Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-291, a bill that would require the labelling of food products made from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
I want to start by acknowledging the work and mentorship of Alex Atamanenko, who served as MP for British Columbia Southern Interior for almost a decade. Mr. Atamanenko introduced bills that were very similar to this one in previous parliaments, and worked tirelessly in his time as MP for the farmers of Canada and for food security for all of us in this country. He was a very popular MP in the southern interior, and he has left big shoes to fill in my riding. I am sure he is very happy to know that his work is being carried on by the member for Sherbrooke. I tabled a motion on GMO labelling last year in this place, but I am happy that my colleague has taken forward this issue as a bill.
Why do we need GMO labelling in Canada? For one thing, it would bring us into line with regulations used by our major trading partners. The European Union requires GMO foods to be labelled, and the United States passed legislation last year to do the same. The current government and my Conservative colleagues are always promoting the value of harmonization of our regulations with the European Union and the United States. Here is a wonderful opportunity for them to get on board with more of that. These labelling regulations are in place in Europe and the U.S.A. because many people are concerned about GMOs and their effects on the environment, on their health, and on agricultural practices themselves. Much of the debate I have heard here has been about health. However, it is more than that. It is about other concerns that GMOs create when they are used in agriculture.
Labelling gives people the ability to make informed choices about the foods they eat and the agricultural practices these products support. Again, the Conservative member who preceded me talked about how people should be given a choice. That is what this bill would do. As the member for Sherbrooke said, this is not an anti-GMO bill; it would simply give people the right to know what they are eating. Many people have valid concerns.
There are some ecological concerns about GMOs. Most GMO crops, about 86% of them, are modified to be herbicide resistant. A previous Liberal debater said there would be less herbicide use if GMOs were not around. It is quite the opposite. Most GMO crops are called Roundup Ready. They can be sprayed with herbicides that kill every plant in the field except the crops themselves. This is a great idea from the farmer's perspective, but it allows the application of huge amounts of chemicals on farms across Canada.
Roundup and similar herbicides do not just kill weeds. The surfactant that allows the product to bind to the plants is highly toxic. It is deadly to amphibians and fish if it gets into water-filled ditches, ponds, and streams. There are some health concerns about Roundup as well. The World Health Organization recently classed its active ingredient, glyphosate, as probably carcinogenic. Health Canada, of course, has downplayed those concerns, because normal diets would only expose Canadians to about one-third of the daily dose required to cause problems. This directly points to the need for GMO labelling. Some people want to be able to make that choice.
There are also deep concerns from the public around the ownership of seeds from plants that individuals have grown. For most GMO plants, it is illegal or even impossible to use seeds from the crops that people grow to plant next year's crops. This fundamentally changes the age-old practice of many farmers, particularly those in developing countries, of saving the seeds they produce to grow the next year's crops.
There are also concerns from some growers in Canada about the risk to our national reputation as a producer of safe, healthy food if we do not tackle the GMO issue. The BC Fruit Growers' Association opposed the licensing of the GMO Arctic Apple because its markets depend on the trust its customers have in the apples we produce.
People buy apples because they are considered a tasty and healthy food, and any risk to that reputation could be bad news for Canadian orchardists.
As a scientist, I know that every GMO is different, and that the effects they might have on our environment and our health are different as well. I do not want to spend all my time here today debating those issues.
I can say that views about GMO effects are very polarized out there, with many people believing that all GMOs are evil and many believing that they are universally harmless and beneficial. As in almost every debate, the truth is somewhere in between. However, it is hard to get at that truth when much of the data from studies around GMO effects are hidden from public view. One thing I would ask is for the government to adequately support Agriculture Canada's research programs in this field and ensure that Canadians are well informed on the issues.
My father worked in an Agriculture Canada research station throughout his career, and I am well aware of the great benefits the work of our scientists have for the citizens of this country, from help to farmers in producing better crops with higher yield, to creating new products, and planning for a future with a changing climate.
I think that Agriculture Canada and Health Canada could play central roles in rebuilding trust in the science behind food safety. Too many Canadians have simply lost all trust in reports they hear about that subject when most or all of the studies have been carried out by large multinational companies that have a huge financial stake in the outcomes and interpretation of those studies.
How do Canadians feel about GMO labelling? Health Canada reports that almost 80% of Canadians want GMO products to be labelled, and about the same number of Canadians feel that voluntary labelling does not work. The will of Canadians could not be clearer. They want GMO labelling. They want this bill to be passed.
This bill bends over backwards to give industry and the government full discretion in how labelling is introduced, what it would look like, and even the actual definition of what is or is not a GMO product. Members simply cannot argue that it is too prescriptive or restrictive. This bill is about transparency.
GMO labelling is a first step that would help diffuse the polarization in the GMO debate in this country. It would allow Canada to join the rest of the world in giving its citizens a clear choice about what they eat and, as the Prime Minister put it last year, "know more about what they are putting in their bodies".
I would like to finish by thanking the member for Sherbrooke once again for bringing this bill forward. I once again thank Alex Atamanenko for his work in my riding and across Canada.
I trust all members will vote for this bill and give Canadians the GMO labelling and the choice they want.