Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the House this evening. I stand in opposition to Bill C-291 on the following grounds: it is anti-science, anti-development, inhumane, and anti-environmental. These kinds of bills are merely Trojan Horses for an anti-GMO approach.
Let us go back to the development of agriculture, and why it was so important for humanity.
Agriculture developed about 10,000 years ago and changed humanity forever. The greatest attribute was the production of surplus food, which resulted in the specialization of occupations that people could do, and that resulted in the evolution of arts and culture, science, cities, and civilization itself. It is not too far a stretch to say no agriculture, no Silicon Valley.
Human lifespans increase because of agriculture as did populations. There is obviously a need for more and more food in the form of agricultural productivity. Farmers vary innovative and selected varieties to increase yield, and the result is abundant and very inexpensive food.
In Canada right now we spend about 9% of our disposable income on food, and that is among the lowest in the entire world. That means that people on low incomes in this country can afford to eat well. There has never been a better social program in Canada than that which has been given to Canadian citizens by agriculture, so poor people can eat well.
The acceleration of crop development really occurred out of the great Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who accelerated crop development using conventional breeding technology. I am going to quote from an article in The Atlantic about Borlaug:
Perhaps more than anyone else, Borlaug is responsible for the fact that throughout the postwar era, except in sub-Saharan Africa, global food production has expanded faster than the human population, averting the mass starvations that were widely predicted...The form of agriculture that Borlaug preaches may have prevented a billion deaths.
Interestingly, even back then Borlaug was opposed for his modern approach to agriculture. I am quoting from the same article:
The environmental community in the 1980s went crazy pressuring the donor countries and the big foundations not to support ideas like inorganic fertilizers for Africa.
Borlaug, of course, fought back very strongly. He said at the time:
Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.
The next iteration of crop development was genetic engineering, and that was done by introducing desirable traits into crops from other species, and there were some terrific results: higher yields, canola, wheat, potatoes, better nutrition, golden rice, yellow flesh sweet potatoes, and reduced pesticide use.
Another application of genetic engineering technology has allowed farmers to cease spraying altogether by incorporating pesticide toxins into the tissues of the crop plant itself. Examples include insect resistant corn and cotton now planted across the globe. I have in my hand a table that lists some of the crop plants that have been developed. This is a paper by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
Let me talk for a minute about golden rice. This is a rice that has Vitamin A bred into it due to genetic engineering. Vitamin A is critical in the prevention of blindness in children. By opposing golden rice in Asia, for example, the activists stated, and I am going to quote from an article in Environment and Development Economics with respect to the opposition to golden rice:
This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India.
The opposition to food technology, and the development of better food and crops is not just a simple thing. It has real world, inhumane consequences.
Interestingly enough, one of the things that people never talk about in terms of the environmental benefits of genetic engineering is that by having high yields produced on smaller pieces of land, we can then have room for wildlife and wildlife habitat. For example, there is a reason why the Ottawa Valley is not 100% cultivated. It is because we can produce enough food on the land that is currently under cultivation, and the rest can be left for environmental purposes. This is one of the major benefits of high yield agriculture, and it will only get better with genetic engineering.
Why is GMO labelling a bad idea? It stokes the fear of genetically engineered crops. It is kind of like a warning label. It provides no information. If the label is supposed to provide information, it should also say, “This crop was produced with less inputs, less fertilizer, and less pesticide”, like is common among many GMO crops. Most importantly, it gives anti-GMO activists a platform, and a foothold to continue this campaign against modern agriculture.
A couple of the previous speakers talked about the peer reviewed studies. In my research, we came up with 1,736 peer reviewed studies that found GMO crops to be as safe or safer than conventional or organic agriculture. I am glad the parliamentary secretary brought up the apple. It is called the Arctic apple. It was developed in the Okanagan. It is a genetically superior apple. It is sold in the United States, but is still held up in Canada.
In terms of Europe's phobia about GMOs, we have a perfect experiment in place right now. GMO crops are consumed in North America in great amounts, much less so in Europe. If there were any health or disease impacts, that would show up. We have a perfect policy experiment here, and there is no difference in the health and longevity of Europeans.
I will quote Stewart Brand, a prominent environmentalist, whom I admired back in the 1970s. He wrote a book called Whole Earth Catalog. Brand underwent an evolution in his thinking on the environment, and in 2010 wrote a book called Whole Earth Discipline. In it, he castigates the environmental movement very strongly for being against modern agriculture. He wrote:
I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.