Madam Speaker, there is a newish meme in town. Two years ago, it was “because it is 2015”, then it became “because it is 2016”. Well, I would like to play a variation on the meme. I hope we will abandon the practice of not identifying genetically modified foods as soon as possible. Why? Because it is 2017. That is why I am so pleased to comment on the bill introduced by my colleague from Sherbrooke, Bill C-291.
In French, they say “dans les petits pots, les meilleurs onguents”. In English, they say “small is beautiful”. In my view, those descriptions fit this bill. It is a very short bill, just one or two clauses long, but it is so delicately balanced that it can satisfy both those who are in favour of GMOs and those who are not.
Indeed, the goal here is not to have a standoff to try to prove whether GMOs are harmful to human health, but rather to make it a point of information, so that all consumers across the country can make their own choices based on their expertise and their wishes.
The bill is very simple. Bills often seem abstract and very complex to the people listening to us. However, in the 10 minutes I have to speak, which is not very long, I will be able to read the bill practically in its entirety. What does the bill say? It amends an existing piece of legislation, the Food and Drugs Act. Regarding genetically modified foods, subsection 5.1 of the amended act reads:
No person shall sell any food that is genetically modified unless its label contains the information prescribed under paragraph 30(1)(b.2).
If this bill passes, genetically modified products can still be sold, but they cannot be sold unless that information is included on the label. This means that all consumers who go to the grocery store to buy consumer goods will be able to make choices based on the labels. If that does not provide enough latitude, paragraph 30(1)(b) that was mentioned at the end of clause 1 of the bill reads as follows:
Subsection 30(1) of the Act is amended by adding the following after paragraph (b):
(b.1) defining the expression “genetically modified”;
This is the second amendment to the existing legislation.
It is left up to the Governor in Council to define what “genetically modified” means, which provides some latitude.
I will continue:
(b.2) respecting the labelling of genetically modified food, to prevent the purchaser or the consumer of the food from being deceived or misled in respect of its composition;
The Governor in Council has the latitude to change the regulations. In the end, all we are asking for is labelling that will provide the information.
I was a geography teacher in my previous career. To present a balanced perspective and to let students develop their critical thinking skills, I would vigorously defend both sides of a debate so my students would not know my position and to allow them to come to their own conclusions.
I came up with all kinds of reasons to condemn the Monsantos of this world. I was just as passionate when arguing that genetically modified foods are safe. We are not asking the House to come down on one side or the other. We are simply asking it to include the information that will allow everyone to make their own choices.
I find this approach to be very respectful. Not only will the bill respect everyone's position, but it will also respect the right of all Canadians to have the information they need to make their own choices.
In the past few months and years, we have seen the appearance of genetically modified salmon in Canada. Publications from the extreme right to the extreme left of the spectrum talk about Frankenfish. On the other hand, we have people saying that there is no health risk whatsoever. The fact is, according to a Health Canada study, close to 80% of Canadians want to know what they are dealing with. That is precisely the point of the bill introduced by the hon. member for Sherbrooke.
Many associations are behind this bill precisely because it strikes the right chord. I will name a few of the associations and you will see that they do not all take the same approach to this issue: Union paysanne, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, and Vigilance OGM, but I especially want to point out Kids Right to Know. Although I am not very old, I am at an age where I have more years behind me than ahead of me. Regardless of whether science one day manages to state once and for all that genetically modified foods are good or bad for health, my own health will not be affected since I will not be around to see the results of these studies.
In order to be credible, studies on GMOs must be conducted over extended periods. They will have to be done over a span of 20, 30, even 50 years. Who will be around to see the results of these studies? Those who are participating in the Kids Right to Know program today. It would be most unfortunate if they were to learn, when they reach my age, that they should not have eaten this food, or that they ate it and that it did not affect them. That is why it is important for them and for all Canadians to make their own choices. Labelling will make this possible.
The objectives of this bill are simple, specific, few in number, and easily understood by everyone. First, the bill would improve transparency in the food industry. I have given enough examples that I need not elaborate further. Second, it would strengthen public confidence. That is a very important aspect of our debate because there are many concerns about genetically modified foods and we cannot scientifically prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are a danger. Labelling would allow every individual to make their own choices and to feel confident about the product they choose to buy at the grocery store. We will be able to chose whether to purchase certain items with our eyes wide open.
The third objective is just as commendable, because it is 2017. One of these days, and soon, I hope, we will have to harmonize Canadian policy with what much of the rest of the world is doing. Right now, no fewer than 65 countries and jurisdictions have labelling laws for GMOs. That includes several American states, but it is just one country. The right thing to do is to get on board. The right thing for Canada to do is to get with the times on this issue.
All the same, I have some concerns that I cannot ignore. I was relieved to hear my Liberal colleague say she would be voting for the bill. I remember the government's response to the petition presented by my colleague from Drummond. If memory serves me, the response said, “Voluntary labelling is...the primary means of communication between industry and consumers.”
I have serious doubts about voluntary labelling. It is akin to self-regulation for security or for credit card transaction fees. I do have some outstanding concerns, but I am very happy with some of what I have been hearing from the Liberals.
I hope the House will vote unanimously in favour of my colleague from Sherbrooke's bill.