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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Bloc MP for Louis-Hébert (Québec)

Lost her last election, in 2000, with 37% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by my colleague from Waterloo—Wellington, and in some respects, I still have concerns on the work of the government.

First off, I have the impression that the government created a lot of committees and panels last year, to some extent in order to gain a little time and to some extent to move forward so that at a given point it will be impossible to stop or go back. Some things are being questioned, and the government is not admitting that. I think, for example, of the principle of equivalence disputed by a number of scientists. I am not a leading scientist, but I look at what is going on and it concerns me.

I wrote to the Canadian food inspection agency a year ago now, asking a simple question about how they approved genetically modified food. I have three boxes of documents. They are petitions I have been sent, it is crazy.

I look at how they approved “New Leaf Y” and “New Leaf Plus” potatoes. In the past two weeks, the push was on to approve these potatoes, because people were asking for them and Monsanto works with the government and was working in this case with potato producers. In my opinion, there is a lack of impartiality.

My question is as follows: given all of this, how can the member for Waterloo—Wellington say we are really safe and are doing the right thing?

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech by my hon. colleague from Brandon—Souris. I know he is wise, and, if he is better informed, he will perhaps change his mind.

I do not think we can let consumers be treated as unwilling guinea pigs and not know what is in their plate.

What interested me particularly in his speech were his remarks on the biotechnologies, which we all support, if they mean better things for humanity. He spoke of the bread basket of the world, an appropriate expression for people from the west.

In this context, how can we export? We talk of the bread baskets of the world, so we will have to export more than we do now. The canola market is closed in Europe at the moment and will be closed in Japan if we do not make labelling mandatory. There is a world trade problem.

How, can the government want to become an ever expanding exporter and fail to honour the requirements of the countries we export to?

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with a great deal of interest to what my colleague from Palliser has had to say, and there are a lot of questions I could ask, because he raised a number of different aspects, but I will restrict myself to one on research.

I would like to know whether he has asked himself questions about the somewhat embarrassing, if not downright incestuous, connections between major companies and those carrying out research. It is true that the government has pulled out, which has forced our researchers, our academics, to look for partners—a term I feel has been worked to death.

Is it possible to maintain independent research, purely scientific research relating to GMOs that responds to the concerns of the consumer, not just those of big business?

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the remarks of our colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan with great interest. He addressed an aspect that had not yet been looked at: the cost of mandatory labelling of transgenic foods.

If this is an aspect that is rarely addressed, it is because there is so little information available. I listened to his demonstration. If there is labelling, this will amount to a 6% tax on all food products to cover the costs of monitoring, which is moreover already being done by the agency, according to the information we have currently available, because there are few laboratories.

I would like to ask my colleague whether he has weighted the cost factor against the potential loss of market, for instance in Japan, the European community, Korea, and many other countries requiring mandatory labelling. I think this would lead to a most interesting cost reduction.

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the minister of agriculture for taking part in this debate. I am honored that he did so.

I listened carefully to his speech. It is true that we have an enviable reputation regarding food safety. However, it is also true that the principle of equivalence that we use to approve foods is challenged by a number of scientists.

The minister mentioned another topic, which brings me to ask him a question about the standards for organic or biological farming that were approved in April 1999, barely a year ago. In the whole issue of GMOs, I believe that organic farming is the most threatened sector. We have a hard time, even this year, finding products with less than 5% GMO content in transgenic seeds, while the international standard for the sale of these products is 1%.

I would like to know if the minister of agriculture has a particular concern for our organic farmers who, after nine years of waiting, finally got specific standards for the sale of their products.

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, any time there is a proposal to discuss GMOs, transparency about them, and their effects, I believe my party and I will be in agreement with such a debate.

I must offer my colleague only partial reassurance. I have another motion before the House on the same subject and the first hour of debate on it will take place on Friday, with two more hours to follow. This is very little for now, but I believe we will be willing to discuss this in the House until the end of the session.

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, being in the opposition, I am, like my colleague, unaware of certain secrets, which are almost state secrets. I do not know why there were no sittings of the health and agriculture committees.

I would like to think that it was because of our tenacity on the agriculture committee, in insisting that we speak of the matter there, that the question of GMOs is on the agenda of the agriculture committee at least.

As for the rest, it remains a total mystery. Some mysteries I cannot solve, even if my dear colleague says I have some knowledge; I would say to him that it is just marginal, and in this I have no inherent knowledge.

Supply May 2nd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, nowhere have I read of people dying from eating GMOs. The issue is a bit different. I think that while, in the short term, we have no problems, we may have them over the long term. Allergies are a growing problem around the world. Genetic recombination can create substances and protein allergens.

Even in the tests done by Health Canada, according to a study by Ms. Clark, a researcher at Guelph University, no serious confirmation study has been done on allergens, even on products in Canada.

It is partly for this reason that we are warning that we should not wait until we are sick or have an incident, we should try to see and prove that nothing happens, that we are sure nothing will happen, because we are dealing with consumers and with human beings. So far, fortunately, there has been no major incident that we are aware of.

Supply May 2nd, 2000

moved:

That this House urge the government to demonstrate openness with regard to genetically modified organisms, starting by making it mandatory to label genetically modified foods or foods containing genetically modified ingredients, in order to enable Canadians to make informed choices about the foods they eat.

Mr. Speaker, I feel it is important to speak today on the issue of genetically modified organisms. Before I begin my speech, I would like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Jonquière, and throughout the day, all speakers from my party will be splitting time with colleagues.

This is an important day for me because I am constantly concerned about genetically modified organisms and felt it was important for us all to have a day to reflect on GMOs in the House.

Before proceeding, it would be wise to remind hon. members of the definition of GMOs. Genetically modified organisms are living organisms to which a gene that is foreign to them has been added, one from their species or another species. This gene confers upon them new properties they did not initially possess.

Normally these properties serve to improve the role they play, such as reducing the need for herbicides, insecticides, lowering cholesterol content, or raising something else, but it is important to realize that their properties are changed by the addition of this new gene.

There is need for this matter to be examined more thoroughly. The GMOs came on the scene rapidly. Five years ago there were none on the market, while today they are found in a variety of processed foods.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency acknowledges that about 70% of the foods we eat at the present time contain traces, or far greater amounts, of GMOs. They have become just part of our landscape, part of the things we eat, but most of the time we are not aware of their presence.

In all these modified foods, there is never a label to help us identify what we are eating. In North America there are all sorts of information on the food we eat: cholesterol free, contains cholesterol, sugar free, contains additives, and so on, whereas with genetically modified food, no label is required.

Furthermore, while the government talks of transparency, all this landed on our shelves unbeknownst to consumers, without their being informed. I would say that it is only in the past year that consumers have begun to take a serious interest in this issue. Public concern is justified because it is understandable to be worried about something we are unfamiliar with.

There is also a lack of knowledge on the effects of GMOs. In its speeches, the government is trying to be reassuring. It tells us that there is no effect, no one has died yet. It tells us not to worry. We should trust biotechnology.

I would like to, but people the world over are asking questions, be it the members of the American Academy of Sciences, the 200 scientists with Health Canada or the entire European community. They are saying “Careful, we should prove that there is no effect on human health, the environment or agriculture before we allow these products to circulate”.

Currently 42 have already been accepted in Canada. According to the deputy minister, 500 are on a waiting list ready to be accepted in Canada. This whole situation creates a reasonable doubt about the government's approval and inspection process for genetically modified organisms and about the middle and long term effects of these products.

Today is kind of an anniversary for me. It has been one year since I began fighting in the House and in committee to have a debate on this issue. After being initially fruitless and misunderstood, these representations are beginning to give results. The support received from consumers and the public, that is the people whom we represent, is a great source of motivation for me. Now, this issue is being discussed more openly, and we must continue to talk about it until we achieve a level of transparency and until there is mandatory labelling for transgenic foods.

There have been trends and movements about this issue. Nowadays, if we do not directly support this technological advance, as it is called, we are said to be emotional. That has been the case from the outset. Now, we are labelled as people who do not understand anything about the American new deal, about globalization. We are told that we should be at the forefront regarding this issue, that we should not ask questions relating to ethics, health or regulations, but get on side.

In an article published in today's edition of Le Devoir , I read the following:

Those who do not agree with that view feel crushed and overwhelmed by the progress made and they simply do not know what is at stake. Save for a few exceptions, those who are opposed to GMOs are labelled activists and their legitimate concern is perceived as “fear”.

If there is someone in this House who is not afraid, it is me. However, when I think of my children and grandchildren, I would never forgive myself if some day it was discovered that, because of a lack of knowledge, a lack of experimentation—if we have a scientific approach on one side, we must take the same approach on the other side, if we are critics—we missed something and created a monster instead of improving the plight of human beings.

It is not a case of being emotional, of being afraid, or of not understanding globalization. This is a very serious issue that has not, and this is unfortunate, been taken seriously enough by the scientific community and by parliamentarians in this House so far.

This is what I am trying to achieve—I asked myself who stood to gain in the end. When one asks oneself this question, the answer is obvious: multinationals first and foremost. There is no doubt about it. I have nothing against multinationals making money but I would also like to see consumers derive some benefit. So far, unfortunately, there is no evidence that consumers benefit in any way.

Because more care is now being taken in responding to criticism, proponents are now talking about starvation in the world. So far not even 1% of budgets has been devoted to research into GMOs in order to improve the lot of the starving in the world. Nothing has been done for developing countries. So much for good intentions. Scientifically speaking, it is probably true, but in real life so-called developing countries have not benefited yet.

Is there any benefit to producers? This is an interesting question and the answers are as diverse as the people providing them. Studies have been done in the United States—in Iowa to be more precise—and there is no useful indication of improvement for producers because the results fluctuate with the particular situation. So far I am not aware of any provincial or federal government statistics that tell us exactly whether productivity has increased, whether there has been a significant decrease in herbicides and pesticides or whether microbial activity in soils has been affected. Plants grow in soils, a living substratum.

If this evidence is not available, I wonder who is benefiting. I know right off who is being harmed, biological producers. I would not want to see consumers, who are our fellow citizens, and who are those most affected, harmed in the long run.

We have all day to debate the motion and I will be pleased to answer members' questions.

Genetically Modified Organisms May 1st, 2000

Mr. Speaker, despite the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's claim last April that there was no problem exporting GMOs, his secretary of state took the opposite view in the fall of 1997, citing the example of the ban on exporting transgenic canola to Europe.

How can the minister continue to deny the export problems, when our producers are suffering the consequences of his failure to take action?