June 22, 2010
April: Canadian CP MP Gerry Ritz responded to my email to our Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. Apparently, she forwarded it to him. Funny how my emails get circulated so quickly. I’m posting this as I am an advocate of transparency and the truth. I’m just glad he knows who I am.
Ms. April Reeves
Director, GE Free BC
Dear Ms. Reeves:
I am writing in response to your email to the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, regarding the labelling of biotechnology-derived foods. I appreciate being made aware of your further views.
As I indicated in my reply to you of February 19, 2010, Canada has one of the most stringent and rigorous regulatory systems in the world. This extends to crops or foods that are modified or contain genetic modification—all of which must undergo a comprehensive science-based approval process involving both Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Canada’s regulatory system for products of agricultural biotechnology is designed so that every possible precaution is taken. The safety of new products is carefully and cautiously assessed before they can be cultivated by a grower, used in livestock feed or made available to the consumer.
Agricultural products of biotechnology require three separate safety assessments and authorizations prior to commercial use. The CFIA assesses the safety of the end product for release into the environment and for use as a livestock feed, while Health Canada assesses the safety for use as food and its effect on human health.
Over the past number of years, Canada and several other countries have carefully considered the topic of mandatory labelling for products of biotechnology. While broad mandatory labelling policies may be in place in other countries, it should be noted that there are issues regarding the practicality and enforceability of these requirements and the number of claims that may actually appear on food.
I support the principle of providing consumers with credible, useful and clear information about the foods they buy. Recognizing that consumers wanted more information regarding the application of specific techniques of genetic engineering, federal departments and agencies (including the CFIA and Health Canada), along with consumer groups, food manufacturers, grocery distributors, provincial representatives and farm organizations, participated in the development of the National Standard for the Voluntary Labelling and Advertising of Foods That Are and Are Not Products of Genetic Engineering. This standard can be viewed at http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/cgsb/on_the_net/032_0315/standard-e.html <http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/cgsb/on_the_net/032_0315/standard-e.html> .
It is important to note that Health Canada could require mandatory labelling for foods, including those derived through biotechnology, where there are health or safety concerns that could be mitigated through labelling, or to highlight a significant nutritional or compositional change.
A list of novel foods that have been assessed for safety and approved in Canada can be found on the Health Canada website at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/appro/index_e.html <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/gmf-agm/appro/index_e.html> . For further information about how the Government regulates products of agricultural biotechnology and how the CFIA assesses these products for safety, please visit the CFIA’s website at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/sci/biotech/bioteche.shtml <http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/sci/biotech/bioteche.shtml> .
The CFIA has three main priorities regarding the commercialization of new crops: to contribute to a safe food supply for Canadian consumers, to determine whether new products pose an environmental risk, and to ensure that varietal identity and, where applicable, agronomic, disease and end-use quality requirements for the various crop kinds are met. As part of the environmental safety review, the potential for cross-pollination with traditional crops is assessed, as is the potential environmental impact of cross-pollination, should it occur.
As noted previously, Canadian laws require that genetically modified crops undergo safety assessments and be authorized before they can be cultivated, used as food, or used as livestock feed. When needed, specific conditions that support the responsible and sustainable long-term use of a genetically modified crop are applied at the time of its authorization for cultivation.
The CFIA is responsible for regulating the environmental release of biotechnology-derived plants, which must undergo thorough safety assessments before they can be commercialized in Canada. These safety assessments consider the following five criteria: the potential of the plant to become a weed of agriculture or to be invasive of natural habitats; the potential consequences of gene flow to wild relatives; the potential to increase the activity of a plant pest; the potential impact on non-target organisms; and the potential impact on biodiversity.
It is also important to note that biotechnology applications can contribute to advancing the sustainability of agriculture by creating solutions not only to increase food production, but also to respond to a number of environmental challenges and risks to human health. Around the world, biotechnology developments in agriculture are already helping to do the following:
• conserve water and adapt to climate change;
• reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizer and improve soil conservation; and
• produce healthier food alternatives for Canadians, such as cooking oils with lower amounts of trans fats.
I trust that my comments are of assistance to you. Thank you for taking the time to share your further concerns.
Gerry Ritz, PC, MP
c.c.: The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, PC, MP