Mr. Speaker, I would need an hour to refute some of the things that were said by members who spoke before me; yet I only have ten minutes, but I will surely have other opportunities to do so. First and foremost, I want to express my support to the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre and to thank her for tabling Motion No. 252, asking the government to take immediate steps to implement a labelling process that will make us consumers aware of what foods are genetically modified.
Far from being an attack on biotechnologies, the hon. member's motion is a serious initiative asking that light be shed on the scientific process used to approve these foods and to evaluate their potential long term effects on health, on the environment and now on culture, agriculture and international trade.
What is great is that the more we look at this issue, the more components we must take a stand on as members of parliament.
I want to tell the House that we are not scaremongers, that we are definitely not sheep, and that we do not belong to any sect. Let us be very clear. The fact that we want to inform our fellow citizens and to get to the bottom of things does not put us in any of these categories, on the contrary. We are members of parliament with a responsibility for what goes on in society, and it so happens that GMOs are a new and growing phenomenon.
I would like to say, particularly, in response to my honourable colleague from Egmont, that we read everything that has been written, everything that has been said, everything we can get our hands on about the subject. What was done two years ago in committees, what was produced by the government two years ago, we also read. I should point out, however, that this is a constantly evolving field and so a person has to be constantly updating. What was being said two or three years ago is very quickly out of date, I believe.
There is one other thing I would like to add. There is talk of labelling. and there is an adjective I really feel must be added to that, mandatory. I will explain why. In the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food, we received some people responsible for voluntary labelling. We came to realize immediately that this was a problem: no two organizations share the same definition of what a GMO is.
It is clearly evident from our readings, whether from the USA or Japan—in translation obviously—or from Europe, that there is near-complete agreement on reference to GMOs as relating to the mechanisms of recombinant DNA, and procedures for detecting genes that have been created in a laboratory in order to confer new characteristics to organisms to which they are transferred.
Now another totally different subject is cropping up very regularly: mutagenesis, which is something completely different. It is a totally different process, one which refers to chemical or physical actions on genes which result in certain progress changes in the organism.
Now they are trying to lump these two together. The resulting whole is something that no one can grasp. The result: confusion in both scientific and consumer communities. All this confusion gives us more time to do nothing.
Speaking of doing nothing, I listened very politely to the government member. Ways must also be found to centralize action and information. I did a small calculation and came up with eight ministers responsible for this issue. I often say that having one minister and one agency to deal with is already a lot; but if this is multiplied by eight, action is sure to grind to a halt.
So we are thus being given more time, and on this issue, more time is not what we want. What we want is to inform consumers, the public, as quickly as possible and to reassure ourselves about the effects of genetically modified organisms, especially on health and on the environment.
I can hear certain members asking whether I know of anyone who has died from eating GMOs. I find talk like that so simplistic that I have a tendency to become annoyed, although I am usually even-tempered.
I will tell members why I get annoyed: I get annoyed because we must not minimize this issue. We must be wise enough to tackle it head on and examine it thoroughly. All sorts of things can happen: there are environmental diseases, which we are hearing about with increasing frequency, allergies, resistance to antibiotics. Perhaps there is no connection with GMOs, but what we do know is that, right now, nobody is studying this or has proven otherwise.
It is very simple. We always met with representatives of Health Canada in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. They told us they were there merely to obtain budgets to start assessments on humans, in other words on us, the consumers.
The thought is that there must be medium and long term evaluations, but the budgets are just starting to come through. When the government talks of budgets, believe me, that does not mean that the studies are begun.
Why not take the precaution of taking time to do these analyses before getting into an evolution that cannot be reversed, because it moves ahead too rapidly? The hope is that the consumer will be well informed. As we begin a new century, one so anxiously awaited, we ought to have labelling that is readily understood, quick to be inaugurated, and mandatory. We have seen that making it voluntary opened up all manner of opportunities for getting around it and for not holding this debate.
This is part of what we are calling for, and we will continue the debate in all possible forums until we have that certainty.
It is a year now—this almost feels like an anniversary to me— since I started the tour, petitions on GMOs and the demands for mandatory labelling. I also called for the public to be informed and trained, not to send out a little propaganda pamphlet to people's homes telling them to wash their hands before they eat, on the right hand page, while on the page opposite treating GMOs as if there were nothing to worry about, no questions to be asked.
Consumers have questions. Without wishing to contradict the member who spoke before me, we know that consumers have questions. There have been surveys for years. The results are always the same. We all want the same thing—information—and information means mandatory labelling of transgenic foods.
There is so much going on right now. Last week, I was listening to a greenhouse grower who produces tomatoes. He tried to label his tomatoes as not containing GMOs. Major food stores, which I will not name but which can be found throughout the region, would not let him label his tomatoes “not transgenic” because apparently if the other tomatoes were not labelled, it might have given the impression that they were transgenic.
Farmers do not have much leeway, but consumers do not have any at all. That is why I am supporting my colleague's motion and why we are pushing for results on this issue, because we want everything to be analysed: the effects on health, as well as the effects on ethics and on the economy, social and environmental effects and, of course and above all, for me, the effects on agriculture because that is my particular concern. I will be following this issue.