Madam Speaker, I am speaking today in support of Bill C-291, which would introduce mandatory labelling for genetically modified food. I support sending the bill to committee after second reading where expert witness testimony can bring evidence as to how Canada can move forward in regard to providing information to Canadian consumers on genetically modified foods.
I support the labelling of genetically modified food as it provides transparency for Canadians. I have heard from many people in my community who would also like to see this type of labelling information. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the Big Carrot Natural Food Market, which is in my riding. It goes beyond selling food to providing information and workshops about organic foods, natural health products, and environmental issues. It has been a tremendous advocate on the issue of genetically modified organisms and labelling.
While I support the bill going to committee, I do see some issues with how it is written. I believe that improvements should be made to benefit consumers and producers. There has been a lot of discussion in this place about the pros and cons of genetically modified food. While there can be a very long and worthwhile debate on this issue, the truth is that the labelling debate does not require members in this place to make any such pronouncement.
Before genetically modified products are sold to Canadians, they undergo a health and safety assessment by Health Canada to determine whether they are safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts. In order to label genetically modified foods, we do not need to debate this scientific analysis.
As has been pointed out in debate earlier in this place, GMOs are different from one another and need to be examined separately by Health Canada to determine their health safety. What Canadian consumers are requesting is that their food be properly labelled.
People who want the labelling for genetically modified foods may have other concerns beyond health and safety. They may have environmental concerns and they may have concerns about seed ownership. Others may feel entirely fine about genetically modified food, but they want to know what is in their food regardless. Ultimately, labelling is about transparency. I welcome this transparency. Labelling allows us to know the composition of the food we purchase, and we can choose from there whether or not we want it. This is all about giving choice and informing the consumer.
From a legislative perspective, the new regulation-making authorities in Bill C-291 could be unnecessary since the Food and Drugs Act already contains a provision in paragraph 30(1)(b) that provides authority to create regulations that support the Food and Drugs Act's prohibition of false and misleading labelling of food. I say this because that could include genetically modified foods in relation to composition. Regulations can be more detailed. I point out that this is an additional route for us to consider. I would like the committee, should the bill go to committee after the vote at second reading, to consider this as well.
Bill C-291 responds to the concerns that consumers are not being provided proper information about the composition of their food. The Food and Drugs Act already has regulations that provide information to consumers in respect of other foods that have been deemed safe by Health Canada and yet require different labelling.
The example I would like to discuss is irradiated foods. I would like to refer to the regulations applying to irradiated foods because irradiation is a process that is reviewed and approved by Health Canada and yet labelling is required. The labelling regulations set out under the Food and Drugs Act are a good example of well-formed labelling regulations. I would suggest at committee that reference be made to these regulations as a way that we might want to amend or improve this legislation.
The labelling regulations for irradiated foods require the identification of wholly irradiated foods on the labels of prepackaged products or on signs accompanying bulk displays of irradiated food. While Health Canada is responsible for the regulations which specify which foods may be irradiated and the treatment levels permitted, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency administers the regulations for labelling irradiated foods. The regulations set out the words that can be used to let people know that the food is irradiated. The regulations set out a mandatory symbol to be used. There are regulations governing legibility and the location of the labelling.
When I look at the example of labelling irradiated foods, I see a model that could apply equally well to genetically modified foods. We have a precedent in Canada for labelling foods that Health Canada has determined to be safe, but for which further information is mandated to be available to Canadians. The irradiation regulations set out further considerations for us for GMO labelling. For example, in the case of irradiation, if an ingredient that is 10% or more of a food that is irradiated, it must be listed as irradiated on the label.
This raises a question for genetically modified foods. If a food contains only a percentage of genetically modified organisms, for example, only one ingredient out of 10, what then? We should consider that. That is an extra detail that will need to be looked at. This question would need to be looked at in more detail by the committee. Then we could consider how the regulations could probably work for labelling.
I have heard of additional situations which also require some thought and consideration. For example, if a cow is fed genetically modified feed, is there a requirement to label the milk or meat as containing genetically modified organisms? How would this be enforced and measured? These are important questions that the committee can investigate and provide recommendations on.
In the end, my hope is that we would have a comprehensive and thought-out labelling system for genetically modified foods. This is where we are lucky, because we have models from around the world to learn from. Labelling genetically modified foods is hardly a new idea. It is not novel. In fact, there are at least 64 countries around the world that require the labelling of genetically modified foods, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, and Brazil. The United States has also recently signed into law the national bioengineered food disclosure standard regarding the disclosure of genetically modified organisms. We can look to each of the models adopted by these many countries to see what is most appropriate and useful for Canadians.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health stated that Canada will be monitoring the U.S. government's labelling plans. To this I would add that we should look to the European Union to examine its approach. Considering this approach would be particularly timely, since we are looking to greater trade with the European Union following the Canada-European Union trade agreement.
The reasoning in support of labelling in the European Union is set out by the commission. It is to ensure clear labelling of GMOs placed on the market in order to enable consumers as well as professionals, such as farmers and food feed chain operators, to make an informed choice. It also says that traceability enables tracking GMOs and GM food or feed products at all stages of the supply chain. It goes on to say that traceability also makes labelling of all GMOs and GM food and feed products possible. It allows for close monitoring of potential effects on the environment and on health. Where necessary, it can allow the withdrawal of products if an unexpected risk to human health or to the environment is detected.
There is a precedent. There is some information about the European Union that we can build upon. It is important to recognize that GMO foods are allowed to be sold in the European Union; they are just labelled. They are deemed to be safe for consumption. They are tested. Therefore, labelling is not a ban; it is about providing information.
If our food processors and manufacturers intend to be exporting foods to jurisdictions such as the European Union, Japan, or the United States, they will need to take GMO labelling into account, so why not provide Canadians with the same information?
This is a good time for us to be making these changes. I support Bill C-291 and sending it to committee for further consideration.