Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-291. I understand its intention and why it was introduced, specifically, because consumers have the right to make informed decisions. However, today I want to talk about the unintended consequences of this bill.
Bill C-291 proposes to amend the Food and Drugs Act so that, once the regulations are in place, no genetically modified foods can be sold unless the label clearly indicates that the food has been genetically modified.
Canada does not currently require the labelling of genetically modified foods that have been approved following stringent scientific assessment by Health Canada, because those foods are as safe and nutritious as their non-GM counterparts. In Canada, companies may voluntarily choose to label genetically modified foods, provided the information is truthful and not misleading.
Let us be honest: this bill is calling for the mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods so that people will choose not to buy them. However, that choice will be based on misleading information. Going ahead with this will help perpetuate the myth that genetically modified foods are unhealthy, which is false. In fact, foods are no more safe or nutritious if they do not contain genetically modified ingredients.
I want to share some facts that consumers should be aware of. Genetically modified crops and foods are organisms whose inherited traits have been modified in part. This may involve genetic transformation, such as combining the DNA of corn plants with the Bt bacteria gene, which improves resistance to the corn borer, a harmful organism that attacks corn stalks.
This important technology reduces farmers' crop losses and eliminates the need for certain pesticides. Many varieties of field corn and sweet corn have this resistance gene. It not only helps farmers' harvests, it also helps reduce food waste.
Consumers should also know that we do not genetically modify organisms just because we can. We do it to help farmers deal with production problems and to provide innovative products to Canadian families. In short, this technology helps society.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recognizes the benefits of genetically modified food. It has indicated that crops are genetically modified so they can resist weeds, pests, and disease; improve their tolerance for poor weather conditions, such as frost, extreme heat, and drought; and increase crop yields, which can help to optimize land use and reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides.
Work is also being done to develop fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer, which will help create new opportunities, reduce food waste, and improve the food supply worldwide. Plants and plant materials that can generate biofuel energy are also being developed. Work is also being done on other genetically modified organisms in order to rehabilitate damaged and less fertile land.
The main goal is to provide Canadians and the rest of the world with safe and nutritious food that is produced in an environmentally responsible way based on scientific fact. All food in Canada is regulated by Health Canada, which is responsible for establishing standards and regulations to ensure the safety and quality of all food sold in Canada, including genetically modified foods.
Genetically modified foods are already a safe part of Canadians' diet. Genetically modified foods have been approved by Health Canada and eaten by Canadians for years. No negative effects have every been reported, and these foods are just as safe and nutritious as foods that are not genetically modified.
Over 120 different genetically modified crops have been approved in Canada since the 1990s.
Genetic modification is recognized, in Canada and around the world, as a safe, effective, and more environmentally-friendly production method. Nearly 70% of processed foods sold in Canada already contain genetically modified ingredients. The most common processed ingredients are canola, corn, and soy. It is estimated that integrating genetically modified crops into Canadian farming activities increased our aggregate farm income by over $5 billion between 1997 and 2014.
Our goal is to feed Canadian families and meet international needs. As the global population increases, experts estimate that in 2050, we will have 10 billion people to feed, compared to 7.3 billion today. In its 2017 report entitled “The future of food and agriculture: Trends and challenges”, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, stated that farm outputs need to increase by 50%.
The report reveals that we need to invest more in agriculture and agrifood systems, as well as research and development, in order to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like resource scarcity and climate change. Genetically modified crops are part of those innovations. The use of genetically modified plants that are more tolerant to herbicides has helped improve soil health and even helped ease climate change, since this reduces the number of tractor passes needed in the field and means better carbon sequestration in the soil.
Let us come back to the issue of labelling. As I said earlier, mandatory labelling could mislead consumers. Making it mandatory to list genetically modified ingredients could be seen as a warning that the safety of the food is unknown. Not only will mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods not improve consumers' understanding of the issue, but it could have unintended consequences that consumers should be aware of.
Negatively influencing consumers' perceptions of these foods could reduce the productivity and safety of the global food supply because there would be less food if we relied solely on non-GMOs. There could also be harmful consequences for the environment because of the increased use of pesticides and herbicides to protect traditional crops. Finally, it could reduce investment in innovation that has the potential to support the long-term viability of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector.
We have already put in place strict and effective regulations. We have already put in place a rigorous framework that requires detailed and comprehensive assessments by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. We have already put in place a national standard for the voluntary labelling of genetically engineered food.
In the interest of maintaining the health of Canada's economy and agricultural industry and considering that the consumption of genetically modified food poses absolutely no health risks, the government will not be supporting private member's Bill C-291.
I thank my honourable colleagues for their attention in this matter.