Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to further the discussion on the important question raised by the member Sherbrooke. This is about mandatory labelling of all genetically modified foods.
Bill C-291, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), proposes to amend the Food and Drugs Act so that once regulations are made, no person can sell any food that is genetically modified unless it has a label indicating that it has been genetically modified.
In his presentation, the member described his bill as a means to provide Canadians with information. We all know that many consumers want to know more about the foods they purchase. I believe we can all agree that this is very important. However, far from better informing the public, adopting mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods could, in fact, result in misinformation. Mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods could have the unintended effect of reinforcing the notion that foods bearing a GM label are not as safe and nutritious as their non-GM counterparts.
Right now, people are choosing to buy food labelled GM-free precisely because they think GM-free is somehow safer and more nutritious. On Canadian supermarket shelves you can find certain brands labelled GM-free. That does not make those foods safer or more nutritious to eat. Others are participating in the Non-GMO Project. The aim is GMO avoidance.
To require a mandatory label on a GM food could send the wrong message that there is something wrong with it. I am aware that this bill is not positioned as anti-GMO. I am only pointing out the unintended consequences of requiring mandatory labelling of GM food in Canada.
To clarify, a GM food is simply food derived from an organism that has had some of its inherited traits changed. GM foods that have been approved by Health Canada are as safe and nutritious to consume as their non-GM counterparts. I think the concern may be with genetically engineered food, or GM food from biotechnology, rather than GM food from selective breeding.
From what I can see, this bill does not make an immediate differentiation. For example, we have Canada's Arctic apple. A method called gene silencing was used to produce a non-browning apple. I would like to note here that the Arctic apple has been assessed by Health Canada and undergone nearly 10 years of documented test orchard experience. Following this assessment, it was determined that the changes made to the apple did not pose a greater risk to human health than apples currently available on the Canadian market.
Let us return to Bill C-291. If it became law, with regulations in place, the bill would require Arctic apples to be labelled as a genetically modified food. This is an easy example to understand.
Now consider Canada’s famous McIntosh apple, developed by traditional techniques of selective breeding, which is also a form of genetic modification. The McIntosh was then crossbred with other breeds to produce such well-known apple varieties as Empire, Cortland, Lobo, and Spartan.
Technically, although I do not believe it is the intention, the bill could require McIntosh, Empire, Cortland, Lobo, and Spartan apples to be labelled as genetically modified foods. This example is not as clear-cut.
One could say that they were not referring to the McIntosh apple and that they only meant the genetically modified food developed by biotechnology.
Why is that? There is nothing wrong with the genetically modified food developed by biotechnology, especially when the food has been thoroughly vetted by Health Canada. When it comes to genetically modified foods in Canada, there are five basic principles that guide our government's approach.
First, our government is committed to safeguarding our food, our feed, and our environment. Under the current regulatory framework approval, no single government body is solely responsible for making a final decision on these products. Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Environment and Climate Change Canada all have a role to play in the overall approval process that allows for a genetically modified food to enter the Canadian marketplace.
Second, our government's decisions on regulating genetically modified foods are based on sound science. All products derived from genetically modified organisms are subject to comprehensive scientific evaluation to maintain the ongoing protection of consumer health and safety.
Third, before genetically modified foods can be sold in Canada, they undergo a rigorous, science-based assessment by Health Canada. In the case of genetically modified feed, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also involved. The CFIA also conducts the environmental safety assessments of plants.
Fourth, the government supports innovative and sustainable food production, which is essential to increasing productivity and sustainability in Canada. In order for Canada to become the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food for the 21st century, we must keep Canadian agriculture on the cutting edge.
Fifth, the government will continue its work to keep Canada’s regulatory system in pace with emerging technologies, including those involving genetically modified foods. Our regulatory system needs to reflect the sound science that we use for decision-making in Canada. Science tells us that genetically modified foods are as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts.
Considering all of this, it is our position that mandatory labelling of GM foods as Bill C-291 proposes is not the right path.