moved that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I have the great honour to rise today in the House to kick off the debate on my initiative, Bill C-291. Members who are not ministers seldom have the opportunity to debate and eventually pass bills to amend existing laws or to create brand new ones.
Mine is a very simple bill, which has already been debated in the House a few times in the past. Almost 10 years have passed since this issue was raised in the House, but I believe it is the right time to do so.
My bill concerns the mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. The purpose of the bill is simple: to obtain more transparent information on the labels of food that is consumed in Canada because Canadians have the right to know in detail what they consume. That is why I introduced Bill C-291, which we are debating today.
Let me set the stage by first quoting the Prime Minister of Canada. As recently as December 15, 2016, in response to a question about mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods, he said on Radio-Canada, “This is about protecting consumers. I am hearing consumers say loud and clear that they want to know more about what they are putting in their bodies. This is a good thing. We are working with them.”
This works out quite well; I am going to give him the opportunity to work on it, since he will soon have a chance to vote on my bill. I hope he will vote to support it, since he committed to work on this issue. This is the perfect opportunity for him, for all government members, and for the opposition members, to walk the talk.
My motivations and reasons for introducing this bill can be summed up rather quickly. Naturally, I was very familiar with this issue before being elected to the House, but it was shortly after I was elected in 2011 that I began meeting regularly with André Nault, an active member of the group Amis de la terre de l'Estrie. He worked on this issue for nearly his whole life. Sadly, he has passed away, but I still wanted to recognize all the work he did and the fact that he came to see me on a number of occasions to talk about this issue, Canadians' right to be informed. Several times he drew my attention to the need for the House to pass legislation like this bill. I want to commend his work and the work done by Amis de la terre de l'Estrie. Even though he is gone, that group is continuing his work to demand not only that genetically modified foods be labelled, but that Canadians have access to healthy, high-quality food.
As I said earlier, this is a unique opportunity, so I thought long and hard about the bill to put forward. I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and I want to give my wife, Joanie, some credit for her part in the process. We talked about the issue, and she encouraged me to introduce this bill. This is important to her too.
I want to emphasize that my main goal in introducing this bill is to make sure Canadians get the information they have asked for over and over. Like the Prime Minister, they want to know more.
That is why I am hoping for Liberal support. December 15 was not the first time the Prime Minister said he was open to the idea and was going to work on it. The Liberals have talked about this issue a lot in the past. In 2002, Mr. Caccia, the member for Davenport, introduced a similar bill. He was a Liberal government minister.
More recently, the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada passed a resolution at its convention. It was even one of the policy resolutions on the agenda at the Liberal Party of Canada's most recent convention in 2016. Unfortunately, it was not voted on.
I would have liked to see the results to know what Liberal Party members think. It is certainly an issue that has repeatedly come back to the table and has the support of Liberal Party members because they talked about it at their party's convention. I hope to have their support here.
I am also following in the footsteps of some remarkable MPs who have worked on this file. There was Alex Atamanenko, NDP member who represented the riding of British Columbia Southern Interior. He introduced a bill on this more than once. There was Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who represented the riding of Winnipeg North and also introduced bills as part of her work on this file. And let us not forget Paul Dewar, then hon. member for Ottawa Centre, who also worked on this issue and introduced bills. They were remarkable NDP MPs whose work we applaud and remember today.
As I was saying, the last time we addressed this issue and voted on it was in 2008, when we debated a Bloc Québécois bill introduced by Gilles Perron, the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
Today, I am speaking to an issue that has been debated a few times in the House and that has been presented by different Canadian political parties.
I know my Conservative and Liberal colleagues, and I know what they will say. I therefore want to reassure them today that this is not an anti-GMO bill or an anti-GMO campaign. Far from it. It is simply a campaign to ensure transparency and provide people with more information. I want to be sure that members have cleary understood me: this is not a campaign against genetically modified foods. This bill will not prohibit the production of GMOs in Canada. This bill will not prevent technological research to improve our agricultural practices.
There is no way for this bill to be viewed as anti-GMO. It is simply a response to opinion polls that have been conducted in the past twenty years. These polls repeatedly and consistently showed that between 80% and 90% of Canadians support this initiative. Over time, the polls have consistently confirmed this support, including the most recent Health Canada survey, which also reported majority support for the labelling of GMO food.
My bill is very simple and includes only three provisions. The first stipulates that no person shall sell any food that is genetically modified unless it is labelled as such. Since I recognize the government's regulatory authority over food labelling, the second provision of the bill grants additional regulatory powers to define what constitutes a genetically modified food. The bill recognizes Health Canada's scientific expertise in this area, and so it is up to that department to define what constitutes a genetically modified food and determine when labelling is required. The bill also gives the government the regulatory authority to define the form and manner of labelling, where the label will be placed, and the size and wording of the label.
What is more, I am allowing the government to determine when the bill will take effect. If my bill is passed, the government can decide, after consulting the industry and hearing from all the stakeholders, when it would be best for Bill C-291 to take effect.
It is the simplest bill we have debated in the House. It has only three provisions and recognizes the government's current regulatory powers over food labelling. I therefore hope that the government will vote in favour of this bill, since 80% of Canadians support it.
I will be very disappointed if less than 80% of MPs support this initiative. That would be a blow to our democracy. I therefore encourage all of my colleagues to support Bill C-291.