hurdles, so why would Parliament not want to make one simple amendment to the Seed Regulations Act that would ensure the potential market harm would be considered before permission would be granted for production of genetically modified seed? After all, Bill C-474 is purely about economics. A GE crop that is not approved in our export markets has little value to farmers.

I want to close with a quote by Jim Lintott, chairman of the Manitoba Forage Council. It really packs a punch. Mr. Lintott says, “The bill is perfect the way it stands. It's a perfect requirement. Why would you produce anything with no market for it?”

Why indeed, unless one does not care about destroying the reputation of our farmers, unless one only cares about one's corporate buddies.

Here in the NDP we care about our farmers. We also care about Canada's reputation abroad. We know the Conservatives do not care about our reputation, but I do not understand my Liberal colleagues. They say that they are different from the Conservatives, yet they are joining with them in opposing this bill.

Our western farmers will remember tomorrow's vote. They will remember how each western MP voted on Bill C-474 and we will be sure to remind them as well.

I am proud of the work of my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior. I thank him for all his work on behalf of farmers. This debate is a historic one. It is also just the beginning.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House this evening to participate in the debate on Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm), which was brought forward by my NDP colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

I will be the first to admit that as a member of Parliament from Hamilton, which is nationally known as Steeltown, I am more familiar with the manufacturing sector than I am with the agricultural sector. It was not that long ago that over half of my riding was in fact prime agricultural land, with successful family farms like the Youngs, the Bethunes, the Ryckmans, the Burkholders and the Marshalls, to name but a few. Sadly, as Joni Mitchell would scold us, we paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

That is simply to say that many of the people in my riding of Hamilton Mountain may be urbanites, but they feel a deep, personal connection to agriculture and bring those values to bear in thinking about Canada's future.

Similarly, we have a thriving environmental movement in Hamilton that led the “eat local” campaign in our community, and has done much to raise awareness of organic foods and, more generally, healthy eating.

Also, a great many Hamiltonians are keenly interested in food and product safety, as well as proper labelling. I do not think there is single piece of legislation outside of the Conservative government's reviled decision to impose the HST on Ontarians that generated more petitions, letters or phone calls than Bill C-51, which sought to amend the Food and Drugs Act in the last Parliament. That bill purported to modernize our food and drug provisions bringing us into the 21st century and bringing our rules and our regulations in line with modern day science. It did not take too long for Canadians to figure out that this was a ruse. It was an attempt to make Canadians believe the government would be on their side when in fact it was loosening its regulatory control.

What Canadians wanted was legislation that operated on the basis of the do no harm principle, the precautionary principle, which means that we do not allow products on the market unless there is evidence that they are safe beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, this is not the risk management model that we saw with the Liberals before and with the Conservatives today.

There is a marked difference between the do no harm principle and the risk management model. Do no harm means that we put people and safety first. The risk management model means that we can only go so far in ensuring the safety of Canadians so we will allow the products on the market, cross our fingers and then see what happens. It will be up to individual Canadians to determine whether it is worth taking the risk. It will be up to the corporations that produce the products to regulate themselves and decide if they are in line with the standards on paper.

The risk management model is not a proactive regulatory model that puts the needs and concerns of Canadians first. It is a model that puts the needs of big pharma, large corporations and global capital forces ahead of ordinary citizens. It is a model that makes guinea pigs out of Canadians.

We have had our share of offering up people as guinea pigs for large corporations. I do not need to remind people who may be watching us on TV right now about the incidents in our past, especially when women were treated as guinea pigs. Thalidomide and breast implants are just two of the examples that come to mind right away.

What does that have to do with the bill that we are debating today? It is relevant for two reasons.

First, it is because many of the people who were concerned about Bill C-51, and in particular about its impact on natural health products, are also deeply concerned about the issues related to the genetic engineering of our food supply. They have strong views on Frankenfoods and they understand the importance of ensuring that a robust framework is put in place when it comes to genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

Frankly, at the moment Canada's framework is inadequate. Canada is currently the fifth largest producer of genetically modified crops in the world, after the United States, Brazil, Argentina and India.

Canada could learn a lot from Argentina. It has legislation which ensures that the release of GMOs first requires an assessment of the safety of food and livestock feed, of the bio-security of the environment and an assessment confirming that its exports will not be negatively impacted. In Argentina, therefore, the analysis of the impact on exports in the GMO approval process is an integral part of the analysis that determines whether the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. In Canada, that is not currently the case and Canadian farmers are suffering the consequences.

It is this deficiency that Bill C-474 seeks to redress.

However, as I said earlier, there is also a second reason why this issue is being followed so closely by many of the same people who were engaged in the debate around Bill C-51, and that is because Bill C-474 also pits a tenacious advocate who represents hundreds of thousands of Canadians against an entire industry. It is David versus Goliath. In this case, David is the member for British Columbia Southern Interior who is battling the Goliath of the Monsantos of this world. There is absolutely no doubt that the hope of the biotech industry is that over time the market is flooded with genetically-modified organisms and that at that point there will be nothing anyone could do about it except quietly surrender. In fact, that is exactly what Don Westfall, the vice-president of Promar International and a biotech consultant, was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star in January 2001.

However, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior is not about to surrender and neither are his colleagues in the NDP. We understand what a disastrous impact the absence of an analysis of potential harm would have on Canadian farmers and therefore on Canadians as a whole.

We have long been convinced that big biotech companies, such as Monsanto, have been running a scam with regard to their genetically-engineered crops. Despite 15 years of failed promises to feed the world's hungry and, more recent, to save humankind from climate change, the Canadian and U.S. governments inexplicably continue to write all the rules completely in big biotech's favour. As was recently revealed in WikiLeaks cables, U.S. ambassadors were even going so far as to advise Washington to start military-style trade wars against any European country that dare stood in opposition to GE crops.

Despite lengthy court challenges which, for a time, kept the decision at bay, the USDA has just authorized the nationwide and unrestricted commercial release of Monsanto's genetically-engineered seed. After acknowledging that GE alfalfa poses many risks to organic and conventional farmers, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack, whose ties to Monsanto are well known, has just imposed the impossible burden of keeping alfalfa seed free from GE contamination entirely on farmers. The Center for Food Safety in the U.S. has already announced that it will again challenge this decision in another round of expensive court action.

One way or another, and regardless of the imminent threat this poses to all farmers, especially to our lucrative domestic and export organic markets, it is only a matter of time before U.S. Roundup Ready Alfalfa will be found contaminating our fields in Canada.

The silence from the Canadian government has been deafening. Monsanto could decide to go ahead and register its GE varieties in Canada, as it has already been awarded the necessary health and environmental approvals by the current government.

It was in order to prevent that very scenario that my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, moved forward with Bill C-474. His bill would require that the government conduct an analysis of potential harm to our export markets prior to approving new genetically-engineered seeds.

The Conservative Party has sided completely with Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry since the debate first began. Although the Liberals initially supported our bill, they have since succumbed to pressure from the biotech lobbyists and now say they, too, will vote against it at the final reading. I know, another flip-flop from the Liberals is hardly even worth noticing any more.

However, just as it is in the States, the one-sided mantra from both of these parties is now to preach coexistence with non-GE farmers and to keep Canada's regulations science-based and entirely free of any political or market considerations.

What did witnesses actually say when they testified about Bill C-474 in front of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food?

Let me just quote Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed. He said:

Canada's science-based approach works very well for the domestic marketers of seed, the Monsantos, the Syngentas, and the Bayer CropSciences, but what does it do for the producer? This approach does not take into consideration what the producers want, nor does it address what the market wants. These are the two most important issues and they are absent from the registration process.

That powerful theme was then reiterated by several other presenters to the committee, yet both the Conservative government and the Liberals are wilfully ignoring it.

We cannot just ignore what is happening to farmers in our country. Farmers feed cities, and that is more than just a catchy slogan. It underscores an important reality that is crucial to our economic future.

Yes, we need to acknowledge advances in science. However, we must also acknowledge the economic reality of farmers.

In short, we must pass Bill C-474. Let us do it now.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to ask your guidance. I know we are not allowed, in this place, to talk about members who are not here. However, are we allowed to say that two Conservatives are here, that the NDP is speaking and that there are no—

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. When the Chair rises, members can take their seats.

The member is correct. It is not appropriate to reference whether members are here or not. Members are also not allowed to do it in the form of a rhetorical question. I would ask that the member not do so again.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

I certainly will abide by that, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to stand this evening to offer my perspective on Bill C-474 which was tabled by the member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Members will know that Bill C-474 calls for an amendment to the Seed Regulations Act to “require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. Members will also know that this amendment was introduced because currently safety alone is the basis for the approval of genetically engineered crops for human consumption and environmental release. At this time there is no consideration given to any potential harm to Canada's export markets and the resultant economic harm to Canadian farmers.

I represent the urban riding of Hamilton East--Stoney Creek and I have been receiving emails and calls from farmers across the country who are concerned and want a fulsome debate on Bill C-474.

In the fall of 2009, our European customers, as well as Canadian farmers, found that an illegal genetically engineered flax seed called CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports. The result was that 35 countries were contaminated. I should point out that these European countries have a zero tolerance policy for unapproved GE crops and products. So we can understand how this incident would destabilize Canadian exports.

Almost immediately, European countries began removing our products from their shelves and quarantined all shipments of flax from Canada. With 60% of our flax exports going to Europe, the almost immediate impact was a plummeting in the price of flax. To this day, the market is still uncertain and Canadian farmers are now being forced by this situation to pay for testing and cleanup.

Earlier we heard the member for Winnipeg Centre express his concern with the fact that there seemed to be an effort to shut down debate on Bill C-474. I share his concern.

Recently, Monsanto has re-launched its genetically engineered wheat research. Our international customers that buy 82% of Canada's wheat crops say that they will stop buying wheat from us, GE and non-GE alike, if we allow the introduction of GE wheat. Why in the world would any member of the House not want to debate something that has such serious ramifications? I am astounded by it. Monsanto is also poised to introduce genetically engineered alfalfa into the U.S. and Canada.

We have had speakers tonight from the government side and we have had speakers from the NDP side but where are the rest of the members of this House? Why are they not debating this?

I want to be clear. Monsanto has been awarded the necessary health and environmental approvals and now there is only variety registration left to do before genetically engineered alfalfa can be legally sold in Canada. There is a broad consensus in the farming community growing alfalfa that the introduction of genetically modified alfalfa would be highly destructive for growers of conventional and organic alfalfa.

One thing we will not hear from the purveyors of genetically modified products is an acknowledgement of the market reality that exists internationally toward genetically modified crops.

The recent loss of our flax markets due to that contamination clearly demonstrates that GM technology is not accepted by our major export markets and so not only does it not have any economic value whatsoever but presents an unacceptable high risk to our farmers and growers across Canada. It is little wonder that they are contacting members of Parliament and asking why we are not debating this issue and why we are not speaking up. They are shocked because we have members on all sides of this House who purport to stand up for farmers but where are they tonight?

We know that the likelihood of negotiations leading to lower tolerance levels in other countries is far from guaranteed.

Simply put, Canadian farmers cannot rely on such an unlikely future change in policy as it leaves them no protection whatsoever. Would it not be more prudent for our government to take concrete measures to protect our export markets?

Industry warns that introducing politics into genetically modified foods approvals in Canada would be terrible. That is when the representatives elected by the people stand in this place and do our best to protect our interests when the government clearly is not prepared to do so.

What are the economic realities for farmers if GM alfalfa or GM wheat are introduced, for example? There is the very significant possibility of a market closure and for farmers that is an unacceptable risk. Do we introduce new GM crops at any cost, even if that cost is the loss of our own markets?

Canadians had to stand by and watch as the softwood lumber agreement led to the shutdown of much of Canada's softwood lumber industry. Much of our production of softwood lumber is completely gone. Why would we want to see the same thing happening to Canada's farmers?

The reality is that GM contamination happens and that is hurting Canadian farmers. Flax farmers knew that the threat of the GM contamination was a very real danger to their European markets and, unfortunately, now we know they were correct.

There is nothing in our current regulations to prevent the commercialization of GM seeds that we now know would lead to economic disaster for Canadian farmers. The biotech industry may wish to avoid this economic reality but the Canadian people's government should not have that luxury.

Bill C-474 is meant to ensure that the government provides an analysis of the level of market acceptance before permitting the introduction of new GM seeds. That would be a very prudent step in the face of what has happened in the European market. I believe it is necessary to ensure that farmers are protected from unwanted GM contamination that could actually destroy their businesses.

Today, it seems that the Conservative government believes that the biotech industry should be the only industry with any real say over marketing decisions on GM seeds. One might ask how our government came to confer this enormous privilege on big biotech. Devlin Kuyek, a researcher from the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, who has written extensively on the seed system in Canada, recently provided the standing committee with his views on this particular matter. He noted that billions of taxpayer dollars had been spent over the last 30 years to support biotech companies and that, at the same time, public plant breeding programs had been slashed or privatized.

The NDP member for British Columbia Southern Interior found it very disturbing that we had not had a full and democratic debate at committee because it was shut down.

It is completely unacceptable that witnesses from any country brought to Ottawa at taxpayer expense to provide testimony were turned away from the committee's door when they had arrived to make their presentations. What kind of slap in the face is that and what reputation will Canada have if it proceeds with the support of Monsanto and big biotech, resulting in the loss of the Canadian family farm.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-474. I know others have talked about it but I want to read into the record exactly what we are talking about here.

The bill asks that we “amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”.

What we are asking for is an analysis. That seems like a perfectly reasonable and responsible way to approach any introduction of new technology.

I want acknowledge the very good work that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has done on this bill. He has advocated tirelessly for the farmers throughout our country. He has been so concerned about it that he has really and truly fought the good fight in order to keep this bill alive before the House, despite the overwhelming obstacles and despite every effort to prevent us from having an adequate debate and from hearing witnesses who could talk about the pros and cons of moving forward with this legislation.

I will start with an email that we received from Doug Storey of the Poplar Glen Organic Farm in Grandview, Manitoba. Mr. Storey writes:

I am an organic farmer in Manitoba and I'm very worried that Genetically Engineered crops will contaminate organic fields and put my farm out of business. As you know, GE contaminates the surrounding crops. This hits the organic farm extra hard and can devalue our crop and destroy our export market. Now GE alfalfa is being pushed into Canada. Alfalfa pollen spreads easily and will contaminate the neighbourhood and ruin our organic status.

He goes on to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, by saying:

Thank you so much for creating Bill C-474. New seeds like GE alfalfa must be analysed for their Market impact before they are unleashed into the fields. Market analysis will show if my fears are sound. The Big seed companies must know that GE seeds will fail market analysis because they sure are lobbying hard against Bill C-474. Farmers need Bill C-474 to pass.

Those are the words of an organic farmer and I think those are the people we need to be listening to.

I want to turn for a moment to Gabriel Island which is a beautiful island in my riding. There are many people who are very active around food security on Gabriel Island and throughout my riding. Of course, like other members, I have received numerous letters asking me to support Bill C-474.

I have a blog called the Gabriola Organization for Agricultural Liberty that was posted on February 1, 2011. It is entitled, ”The trouble with Monsanto and GMO”. I will read a bit of the article because it talks about why we should be looking at Bill C-474 in terms of doing an analysis and what that potential harm could be.

The writer quotes David Suzuki who says:

Because we aren't certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.

Suzuki goes on to say:

I'm a geneticist. What bothers me is we have governments that are supposed to be looking out for our health, for the safety of our environment, and they're acting like cheerleaders for this technology, in its infancy and we have no idea what that technology is going to do.

The person who wrote this article goes on to talk about unintended consequences and about putting the genie back in the bottle. He says:

How do you clean up a potential GMO mess? You don't.

The difference with GMO food is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it would be difficult or impossible to stuff it back. If we stop using DDT and CFCs, nature may be able to undo most of the damage - even nuclear waste decays over time. But GM plants are living organisms. Once these new life forms have become established in our surroundings, they can replicate, change, and spread; there may be no turning back. Many ecologists are concerned about what this means to the balance of life on Earth that has evolved over millions of years through the natural reproduction of species.

He goes on to say:

A review of the science conducted under the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development in 2008 concluded that “there are a limited number of properly designed and independently peer-reviewed studies on human health” and that this and other observations “create concern about the adequacy of testing methodologies for commercial GM plants.

We have learned from painful experience that anyone entering an experiment should give informed consent. That means at the very least food should be labelled if it contains GMOs so we each can make that choice.

I think the person who is writing this blog ably outlines some reasons that we should at least conduct the analysis before any sale of new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

I want to go on to cite a particular case, not of alfalfa, but a case in which concerns have been raised. The Ram's Horn from January 2011 writes about how Bt corn, genetically modified corn, breeds new pests. It cites some studies. The article states:

There are several studies explaining how the spread of the western bean cutworm is fostered by growing genetically engineered corn. Apparently it is a case of so-called pest replacement.

It goes on to state:

Pest replacement opens up new ecological niches in which other competitors (pests) can thrive.

Then it states:

Interaction between the western bean cutworm and the corn earworm was confirmed in 2010, showing the spread of the western bean cutworm is in fact fostered by the cultivation of Bt corn.

Then it states:

Damages caused by the western bean cutworm can even exceed those caused by the European corn borer in conventional plants.

Once again it speaks to the fact that we need that appropriate analysis before we introduce new genetically engineered crops into our food chain. Examples like this, demonstrating that a GE crop has had an unintended consequence--because surely nobody could want this other pest to suddenly start thriving--just reinforce the notion that we must do that analysis to protect our farmers and to protect our export markets.

In the same article in The Ram's Horn, the editor has a note that says,

As we put this issue together, we realized that much of the content deals with the wanderings of, and resultant contamination by, GE seeds and crops, which is heightening the contradiction between GE agriculture and non-GE and Organic agriculture. While some, including the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, seek an impossible “balance” between GE and non-GE, it is farmers around the world, both subsistence and commercial, that are paying the price. There simply is no place for GE crops, and no excuse for trying to avoid this conclusion.

One of the things we know is that farmers need to be protected. Last week I was in the House talking about freight prices, but what farmers on Vancouver Island and throughout Canada are concerned about is continuing to be able to make a living producing good, quality food. We have to look at the whole process that impacts on their ability to make a living, whether it is the freight cost to deliver supplies to the farmers, as is the case on Vancouver Island, or the fact that they have access to seeds that result in produce that their consumers are willing to eat. That is a very important aspect of the survivability of our farmers and the economic contribution they make to our economy.

I want to close by talking about the Cowichan food charter. Food security is a big issue in my riding, and many different parts of the riding have food charters in place. Although the Cowichan food charter does not mention genetically engineered food specifically, it says,

Our food system will be economically viable and ecologically sustainable; our community will grow, harvest, process, preserve, and distribute food to all of its members while minimizing waste. A thriving local food culture that celebrates eating locally and eating together will support us in living healthier, happier, and richer lives--connected to the land, to growers, and to each other.

On food security, the charter has a number of points. I do not have time to read them all, but one of them is that “Farmers' roles as environmental stewards will be protected and financially supported”. Another is that “Ongoing research will ensure long-term food security in the face of a changing climate”.

Farmers are often the stewards of our environment, and I know many farmers want that kind of research and analysis to ensure that the crops they are planting are not actually decimating their future ability to survive on their farms, so I urge all members in this House to support Bill C-474.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, a few of my constituents have asked me to speak on this bill, so it would only be correct to reflect their views. I have not heard officially from the Yukon Agricultural Association, but certainly there is strong support for this bill from a number of people who have written to me.

In my remarks tonight, I am going to use some excerpts and words from a letter I received from Mr. Tom Rudge, who has been working on an organic farm for a long time and feels very strongly about this. His sentiments express what many of my constituents are feeling.

Mr. Rudge begins by saying, “I have a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, specializing in animal nutrition and physiology, and I have been working on farms, including my own, for 30 years. I feel confident in speaking to you about my concerns and some of the issues regarding the bill”.

“I thought what those agriculture committee meetings would do was discuss and find ways to make Bill C-474 a reality, to define and refine it, to understand its intent and to come together in a way that is proactive, mutually beneficial and helpful to your local Canadian farm family”.

Obviously it did not proceed exactly like that in committee. The Conservatives restricted debate on it. There was no ability to make the amendments that people thought should have been made to improve the bill. That type of discourse and improvement of the bill did not occur in committee.

Mr. Rudge goes on to state, “The majority of Canadians are aware of genetic engineering, or GE; however, with the voluntary labelling legislation in place, no one currently knows if they're eating any GE food”.

“May I remind you that there has never been an epidemiological study for the health effects of GE foods, so the jury is still out on its population studies and possible health effects. We are all aware of the socio-economic and cultural effects. The government's experts, the Royal Society of Canada, were commissioned to examine genetic engineering and produced a report outlining their recommendations”.

“How many of the Royal Society of Canada's 58 recommendations have been implemented to date?”

I realize that people coming from different parts of Canada will have different views on this bill, depending on what their role in agriculture is, what types of seeds they use and want to use and what type of research they are doing. I cannot speak for farmers in the rest of the country, but in my particular area there are a number of organic farmers. They are somewhat isolated from altered seeds at the moment and they do not want that to change.

The argument I have heard against the bill is that it would reduce the science and research that is so important to reducing poverty, building the economy and making better farms, but to a large extent that type of research is not going on in my riding, so those concerns were not brought forward by the constituents who contacted me.

Mr. Rudge goes on to talk about the simplicity of the bill. He notes that its flexibility can be used in the best way possible to get it through Parliament and then to deal with the issue at hand.

He goes on to say, “I believe that writing the one-line bill gave the Government and the people the greatest latitude possible to get some work done. I know you're very aware that any bill that is overly restrictive will end up being bogged down in process and criticism from every party. I believe this bill was meant to open dialogue and protect Canadian farmers and industry from loss of their valuable market share and respect around the world. At the committee level this was to open the door for opportunity and proactive legislation....”

“The simplicity of this bill is what scared everyone”.

“The solution is to allow it to pass so that the legislation is enabling. It does not provide specifics, because that is what the regulations do. All of the mechanics are developed through the regulatory process. Legislation is what we're going to do, and regulations, policy, and programming will nuance and fine-tune the legislation. That is how it will work superbly for you”.

“If the bill was too specific, we all know it would not have been workable. It would have come across as being far too inflexible. The bill, as it is, provides a concrete direction to the government”.

He goes on to talk about more details of genetic engineering technology and its effects around the world.

He says, “I think you have heard all about the details and issues regarding GE technology and its effects around the world. Personally, if something like GE alfalfa is approved, it will eventually mean the end to my farming future here in the Yukon. Even if we do not grow it here, we will be contaminated from seed arriving in feed mixes or hay shipped up the highway. There is no labelling. The spread will be far greater than what has already happened with canola. Think about it. Companies are spreading their product unabated across the countryside, while farmers working on the edge of their limitations have no say”.

“This is your job: to provide protection to both people and the industry that lobbies you so hard. I am just one voice with a break-even balance on my farm. GE technology will not benefit my organic farm; it will destroy it. Contamination is not an option for me, and I can never allow for a loosening of standards to allow any percentage of contamination. How is it that these companies can contaminate so much crop and productivity, yet I, as a farmer, am held liable for something I had no part of when their seed ends up on my land?”

“The lobby and marketing power and budgets of the multinational agriculture behemoths make no sense in our food system, except to their own shareholders. They will destroy my livelihood”.

“You know the difference between multinational agricultural corporations and me, a small farmer in the Yukon. Please help me survive”.

I can only speak for my own area, but that was the general consensus of the feedback that I received from a number of organic farmers and others involved in farming in the Yukon. I wanted to make sure that it got on the record this evening.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on Bill C-474.

I would like to start off by paying tribute to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. He has brought forward this bill and, with his diligence and determination, has pushed Parliament to consider a bill that the Conservatives, quite frankly, wanted to destroy as soon as the lobbyists from big biotech told them to destroy it.

There was no due consideration given to it on the Conservative side. I think the important thing for those Canadians from coast to coast to coast who are watching this debate tonight, or who are following the debate on their laptops and through written blogs, is to know that that the member for B.C. Southern Interior, through his persistence, is forcing the Parliament of Canada to make a decision on what is so fundamentally important for the future of our family farms right across the country.

The bill itself is remarkably simple. All it calls for is that there be a requirement for an analysis of potential harm to export markets before the sale of any genetically engineered seed is permitted. It is very simple.

As we know, this has been an issue that is garnering increasing concerns right across the country from consumers and farmers. I will get back to that in a moment.

The whole issue of the purity of our seeds is of fundamental importance in Canada. Farmers are guaranteeing the heritage of Canadian seeds.

I received in the mail a few days ago a package of seeds from Dan McMurray, a Kootenay farmer who lost his wife tragically last year, but who has undertaken, as have so many Canadian farmers, to maintain heritage seeds and the biodiversity of the Canadian seed bank. He does that by letting people know right across the country what seeds are available. In his case, it is tomato seeds, and he makes sure that Canadians have access to those seeds. Dan McMurray and so many Canadian farmers like him deserve to be praised and supported.

The reality is that the bill calls for something that should be in place already, but what we have seen from big biotech is an hysterical, inappropriate and irresponsible reaction to what is just common sense.

What is amazing to me and what should be a source of shame to every single Conservative member of Parliament is that the moment those lobbyists came through with this hysterical over-reaction to what is a simple common sense piece of legislation, the Conservatives all ducked and said: “That's fine, we'll do whatever you want. You're big biotech and we'll do whatever you want. It does not matter the impact on family farms and consumers”. Every single Conservative member of Parliament just ducked and said, “We will do what you want”. That begs the question: What are the Conservatives doing here in this House?

They were elected by their constituents, consumers and family farmers, who believe very strongly that we have to take a responsible approach to genetically engineered seed. Yet not a single Conservative MP has responded to the needs of their constituents that were so very clearly expressed. All they have done is to respond to the needs of big biotech lobbyists, and that is shameful. It is completely inappropriate and shameful.

Of course, New Democrats, because we stand for consumers and family farmers, are supporting this bill. I understand that the Bloc members of Parliament are supporting it as well. The Conservatives are running with this hysterical over-reaction from big corporate players rather than taking their responsibilities seriously. I think a lot of Canadians in the next election, whenever that comes, will be saying to Conservative MPs that they felt they were irresponsible on this file. However, that will be for another day.

The real question is: Are the Liberals going to stand up for their constituents? Are they going to stand up for family farmers? They have an opportunity here not to go with the lobbyists after two and a half years of voting with the Conservatives, but to separate themselves from the big biotech lobbyists and vote for consumers and farmers.

Mr. Speaker, as you well know, every single poll of Canadian consumers, and it is the same in the United States and very similar in Europe, has indicated very clearly that when it comes to genetically engineered seed and products, consumers feel that government should take a responsible approach. Zero tolerance in the European Union has been the result of that.

In Canada and the United States, every single poll has indicated that Canadians want the same kind of standards. They want mandatory labelling. They want to make sure that when we are talking about genetically modified foods, they know what is in the food they eat. Again, big biotech, in an extremely irresponsible way, has been trying for years to fight what consumers have been asking for. It is unfortunate.

Here in the House of Commons, as members of Parliament, we should be making decisions based on what our constituents feel very strongly about, and not listening to a few highly paid lobbyists. That is why in this corner of the House we are supporting this bill. It is responsible and it does make sense. Consumers feel very strongly about labelling and feel very strongly that we should take a prudent approach on things like genetically engineered seeds.

I want to read a couple of comments that have been made by others in the House on the issue. We know that because the government has not been prudent when it comes to genetically engineered seed, it has had an impact on our export markets, most notably on flax exports. The contamination from GE flax has led to a collapse of our flax exports in places like Europe. This is not theoretical but very real.

This is what I have heard from some farmers. For example, Kelvin Einarson from the Manitoba Forage Seed Association stated, when the agriculture committee held truncated hearings on this, that:

Bill C-474 is the first step in offering some protection in the future for Canadian family farms. Market acceptance must be made part of the evaluation process and incorporated into the Seeds Regulation Act.

It was very simple and straightforward.

Lucy Sharratt, the coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, said in relation to how the Liberals may vote on this issue that:

The question now is, will the Liberal Party be part of the solution? The Liberals might vote down Bill C-474, but they have not brought forward any other concrete proposal. Who in our government—Parliament or Agriculture Canada or someone—will take the necessary leadership to actually stop harmful GE crops?

That is a very clear question on which Canadians listening tonight will be hearing about in the coming days through the blogosphere. Canadians need to understand that what we have is a clear watershed moment around GE seeds. Very clearly, the government has not been responsible. Very clearly, that has impacted our export markets; there is no doubt about that. In fact, I could speak for an hour on just how dysfunctional the government has been when it comes to export markets generally, but I will save members that speech.

We have this watershed moment and it is Canadians themselves who will need to weigh in on this. They will need to contact the Liberal members of Parliament who want to listen to lobbyists rather than consumers and family farmers. Because some Conservatives understand very clearly what they are doing is wrong and irresponsible, Canadians will need to let those Conservative MPs know they have lost their vote because they are refusing to stand up for a responsible and prudent approach to GE seeds.

We have lost our flax markets. We will lose other markets, and other farmers will suffer and consumers will not get what they have been demanding for years, unless we pass this bill. The Canadians who are listening tonight need to contact their MPs and say yes to Bill C-474.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). I would like to commend my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, for bringing this legislation forward.

The bill calls for an amendment to the Seed Regulations Act 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 bill would give consideration to any potential harm to export markets and resultant economic harm to farmers. Currently, approval of genetically engineered crops for human consumption and environmental release based on safety alone does not take into account the adverse effects on our market and/or farmers.

Food security is a growing concern, especially in a world of changing climate. In order to maintain a viable and sustainable food system in our country, we need to support small and organic farmers. We need to keep our local, small-scale and family farmers in business.

The government must nurture this important industry and do all it can to protect it. It needs to guard the economic interests of farmers to allow them to continue to grow and flourish, rather than be unable to compete in the global market. Our laws must work for all men and women who work everyday to put food on our tables.

I want to talk briefly about local farmers' markets, a growing movement in my home province of British Columbia and, indeed, across the country. My riding is home to the Royal City Farmers Market. Its mission states,

Connecting with our heritage of having a vibrant city market, the Royal City Farmers Market Association brings locally grown and produced food to the community, thereby contributing to environmentally sustainable food production, local economic development, healthy eating, and food security.

I have had the opportunity of visiting the Royal City Farmers Market on several occasions, and I am not alone. As people are looking for healthy and sustainable products, the Royal City Farmers Market is always busy. We can find organic apples from the Okanagan Valley, winter vegetables from the Fraser Valley, certified organic produce from Delta and dairy products from local farms.

I also have the Coquitlam Farmers Market in my constituency. Its mission is to support local British Columbia food producers and to raise awareness of the benefits of a localized food system. The impact of the Coquitlam Farmers Market in my community cannot be understated. It operates a market at the Dogwood Pavilion and winter and pocket markets in Port Moody. The Coquitlam Farmers Market attracts people from across my community who are looking for local and, often, organic food. The farmers market also creates a sense of community. It provides an opportunity to say hello to neighbours, to meet and support local producers, and there is sometimes live entertainment, creating a festive atmosphere. My constituents want to know where their food comes from. They want to know that it was grown in a sustainable way, and they want to support local farmers and producers.

I speak today of the local farmers' markets in my riding because they represent a larger trend, a movement toward sustainable food that we see locally and abroad in our export markets. Genetically engineered seeds and products do not fit with this trend and are not sustainable. Foreign markets do not want their seeds contaminated with genetically engineered seeds.

Paul Gregory, a professional agrologist and president of Interlake Forage Seed Ltd., states that:

Speaking of customers, specifically my European friends, who buy over half of Canada's trefoil and 20% of our $142 million forage seed exports, they are stubborn on the GM issue.

Basically, there is a zero tolerance policy in Europe for GE seeds. One of the major reasons the global market does not want genetically modified seeds and products is contamination. For over 15 years, Canadian farmers have been facing the issue of seed contamination.

For over 15 years, Canadian farmers have been facing the issue of seed contamination. Lucy Sharratt, coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, writes:

Contamination from GE crop plants or other GE organisms can occur through a number of different means, including insect or wind pollination, seed mixing and human error. Commonly, the contamination is not examined before GE crops are approved, partly because the social and economic impacts of contamination are not taken into consideration when government creates regulations. Bill C-474...would recognize the possible economic cost of contamination by requiring that the government assess export market harm before a new GE seed is permitted.

A specific example of the effects of contamination occurred in Saskatchewan. For six years, Saskatchewan organic grain farmers tried to start a class action suit against Monsanto and Bayer corporations for loss of organic canola. Unfortunately their class action law suit was never allowed to go to court. Organic canola can now only be grown in a few geographically isolated areas in Canada, Prince Edward Island being one of them.

It is time to have a debate in the country about genetically modified seeds and other products. Canadians are outraged about the prospect of genetically modified salmon or “frankenfish” as they are now being called. Canadians are even more upset at the prospect of having any role in the proposed processing and development of genetically modified salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island. Yet Environment Canada will not disclose any information about a possible risk assessment to allow genetically modified salmon to be grown in P.E.I.

Whether it is genetically modified salmon or genetically engineered seeds and crops, the government must get on side with the Canadian people.

Unfortunately, too often, as seen in the United States and in Canada, the government sides with the multinational corporation. When we speak of genetically modified seeks, most people think of Monsanto.

Monsanto is a large U.S.-based multinational agriculture biotechnology firm. Many of their genetically modified organisms are resistant to Monsanto's agricultural chemicals, such as Roundup. Monsanto is know for using the court system to protect its patented GMOs. This has been problematic for many farmers whose crops have been contaminated by GM seeds.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer, well-known for his legal battle with Monsanto, states:

Now at 70, I am involved with this fight with Monsanto. I stood up to them because...a farmer should never give up the right to use his own seed. I felt very strongly about it because my grandparents came here from Europe in late 1890s and early 1900s to open this land, to be free, and to grow what they wanted to grow. Now we are going back to a feudal system that they left because they were not free—basically we are becoming serfs of the land.

Feudalism has been a recurring theme while researching the topic of GE seeds. In Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite's book, Information Feudalism, they state:

When Monsanto contractually imposes obligations on farmers using the lever of its control over intellectual property in seeds, Monsanto does act like the feudal lord who allows serfs to till his land so long as they honour the obligations that are his due.

Marc Loiselle, from the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, said:

If farmers don't take a stand on limits to patenting and how biotechnology is used to alter seeds such as wheat, we risk: the loss of market access, loss of income, loss of choice; as well as loss of control over what we produce, how we produce it, what value it has, and who will buy it.

This would also be an unacceptable situation for consumers who are ultimately the market for the food that we produce.

Countless farmers have shared their concern about genetically engineered seeds. They put local independent farms and farmers at risk and can have a devastating impact on organic certification. People in my community support local sustainable farming because it invests food dollars back into the community. It produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions on food transportation and storage and ultimately helps with the production of a healthier diet. GM seeds endanger local farming. It is time for the government to step in and protect farmers.

My colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, has travelled extensively around the country. I commend him for his actions and I support Bill C-474.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand to speak to Bill C-474, an act respecting the seeds regulations, which was tabled by my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior.

I am glad to be speaking to the bill tonight. I have a number of constituents who are very interested in this debate and the larger issue of genetically engineered crops. It is an issue that is emotionally charged and informed by a great many other debates in which we find ourselves currently engaged.

When we think of genetically engineered seeds, we cannot merely look at this through a single lens. It is an issue that touches a great many aspects of our lives. There are implications for agriculture, both big producers and smaller traditional farms, and especially our organic farms, for the environment, the economy, our health and, as we see in the legislation itself, international trade. This is a list that is meant to be more of an example and is by no means exhaustive.

Bill C-474 is good legislation that sets out to amend the seeds regulation to require that analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted. That is to say, we should ensure there is a market for a product before we ask our producers to start growing it. This is a position that makes a great deal of sense from a purely economic point of view.

I imagine it makes sense to many Canadian flax producers who will see the good that will come from the bill. They learned the hard way that not all of our trading partners are as uncritical of genetically engineered food as the Conservative government is. These producers were caught in the middle of a trade dispute when an illegally modified flax seed contaminated our exports and shut down 35 foreign markets for their produce in 2009. The after effects were costly as producers saw the price drop and are now subject to an onerous testing process. It is costing the federal government as it is spending $1.9 million to help with testing and to repair the trading relationship with Europe.

Where it does not make sense is in the boardrooms of companies like Monsanto. They would like to control more and more of our production. They want to make seeds that dovetail with their pesticides and herbicides and sell the complete package to the farmers. It is a model that works well in a vacuum, but does not take into account the wishes of consumers and, more important, the wishes of other countries, many of whom are less than keen to see genetically engineered crops that take the place of the tried and true varieties.

For the producers, the risks are far greater than they are for the big agri-corps. One bad year can take a long time to recover from. That reality is also part of the problem in that it makes products like Roundup so attractive. The company can then come in with seeds that will work best with their pesticides. The end result is a good harvest that cuts into future harvests a little each time. This happens because these herbicides are indiscriminate. They kill beneficial organisms as well as the weeds they seek to eliminate from a field. After time, the soil is less fertile and the dependency on chemicals becomes greater.

Organic farmers know this. They operate on older principles that those dictated by corporation that seek efficiency over short periods at the expense of the long-term soil health.

I have seen the terrible effects of indiscriminate herbicides in my own constituency in the North Shore Forest, which is being repeatedly sprayed with glysophate in order to have no competition for the softwood growing there. When you go into these stands, it is eerie. It reminds me of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in that there is no obvious life in these forests except the trees. We do not hear birds and bees in there, and in our heart of hearts, we know that it is wrong and that we cannot be doing ourselves any favours with this type of production.

We would also be remiss to get into a debate about GE crops without questioning residual effects that go beyond markets and crop yields. These are the effects of specialty seeds and factory farming. Monoculture does not protect the overall environment, like the story I just related about the North Shore Forest in Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing.

According to Dr. Reese Halter's book The Incomparable Honeybee, it is the effects of agricultural chemicals and pesticides combined with a reduction in the variety of food sources available that are at the heart of the problem we have with bees worldwide. He claims that our bees are feeling stresses from so many fronts at once that they are in danger of becoming extinct. Some varieties around the globe already have.

One does not have to be a farmer to understand that bees are a keystone species in our environment. They are directly responsible for every third bite on one's plate and indirectly for even more. The fact that we hear very little about the way our native bees and honeybees are disappearing speaks volumes about our misguided priorities. It would be a shame if they were to go quietly while we argued about the economy or whether we should support pro sport franchises. That would be a travesty.

Another travesty persists. It is 2011 and, sadly, people still go hungry in this world. All of our efforts to date have not been able to address this. Some go hungry as a result of political decisions, but this is not the case for all. As the world's population increases, the challenge to feed them becomes greater and some of the work done in terms genetic engineering is meant to address that. I have constituents who would tell us today that this is misplaced and hopeful thinking that views problems and solutions in a vacuum and that we do ourselves long-term harm by pursuing these kinds of remedies.

They would tell us that the solution lies in the varieties we already have, that the food we have grown for thousands of years is obviously good enough to feed ourselves and that we should not pursue genetic modifications that serve the corporate model of farming. Instead, we should return to the model of the responsive and responsible family farm. We should stop building houses on prime farmland and grow more of our food closer to where it will be consumed, that we should pay attention to the way we treat our planet and our population as priorities and then determine the needs of our corporations afterward.

When we have these kinds of debates and raise real concerns, we are told to have faith in the market and the players within it. We are told that technology will advance to help us out. It reminds me of the climate change debate. It is a blind faith in market forces to be able to respond to the crisis they have created in the first place that strikes me as more than hopeful.

We have learned with flax seed that not everyone in the world shares this uncritical view of technological fixes. We have seen how genes can be introduced that can change existing strains of the same species. We have seen how GE crops, such as BT cotton in India, can stop producing the desired results and we are left with a sense that technology probably cannot do a better job than the way the earth has evolved to do in the first place.

We teach our children early in their education that we are part of complex food webs, but when we have these debates, we look at so much in isolation that it seems most adults have forgotten those early important lessons.

This bill aims to put the brakes on some of the corporate-driven agricultural policy we have adopted in the last few decades. It asks us to do our homework ahead of time instead of after the fact. I can see no reason to be opposed to it and believe it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we should be doing.

I would like to bring forward a bit of information about the testimony in committee from Mr. Ian Munro.

He said the following before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food:

Importantly, cost-benefit analysis and the farmer-focused risk analysis method that I have pioneered are quantitative scientific approaches that can be incorporated into the existing regulatory framework. Canadian farmers deserve holistic regulation that seeks their input and thus ensures their livelihoods are not being put at risk due to the introduction of GE crops and other types of ag-biotechnology. Arguably Bill C-474, currently being debated in Parliament, offers an opportunity to expand the regulatory framework and ensure market impact is considered. I believe this is an important and much-needed evolution in Canadian regulation.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in this debate tonight following many of my colleagues who have already spoken in the House.

I am pleased to see the great number of members of Parliament who have come forward to speak in defence of my colleague, the member of Parliament for British Columbia Southern Interior. He has been an incredible advocate for the future of healthy agriculture, healthy production and healthy food in Canada. He has produced an incredible food strategy for Canada in consultation with growers and those who enjoy Canadian produce across the country.

I stand in strong support of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). As many have said, the bill's intent is very simple. It proposes that the seed regulations be amended to require advance completion and consideration of an analysis of the potential harm posed to export markets by any new genetically engineered seed. I find it incrdible that not all MPs support this pragmatic, precautionary and important measure in the interests of Canadian agricultural producers, exporters and the Canadian economy.

Time after time government members state that their number one priority is to build greater markets for Canada, to build a strong economy into the future. Surely agriculture, which has been the backbone of Canada's economy, should be included in that basket.

The Minister of Agriculture raised concerns in the House earlier about all of the intrusions on agricultural production in Canada. He said that agricultural farmland, for example, is being paved over for parking lots. What he failed to mention is the government and some other governments' failure in Canada to prevent the intrusions on agriculture production by pipelines, the expansion of oil sands upgraders, massive power lines for the export of power, and the expansion of coal mines for coal-fired power. We have already seen the impact of climate change on our farm producers as documented in a report produced by NRCan. The report clearly indicated that significant problems have already been identified.

The last thing that we need to do is to put a barrier in the way of our agricultural producers to grow and market their produce and build our economy.

I am told that more than 12,000 Canadians wrote in support of the bill, and I am not the least bit surprised.

In my career as an environmental lawyer I had the opportunity to represent and work with many farm communities. It was a great pleasure to work with those stalwart souls. I am proud to have a lifetime membership in the Preservation of Agricultural Land Association, which was granted to me in the 1980s.

I have worked long and hard alongside my neighbours in Alberta. They work hard to produce grains for our use and for export. It is high time that the government stood up for those people it professes to support.

The very essence of Bill C-474 is to protect our Canadian producers against the incursion of major corporations that want to introduce some kind of biotechnology.

The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food heard clear and strong testimony from a broad sector of society in support of the bill. The committee heard from agricultural producers, agricultural marketing and trade organizations, scientists and experts from Canadian faculties of agriculture and institutes and legal experts.

What did we hear from these agriculture producers? The National Farmers Union, an association of agricultural producers across the country in existence for many years, spoke up continuously in support of our farmers.

As far back as December 2009, the National Farmers Union president Mr. Terry Boehm, who had testified at committee in support of Bill C-474, continued to express concerns about the economic impacts on the agricultural market economy, absent careful advance assessment of the potentially detrimental impacts of genetically modified varieties contaminating crops.

In so doing, he raised examples where crop contamination had harmed previously solid export markets.

A statement by Mr. Boehm, the president of the National Farmers Union, read as follows:

The devastating and sudden closure of the European market for Canadian flax exports, due to contamination by genetically modified flax variety proves the current regulatory system needs to be strengthened.

Canadian farmers have borne the financial brunt of the market collapse. While the flax market disruption is bad, the potential for even worse calamities exists. With the possibility of GM wheat on the horizon, the likelihood of GM contamination in that crop could spell unprecedented disaster for the large Canadian export wheat market.

It is critical that the system be reformed to prevent further market disasters. It is imperative that new and existing GM crops be looked at through the lens of potential market harm. Recent changes to the variety registration system could accelerate these market disasters for Canadian farmers. We have seen what GM contamination of flax has done, and surely no one should doubt what would happen to wheat if we allow GM varieties to be registered.

The current regulatory system would not stop any new GM varieties from “killing our markets”.

The National Farmers Union shared with the committee the impacts on flax producers of their crops becoming contaminated by GM crops and of nations beginning to ban the import of Canadian flax. My colleagues in the House have outlined well over 30 countries that were impacted by the turning back of Canadian exports.

Farmers are clearly frustrated at the failed government intervention to prevent similar future problems despite the duty of this government to apply the precautionary principle.

These concerns were reiterated by Nettie Wiebe, past National Farmers Union president and partner in Maida Vale family farm near Delisle, Saskatchewan.

Published statements by Professor Wiebe in The Western Producer read as follows:

This question is raised by the recent debates over Bill C-474, a proposed amendment to the Seeds Regulations Act 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 key argument mounted against taking market acceptance into account when registering new varieties is that it goes beyond the single science-based criteria now used. The appeal of sticking with science-based is obvious. It seems to offer a simple, reliable, unbiased, universal set of rules to follow. This should prevent any political, economic or social considerations from intruding and making things complicated.

But whose science are these rules based on? Most of the research on genetically modified crops is financed and controlled by the corporations that own the technology. Those corporations have withdrawn from participating in independent canola plot testing. This prevents public comparisons between seeds and denies farmers science-based information that has not been filtered through company screens.

The committee also heard from the Manitoba Forage Seed Association. According to Kelvin Einarson, director and secretary treasurer of the association, Bill C-474 is the first step in offering some protection in the future for Canadian family farms. Market acceptance must be made part of the evaluation process and be incorporated into the seeds regulations.

These concerns were also echoed by Jim Lintott as chair of the Manitoba Forage Council.

What about testimony by marketing and trade associations?

The committee heard from the Canadian Organic Trade Association, which spoke strongly in support of these measures to protect their trade. In addition, the Canadian Wheat Board expressed similar concerns about the implications GMOs may pose for cereal grain exports.

Similar concerns were expressed by Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed Ltd. As he said, with the lack of protection in the current regulatory system:

One of our large trading partners, the European Union, has also made it very clear: they will not accept any non-approved GMO seeds. The market has spoken.

The government has said that it is reaching out to the European Union to expand trade. At the same time, it is harming the potential trade by our producers. I call upon the government to respect the precautionary principle, the energy prices and high input costs that farmers are facing, and support them in doing away with yet another hurdle to their production.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to rise on behalf of my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, who has been a true and tireless advocate on behalf of all farmers in this country, from coast to coast to coast.

For those people out there in television land who are just tuning in, knowing full well that I would be speaking right now, we would like to basically say what Bill C-474 is asking for. It is an amendment to the seeds regulations, and this is very important, as my colleague has made very clear, to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

How could anyone be against that?

I notice by the absence of my colleagues from the Conservatives, Liberals and the Bloc in the debate here tonight that it is up to the NDP to raise this issue on behalf of farmers in this country.

I want to personally thank my hon. colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior for the great work he has done in bringing farmers, the National Farmers Union, the Canadian Wheat Board and other organizations that are rightfully scared, if not frightened, about the future of farming in this country and what it means.

We have to have to ask ourselves, when the Minister of International Trade quite publicly said at a meeting the other day that we have to do away with all protectionist measures when it comes to trade issues with Canada and EU, what is he really saying?

He is saying that farmers are going to be left to the will of the international systems. I fear that means that systems such as supply management, which have done our farmers a very great service over the many years, will be negotiated away in the Canada-EU talks.

At the same time, we do not know, although we suspect, that the government is probably trying to persuade, coerce, convince, cajole, however one wants to say it, the EU market to open up products to GE foods.

We know, because my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior has stated it on many occasions, that many countries in Europe absolutely refuse access of genetically engineered foods to their markets because they do not believe in the science of it and have very serious concerns about it. At the end of the day, what is wrong with growing organic foods the way that nature and God had intended it to be? If God had intended us to fiddle around with our food systems, he would have done so, but he did not. We should not be fooling around with the food that has nourished us for centuries as a society. In fact, companies like Monsanto should not be playing God with our food.

Speaking of Monsanto, it seems to have its tentacles very close to governments like the United States government. I fear it is in this country as well. It is time to put a stop to that. It is time we had a government, hopefully an NDP government next time, that would once and for all stand up for farmers. We hear a lot of rhetoric on the other side about how we support farmers. We have to ask ourselves why our dairy farmers, why our pork producers, why our egg producers, why our beef producers, are constantly in Ottawa, lobbying members of Parliament to talk about things like supply management and other issues. Why are they constantly here, month after month, year after year, when they have been told they will have the Conservatives' support. If that is the case, the lobbyists would not have to be here, but they have very serious concerns.

I want to go over a few facts about genetically modified organisms. These are some of the facts the ISAAA puts into its normal press releases:

92.5% of arable land around the world is GMO free;

Only four countries grow almost 90% of the total GM crops;

176 out of the 192 countries grow no GMOs at all;

99.5% of farmers around the world do not grow GM crops at all;

In over 10 years on the market, only four GM crops are grown in significant quantity--soya, maize, cotton and oil-seed rape (canola). These four crops represent 99% of GMOs sold;

Virtually 100% of world acreage planted with commercial GM crops have one or both of just two traits: herbicide-tolerance and insect resistance.

Having said that, let us debate alfalfa, something which my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior has raised on many occasions. Alfalfa seed is a crop that is pollinated by bees, particularly leafcutter bees, but also honey bees and several species of wild bees and wasps. Leafcutter bees are normally placed in nests and shelters in an alfalfa field at a rate of 20,000 bees per acre. A significant percentage of these leafcutter bees do not return to their shelter. They drift several miles away in search of better blooms or are blown away in strong winds and storms.

Honey bees have a very wide flying range of up to four miles. The isolation distance, to prevent transfer of the genes by insect pollination from GM alfalfa to non-genetically modified alfalfa, would need to be several miles. However, there is no mechanism for separating GMO and non-GMO growing areas, and alfalfa seed is usually produced in a concentrated area so crop contamination and cross-pollination would be inevitable.

GM alfalfa for hay production will often be cut after blooming starts, giving an opportunity for bees and other pollinating insects to transfer pollen from GM crops to alfalfa seed crops. That means that farmers who wish to have organically grown alfalfa or non-GM alfalfa will have to fear that the neighbour down the road or the field down the road will contaminate their crops. Why is that a problem?

Seaspray Cooperative was shipping organic soybeans to Europe and the Japanese market for a number of years in the late 1990s. The soybeans were shipped through Thompson Feeds of southern Ontario. Thompson was shipping organic and conventional from the same warehouse and the product got contaminated. The soybeans ended up in the feed market for a lot less price and extra transport costs. Thompson did not come clean with Seaspray Cooperative about the reason until a year later. This ended the growing of organic soybeans for this market. That stopped Seaspray from doing that.

That is what happens to a company that sends an organic product to a particular market. It is contaminated as it is no longer able to do that. Talk about the economic loss and the economic opportunities that have been lost to the workers and to the farmers that Seaspray Cooperative was working with. This is something we need to stop.

All my colleague is asking for is a fair, honest and open debate and none of the games that have been played at committee. For example, the bill was reported back to the House without amendment for third reading. On the morning following the vote, scheduled witnesses, notably the Canadian Wheat Board, the National Farmers Union and scientist Rene Van Acker were turned away at the committee door when the 8:45 meeting was abruptly cancelled. Those were the types of games that were being played.

This is not the type of games we should play with the health of Canadians and people around the world. My colleague has asked for a very reasonable bill to be put forward. We believe that the bill should be unanimously adopted. This is what my colleague has worked so hard for. It only stands to reason that we do not yet know the full and lifelong impact that genetically engineered products will have.

I want to very quickly talk about what we called Frankenfish, which was a fish in Prince Edward Island many years ago when I was the fisheries critic. It was a genetically engineered fish. The oceans do a great job giving birth and raising fish on their own through the natural system. The last thing we should be doing is fooling around with fish and genetically engineering them.

It is the same thing with GMOs. We need to be very careful. I believe that Bill C-474 is reasonable legislation to go forward in this debate. I personally want to thank my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior for the tremendous work he has done, not just on behalf of our party but on behalf of all farmers right across the country.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

7:40 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who gave a very spirited debate, and to be another New Democrat to rise in the House tonight to speak in support of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm).

I represent an urban riding, Vancouver East, which has about 120,000 people. We have no farms and no crops in our community but we do have a growing number of community gardens. People are realizing that we need to grow vegetables and things that we can eat and live off in an urban environment. These gardens are blossoming all over East Vancouver and are being run by volunteers.

We also have a local farmers market, the Trout Lake Farmers Market, which is open from spring to fall. People can go to the Trout Lake Farmers Market and actually see people lined up for two things that drive them to the farmers market. One is for the local produce that is grown locally in our community, in the lower mainland, in the Fraser Valley, a very fertile and agriculturally rich community. People want to support their local farmers and local producers. The other thing that brings people to our local farmers market is the fact that 90% of the food is grown organically. Most of the people who sell at the market are organics. People want that.

This is quite an incredible issue. Yes, I am an urban MP and I represent urban issues but people in my community in East Vancouver are incredibly concerned about this whole issue of genetically engineered seeds and products, sometimes called GM products and seeds. People are very worried about it. It is one of those issues that is kind of just below the radar. It does not hit the front pages of the major newspapers. It is not necessarily a story on the nightly national newscasts and so on and so forth.

However, it is one of those issues that kind of percolates under the surface because people are so concerned about the quality, the source and the availability and whether we are supporting our local producers. People are very concerned about that.

In a way, this bill, which is a very simple and straightforward bill, a one-line bill, is a bill that is just the tip of the iceberg of this whole issue of what is happening in our country and globally as we see these mega-multinational corporations take control of agriculture, of local farmers and of local communities and push these GE products and techniques into the agricultural marketplace and force them on consumers.

I feel like there is a revolt taking place by consumers. People are saying that no one will dictate what it is they eat nor will they narrow the choices of what is available in the marketplace.

This bill, which would require an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any genetically engineered seed is permitted, is a very important element in this bigger debate about what is taking place with GE foods.

As we know, and from the experience that we have had, Canadian farmers had a crisis when it was found that illegal GE flax seed was selling in about 35 countries and there was contamination that took place. The countries that had their own strict regulations began removing these products from their shelves and quarantining all the shipments, and in this case it was flax from Canada. Let us note that 60% of our flax exports go to Europe. What happened was that there was a devastating economic impact to our Canadian farmers and producers.

The price of flax plummeted and the market, even today, is still very uncertain. Farmers are still paying for testing and cleanup. It was a catastrophe because e did not do due diligence in ensuring and analyzing the potential harm in terms of what could happen to that export market. We did not do that before these products were actually exported. I feel that this bill is just absolute common sense.

I was flabbergasted to hear the Liberal agricultural critic say that he would be recommending that his members vote against this bill. I do not understand why there would not be support for this very reasonable assertion that we need to have an analysis of potential harm.

We know the Conservatives are opposed to it, which is no surprise because they are already in the pocket of the big multinationals. I am very proud of the fact that it is the New Democrats who understand this issue, who are standing up, who are bringing it forward and who are forcing a debate in the House of Commons.

Our agricultural critic, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, had to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure his bill would receive the legitimate open debate in Parliament that it required. He had a heck of a time in committee. All kinds of tricks and antics were pulled to shut down this bill. Fortunately, however, we were able to get it to the House for debate. I am very proud to be part of a caucus that has an agricultural critic who has done such strong courageous work on this issue.

I hope people will reflect a little more carefully on this bill and realize that there is incredible support. The member has received something like 12,000 letters in support of this bill. As I said, this is something that is just below the radar. People know about it and they are worried about it. They do not understand why all members would not support this bill.

I will quote Lucy Sharratt who is with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and who I believe was at the press conference today with our member from British Columbia Southern Interior. In an article she wrote, which is quite illuminating, she says:

Alfalfa growers do not need nor want GM alfalfa and have been trying to stop it for at least five years. The introduction of Monsanto’s GE herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa would have serious negative impacts on many different types of farmers and farming systems, both conventional and organic. Without Bill C-474, there is no mechanism to even ask the question of what the economic cost of introducing GE alfalfa will be

This is a very core question. If we cannot do the analysis about the potential harm economically as well as environmentally before a product is introduced, then what are we doing in terms of upholding the public interest?

We already know that GE contamination is hurting Canadian farmers. If a contamination incident similar to the one that I mentioned around flax contamination that took place in Europe in 2009 were to happen with wheat or alfalfa, then the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating. The example of the GE flax contamination crisis makes it clear that we cannot keep living in denial of the market reality that exists internationally toward GE.

This bill is meant to give the government a mandate to provide a mechanism that is currently missing in the regulations. It is a mechanism that can actually protect our farmers from economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.

That seems pretty clear and straightforward to me. It is very necessary. I strongly advocate that we look at this bill and move from these ideological positions of opposing something just because the big multinationals say that they do not want it. We should look out for the interests of the farmers in our communities. We should look out for the interests and concerns that our constituents have about food security and GE products and what it is that is taking place so rapidly. I do not think anyone can keep up with the changes that are taking place. We barely have the resources to push back to say that this is not in the public interest.

The bill before us today is an element of what we need to deal with but it is a very important element because it gives us the opportunity to ensure that a protection mechanism be put in place and that an analysis would be done and that it will be mandated if this bill passes.

It feels great to be in the House today to speak to the bill as an urban MP, to support my constituents and their concerns and to support Canadian farmers. I hope it will be approved.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

7:50 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a true honour to stand in the House and speak to the bill put forward by my colleague and our party.

First, I thank my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, for the tireless work he has done in putting Bill C-474 forward and for truly being a spokesperson for farmers, for people living in rural and farming communities, for producers and also for consumers across our country.

People, and I would argue that all Canadians, have a vested interest in seeing that Bill C-474 be supported by the House of Commons, given that all of us have a vested interest in seeing that the food we eat and the economic system that supports our country are protected, that farmers are protected and that what they produce is of the highest quality. Bill C-474 aims to do that.

In a more specific way, Bill C-474 asks for something that is not just fundamental, but is really a basic concept, a concept that I think many of us could not only wrap our heads around, but could also see it is critical and must be implemented.

Bill C-474 would “require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. It simply asks for that.

This means the government would ensure that with this growing trend of genetically engineered foods entering our production systems, it would look at them before they came into our country and before they were approved. We would see how they might impact our export markets by the quality of the product our farmers produce. It is an important question in the organic market, a growing market in Canada in which we are proud. It looks at the fact that the livelihoods of farmers and the future of farming communities really depend on having a government that says that it needs to look at the possible adverse effects of allowing these genetically engineered products from coming into our country.

Colleagues of mine have raised the example of GM flax, a product that has entered our country and wreaked great havoc, to the point that flax producers have had their product contaminated. When it reaches the export market, major consumers such as the European Union have rejected that product, based on the fact that they have not approved GM flax. They do not want a product that previously Canada was well known for, high quality flax. The end result is farmers are being left out in the cold, having devoted their farmland to produce a product that key consumers no longer accept.

We want to put a stop to this trend toward shutting the door on exports of key Canadian products that may be contaminated by genetically engineered products coming into our country. At the most fundamental level, we want to look ahead at protecting the livelihoods of farmers.

As the member of Parliament for Churchill, this is absolutely critical to the livelihoods of many of the people I represent. I have the honour of representing people living in the Carrot River Valley, which is one of the northernmost agricultural areas in Canada, known for centuries of fertile farmland. Farmers in the Carrot River Valley grow everything from canola to wheat, generally cereals. However, they also produce alfalfa, which is one of the key products we are talking about today, given there is an increased trend and a very dangerous trend emanating more recently from the U.S. to allow genetically-engineered alfalfa. The Canadian government ought to implement Bill C-474 and examine the impact of the entry of genetically-engineered alfalfa to our home producers.

On this point, I find it ironic that I sit in the House of Commons across from many members of the governing party who represent agricultural communities and farmers. They find great enjoyment going across Canada and talking about that representation. In fact, if they truly represented their constituents, they would support Bill C-474. They would ask for increased vigilance on behalf of the government to look out for the well-being of farming communities.

Instead, the Conservative Party, assisted by the Liberal Party, in many steps along the way in this debate has ceased to silence the work of the NDP by saying that this is not the way forward. We need legislation to examine the adverse impacts of what is now a global trend. This is how we protect farmers and farming families. We know that farming families have been a key part in the building of our country. Over the last few decades, due to government policy and failure to look out for the needs that farming families have expressed, it has become increasingly difficult.

We have seen a movement toward the corporatized farm and away from the family farm. This is the time for this legislation to support the work of those who have stuck with a critical industry not just for the economy, but an industry that holds up communities across our country.

The next point would be a factor of age. I am one of the youngest members of Parliament in the House and I see this debate as being critical in terms of our future. Many people in my generation are increasingly concerned about global linkages and their impact on the Canadian quality of life and the quality of life around the globe.

Many people in my generation have been raised to take an interest in the products they purchase, whether it is healthy, ethical, fair trade or not. What really concerns me about this debate is the way the Conservatives and Liberals have failed to support Bill C-474. They are truly giving up on the role of the Canadian government to look out for the next generation and the health and safety of consumers.

Consumers are saying that they want good products and that they are interested in locally-grown and organic products. They are interested in supporting their communities and these kinds of linkages within our own country. Bill C-474 suggests that we examine the possible adverse effects or impacts in general of genetically-engineered products that come into our country. It would allow us to consider all of these options and how genetically-engineered products would wreak havoc in the quality of the food that Canadians consume.

The governing party, assisted by the official opposition, is standing up for the big industries, the Monsantos of the world, corporations that have nothing to do with our country and certainly do not prioritize the interests of the average Canadian. Instead they prioritize their pocketbooks. My question as a member of Parliament in the House is this. What is government for? Does it not exist to look out for its citizens and to build a better future for coming generations?

By muzzling the debate, silencing the opposition and by allowing large companies to monopolize the debate around genetically engineered foods shows that we are giving up on our responsibility to Canadians. It also shows we are giving up on the real demands of the next generation when it comes to consuming products of the best quality.

People in my home province have been extremely vocal in terms of their support for Bill C-474. I would like to note some of the statements that have been made.

Jim Lintott, chairman of the Manitoba Forage Council, testified before the agricultural committee. Referring to Bill C-474, he said, “It's the job of this room to look for ways of providing protection for the consumer and the producers who are out there. This is the best thing we've seen come along”. Mr. Lintott went on to make a number of other statements regarding the importance of the bill. I know many of my colleagues have already mentioned them.

I hope all members of Parliament look out for Canadians and support this important bill.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8 p.m.


Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to talk about Bill C-474, a private member's bill that my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, tabled to protect Canada's seed export business by carefully studying the impacts of introducing genetically modified seeds.

As a biologist myself, I can certainly appreciate the myriad ways science and innovation have enriched our lives, including through agriculture. In many ways, scientific advances have allowed us to become healthier and have brought the costs of many goods and services down. Because of scientific research and development and subsequent applied technologies, today we enjoy a higher standard of living both at home and abroad.

It was in this tradition that agribusiness giants promised us they could do things like eradicate global hunger through the use of genetically modified foods, but here we are 15 years later, and the promise remains unfulfilled.

Genetically modified food remains a far from perfect science. Rather than solving the hunger problems abroad or here at home, we are still not sure we can trust this new technology. At this stage, new genetic food solutions often raise more questions than they answer. This is why our European trading partners have adopted a zero tolerance policy on unapproved GM crops and products.

However, Bill C-474 does not attempt to enter that lively debate for or against GMOs. That is a topic for debate on another day, and I will look forward to taking part in it. Rather, Bill C-474 is a purely economic bill that responds to the fact that some of our trading partners around the world have deep reservations about the use of genetically modified organisms. Indeed, many of our largest customers are even prepared to block imports from Canada because of their concerns.

All this bill is calling for is an economic analysis of the impact on our trade relationships around the world before we approve our GMOs.

This is prudent and plain common sense. We already see how genetically modified contamination of flax has caused us huge problems in our trade partnerships with the European Union.

We have already heard in this chamber that in September 2009, our European customers found that a genetically engineered strain of flax seed called the CDC Triffid had contaminated Canadian flax exports. Contamination reached 35 other countries. European countries began removing Canadian products from their shelves and went so far as to quarantine all shipments of flax from Canada.

Sixty per cent of our flax exports go to Europe. The price of flax has plummeted, and the market and Canadian farmers are still feeling the effects of this drop. On top of the damage to Canada's reputation for quality grains, our farmers are now forced to pay extra costs for testing and cleanup efforts. This whole mess leaves Canadian farmers suffering enormous consequences.

GM flax was withdrawn from the market and GM wheat efforts were temporarily shelved. Critics of this bill say that constitutes proof that we do not need regulations and that the industry will self-regulate.

I want to quote something from Terry Boehm, president of the National Farmers Union, representing thousands of farmers across Canada.

He said, “It took huge efforts on behalf of activists, farmers, and the general public to stop these harmful initiatives. With Triffid flax, it took lobbying inside the Saskatchewan Flax Development Commission by myself to convince the board that Triffid flax would be economic suicide for the flax industry. It then took the commission to convince the Flax Council of Canada of this fact”.

Mr. Boehm goes on to say, “GM wheat was not a responsible withdrawal by industry, in this case Monsanto, in light of market harm. It was more a response to massive organization by citizens protesting the introduction of GM materials in their daily bread. It took farmers concerned about how you control another RR crop in other crops. It would turn wheat into a weed difficult to control. This opposition occurred in both the U.S. and Canada. Monsanto temporarily withdrew in light of the bad publicity and their understanding that they could jeopardize their broader GM projects by pushing ahead with GM wheat. It took a survey that confirmed 85% of our customers would source wheat elsewhere if we allowed GM wheat to be produced to convince people of the economic damages this would produce. Again, there is nothing in our system to prevent these crops from being registered today. RR alfalfa is another example we will be grappling with in the near future”.

“Bill C-474 would add an element of protection and would remove the need for massive mobilizations that consume people's energies, which could be better spent elsewhere”.

We are now hearing that Monsanto is relaunching its research into genetically engineered wheat products.

Our international partners, who buy 82% of our wheat crops, say they will stop buying all of our wheat, both genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered, if we allow for the introduction of genetically engineered wheat.

Imagine the implications for Canada. The example of genetically engineered flax shows that there are market realities that we must face up to with regard to genetically engineered seeds. If a similar contamination were to strike Canadian wheat or alfalfa, the consequences would be beyond catastrophic.

I would like to quote Mr. Boehm again, who reminds us that this is all about ensuring markets are there for our farmers, right from the beginning of the Seeds Act, which Bill C-474 would update.

He said, “If one looks at the history of the Manitoba Grain Act and the later Canada Grain Act from which the Seeds Act flows, it is completely clear that the intent of the Seeds Act was farmer protection. It was to prevent farmers from being sold grain varieties that did not perform as advertised and to make sure that seed met certain standards to ensure that a farmer received the results and quality he was paying for in his seed purchases. The intent was farmer protection, and locating a market harm analysis criterion in the act would be consistent with the intent and spirit of the act: farmer protection. It is clear that the calamity that befalls a farmer from poor crops resulting from bad varieties is no different from the calamities of lost markets and collapsing prices”.

We know that politicians in our partner countries are facing strong pressure from their constituents to apply strict rules on GMOs. These foreign political leaders will have no incentive to make exceptions for our farmers. Their job is to represent the interests of their electors. Foreign leaders will not defend our farmers, so it falls to us as members of the House of Commons to do so.

Critics of this bill may accuse it of being anti-science or unscientific. As a scientist, I can assure the House that I am anything but anti-scientific.

I was disappointed to hear that Mr. Boehm was not able to testify at committee because of changes to the committee schedule, but allow me to quote him once again, briefly, as he addresses this.

He says, “It puzzles me why a call for a market harm analysis would be characterized as unscientific or detrimental to the regulatory system as a whole. Indeed, it would seem perfectly logical to have a measure in place to present severe economic harm befalling both farmers and the Canadian economy as a whole, as GM flax has created and as GM wheat would create. Our regulatory system has no provisions to prevent such calamities, and things like Triffid flax would pass through it unimpeded today, in spite of the real-life example of the consequences we have experienced with Triffid flax”.

We must ensure this does not happen again. I urge members of all other parties to support this important legislation put forward by my colleague.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8:10 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am deeply honoured to stand and speak in favour of Bill C-474, outstanding legislation by my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior and the NDP agriculture critic. He has spent many hours and worked very hard to put this sensible, much needed and internationally required legislation before the House of Commons.

The bill, as we have heard, and for anybody who is watching, deals with the use of genetically-engineered seeds. The bill, if passed, will require government to consider the harm to the export value of a crop before permitting the sale of any new genetically-engineered seed.

The bill is needed to protect the economic livelihood of farmers. It is needed to ensure that we have an environmentally sustainable and wise use of our crops in the country. It is important to protect our export markets upon which so many families and farmers rely in the country. I am proud to support this important initiative.

Before I get to the crux of the bill, I want to address some of the broader issues that the bill raises.

My colleague and I are both from British Columbia, where there is a proud farming tradition. Some of the world's best produce is grown on some of the world's best farmland. Family farms have been hit hard, in some cases, but thousands of British Columbians take pride in the work they do every day to feed our nation.

In British Columbia, the value of quality farmland is recognized. In fact, it is built into provincial legislation through the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In 1973 the New Democratic government, led by Premier Dave Barrett, brought in a visionary perspective, a visionary conception of the need to protect the value of our foodlands. Far before the time when the environment was on anybody's mind, New Democrats in British Columbia understood the necessity of growing produce and food locally and in a sustainable manner. New Democrats understood the need to ensure that next to urban centres we would keep rural areas of land so we would have access to clean, organic and locally produced food.

The Agricultural Land Reserve protects valuable agricultural land from development. Farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are carefully controlled.

The ALR has proved to be incredibly forward-thinking. In fact, it has proved to be such an excellent idea that not even decades of Conservative rule in the province has dared to ever touch that concept. We call the B.C. Conservatives “British Columbia Liberals”, because they are interchangeable. They are absolutely one and the same thing in the province of British Columbia.