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.