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.


Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8:10 p.m.

An hon. member

It is the same here.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8:10 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Yes, it is sort of something like we see in the House of Commons most of the time.

However, B.C. Conservatives know they cannot touch the Agricultural Land Reserve in any meaningful way because the people of British Columbia have come to treasure our agricultural land.

In the 21st century local food movement, with concerns now over climate change, with 100-mile diets on everybody's mind, all of this is possible and only possibly thanks to the protection of our agricultural land.

I would argue that Bill C-474, if we fast-forward to today, is another example of that kind of visionary thinking and progressive work that is done, once again, by the New Democrats. This is protecting farmers of the future.

In my community of Vancouver Kingsway people recognize the importance of local food production. Locally produced food reduces carbon emissions from transportation. It is healthier. Fewer preservatives are needed to keep it fresh. There is a thriving local food movement not only in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway, but all over the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and in many communities in British Columbia and across the country.

We have the Trout Lake Farmers Market, which opens every May. I was at a booth at the farmers' market over at Hillcrest Community Centre in the middle of January. People come together with local organic farmers and exchange their produce.

I want to tell the House a bit about what my constituents are saying on this subject. I received a letter the other day from Faune Johnson, who lives in my riding. I want to quote what she said to me. She stated:

I am writing to ask you to vote on February 9th in support of Private Members Bill C-474 in order to protect Canada's family farms, and to participate in the 5-hour debate currently scheduled for February 8th.

As you might imagine, because of my commitment to the community garden in my neighbourhood, I am very concerned about healthy food and supporting Canadian farmers. I am also very concerned about genetically modified food and seeds, most of which are not sustainable or natural.

Bill C-474 would support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.”

This Bill is important because the introduction of new genetically engineered (GE) crops, such as GE alfalfa, can cause economic hardship to farmers. It is imperative that our government assess the possible export market impact of introducing new GE seeds. Bill C-474 would simply require the federal government to conduct such an economic analysis.

Farmers are at risk when GE crops are commercialized in Canada without also being approved in our major export markets. For example, flax farmers in Canada paid the price for unwanted GE contamination that damaged their export markets late in 2009. Now alfalfa growers are asking the government to protect their businesses from the urgent threat of GE alfalfa contamination.

It's the government's responsibility to protect Canadian farmers from predictable problems caused by the introduction of new GE crops that have not yet been regulated in our export markets. Bill C-474 would help our government meet this responsibility.

The House of Commons Agriculture Committee has already heard a strong message of support for Bill C-474 from Canada's alfalfa growers.

...please vote for Bill C-474 to make sure that alfalfa growers and other farmers do not face the same market harm caused by GE contamination that continues to hurt our flax farmers. Please speak up for my concerns on February 8th....

I have another letter, from Barbara Seifred, who said:

I implore you to support Bill C-474 on genetic engineering on February 9. This Bill will provide safety to Canadians and food producers....

Canadians are increasingly concerned about the results of manipulation of links in our food chain, from altered seeds, excessive chemical application, soil depletion, et al.

The organic sector is expanding rapidly due to demand and it would be using wisdom and foresight to ensure its viability and profitability, by setting safety precedents now.

There have been no health benefits from GE seeds and foods. In fact they require ever increasing dangerous carcinogenic chemicals in their production. Nor have there been drought-tolerant, or frost-hardy crops developed.

Experience has shown that no containment is possible to protect crops from contamination from neighbouring genetically engineered (GE) plantations.

I also want to say that students in Windermere high school have studied this issue in science class and have sent me name after name, dozens and dozens of them. These are young people who are concerned about their future. They want to make sure they have access to natural, organic, healthy, untainted food and they understand more than anybody how important it is that we preserve our agricultural land in a healthy way for generations to come.

From people who are running community gardens to people who understand science, to the young generation that has a stake and interest in this and wants us in the House of Commons to make sure we protect the environment and leave it in at least as good shape as we inherited it, we have a duty to support Bill C-474.

All this bill is doing is asking the Canadian government to do a simple thing, and that is to study the impact of GE products in our foreign export markets before we venture down a path that may cause destruction. That is no more than asking us to follow the precautionary principle. It is wise, prudent, good for business, good for farmers and good for our food supply.

I urge every member of the House to do the overwhelmingly right thing and support my colleague's bill. Let us proceed intelligently in the future to make sure we have organic, healthy food production for decades, centuries and millennia to come.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

February 8th, 2011 / 8:20 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate this evening.

I want to begin with a tribute to my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior who is also the NDP's agriculture and agri-food critic.

My colleague has done yeoman's service in this area of responsibility for our party and this parliament. I know of no other critic who has taken their role so seriously. He has gone the distance to find out what Canadians think about this issue and has also heard from farmers, people in rural areas, and in the cities about issues related to agriculture and food.

He engaged Canadians in his Food For Thought tour, a tour across Canada from coast to coast to talk to Canadians about issues of food production and food security. He developed a report after his meetings in over 28 communities, called “Food For Thought: Towards a Canadian Food Strategy”. People in these 28 communities were engaged in this issue in a very important way. They were interested in the topic and made recommendations that he used to draw up his final report.

In my home community of Burnaby—Douglas, the member for Vancouver East and I held a joint session with the member for B.C. Southern Interior, where we discussed issues of food security. It was one of the best attended public meetings I have held in my time here as a member of Parliament. People were very interested and engaged in the issue and very appreciative of the work the member did.

The report that came out of that is also very important to the folks in my community. While the recommendations do not deal specifically with the topic of Bill C-474, they certainly set the stage for a piece of legislation like that, which deals with genetically engineered seeds.

I want to quickly go over the recommendations that came out of the Food for Thought tour.

Under the heading, “Ensure all Canadians have access to healthy food”, the recommendations included enacting legislation that would require that food be properly labelled with information on its origin, nutritional value and whether it is genetically modified; requiring imported foods to meet the same environmental and health standards that apply to food produced in Canada and provide resources to enforce those standards; and working with provinces and territories to include food production and food preparation in school curricula.

A group of recommendations under the rubric, “Help Canadian farmers produce adequate amounts of secure and healthy food”, included offering incentives on designing tax policies to promote local food production, processing capacity and distribution networks, including things like farmers markets and agricultural co-operatives; developing and implementing an alternative and appropriate food safety regulatory regime for small farm-gate operations; analyzing the impact of our trade agreements with other countries on our farmers; requiring federal government institutions to use local sources for their food supplies and encouraging other levels of government to do the same.

A third and final rubric was to “Establish a sustainable agricultural sector for future generations”, including by providing greater skill training, mentorship programs and other incentives to encourage young farmers to take up farming and to support current farmers; and facilitating the availability of arable land for people committed to farming; and finally, enacting a heritage breed act to preserve our heritage seeds and breeds as well as our biodiversity.

I think that final recommendation does touch on what we are talking about this evening in terms of the use of genetically engineered seeds across Canada and the promotion of heritage seeds, which keep us in the ballpark of what many Canadians hope is possible with our food production.

Specifically, the bill we are debating tonight is Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). This bill calls for an amendment to 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.

Right now in Canada genetically engineered seeds are approved for commercial release here without any assessment of the impacts on our export markets. The only criterion currently considered is the safety of those products.

What the bill would do, very simply, is to call for a change to the regulations attached to the act that would require than an analysis also be done of the effect of the use of these genetically engineered seeds on Canada's export market.

It is a pretty straightforward bill. There is not much to it. It is very direct and very, very simple and straightforward. There is already a mechanism for analyzing what the impact of genetically engineered seed will be in Canada, and this just adds another piece to that analytical policy, and a very important one.

Why is it so important? We have seen, we have had a great example of, the problems that can be associated with the use of genetically engineered seed, a cautionary tale, if you will, from the rough experience of Canadian farmers related to the use of an illegal genetically engineered flax seed called the Triffid, which contaminated Canadian flax exports. That was back last year when a lot of this was happening. The GE Triffid flax was not approved for human consumption or environmental release outside of Canada and the U.S.

Last September, companies in European countries began removing products from their shelves and distribution lines, and Canadian shipments of flax to Europe were quarantined. Europe represents a significant part of the Canadian flax market. About 60% of Canadian flax exports went to Europe, and by the end of last year 35 countries that had recorded contaminated flax from Canada closed their markets to Canadian flax exports.

That is a huge problem. A significant market for Canadian farmers has been closed because of the fact these genetically engineered flax seeds somehow got into the product. This has caused chaos for that particular product.

The reality is that it is farmers who are bearing the brunt of the cost of that problem. In addition to the cost of market uncertainty with the collapse of the flax market related to this and lower prices, farmers are paying for the testing and cleanup of their farms. Farmers are now also being asked to forego using their farm-saved seed and to take on the extra cost of growing certified flax seed in 2010 for export to Europe.

Even though this was not a problem created by Canadian farmers, it has certainly fallen back on their shoulders to deal with the problem, now that it exists. Yet if we had done our due diligence, if a provision like the one that is in Bill C-474 had been in place, the kind of the analysis that would look at what the effect of a problem related to genetically engineered seed would be on Canadian producers or Canadian farmers, it would have been identified and hopefully would have led to the avoidance of this particular problem.

One of the other side issues related to the bill is the short shrift that it was given in the agriculture committee. Unfortunately, there were games going on, it is fair to say, at that committee when it came to dealing appropriately with this piece of legislation. Out of the blue there was a move to get it off the agenda of the committee. In fact, one morning a committee meeting was cancelled, even though witnesses had been flown in by the committee across Canada to testify on this particular bill. The Canadian Wheat Board, the National Farmers Union and the scientist Rene Van Acker were scheduled to appear at a meeting that was abruptly cancelled just minutes before it was due to start.

The committee had paid to bring these people to Ottawa to testify before the committee. It is certainly not a great use of committee resources and the resources of Parliament when that kind of abrupt action is taken to prevent witnesses from speaking on this very important issue. Certainly the Canadian Wheat Board and the National Farmers Union have a clear interest and clear experience with this kind of issue and should have been able to present their case on the bill to the committee.

What happened as a result of that? There were some folks at the committee from the parties that prevented this committee meeting from going ahead who felt guilty about it. What did they do? They announced another study. That is always a great fallback position, not to deal with the specific problem before us but instead suggest a larger study. In fact, members of the committee are engaging in that study now, when they could have been dealing with a very specific measure that would have assisted the situation and made a clear recommendation on how to deal with the question of genetically engineered seed. Now instead we are doing this broader study, which seems to be pushed somewhat toward the side of the industry and not to the needs of producers, as this bill is designed.

I am glad the member brought this forward. I hope that members will support it. It is a very important piece of legislation for Canadian farmers and Canadian consumers.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8:30 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to join a long list of NDP speakers who have spoken to Bill C-474. Anyone watching CPAC will know that this is a special rule. The House allowed for a six hour debate on the bill.

People watching, and anybody perusing Hansard tomorrow, will know that there has been a solid lineup of NDP speakers since the beginning. We have only seen two speakers from the government and two Liberal speakers the entire six hour debate. In fact, we will not even use up the full six hours so there will be a certain amount of time available in which other members from the government or from the opposition could certainly speak to this very important bill.

I want to compliment the member for British Columbia Southern Interior for his dedication and hard work on this bill. He has worked extremely hard travelling the country promoting the bill. In that effect he has a tremendous amount of very positive publicity coming from the census introduction to the bill.

For example, on May 1, 2010, Laura Rance, who is a long time writer for the Winnipeg Free Press in Manitoba, wrote an article and the headline was “Debate rages over effect of GM-seed bill”. She starts out by saying, “Bill C-474 is stirring up one heck of a hullaballoo for being a mere 42 words long”.

Then she goes to compliment the member for British Columbia Southern Interior saying he “ignited a storm of controversy after it received second reading by the House of Commons and was referred to the agriculture committee last month”.

The reason there is a storm is because of lobbyists, on behalf of Monsanto and the three other companies that produce the seeds, the herbicides and other products for agriculture, who have a great deal at stake. They have done their best to try to stamp out the bill before it can proceed any further past second reading.

One can only look at the voting record in the House. The three opposition parties got together, supported the bill on principle and sent it to committee. It was through that committee process that the industry leaned on the Liberal Party and, in effect, forced it to back down. In fact, there was very poor treatment of this bill and the member at the committee. It is not unusual for the Conservatives to invite witnesses to testify to a bill. However, the very morning the committee was to hear testimony on the subject they were turned away.

As I had indicated, this bill is only 42 words long. It requires the Governor-in-Council to:

—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.

That just makes common sense.

There are five major producers of this type of seed in the world. One of them is Argentina. Argentina in fact follows best practices and does exactly what the member for British Columbia Southern Interior proposes in his bill. Before a company goes to the expense of developing a genetically modified seed, which is certainly an expensive and time consuming proposition, it wants to know that it will be able to export its product. If that seed will pose a problem to its export markets, then why in the world would it spend millions of dollars to develop it?

For example, Argentina is the world's third largest GE crop growing area after the United States and Brazil, India being number four and Canada in fact number five.

All countries assess the potential for negative harm on exports. In addition to the environmental biosafety assessment, a GM release also requires a favourable food safety assessment. There are some procedures in place. Argentina alone requires further assessment of any possible negative impact on exports. That is vital.

The industry is way too powerful in our country. It has had an unusual effect on the politicians. The Liberals really should have stood up to the industry. Why they would have backed down is beyond me. Perhaps we will have some answers from members of the Liberal Party over the next couple of days.

Neither of the speakers from the Liberal Party tonight indicated why they changed their position. The only reason I heard from the member for Yukon was that they did not get an opportunity to go to committee to propose their amendment. We do not know what the total breadth of the efforts on the part of the lobbyist was in this case.

I want to look at some of the facts and try to put this whole GM debate into some type of perspective.

Over 90% of arable land around the world is GM-free. Only four countries grow 85% of total GM crops and 167 out of 192 countries grow no GMO crops at all. This industry has only been around for a limited period of time. I am not certain of the time period here, but it has been 10 or 15 years.

We are only talking about four or five major countries, with four countries growing 85% of the total. The biggest part of the world does not involve itself in GMO at all. In fact, 99.5% of farmers around the world do not grow any GMO crops.

As I had indicated, it has been over 10 years on the market and only 4 crops are grown in any significant quantity: soy, maize, cotton and canola. Those are the four crops that we are dealing with under GMO so far. These four crops represent 99%. In fact, virtually 100% of the world acreage planted with commercial GM crops has one or both of just two traits, herbicide tolerance and insect resistance. It is curious because the companies that produce it are also the ones that produce the products like Roundup and so on.

In terms of the four countries that grow 85% of the GMOs worldwide, the U.S. has about 50%, Argentina 17%, Brazil 13% and Canada 6% of the market. It is a very large industry, but it is by no means worldwide. It needs to have some checks and balances put in place. They should have been put in place long before now. If we let it continue to grow at the rate it has grown, give it another 20 or 30 years, it will expand much further than this limited number of countries. We are essentially turning over a lot of sovereignty to these private companies.

There are four companies. Monsanto sells more than 90% of all the GM seeds worldwide. Dupont, Syngenta, and Bayer round out the final four. The governments should have paid some attention to this earlier on. As other members of our caucus have pointed out, we do not know the final effect of these crops on the population at the end of the day.

There are numerous examples of drugs like thalidomide over the years, and other types of drugs on which millions of dollars were spent by drug companies. The drugs were tested in the proper ways and then a couple of years later they had to be withdrawn from the market. How do we know that will not happen here?

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8:40 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise with some pleasure to speak to Bill C-474, a private member's bill which has been presented to the House by my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior. It addresses what is a very fundamental problem that not only Canada is confronting, but food production and food-producing countries around the globe are confronting it as well.

Before I go into more detail, I want to acknowledge, as a number of my other colleagues have, the work that has been done by our colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, in particular the campaign he has waged right across the country to deal with the issue of food safety and with the issues around protecting our producers and our farmers. He has done it in a way that gives great credence to what an individual member of Parliament can do to advance a cause and, in effect, how well a person can perform as a parliamentarian on an individual basis. As much as we constantly hear, mostly from columnists and pundits, about the demeaning of parliamentarians, the role he has played in this over the last number of years since being elected to the House is really quite phenomenal.

In addition, he has done it in a way that appeals to me because of the fundamentally democratic way he has done it. He has gone across the country and talked to people who are active in this area. I am not talking about the experts, although he has talked to them as well. However, he has talked to the front-line workers, the producers of our food, on a one-to-one basis and in collectives as well. Most important, he has listened to them and he has learned from them. He has brought back the information gained from that learning to the House in the form of the bill before us. He has done it in a number of other areas as well.

It is very fundamental to the production of food in our country that the contents of the bill become the law of this land. I am not over dramatizing that reality. We are faced with the classic confrontation of very powerful multinational corporations whose singular goal is to develop seeds that they will be able to monopolize. We do not know for how long, but over the next 10 to 50 years, if they continue down this path of success they have had up to this point, these 4 or 5 major multinational corporations will control the vast majority of the food production on this planet.

As I was preparing some notes on this evening's speech, I could not help but think about some of the experiences I had growing up on a farm in Essex county. We get these assurances from the multinationals that there is nothing to worry about for genetically engineered seeds. The European Union and Europe generally and a number of other countries around the globe have taken a different position. However, Canada and the United States in particular have allowed those multinationals to move ahead and put these genetically engineered products into the environment.

We always get those assurances from the manufacturers of these products and from the government agencies that, oftentimes blindly, give their authority to allow them to experiment on the human body with these products. It reminded me of when I was growing up on that farm. I was fairly young when they used to still allow the spraying of crops. Most of it was DDT at that time.

We hear from these multinational corporations, and in fact we heard it from some Conservative members earlier in this debate, that we do not really have to worry about it because it will be contained.

I remember standing on my family's farm when spraying was being done two farms down, as much as half a mile away, and the spray from the plane as it was crossing that acreage sprayed on to my family's farm and on to me.

Another incident makes me think of the assurances that we get that these types of products are fine. I remember working at a landscaping company when I was in university. This company also had an orchard and part of my duties included spraying the fruit trees. One of the products being used at that time was malathion. About five or six years after I finished that job, malathion was banned because it turned out to be a cancer-causing agent. There were no signs of that when it was first approved and not obviously adequately tested.

We are faced with the same type of thing with GE seeds. It has been made very clear in the work that has been done in Europe that there is no way of knowing about the safety of these products until they have been used for as much as a generation or two. The human species becomes the guinea pig with respect to what the health consequences will be. It does not take into account at all the risk that we are at as we use these types of products and they become the monopoly product. We do not have sufficient seed product that is not genetically engineered. If anything ever happened to the genetically engineered product, we would have no way of replacing it on this planet, and that is a great fear.

It was for those types of reasons that Europe said that it would not allow those seeds into its jurisdiction. At the same time, it also said that it would not allow products that come from genetically engineered seeds into its jurisdiction. We saw in 2009 that flax in this country became contaminated by GE seeds from other farmers. We were then blocked from moving our flax, which is a major export, into the European market. A great deal of it was quarantined but some of it was actually taken off the shelves and taken out of the market completely.

That was a significant loss that is not being paid by the producers of that GE flax and those seeds, but by the producers in the rest of the market here in Canada. They are paying for their product to be tested on an ongoing basis with the hope that they can show that it has been cleaned of GE seeds, which would allow them back into the European market. Producers are also paying for the cleanup, which means taking the seeds out of the environment on their farms. They are bearing the cost of this, not the Monsanto's of the world, not the multinationals of the world who produced that seed originally.

In 2010, I was at a meeting of the National Farmers Union in Stratford, Ontario where over 100 farmers and producers were in attendance. A number of them were aware of the legislation being proposed by my colleague and they were adamant about the need to get the bill through the House so that the experience we had with flax would never repeat itself in the future. I do not think I am overemphasizing this, but there was a palpable fear in their voices when they were talking about this. They knew what had happened to our flax farmers in the west and the big fear now is the alfalfa crop because there are companies that are trying to get that GE seed into the market.

I would urge all parliamentarians to support this legislation and for Canadians from coast to coast to coast to get behind it as well.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

8:50 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, I am proud to speak in support of Bill C-474 and I am proud of our party, the New Democratic Party of Canada, and my colleagues who sponsored the bill.

This is the first time in our 15-year history with GE crops that we have had such a long and thorough debate and discussion in this House of Commons. It is about time that we had such a discussion.

Saskatchewan organic grain farmer, Arnold Taylor said:

This is a great chance for farmers to be heard. Organic, non-GE and conventional farmers will all now have a fair opportunity to voice their urgent concerns.

The matter is urgent because we know there are potential health risks from GE crops, including the development of antibiotic resistance, allergic reactions, nutritional changes and the creation of toxins. GE crops also threaten plant diversity which is essential for food security.

It is a very timely discussion because 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.

Bill C-474 is meant to give the government a mandate to provide a mechanism currently missing in the regulations that can protect farmers from economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by the GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection, the European market rejection, for example.

Without Bill C-474, there is no mechanism to even ask the question about what the economic costs of introducing GE alfalfa would be.

Because alfalfa is a perennial crop pollinated by bees, GE contamination is inevitable. Alfalfa is used as pasture and high-protein feed for animals like dairy cows, beef cattle, lambs and pigs, and is also used to build up nutrients in the soil, making it particularly important for organic farming.

If introduced, GE alfalfa would ruin export markets for alfalfa products and threaten the future of organic food and farming in North America.

Genetic engineering allows scientists to create plants, animals and micro-organisms by manipulating genes in a way that does not occur naturally. These genetically modified organisms can spread through nature and interbreed with natural organisms, thereby contaminating non-GE environments and future generations in an unforeseeable and uncontrollable way. Their release is genetic pollution and is a major threat because GMOs cannot be recalled once released into the environment.

We must stop being in denial of reality. This bill is extremely important and I hope that when it comes to a vote tomorrow that there will be a sufficient number of members of Parliament supporting it.

We know that the New Democratic Party supports it because we presented the bill. We know that the Conservative Party is solidly against this bill. The Conservatives are pro-GE and are actively opposing this bill. The Liberals tend to not want to support it because they are bowing down to the great lobbying of the biotech industry. It would be a shame if this bill is not passed.

Some people may ask what the problem is and what genetically modified organisms and GM foods are. They can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material, the DNA, has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called modern biotechnology or gene technology and is sometimes called recombinant DNA technology or genetic engineering. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. Such methods are used to create GM plants, which are then used to grow GM crops.

What are the main issues of concern for human health? One of them is about gene transfer. Gene transfer from GM goods to cells of the body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract would cause concern if the transferred genetic material adversely affects human health. This would be particularly relevant if antibiotic resistant genes used in creating GMOs were to be transferred. The use of technology without antibiotic resistant genes has been encouraged, and that is very important.

The other issue of concern is outcrossing. The movement of genes from GM plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild, as well as the mixing of crops derived from conventional seeds with those grown using GM crops, may have an indirect effect on food safety and food security. This risk is real, as was shown when traces of a maize type, which was only approved for feed use, appeared in maize products for human consumption in the U.S.

There are great concerns for the environment, such as the potentially negative effect on beneficial insects or a faster induction of resistant insects; the potential generation of new plant pathogens; the potential detrimental consequences for plant biodiversity and wildlife; a decreased use of the important practice of crop rotation in certain local situations; and the movement of herbicide resistant genes to other plants.

There is a lot more we need to do. It is not just about this bill. In fact, Canada is one of the world's largest producers of GE crops but the system for regulating food biotechnology is extremely weak. We need to do more. We need to support comprehensive testing. GE crops must undergo rigorous testing to determine their impact on human health and the environment. We need to have some interims measure. We want the GE crops and seeds segregated from conventional and organic seeds. We want better labelling of GE foods so consumers can make informed decisions. Canada and the United States are the only industrialized countries that do not have mandatory labelling regulations in place. Because of commercial interests, the public is being denied the right to know about GE ingredients in the food change and, therefore, losing the right to avoid them.

Biodiversity must be protected and respected as the global heritage of humankind and one of our world's fundamental keys to survival.

There are many concerns about the GMOs because there are many other kinds of research that need to be done. Biodiversity is an element, a philosophy that is critical for the survival of this planet, and the increasing use of chemicals in farming is also a very worrisome trend.

I am proud that the New Democratic Party of Canada is taking leadership to stop these harmful genetically modified crops. Having this bill pass would be a great step toward questioning the economic cost of GE foods and crops. I certainly hope other members of Parliament will find it in themselves to study the issue and listen to the voices of their constituents because, certainly in my area, there have been hundreds of letters written in support of Bill C-474. I hope it will pass in this House of Commons tomorrow.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

9 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, I want to express my thanks to all my colleagues who spoke before me to the bill, because this is the only opportunity we have had for a meaningful discussion on such an important topic in the House of Commons and I am very pleased to be part of it.

I sit next to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. His passion for the issues that surround agriculture infects me as well. It is like a GMO. It just comes over me from him because he has done his homework. In his years as agriculture critic, he has talked to Canadians over and over again on issues ranging from food security, human health issues surrounding food, to protection for farmers. His focus as a member of the agriculture committee and his time in Parliament have been most valuable to the House.

Everyone in the House has to recognize that, whether they vote for or against the bill. We have to recognize the nature of the work that my colleague has done on this to bring it to the attention of the House and many of his colleagues in our caucus who, understanding the issue a year or two ago, may not have been aware of where it is today. His work to persuade members who have bought the corporate line on GMO products is valuable. It may take a little longer, but I am sure it will eventually get through to people.

What is up with the other parties? Why have manipulations taken place over the bill brought forward by my colleague? Why do we have the situation we have today where the bill did not have the full use of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in terms of witnesses, in terms of getting evidence before it? Why did we end up in the situation where only through the use of an obscure bit of parliamentary procedure were we allowed to have the debate we are having tonight.

It is clear that the Liberal Party is conflicted on this. We have good support from the Bloc on this issue and everyone in the NDP is thankful for the support that party has given us, but the Liberal Party has equivocated on this throughout. We appreciate the support the Liberals gave at second reading. I quote the Liberal agriculture critic on December 1:

There is a serious concern that I think Parliament or Agriculture Canada or someone, certainly, has to address; that is, as the member for British Columbia Southern Interior indicated earlier, that there is potential risk in the alfalfa industry by the introduction of GMO, genetically engineered seeds. It would be the same in terms of the wheat industry, over a slightly longer term.

He understands it. Why will we end up in a situation tomorrow where this vote is so uncertain? Why is that happening? Agriculture is so important to this country. It is so important to all of us.

The other person in my life who has given me a great deal of guidance on this is my son-in-law. He is a man who has lived all his life in the Northwest Territories but who has seen the importance of this issue and at every opportunity has brought it to my attention. I want to thank him for that. It has been valuable to me and I understand why he is doing it. He is doing it for his children. He is concerned about their health and welfare going forward, as I am as a grandparent.

We have seen GMO products in our environment for the last 15 years. We do not know the impacts they will have on the health of Canadians going forward. We do not understand it. That is not something that is there yet.

In fact, there is a body of knowledge that says there are issues and that whenever scientists work on these issues they find themselves under attack from large corporations. This was certainly the case when a group of scientists, led by Monsieur Séralini in France, found through analysis there were definite unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of genetic modification. It could not be excluded from what was going on with the introduction of these products. There is a body of scientific knowledge, even though GMO has not been around that long, which says there is a problem here.

In my personal experience over the last year, there have been a couple of events that I thought were significant. In January of this year we had the opportunity to hold bilateral talks with Japanese MPs. In those talks one of the subjects was agriculture. I had the opportunity to ask the Japanese MPs their position on GMO and it was quite clear that they did not want any part of it. They are people who are conscious of their country's position and it was quite clear that this position is not going to change very easily. They are not going to move quickly to introduce GMO into their country. They do not want it. The Japanese are a highly developed, sophisticated, technological society with great and pressing food needs. Their rejection of these products says that their understanding of the issue is such that they can recognize where this is going.

The second interaction I had was with a Canadian Wheat Board lawyer at a parliamentary function. She informed me that her job was to go around the world and try to establish protocols with a variety of countries that were not allowing Canadian products to enter because of the potential contamination from GMO. She had to work with the countries to design specific protocols that would ensure there would be no contamination in the system. This was a very large and difficult task.

Right at the beginning of this industry, with only a certain number of these products in our agriculture, we are experiencing these kinds of problems. Why would we not want to look at this and address it very seriously?

When we enter Canada and go through Canada customs, the agents want to know if we have been on a farm. They want to know if we have seeds. They want to know everything about our relationship to the country we have just come from and what it means to Canada. Other countries are doing the same thing, only they are doing it about GMO. We need to understand that. We need to express that in our agricultural development.

I spent years involved in environmental assessment. To say that we are not taking the concerns of the public forward on these new products that actually influence huge sections of our land and our agricultural production is simply wrong. There is tremendous support for the bill across the country. Tomorrow, we need a positive vote on Bill C-474. I ask people listening tonight to call their MP and plead with him or her to support the bill. The bill is not going to hurt Canada; it is going to help Canada be a better country.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

9:10 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and proud to have an opportunity to speak tonight on Bill C-474 introduced by my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, who has taken a great interest in and is extremely knowledgeable on all issues associated with agriculture.

The bill is one that has attracted interest not just in the farming community but also throughout the country. In my riding of St. John's East, which is on one end of the country, I have received many letters of support for Bill C-474 because people understand the implications of the use of genetically modified organisms and how it affects other aspects of agriculture, Canadian interests and trade.

The member for Western Arctic talked about his interests, concerns and knowledge base derived not only from people he has met along the way but also from his own son-in-law who is knowledgeable about the issue and has the same concerns.

I know, Madam Speaker, in your part of the country, all of British Columbia and Victoria itself, there is a great deal of interest in this issue. I know many people have contacted you about the need for this legislation and their concerns about genetically modified organisms and what they do to people. Many of the people who are affected by this are, in fact, farmers.

I will provide one example. I will quote from the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Growers Association, which states its concern about the approval of organic organisms. It stated:

--it would be a disaster for us. I'd be out of business, because the first guy who buys that apple and propagates it--its flowers will pollinate with other fruit tree flowers that are non-GMO'd and everything will become genetically modified. And that will be the end of organics.

That is from an apple grower with the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Growers Association expressing the fear that has been described across this country of these GMO products essentially contaminating other crops. It is not just the crops of organic farmers, although they obviously have a very particular concern because their certification, market and the value of their products is totally dependent upon having a piece of paper that certifies, through a process that is rigorously applied, that their produce is totally free from contamination from non-organic sources and, of course, GMO products are considered very much a part of that. That is one organization that is very concerned, and for very good reasons.

There is another organization that represents a significant number of farmers in western Canada, a significant part of our agriculture industry and GDP. That is the Canadian Wheat Board. When Mr. Bill Toews, a director of the Canadian Wheat Board, testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in October of the past year, he had a remarkable warning for the standing committee about its concerns as to what would happen to GMO products let loose in the marketplace without proper analysis and study of their acceptability that would interfere with not only the market for the particular products being introduced but other Canadian products of great importance to our economy and farmers. He stated:

There remains strong and widespread opposition to genetically modified wheat or barley in about half of our markets. This includes, but isn't limited to, the governments of, and customers in, the European Union, Japan, Thailand, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and a number of African nations. Japan and the European Union alone account for roughly 15 per cent of our wheat and barley exports. Both markets pay a premium for high quality. The U.S. and Canada might accept GM wheat sooner than some other groups, although the North American brewing industry has concerns about GM barley.

The markets that are most likely to demand non-GM shipments also have zero tolerance for unapproved GM content. So, they choose not to purchase GM products, and they're prepared to turn back a multi-million-dollar shipment because it contains a low-level presence of GM kernels or even dust.

That is how crucial this is. The countries that do not accept GM modified products are also very leery of having any contamination whatsoever. We have already lost a market for flax.

This is not a fantasy world. We are not inventing concerns here. We are not raising bogeymen to scare people. These are legitimate, fundamental problems that have been identified by people such as the organic growers and the Canadian Wheat Board itself. What more should members need to know? If the Canadian Wheat Board, which is responsible for marketing Canada's wheat for export, is raising these concerns, then members should be listening.

We are talking here about exports and about Canada's ability to export its produce. This bill calls for a proper analysis of the consequences of introducing and approving new GM products. It is very simple and very straightforward. This should be of concern to all Canadians, whether they are living on the east coast, the west coast or, as my colleague and friend from the Western Arctic has said, in the north. We are all concerned about Canada's reputation and Canada's ability to market its products.

Where are the members of the Conservative Party who claim to be representative of rural Canada, of Canadian values, of the little guy, of the farmer trying to make a living and of the freedom from interference with one's activities but who can be contaminated by organic products on the farm next door? How come they are not here agreeing with us that there should be a proper analysis, an amendment to the Seeds Act to ensure that the livelihood of Canadian farmers and the protection of Canadian markets is given full sway? Why are they not here? Why are they not supporting this effort to ensure that Canadian agriculture is safe from the contamination of genetically modified products and that we will be able to continue to export our own products, organic products, Canadian wheat, into markets around the world that we are currently participating in?

There is something wrong and the something that is wrong is probably a big company called Monsanto that has a lot of influence in governments around the world, the American government for example, and I think the Conservative government too. The Conservatives are listening to Monsanto and are not listening to the concerns of farmers whose livelihoods are at risk and who need to be wary and concerned at all stages that their own operation can be interfered with, potentially destroyed and put out of business as a result of some of these products, and the very market itself for the majority of our Canadian wheat and barley products that are sold through the Canadian Wheat Board.

If the Canadian Wheat Board is concerned, I am concerned. If the Canadian Wheat Board is concerned, all Canadians should be concerned. We should all be concerned when the Wheat Board is expressing the need for a proper full and total analysis of the consequences of introducing and licensing new genetically modified organisms.

That is all this bill is about. This is not a total attack on any genetically modified food or organism. That is not what this bill is about. This bill is about not introducing new products without a full and proper analysis.

I see that my time is about to come to an end. I do not know if there are any other speakers tonight, but if there are not, then I hope that the vote on this bill will turn out to be one that is in full support of this bill. We look forward to the support of all members of the House for this measure.

Seeds Regulation ActPrivate Members' Business

9:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

There being no further speakers rising, pursuant to an order made on Monday, February 7, the questions on the motions in Group No. 1 are deemed put and recorded divisions deemed requested.

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded divisions stand deferred until Wednesday, February 9, 2011, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 9:23 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 9:23 p.m.)