FYI: As of April 14, Bill C-474 was passed to the next ’round’. There is a God!
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
Note from April: lots of valuable information here…
SEEDS REGULATIONS ACT
The House resumed from March 17 consideration of the motion
that Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of
potential harm), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Hon. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I appreciate
the opportunity to speak to Bill C-474. The intent of Bill C-474, an
act to amend seeds regulations, is to “require that an analysis of
potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any
new genetically engineered seed is permitted”. The intent of this bill
is to require that the federal government amend the seeds regulations in order to require that that analysis be undertaken.
I will admit that I have mixed opinions on this bill, but I will say
off the top of this debate that I am willing to allow the bill to go to
committee. What in part prompted this legislation was the discovery,
beginning in Europe in July 2009, that Canadian flax exports were
contaminated with the genetically modified flax, Triffid. The
presence of the GM flax was found first in Germany in cereal and
Let us be clear. The GM flax in question had not been approved
for use in Canada since 2001 and this bill would not necessarily have
prevented the Triffid issue from happening. As the Flax Council of
Canada confirmed to its members in October 2009, “No varieties of
GM flaxseed have received regulatory approvals in the EU”.
The consequences on our flax exporters has been severe.
According to a Globe and Mail story on October 27, 2009, the
lucrative $320 million annual market for flax was threatened with
prices declining from $11 a bushel to $2 a bushel. That is very
It should be noted, though, that GM Triffid flax was developed in
1998 at the University of Saskatchewan. The Triffid seed is tolerant
to soil residues and certain herbicides. In what I would call a smart
and futuristic-thinking move, in 2001 Canadian flax producers,
through the Flax Council of Canada, moved to have the CFIA, the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency, remove the variety registration
for GM flax in order to protect their export markets. The EU
accounts for approximately 70% of Canada’s flax exports.
I make that point because the flax industry did everything it could
to prevent genetically modified flax from affecting the European
market. Yet it still did. Triffid got into the marketplace. This bill
would not have prevented that from happening.
Let me turn to the issues that I believe need to be discussed in
committee. There is a lot of debate around genetically modified and
genetically engineered organisms and people have all kinds of wild
and woolly stories. There is a lot of pressure from some in the farm
community and some in the investment community not to allow this
bill to go to committee.
We have to have the debate. We need to lay it on the table. I
believe in a science-based system. I really do not know how the
mover of the bill intends to measure market harm, but I am certainly
willing to send it to committee to find out how the mover of the bill
intends to do that. I am certainly willing to have a discussion with
witnesses on both sides of the issue in a transparent way and deal
with this proposal in a very constructive way.
The bill does not question the legitimacy of GMOs as an
agricultural tool. The debate based upon the provisions of the bill
need not become one which focuses on support for or opposition to
the use of GM organisms.
Bill C-474 is seeking to propose the establishment of a means by
which, prior to export of Canadian products, there can be developed, a process by which “potential harm” of exporting GM products into markets which have not accepted their presence can be determined.
In a background note prepared for the agriculture committee on
November 26, 2009, it was indicated that soya growers and exporters
have taken an innovative approach by introducing a segregation
system that allows them to supply their customers with different
crops of soya with specific characteristics. However, this segregation
system is not available to all varieties.
The economic harm test is established by the fact of a ban on
certain GM content and the discovery of it in any shipment.
However, the bill does not define how that economic harm would be
determined. We will listen closely to witnesses to see if they can
possibly put forward the method of defining that economic harm.
The wider issue remains the acceptability of GM organisms in the
This is not the first time we have been faced with that kind of a
decision. In 1994 Monsanto was pressing to have its product,
Posilac, approved in Canada. Posilac, better known as rBST, is a
synthetic growth hormone that increases milk production in dairy
cattle. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, in its report of April
14, 1994, recommended a moratorium on the approval of rBST
during which time there would be a review in greater detail of the
impact of rBST on the costs and benefits for the Canadian dairy
I bring this up because we are seeing the same kind of concern
raised by researchers and some of the big companies right now. The
response at that time from the industry to the work of the committee
was to question why the committee would even do that work. I
received a letter from the president of Ag-West Biotech Inc., a very
successful biotech company in Saskatoon, in April 1994. He said:
I am writing to you with respect to agriculture biotechnology and my concerns regarding the recent actions of the Standing Committee on agriculture. The method they used to deal with BST has given me some real concerns for the future of the biotechnology industry in Canada.
He went on in the letter to say:
Their recommendations [meaning the committee] could have serious negative impacts on the future of Canadian agriculture. I trust that their recommendations won’t proceed further, as they presently stand.
Another company that was very concerned was Monsanto, which
wrote a letter on May 3, 1994. Monsanto said:
Since 1985 Monsanto has followed the current process for BST approval through Health Canada. We support a transparent and science based regulatory system. As developers, we believe this is essential to reassure the public on issues such as food safety…
Monsanto goes on to argue that, should the committee even study
the issue, there would be loss of investment in Canada.
The point is that neither claim can be borne out. We made the
decision as a committee. We debated the issue. As I understand it,
rBST is still not approved for use in Canada. Monsanto and other
research companies have continued to invest heavily.
Sending this bill to committee should not impact on investment in
Canada. We should study the issue at committee and lay the facts on
the table. I hear a government member laughing. I know the
government hates to discuss issues. It likes to operate in secrecy.
This issue should go to committee. It should be debated there. Proper
witnesses should be brought in and then decisions made on the
Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, BQ): Mr.
Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-474, a bill that would
regulate seeds, and in particular, genetically engineered seeds.
This is an important bill we have before us. I think it is an
important part of a policy on genetically modified organisms, or
GMOs, that Canada should adopt. I will explain that and go into
more detail later.
We must pass this bill. We are in favour of this bill because we
must take into account the market losses that could be directly
associated with some decisions made by the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency. We must consider the economic impact that
the approval of genetically engineered products and substances
We need to do more. Canada must agree to ratify the Cartagena
protocol on biosafety. The purpose of this protocol is to govern and
regulate genetically modified products. This protocol would also
give substance to a declaration signed in Rio and to a fundamental
approach, the precautionary principle, which is mentioned directly in
the Cartagena protocol.
The Food and Drugs Act must be amended because genetically
modified foods are not the same as conventional foods. Risk
assessments should not and must not be the same for both categories.
We have to go even further than that. We have to make sure that
Canada has a policy and regulations for labeling products that
contain GMOs so that people who go to grocery stores know what is
in these foods. People have the right to choose. Canada’s legislation
has to recognize that right.
We have to pass this bill because there have been precedents. We
have seen what happens. The case with China and Canada is an
excellent example. A few years ago, in 2001 to be exact, China
decided to ban imports of certain products made from genetically
modified crops, such as canola, soy and rapeseed. These products
were banned from China because they were genetically modified.
What was the effect of that ban on economic activity in the United
States, where 70% of the soy crop is genetically modified? It was an
absolute disaster for many producers.
That is why we have to be aware of the effect that approving
genetically modified seed can have on our producers’ economic
security. The same applies to Europe. Asia and Europe are two
markets that tend to ban imports of products containing GMOs. A
Canadian Food Inspection Agency decision to approve a genetically
modified product can have significant economic consequences for
Another example is genetically modified wheat. When Monsanto
sought approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to
market genetically modified Roundup Ready wheat, the Canadian
Wheat Board immediately conducted an economic impact study.
The wheat board told the government to be careful, because if it
approves genetically modified wheat, we could lose some of our
market share. This bill would make the Canadian Wheat Board’s
measures mandatory, in order to protect our producers.
This bill needs to pass, but in my opinion, we need to go even
further. We need to amend the Food and Drugs Act. At present,
under that legislation, a genetically modified food, or a food item
produced using genetically modified ingredients, is considered to be
exactly the same product as a conventional food item. This is
unacceptable. So we need to amend the Food and Drugs Act, to
stipulate that a genetically modified product cannot be considered a
conventional product, even though the two products may be very
Nor is it true that once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
authorizes and approves a product, and there is a request from a
developer to authorize another, that the study and risk assessment of
a number of other products are automatically taken into account.
We have to change the Food and Drugs Act and make the
distinction between a transgenic or genetically modified food
product and a conventional food. What is more, we have to ratify
the Cartagena protocol on biosafety. It has to be done. We cannot be
the fifth largest global producer of GMOs and refuse to ratify an
international protocol that simply establishes a framework for
genetic modifications, the transportation of products and the creation
of registries. It is our environmental and social responsibility.
What is Canada doing? It is applying the same logic as it does
with the Kyoto protocol. Since Canada is a major polluter, it refuses
to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Since Canada is the fifth largest global
producer of GMOs, it refuses to ratify the Cartagena protocol on
We must ensure that responsible environmental standards are set
for this type of product. We have to do so because that is what
citizens are asking us to do. They are calling for information when
they buy products in the grocery store or elsewhere. More than 90%
of Quebeckers want mandatory labeling for GMOs once and for all,
but the government has been dragging its heels for years. Whether it
is a Liberal government or a Conservative government, the policy is
the same. The government refuses to accept its responsibilities and
we cannot accept that.
We are going to vote in favour of this bill because in our opinion it
is one of the important pieces of a broader policy on genetically
modified organisms, a policy that should include mandatory
labelling and provide for a review of the Food and Drugs Act,
which should also reflect this bill. When we have all four of the
items I just mentioned, then we will finally have a policy that is
respectful of the consumer.
Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I
am pleased to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds
Regulations (analysis of potential harm).
I thank my colleague from British Columbia Southern Interior, the
NDP agriculture critic, for his work. It is fair to say that his
intelligence in developing policies is exceeded only by his fairness
with which he goes about his work in the House. I am also pleased to
say that I seconded the bill.
The bill deals with the use of genetically engineered seeds. It
would require the government to consider the harm to the export
value of a crop before permitting the sale of any new genetically
engineered seed. The policy basis of the bill is quite clear. It is
needed to protect the economic livelihood of farmers and the
soundness of Canada’s agricultural policy.
The bill is good for agriculture, good for farmers and good for
Canada. It represents the kind of progressive policy that is needed to
move Canada forward in the 21st century.
Before I get to the crux of the bill, I want to address some of the
broader issues that the bill raises.
My colleague and I are both from British Columbia, where we
have a very proud farming tradition. Some of the world’s best
produce and products are grown on some of the world’s best
farmland. Family farms in British Columbia have been hard hit, like
many farms across the country, but thousands of British Columbians
take pride in the work they do every day to feed our nation and to
feed many people of the world.
In British Columbia the value of quality farmland and sound
agricultural practices has long been recognized. In fact, it is built into
provincial legislation, which I am proud to say my party, the New
I want to take one example called the Agricultural Land Reserve.
The New Democrat government of Premier Dave Barrett brought in
a piece of legislation in 1973 called the Agricultural Land Reserve
that essentially protects valuable agricultural land from development.
It encourages farming and it controls non-agricultural uses of
farmland. In other words, it takes land out of the potential for
industrial and commercial development and it preserves it forever as
agricultural land, some of the best land, as I have said, in the world.
The ALR crew could be incredibly forward thinking. It is an example of the kind of vision of an NDP government.
Let us fast-forward to today. This was 1972, over 35 years ago.
Today, we face the 21st century local food movement where we have
concerns over climate change. We are talking about 100-mile diets
and the importance of locally grown food and sustainable practices
around the production of that food.
I want to point out that back in 1972, New Democrats in the
country were already anticipating the vital importance that some
agricultural practices and good food production have to our country.
The bill before us today shows the same kind of vision. The bill
exemplifies the same kind of sound policy that we in the House want
to support. The bill protects farmers of the future.
In my community of Vancouver Kingsway, people recognize the
importance of local food production. They know that locally
produced food reduces carbon emissions from transportation. It is
healthier. Fewer preservatives are needed to keep it fresh. We have
thriving local food movements all over Vancouver and in my riding
of Vancouver Kingsway. The Trout Lake Farmers Market, which
started up not that long ago, will be opening for the season in May.
The Riley Park farmers market has now moved to Main Street
Station. It was organized by a wonderful community activist named
Mel Lehan. It also brings together farmers and local produce
providers from around the greater Vancouver area right to the tables
of Canadian families living in my municipality.
We recognize that a healthy agricultural policy is based on healthy
components. We need healthy soil. We need healthy plants. We need
healthy fertilizer practices and we need healthy, sustainable farm
Many community gardens exist in my riding. We have the Cedar
Cottage Community Garden that is driven by one of my constituents,
Faune Johnson. We have the Cedar Cottage Greenway, one of the
earliest gardens of the Greenstreets program, a city of Vancouver
program that gives residents the opportunity to become volunteer
street gardeners in our neighbourhoods.
I was invited by Beth Brooks to a community potluck to celebrate
the success of this garden last summer and it was wonderful to see
people brought together to help celebrate what could happen when a
community gets in touch with our food production and our
At Windermere Secondary School in my riding, Vagner Castillho
is a teacher who has a leadership class. As part of his sustainability
initiative, students started a food garden and greenhouses. Individual
families all over Vancouver take advantage of the Vancouver climate
to grow their own food in backyard gardens.
I want to briefly address another quick farming issue because it is
current before the House right now and it also speaks to the need for
long-term vision from the government.
I am the vice-chair of the public safety committee and right now
the committee is studying the government’s decision to close six
farms operating at correctional institutions across this country. On
Tuesday, our committee heard nine witnesses as part of that study,
people from the National Farmers Union, ex-convicts and a dean of
law from Queen’s University. We heard from sisters from a nuns
order. We heard from rural municipal officials, the president of the
National Union of Solicitor General employees, agri-business
instructors at various institutions and from corrections officials
themselves. Grouped together they illustrated the diversity of
support for prison farms.
These nine individuals and many other supporters came to oppose
the inexplicable decision of the government to close down prison
farms, a win-win-win situation for Canadians that provides valuable
rehabilitation for prisoners as well as marketable skills to aid these
prisoners in reintegration. It saves government money by growing
our own food and it is of value to local communities as an economic
driver for agribusiness, providing healthy food for food banks and
slaughtering services for local farmers.
I have spoken in broad terms about the importance of agriculture
and local food. I want to now draw my colleagues’ attention to the
specific provisions of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to direct the
government to amend the seeds regulations to require an analysis of
the potential harm to export markets before approving the sale of any
new genetically engineered seed.
Currently, GE seeds are approved for sale with no consideration
for their impact on export. This is not a theoretical discussion.
Already GE seeds have had a harmful impact on Canadian farmers.
Last September, illegal GE flaxseed called the triffid was found to
have contaminated our flax exports. The triffid flax was not
approved for human consumption or environmental release outside
of North America. In response, European countries pulled Canadian
products from their shelves and Canadian flax shipments were
quarantined. Some 60% of our Canadian flax exports currently go to
Europe and Canadian flax farmers were harmed and harmed severely
GE alfalfa has already been approved for release in Canada.
Monsanto has relaunched research into GE wheat. This bill seeks to
prevent an economic disaster for Canadian farmers and these other
crops as well. The agronomic and environmental impact of GE seeds
and GE crops is controversial. There is no scientific consensus at
present and further research is most certainly needed.
The economic impact of GE seeds, however, is not in question and
this is what Bill C-474 seeks to address. Other countries have taken
clear positions about their domestic consumption of GE products.
Many of these countries are major consumers of Canadian
agricultural products. Canadian agricultural policy cannot exist in
a vacuum.We cannot live in denial of the international market reality
toward GE crops because Canadian farmers rely on these export
markets for their livelihood. The government has a duty, we submit
on this side of the House, to protect the livelihood of these farmers,
and the government has a duty, we New Democrats say, to consider
the impact of these livelihoods before approving the sale of GE
It is my understanding that the government spent $1.9 million to
deal with the contamination of the GE flaxseed. Passing this bill
would help farmers and save taxpayers money from having to pay
for the cleanup of any future contamination.
The bill has the support of numerous farming organizations and
environmental groups. It has the support of the Canadian Federation
of Agriculture which represents over 200,000 farmers and farm
families. It is endorsed by the National Farmers Union and the
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
I am pleased to support this bill and I urge my colleagues to vote
to send it to committee for further study. I thank the hon. member for
his work in this regard.
Mr. Brian Storseth (Westlock—St. Paul, CPC): Mr. Speaker, it
is an honour to speak today to this important legislation, Bill C-474,
an amendment to the seeds regulations.
I will begin by saying what a relief it is to hear the member for
Vancouver Kingsway talk about how important the livelihood of
Canadian farmers is. I know that in his care for Canadian farmers, he
will also take the time to listen to them and stand up to get things like
the Colombia free trade agreement passed, as the Canadian Pork
Council and other industry leaders have come to us at our ag
committee begging for us to expedite it.
I would also like to mention one other thing concerning the
member for Malpeque who was speaking earlier. While he often has
good ideas, sometimes he comes to them before or after he decides
to vote. I am reminiscing back to the product of Canada labeling. He
was for it before he was against it. With the budget, he was for it
before he was against it. As the Attorney General of Canada, he was
for cutting the budget for prison farms and now he is against it. With
respect to the long gun registry, he was for it and now he is against it.
It really is difficult to pin down the Liberal Party and some of
those members on exactly what their positions are. I cannot help but
to be a little saddened by the position they are taking on this. It is a
fundamentally dishonest position when they say that they want to sit
and talk about this and they want to pass it through to committee
knowing all along that they will vote against this bill and try to kill it
That being said, I would like to commend member for British
Columbia Southern Interior. He has been an excellent member of the
agriculture standing committee. Although I may not agree with all of
his positions, he certainly comes to those positions through well
thought-out time and effort. I know it is generally his intent to put
good public policy forward.
That is why I raise these questions of concern with respect to the
member for Malpeque. We should have honest debate on this, as I
am about to participate in. It should not be political gamesmanship
when it comes to Canadian farmers.
Bill C-474 would require the Governor in Council to amend the
seeds regulations to require an analysis of potential harm to export
markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically
engineered seed is permitted.
Canada is a true leader in agriculture science and innovation. It is
important to look at this bill and look at the idea of putting an
economic impact on our trade. What we are basically proposing here
is to allow other countries to affect our variety regulation and they
will do this based on their own internal trade, therefore affecting our
own farmers and imposing a tariff on ourselves. That is basically
what I see happening.
For generations, our farmers have practised selective breeding to
improve the qualities and characteristics of their crops. In labs across
the country, our researchers are working hard to develop new plant
varieties and technologies that will continue to support a vibrant
agriculture sector. New plant varieties offer a number of clear
benefits, including more effective pest control, higher yields and
reduced impacts on the environment.
Canada is proud to share our new technologies with the world.
Canada’s success in agriculture has long depended on the sector’s
ability to adapt to a changing marketplace by using new technologies
to help lower production costs and to enhance the range of products
available to meet new consumer demands.
I would like to spend a few moments highlighting one example of
how Canadian innovation is helping farmers around the world,
including farmers in poorer countries.
The Government of Canada has invested $13 million to combat
wheat stem rust known as Ug99, a fungus which poses a threat to
wheat production. Canada is a leader in this kind of research. Our
scientists are doing important work to develop new varieties of
wheat resistant to this fungus. A greater understanding of the biology
of this fungus will make a major contribution to international efforts
to combat Ug99 worldwide.
The late Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner plant
scientist commended us on making this important investment in
wheat rust research. He called it an important action to protect the
wheat crop in North America and worldwide, and a major step
forward in our efforts to stem the global threat of wheat rust. Recent
predictions are that we will have to double global food production to
feed the global population by 2050.
We must continue efforts to accelerate scientific research in order
to feed the population of the planet. We must increase agriculture
yields in a major way to meet the challenge of the future. Farmers are
at the core of our efforts to meet this challenge.
We recognize that this bill raises important policy issues on how
to manage the market impacts of genetically engineered products.
We need to be very cautious of any move to introduce a subjective,
non-scientific element to our oversight in the introduction of new
technologies. I am referring to socio-economic considerations like
consumers’ attitudes in other countries to genetically engineered
food. These matters are not science-based and can change overnight.
The industry is divided on the prudence of introducing non-science
criteria into the process.
I will quote a letter from Doug Robertson, a canola producer from
my home province of Alberta, regarding this bill. Mr. Robertson
writes that GM canola has helped him improve his yields and helped
the environment despite the coldest and driest spring in recent
memory. He states:
Canada has always used sound science to assess whether new ingredients, seeds and traits are safe for Canadian farmers to grow and consumers to eat That policy makes us a leader in the world and is the only realistic way to assess risk, with clear, sound, scientific methods.
I want to emphasize that, “with clear, sound, scientific methods”.
Canada’s food supply is safe already thanks to our sound science system we have in place. Over two decades of studies have proven that. We don’t need non-science corrupting our approval system.
I know from round tables that I have done across my province and
my riding that this is the overwhelming opinion of the producers in
our area that rely on canola, wheats and barley.
In other parts of the world, we are also seeing changing attitudes
vis-à-vis GE foods, particularly in a number of European markets.
Canada has been a strong proponent of science-based trade, whether
it is BSE hormones in cattle or genetically engineered foods. We
understand that trade must be rooted in science. Our regulatory
system works to ensure that the products we sell to the world are safe
and of the highest quality.
It is an efficient system that has put Canada on the map for food
safety and quality. Adding in trade and other issues unrelated to
science could set a very dangerous precedent. We want to ensure we
do not risk bogging things down in red tape. We want to ensure we
can continue to bring new technologies, such as our research into
wheat stem rust, to the world. Anything short of that would be a
I am proud of the action Canada is taking to help its farmers.
Canada is blessed with the best farmers in the world and some of the
best land in the world. We are a fortunate nation and we are
committed to sharing our resources with those around the world who
desperately need it. We are committed to finding new and more
efficient ways to grow crops. We understand the need to keep a strict
and unwavering watch on the food we produce and sell to the world.
We just want to ensure we can get new technologies to those who
need them with as little delay as possible.
The future of Canadian agriculture depends on innovation and
trade, and those important elements are cornerstones of growing
forward, our new policy framework for agriculture. With growing
forward, we are putting more investment in innovation, from idea to
invention to consumer. We are building new opportunities that
support innovation and competitiveness. In fact, we have invested
$158 million in the new growing Canadian agri-innovations
We want to help the sector to succeed, and a big part of that
success depends upon being able to accelerate the development of
new products, practices and processes for new and value-added
Growing forward builds on our international trade success through
industry-led marketing strategies, a Canada branding strategy,
market intelligence and services for exporters and actions to
maintain and improve market access.
Growing forward takes action on the environment by supporting
on-farm, sustainable agriculture practices.
Finally, growing forward builds on Canada’s food safety systems
with new traceability and bio-security programs so that Canada
continues to deliver the safest, highest quality foods to Canadians
and our global customers.
Science-based trade works and it brings real results for our
farmers, the sector and our industry, and it is science-based trade that
we must maintain in order to keep the stability that our industry so
desperately needs in these very tough times.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP): Mr. Speaker,
I am very pleased today to speak to Bill C-474, An Act respecting
the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). I want to
particularly acknowledge the hard work that the member for British
Columbia Southern Interior has done on the bill. It is a very
I know we have heard other discussions in the House. I want to
emphasize that this bill is actually narrowly focused. We are not
talking about the scientific approval of GE crops. We are not talking
about mandatory labelling.
What we are talking about is that the bill requires an amendment
to the Seeds Regulations Act to require that an analysis of potential
harm to export markets can be conducted before the sale of any new
genetically engineered seed is permitted.
Currently, approvals of genetically engineered crops for human
consumption and environmental release are based on safety alone
with no consideration given to any potential harm to export markets
and the resultant economic harm to farmers. I think that is a very
I know that in my own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan we have a
very active food security community. I want to acknowledge the
work that the Cowichan Green Community does around the
development of a food charter, engaging the community in
conversations and practices that not only look toward protecting
our farmers and making sure that our local farmers have an adequate
living but also ensuring that people have access to quality, affordable
We have many bakeries and in Nanaimo—Cowichan there is a
famous wine region. Therefore, we are very conscious of the
importance of farmers making an adequate living. That is part of
what the bill is addressing. It is protecting farmers’ incomes.
In the work that the member for British Columbia Southern
Interior has done on the bill, he has identified a number of problems
which the bill attempts to address. He said that a GE crop that is not
approved in our export markets has little value to farmers. GE
contamination is already hurting Canadian farmers and if a
contamination incident similar to the current flax contamination
crisis were to happen with wheat and alfalfa, the economic
consequences to farmers would be devastating.
Currently, Bill C-474 is meant to provide a mechanism missing in
the regulations that can protect farmers from economic hardship
caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by
GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.
I have had so many letters, e-mails and phone calls from
constituents. I just want to read one because I think it captures some
of the concerns that people have been talking about. This is an e-mail
we received from Heide Brown. She said:
The Bill would support Canadian farmers by requiring that “an analysis of
potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new geneticallyengineered seed is permitted”.
This Bill is really important because, as we know from experience, the
introduction of new genetically engineered (GE) crops can cause economic hardship to farmers.
Farmers are at risk when GE crops are commercialized in Canada without also being first approved in our major export markets.
Flax farmers in Canada are now paying the price for this exact problem.
Late last year, Canadian flax exports were discovered contaminated with a GE flax that is not approved in Europe or any of our other export markets.
Flax farmers actually foresaw that GE contamination or even the threat of
contamination would close their export markets. That is why they took steps in 2001 to remove GE flax from the market. Despite this measure, flax farmers were not protected.
The GE flax contamination has created market uncertainty and depressed prices. Farmers are also paying for testing and cleanup and may be required to abandon their own farm-saved flax seed and buy certified seed instead. These costs are an unnecessary and preventable burden.
We cannot allow our export markets to close like this again. It is the government’s responsibility to protect Canadian farmers from predictable problems caused by the introduction of new GE crops that have not yet been regulated in our export markets.
Please support Bill C-474 and protect Canada’s farmers and our markets.
That is fairly typical of a number of e-mails that I have received in
the riding. I think one can tell from that letter that people are well
informed about what the issues are that are facing farmers, about the
impacts on the economies of farming, about their concerns around
GE contamination, and how it impacts on our export markets.
It is important that we listen to the people who have written about
Some of the argument is that it is not doable. I want to point to the
precedent of Argentina. Argentina is well aware that it is not just
growing crops for domestic consumption,so it has a process lined
out. The Government of Argentina’s National Biosafety Framework,
In addition to the environmental biosafety assessment, a GMO release also requires a favourable food safety assessment…and the assessment of the absence of negative impacts on our exports.
Specifically, when it is looking at market impacts, it states:
A key part of the GMO regulatory process consists of verifying that the
commercial approval will not have a negative impact on our foreign trade.
This specific assessment is carried out by the National Bureau of Agrifood
Markets…and it includes an analysis of the current status of regulatory systems and public acceptance in the countries that buy our exports.
If Argentina can put in a system that examines the economic
impact that could happen on its export market, surely Canada could
do the same thing. As others have mentioned, a number of
organizations are absolutely in support of this.
The CFA, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, in a news
release of March 17, stated:
The varying levels of acceptance of GM-crops by key export markets is a reality Canadian farmers face…Ensuring that these markets are not closed to us because of the technology we adapt should be a government priority as they are work to develop more export opportunities for Canadian farmers.
It goes on in the news release to say:
Having a system in which GM-crops are authorized in one country and not in another means that the inadvertent commingling of crops and crop types while they are being transported to export markets will increase the potential for future market closures.
I want to turn, now, to a briefing that went to the House of
Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food from
the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. It has a detailed
briefing, but I want to touch on a couple of points.
It lays out its initial ask by saying there are two actions required:
Potential harm to markets needs to be considered before any new GE crop is field tested or commercially released in Canada.
The entire regulatory system for GE crops and foods needs to be reviewed and reformed.
The second point is outside the scope of this bill, but I want to touch on the negative economic impacts.
In its statement, it states:
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency…approves genetically engineered crops for environmental release without regard to the impacts on markets for Canadian farmers. Canadian regulatory agencies have no mechanisms by which to evaluate the economic risks, and approve or deny the introduction of GE crops based on this consideration.
In my closing minute or so, I will touch on a couple of items that
are not in this bill but are very important to people in my riding.
Again, I remind people the focus of this bill is on the potential
economic damage for our farmers on export markets where we have
countries that will not accept GE crops and are concerned about
However, in addition, CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action
Network, identified a couple of other areas of concern. It indicated
that there is inadequate science and lack of transparency.
The Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food
The lack of transparency in the current approval process, leading as it does to an inability to evaluate the scientific rigor of the assessment process, seriously compromises the confidence that society can place in the current regulatory framework used to assess potential risks to human, animal and environmental safety posed by GEOs [genetically modified organisms].
It went on to highlight a number of other areas of concern, including incomplete environmental risk assessments and inadequate monitoring and surveillance.
In its conclusion, it stated:
The regulatory system for genetically engineered organisms in Canada is not built to include consideration of the potential negative market harm caused by the introduction of GE crops, and is not adequately constructed to assess the complex environmental and health risks of genetic engineering.
I urge all members of the House to support the member for British
Columbia Southern Interior’s very excellent bill, Bill C-474, and to
protect those markets for our farmers.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Resuming debate. I
recognize the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior
for his five minute right of reply.
Mr. Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia Southern Interior,
NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to first thank all of my colleagues
who took part in the debate on Bill C-474. It is my hope that they
will work hard to convince members of their respective parties to
move this bill forward to committee.
It is vital that we have a thorough and democratic debate on the
economic effect on farmers of any further introduction of GE
organisms into the environment. At the end of the day, it is up to
parliamentarians to do all we can to help our farmers.
Before I move on, I would like to clear up a misconception. It was
mentioned a number of times that had this bill been in place, it would
not have helped the flax farmers. That is not entirely true because in
1996 Triffid received feed and environmental release approval. In
1998 it received food safety authorization.
Had the bill been in place at that point in time, the economic
impact study would have shown that it would have been unwise to
continue releasing flax into the environment. It was not until 2001,
because of the pressure by farmers, that flax, which already had been
released into the environment, was taken out and cancelled. I wanted
to clear up that misconception.
The other point that is often mentioned is that somehow this is
science-based technology. Let us be clear. The yield increases in
crops are due to traditional breeding. For example, according to the
Union of Concerned Scientists, it is looking at methods now that are
capable of increasing more of the crop yield, using a high tech
genomic approach or marker-assisted selection. These are non-GE
methods and they are the ones that actually increase the yield.
I do not have a great deal of time, so I will concentrate my
remarks on the alfalfa industry. Mr. Paul Gregory of Interlake Forage
Seeds in Manitoba states that most family-owned seed companies are
against the further advancement of GM traits, especially in the forage
Mr. Kurt Shmon, president of Imperial Seed Ltd. also of Manitoba, writes:
—the users, producers and wholesales/retailers of alfalfa seed and hay are opposed to the introduction of Roundup Ready alfalfa and yet we are at risk of the release of this product.
He also cites the case of a U.S. seed company, Cal/West, which
lost its market due to GE contaminated seed. The key word here is
According to the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, it will be
impossible to prevent the spread of GE alfalfa beyond the fields it is
planted in for the following reasons.
First, alfalfa is pollinated primarily by leafcutter bees, which often
drift several miles in search of better bloom, and also by honey bees,
which have a range of up to four miles. Actually, a U.S. study has
shown a contamination radius of up to 1.7 miles already.
Second, GE alfalfa for hay is often cut after the blooming starts
and, therefore, the pollen is easily transferred to non-GM crops.
Third, alfalfa seed crops produce a percentage of what is called
“hard” seed that can germinate several years after the field has been
Once contamination is discovered, countries that currently reject
GMO crops, food and feed, will obviously then reject our alfalfa.
Also, a large portion of our alfalfa pellet and cube market would be
lost. Our organic livestock industry would also be hit hard if GE
alfalfa contamination were to be found.
Consider Argentina for example. Before a GMO is approved for
marketing, the government must have in hand the technical advice,
including whether the market would accept the GMO, in the absence
of potential negative impacts on Argentinian exports.
The government officials responsible for allowing this technology
onto the market need a mandate to consider what the impact of doing
so will have on our export markets. Bill C-474 will provide the
mechanism to give them this mandate.
I urge my colleagues to send Bill C-474 to committee so that we
can have a thorough and democratic debate.
Farmers are in difficult times. Let us not throw more obstacles in
front of them by carelessly allowing the release of GE crops that can
lead to economic harm.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Is the House ready
for the question?
Some hon. members: Question.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): The question is on the
motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of
the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
April 1, 2010 COMMONS DEBATES 1309
Private Members’ Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed
will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the
nays have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Pursuant to Standing
Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, April 14,
2010, immediately before the time provided for private members’
Do I have agreement to see the clock at 6:30 p.m.?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed
to have been moved.