David Anderson – Hansard 174

David Anderson
Cypress Hills—Grasslands, Saskatchewan
House of Commons

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, 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 have reduced the price of food. They 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 which 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.