House of Commons Hansard #174 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labelling.


Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Order. The hon. member for Perth—Wellington is rising on a point of order.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe I should still have five minutes of questions and comments stemming from my speech prior to the interruption by the bells.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I understand that when a member moves the sort of motion the member did move, that wipes out the rest of that period, so we are going on.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it has been an interesting afternoon. I know that the government House leader was hoping, on the government's behalf, to have a healthy discussion and debate about Bill C-4. It was a piece of legislation that rectified a number of wrongs--

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. parliamentary secretary.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Calgary Shepard.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, as a new member of the House, I would like to understand the ruling of the Speaker and which standing order of the House it applies to. The member for Perth—Wellington was about to have questions and comments. I understand the ruling and I accept it, but I would like to know which standing order of the House is governed by this rule.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

In response to the question from the member for Calgary Shepard, it is a House procedure. The ruling of the Speaker stands.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, as I was saying, there was a desire by the government to talk about something that is in fact really important to Canadians regarding labour relations. It is actually a piece of legislation that had already passed the House and gone to the Senate and had come back to the House. We were hoping to debate that piece of legislation.

For a number of reasons, the Conservatives, in particular, felt that there were other things they wanted to talk about. I am going to have to respect that fact. However, the issue they chose to raise is interesting. It is the issue of employment insurance.

There is no party that has been a stronger advocate for employment insurance and benefits than the Liberal Party of Canada over the last number of decades. In fact, the very creation of this national program originated under a Liberal administration. Over the years, we have seen many good things that have taken place under Liberal administrations, ensuring that those benefits, in different ways, have realized benefits for more and more Canadians.

I can recall the attitude of the former Conservative government on EI. They were negative attitudes toward my brothers and sisters out in Atlantic Canada. It is one of the reasons Atlantic Canada rejects the Conservatives. It is because the Conservatives have predetermined ideas about employment benefits. That is why I was a little surprised that this was the issue the Conservatives chose to talk about.

All we need to look at is the last budget. There were a number of things in that budget. As members know, I am very reluctant to read things into speeches, but I want to share some of the words provided to me with regard to employment insurance in this budget.

Budget 2017 contains several provisions aimed at improving the quality of life for Canadian families. I am thinking in particular of improvements to the employment insurance system, and that is the topic I would like to discuss this afternoon.

First, we must understand one thing. Canadians may, at some point in their lives, need to put their personal responsibilities before their professional ones. At such a juncture, Canada's special employment insurance benefits can be of help to them. Each year these benefits help thousands of eligible Canadians to care for a new baby or to care for a family member who is critically ill.

On the caregiver benefits, let us start by looking at the changes to the caregiver program. Budget 2017 proposed to create a new employment insurance benefit that would last up to 15 weeks. This new benefit would allow Canadians to care for an adult family member who was critically ill or severely injured. Benefits would be paid to people caring for an adult family member who was critically ill but was not at the end of life. This is a first for employment insurance.

I must add that this new benefit would supplement the compassionate care benefit for caring for critically ill family members at risk of death. Parents of critically ill children would continue to have access to up to 35 weeks of benefits. They would also now be able to share these benefits with more family members.

Now let us turn to parental benefits. Starting a family can be a challenge, especially for working parents. With budget 2017, we propose to help them meet those challenges. In short, this budget would offer flexibility to working parents. They would be able to choose the option that best meets their needs, depending on their work and family circumstances.

Under the proposed amendments, parents would therefore have two options. The first option would be to receive employment insurance parental benefits over an extended period at a lower benefit rate of 33% of their average weekly earnings. Benefits could be received for up to 18 months, counting both parental and maternity benefits.

The second option would be to receive benefits at the current rate of 55% over a period of up to 12 months.

These amendments are expected to cost $152 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $27.5 million per year after that. Parents may, of course, continue to share the benefits between them.

Furthermore, we propose to allow a pregnant woman, if she so chooses, to claim employment insurance maternity benefits up to 12 weeks before her due date, which is more flexible than the current standard of eight weeks. This additional flexibility is expected to cost $43.1 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and $9.2 million per year after that.

That is why it is always a pleasure to stand in my place, especially on behalf of my constituents. Many of my colleagues would love to be able to share some of the thoughts that we have and some of the progressive actions we are taking as a government, recognizing what Canadians want the government to do.

Canadians understand the need for compassion. They understand that this is a government that cares about what is happening at the grassroots level. We have a Prime Minister who has challenged all members of the House to represent their constituents here in Ottawa, and my colleagues have taken that challenge to heart.

We constantly hear about the need to improve the employment insurance program. The Minister of Finance and the parliamentary secretary held pre-budget meetings and consultations in every region of this country, and that was a direct result of all the networking and communication, including online. We now have a budget that better reflects what Canadians want, and we on this side of the House see the many benefits to voting in favour of this budget.

We had a great debate yesterday on Bill C-44, which is a budget implementation bill. When we have a motion for concurrence on a report, as was moved earlier today, I would suggest that if members truly believe in employment insurance and want to see progressive action being taken to support Canadians, this is a budget they should be voting for, because it includes the kinds of initiatives that I have listed over the last few minutes.

I listened to the member across the way express concerns about what took place in committee, and I take exception to some of the comments that he made. Let me make reference to a couple of specific ones.

One comment was in regard to a perception that the Conservatives in particular are trying to get across, which is that this government is not sensitive with respect to what is taking place in our standing committees. Having been in opposition when Stephen Harper was prime minister, I witnessed first-hand a total disregard and lack of respect for our standing committees, with a parliamentary secretary sitting at the head of the table dictating, having that Harper bubble around, and nothing being passed unless it was a government initiative. I would suggest that the proof is in the pudding when we see legislation that goes to committee and opposition members—

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. The heckling by members of the official opposition is very loud right now. The parliamentary secretary has the floor. If the members wish to add to the conversation, then I would suggest they get up when it is time for questions and comments.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:25 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The point I was making is that today our standing committees are more enabled if they choose to actually get engaged and do some positive work. We are starting to see that in many of our standing committees as MPs build relationships and look for ways in which they can contribute in a positive manner. We have seen a change in attitude. I have witnessed it first-hand, and I would challenge other members on that particular point.

I see my time is running out. I suspect I might have another opportunity at some point to address this issue.

Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with DisabilitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member will have eight minutes left in his debate.

The House resumed from May 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-305, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mischief), be read the third time and passed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

May 10th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill C-305.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #271

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

It being 6:10 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from March 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-291, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (genetically modified food), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak to Bill C-291.

I would like to take a few moments to thank emergency services, the armed forces, the municipalities, and the volunteers who are working together everywhere in Berthier—Maskinongé to help people affected by flooding. I thank everyone who has rolled up their sleeves and got to work helping the victims in my region. I know these are very hard times. My thoughts are with all Quebeckers affected by the flooding. People are ready and willing to help their fellow citizens, but there is still a lot of work to do in the coming weeks.

I am proud to support the bill introduced by my colleague from Sherbrooke because it will ensure that Canadian families and consumers know enough to make informed choices.

Canadians have the right to know what is in their food, and one of the best ways to ensure that is through greater transparency in food labelling. For 10 years now, surveys have shown that most Canadians support mandatory GMO labelling. According to a Health Canada study, consumers have not exactly warmed up to GMOs.

The Strategic Counsel got a contract to do a study in March 2016. The study involved 10 focus groups in five Canadian cities, including Quebec, and showed that 78% of Canadians support mandatory GMO labelling. Most of the survey respondents wondered why the government has not moved forward and want more transparency in the food industry. Given the choice, 62% of them would elect to purchase non-genetically modified foods over genetically modified foods.

That is why I support mandatory food labelling, a practice that already exists in several places around the world, such as the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Vermont in the United States.

For years now, the NDP has been arguing for legislation to make the labelling of genetically modified foods mandatory. In fact, my hon. colleague from Victoria moved a similar motion, Motion No. 480, which also advocated for mandatory labelling of GMOs.

That motion was directed at the former government. Today, Bill C-291 calls on the Liberal government to help ensure that Canadians have as much information as possible about genetically modified foods.

A number of stakeholders who are very involved in this movement in Canada worked very hard to emphasize the importance of passing this kind of legislation. They include the Canada Organic Trade Association, Vigilance OGM, the Consumers' Association of Canada, Organic Alberta, and the Quebec chapter of Friends of the Earth.

Many other organizations support the bill sponsored by my colleague from Sherbrooke, including Kids Right to Know, an organization whose objective is to educate young people on their right to make informed, healthy, environmentally conscious decisions by emphasizing proper labelling of genetically modified foods.

I would like to quote an extraordinary and inspiring woman, Rachel Parent, who advocates on behalf of this organization and has been promoting this bill on the mandatory labelling of GMOs.

Parliamentarians should not submit to bogus arguments or be swayed by shoddy pro-industry articles. They should be protecting the public's right to know and choose. Don't buy into the notion that ordinary people have been swayed by “scaremongering” anti-GMO activists. It is simply not the case. People have valid concerns that in any functioning democracy should be addressed.

On another note, the NDP recognizes the importance of scientific research in making fact-based decisions. Scientific research allows us to determine whether scientific advances are safe for public health. Genetically modified organisms have been available in Canada for years and they have undergone rigorous processes.

For now, there is no evidence that they pose any danger to public health or that they lead to health problems. However, we believe that Canadians have the right to make a free and informed choice. With this in mind, we believe it is best for GMO labelling to be mandatory. We also believe we have a duty to keep ensuring we have the most effective means of protecting the public.

I would like to note that the NDP is the only party that has adopted a food strategy. A number of years ago, I had the honour of working on such a strategy with my colleagues Malcolm Allen and Alex Atamanenko. We are very proud of the work we did. Our vision is to connect Canadians from the farm to the fork. Our overall objective is to adopt a federal integrated policy that covers agriculture, rural development, health, and income security.

We maintain that the federal government has a role to play in earning the public's trust in our food system. That is clearly indicated in the Calgary Statement – Towards the Next Policy Framework, a joint federal, provincial, and territorial ministerial statement. Under the next policy framework, labelling must be mandatory, precise, and reliable in order to ensure that the public really understands the information provided.

Furthermore, as agriculture and agrifood critic, I would like to mention that the NDP clearly understands the issue for farmers. Canadian farmers are key players in our economy and food system. They provide us with fresh, high-quality food, and they feed Canadian families. That is why the federal government must continue to invest in our rural communities, innovation, and organic farming in order to address the growing interest of consumers.

In closing, the bill introduced by my colleague from Sherbrooke, Bill C-291, is a sensible, well-thought-out bill that respects the wishes of the community.

When Canadian families gather together to eat, they have the right to know what is on their plates. We have here a perfect opportunity to make that possible, in the form of a mechanism that promotes transparency. I am talking about food labelling.

I hope that my colleagues in the House will support this bill. Canadians can count on us, the NDP, to stand up for their interests because they have a right to have transparent information about their food.

I would also like to quote what the Prime Minister said in December 2016 in answer to a question asked by my colleague from Sherbrooke about mandatory food labelling. That is not very long ago. The Prime Minister said:

This is about protecting consumers. I am hearing consumers say loud and clear that they want to know more about what they are putting in their bodies. This is a good thing. We are working with them.

In closing, I would urge the Prime Minister and all members of the House to think about and support Bill C-291, because it is important that we send it to committee, that we be transparent, and that we give Canadians a choice.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to this bill, and look forward to my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa speaking to it, too. He is probably one of the most knowledgeable members in the House on these issues.

I first want to point out that GMO-free labelling is allowed in this country. From the conversation we are having here today, Canadians listening might not understand that. Any company, wholesaler or retailer, can put GMO-free labelling on their products, if they choose to do that. If they think that is somehow going to impact the market in a positive way, they have the opportunity to do that, and there are people doing that across Canada.

I am from a farm, and I am very proud of my heritage. I am proud of the crops that my neighbours produce. Some constituents in my neighbourhood are watching tonight. It is good to have them here, because they understand the challenges that farmers and producers across Canada face as they feed the rest of the world.

When in government, the Conservatives always guided the agriculture and food safety policy on the principle that decisions must be based on sound science. This actually results in Canada having one of the best food safety systems in the world. The Liberal government, apparently, seems determined to leave that behind. A number of issues have gone to the agriculture committee that do not seem to be science-based at all, but more politically based. If we are going to make decisions about these kinds of products, chemicals, pesticides, and those kinds of things based on political activity, we are going to find ourselves in a very deep hole.

The agriculture committee has dealt with things like the neonicotinoid issue and animal transport regulations issues, and the government's proposals do not deal directly with science. Much of it seems to be politically motivated. If we do that, we walk into a very deep swamp, particularly if we do that with genetically engineered products.

With respect to food safety, particularly on GMO products, the role of the government has been, and should continue to be, to regulate for the health and safety of Canadians. That is our challenge. That is the challenge governments have typically taken up, and said that their involvement, or interference, if we want to call it that, in the market needs to stop. That is why we have the food safety system that we do.

Conservatives stand for the integrity of the food system. We have a great food system, and we stand for protecting the health and safety of Canadians and farmers so that they can continue to be competitive around the world, but the reality is that GMOs have been demonstrated time and time again to be no threat to human health or safety. This bill fails to acknowledge the safeguards already in place, as well as the labelling options, one of which I mentioned a few minutes ago, that are already available to manufacturers and producers.

There were some questions this afternoon about some of the science, but I want to point out that over 2,000 studies have been done that document that there is no threat to human health or food safety from GMOs. One of my Liberal colleagues, a little earlier, asked about studying whether animals eating GMO products should be considered to be GMO in some fashion. In the United States, animal agriculture each year produces over nine billion food-producing animals, and 95% of them consume feed containing GMO ingredients.

Since the introduction of genetically engineered products, trillions of meals have been fed to animals with GMO products, and if there were an issue, it would have become obvious long ago. One study, over 29 years ago, which studied 100 billion animals, livestock productivity, and health, showed there was no noticeable impact of genetically engineered products, other than in cases where there had been an improvement. There was no impact on meat, milk, or eggs. Clearly, the benefits of GMO crops greatly outweigh the health impacts.

For example, the use of GMOs on farms in my area has reduced the price of food. GMOs have lowered the requirements for energy input, and have raised the output of crops. We have the example of something called golden rice, which could directly impact the deaths of one million children per year who suffer from a vitamin A deficiency. A number of governments have said they are not going to grow it, because it is genetically modified, no matter how much it could positively impact their people.

Some people oppose this and still try to make the genetically engineered part of that the issue. That is what this bill does as well, but there is no issue.

We have mentioned the European Union here a couple of times today. It is important to note that the EU itself has funded over 130 research projects. We would expect, given the kind of requirements the Europeans have, that they would have been interested if there were any negative impacts of these products. The research projects were carried out by 500 independent teams, and not one of them found there was any special risk from GMO crops. That is from Scientific American. The objections that we find to this whole industry are not scientific, but are definitely political.

I am a little concerned about the NDP coming forward with this bill again. It has come forward a number of times. If anything, the New Democrats are persistent, if not accurate. There is no health issue. We should not be leaving the impression with people that there is. We also should not be leaving the impression that the United States at this time requires labelling for GM products, because that is not true. The requirement that they have down there is that if there is actually a compositional difference that results in some sort of a material change to the product, then that has to be labelled for that change. That is a far cry from what we are being asked to support here. An example of that would be if canola oil had an increased lauric acid content compared to conventional oil, it would have to be labelled as a lauric canola oil. That is not what we are talking about here. To say that the United States has GMO labelling is not accurate. I do not think the mover of the bill or others here should be leaving that impression.

The member's bill contains no definition of GM food. In the bill, it actually leaves that to the Governor in Council. I do not think it would be responsible for us to be supporting this bill. The member just puts it forward with no definition of these terms. Once again, we need to understand what he is talking about. Why would he not just say that the New Democrats do not believe in anything specific enough here to even define it, that they are just going to throw it over to the government and let them somehow decide what the definition of this is? The member has a GM labelling bill, but he refuses to even consider defining what GM means in his mind. We do not have any clear understanding of what that might be.

As I mentioned earlier, the Canadian system has regulated by health and by safety, but not by composition. I do not think we need to change that, because this has worked well in the past.

In the member's bill, he decided to leave all regulations to the Governor in Council as well. Basically, the member is just saying that the New Democrats want a bill but they are going to leave it to the government to define what it is about and to set the regulations. It is kind of a strange presentation here. I think this is just a first step to try to get this bill in as quickly as possible.

I want to come back to something that is important, because we have heard this a couple of times today. The reality is that the United States does not make the distinction between novel foods and GMO foods. Novel foods are typically new products that have been developed. The Americans' view is that foods developed using new techniques do not differ from other foods in any meaningful way or present different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. That is a pretty direct repudiation of what the member is saying, that there is GMO labelling required in the United States.

I want to give a bit of time for my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa to be able to speak at length here, so I am going to wrap it up right now and let him have the extra time, hopefully later, that I was given.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

La Prairie Québec


Jean-Claude Poissant LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member for Sherbrooke can use his right of reply.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank all the speakers who took the time to come to the House to express their points of view. Although I do not agree with everything that was said, I would nevertheless like to thank them for taking the time to speak.

First of all, I would like to respond to my colleagues who imputed motives to me that I do not have. They seemed to insinuate that I want to ban GMOs or to find fault with the GMO industry, when that is not at all my intention. My only intention is to respond to consumers who have repeatedly expressed their desire to know more about what they eat.

The Prime Minister himself, in a television appearance in 2016, approved of this desire to know more about what we eat. That is all I want to do. I am very surprised to hear some of my colleagues imputing other motives to me and saying that this is an anti-GMO campaign. That is patently false.

What surprised me the most in today's debate is what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said. I do not want to quote him incorrectly, but he basically said that giving consumers more information would result in misinformation. That is ridiculous. That suggests that he thinks Canadians are too stupid to figure things out and will be misled by labels with too much information. Come on. It does not make any sense to say that Canadians will have too much information and that it will not be useful to them. He is not giving Canadians very much credit for their intelligence. I wanted to respond to that comment by the parliamentary secretary.

On another note, I want to thank all those who have helped to advance this cause over the past few decades and those who have continued that work in recent weeks. It has been a pleasure to work with them to advance this cause and to try get Canadians the information they deserve.

If the House of Commons really is the House of the common people or, in other words, if it truly represents the people of Canada, and it does not vote in favour of Bill C-291, at least at second reading, there is going to be a major problem, because 80% of the population has asked for this information many times.

If this House truly represents Canadians, it must be consistent and it must take action to give Canadians what they have been calling for in recent years. If parliamentarians do not acknowledge these statistics and at least send this bill to committee for further study, then our democracy has failed.

That being said, I am open to amendments and further study in committee. Today we talked about the definition of genetically modified foods. That will remain in the hands of the government, who will consult industry stakeholders through a regulatory process. That will not happen overnight. This process will run its course like the others. Then we will have the opportunity to discuss the definition and try to align our standards with those of our economic and trading partners.

If 64 other nations label GMOs, there is no reason for Canada not to as well. If this is being done by our main economic partners, including Europe, with whom we have signed an agreement, then we should be doing this too, and then adjusting and harmonizing our regulations. This is critical to our trade agreements.

I encourage all my colleagues to support this bill, if only to refer it to committee in order to study it more thoroughly.