May 2, 2000

LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Government Response To Petitions
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NDP

Nelson Riis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Nelson Riis (Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to rise pursuant to Standing Order 36 to present a petition.

I have not counted them, but there must be tens of thousands of signatures here of people who are very concerned about taxes. They have just filed their tax returns and are very concerned about the unfair nature of our tax system.

They are calling on the government to launch a complete overhaul of our tax system based on the Carter commission of quite a few years ago now. They are asking for a fair tax system.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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NDP

Nelson Riis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Nelson Riis (Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, the second petition I want to present is on another matter. There are fewer petitioners but still quite a number from Kamloops.

They are calling on the federal government to launch a national highway system, recognizing that national transportation infrastructure leads to improved quality of life through greater productivity, trade opportunities, job creation and tourism opportunities.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Janko Peric

Liberal

Mr. Janko Peric (Cambridge, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I have the privilege to present to the House a petition from 100 concerned citizens from my riding of Cambridge.

They wish to draw to the attention of the House that the collection of publications and abortion statistics are vital in order to study various health implications associated with abortion.

The petitioners pray and request that the Parliament of Canada act immediately to request the provision of Canada's annual abortion statistics.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

John O'Reilly

Liberal

Mr. John O'Reilly (Haliburton—Victoria—Brock, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I have the pleasure to present a petition that is a little late. The petitioners pray that parliament withdraw Bill C-23, affirm the opposite sex definition of marriage in legislation and ensure that marriage is recognized as a unique institution.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 24 could be made an order for return, the return would be tabled immediately.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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?

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed. .[Text]

Question No. 24—

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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REF

Garry Breitkreuz

Reform

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz

Could the government provide a list of the contracts and the value of each of these contracts entered into between the Government of Canada and/or its Agencies and KPMG Peat Marwick Thorne and its affiliates for each of the years from 1992 to 1999?

Return tabled.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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?

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
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BQ

Hélène Alarie

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Hélène Alarie (Louis-Hébert, BQ)

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.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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REF

Reed Elley

Reform

Mr. Reed Elley (Nanaimo—Cowichan, Canadian Alliance)

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Bloc Quebecois for bringing this motion forward. It is an important motion that not only parliament but all Canadians should address as we discuss this issue.

There are loads of material on this issue. All we have to do is look on the Internet to see there are all kinds of information. Some of it is quite good and some of it we just do not know about. It is good to have a debate to become more informed about GMOs.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question about GMOs and perhaps in her research she has found the answer. Could the hon. member tell the House whether or not in her research she has found any evidence of real harm to humans who have ingested foods containing GMOs? Has the hon. member ever heard that eating a GMO has been fatal to a human?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Hélène Alarie

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Hélène Alarie

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.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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NDP

Dick Proctor

New Democratic Party

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food as is the member for Louis-Hébert. There was some discussion earlier this year about the possibility of there being a joint committee or subcommittee of health and agriculture to look at the whole issue of genetically modified foods. I would be interested in asking my learned colleague, and she is indeed very learned on this topic, if she has been able to figure out why in fact that subcommittee of health and agriculture has not come together.

I recognize that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food is going to be looking at this later this month with a series of meetings. What intrigues me is why the two committees were not able to work out an arrangement.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Hélène Alarie

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Hélène Alarie

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.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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NDP

Nelson Riis

New Democratic Party

Mr. Nelson Riis (Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I will make it very brief for my hon. friend from Louis-Hébert.

In light of the importance of the debate today and the fact that it is going to take place only during today's parliamentary session and that will be it for the debate, would she and her party be in favour of arranging a special debate on this issue to enable all members of parliament who have a view or an interest in this issue to participate? As she will be well aware, because of the time constraints today, very few MPs will have a chance to participate in this important debate. Would she support setting up a special session so that all MPs could have a chance to participate?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Hélène Alarie

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Hélène Alarie

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.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Jocelyne Girard-Bujold (Jonquière, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, it is very important for me to rise today to speak to the motion by my hon. colleague relating to genetically modified organisms. This is a matter of great concern to me personally, as well as to a large number of the constituents of Jonquière, whom I have the honour to represent.

I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Louis-Hébert, and the Bloc Quebecois agriculture and agri-food critic, for having proposed this motion, which is aimed at 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.

I also wish to congratulate her on her courage and determination. She has kept the heat on this issue for a number of weeks. She has met with hundreds of individuals and organizations and has appeared in many forums to bring this matter to our attention. I congratulate my colleague on her persistence and success.

As members know, I am greatly interested in environmental issues and this will be the thrust of most of my speech. Let us bear a few facts in mind.

In 1994, negotiations for the adoption of an international protocol on biosafety were launched. Among other things, the purpose of this protocol was to regulate the export and import of GMOs, and to protect the environment from the dissemination of these new organisms.

At the first multilateral meeting on the Cartagena protocol in February 1999, negotiations centred on the initial project, the purpose of which was to establish a procedure for assessing the risks of GMOs and rules for their labelling, and to make companies responsible for the damage caused by their genetically modified products.

Hundreds of countries believed in this vision. Unfortunately, Canada joined forces with five other GMO-exporting countries, including the United States, in opposing the signing of such a protocol. At the time, the Canadian government felt that no trade restrictions should be placed on GMOs.

European countries felt that caution should prevail on this issue. In the absence of scientific certainty as to the potential risks of GMOs, they felt that all necessary measures should be taken in order to avoid the devastating effects of these products on human health.

Once again, Canada turned a deaf ear to this example of responsibly managing a product that could prove dangerous to human health. The final round of negotiations for this biosafety protocol, which I attended, took place in Montreal on January 24 and 25, 2000 and led to numerous confrontations.

Canada and the five other countries concentrated on defending their commercial interests and, once again, in the name of a free market, opposed the adoption of international standards that would limit genetically modified organisms. Yet, these standards merely seek to put in place effective mechanisms to ensure the protection of the public and of the environment.

I cannot help but draw a parallel with the importation of plutonium based MOX fuel. In December, Canada imported samples of that product by air from the United States, even though such a way of doing it is prohibited in the United States, because of the very high risk to health. Now, Canada is about to do the same thing again with samples from Russia.

As far as it is concerned, the risk no longer exists north of the 49th parallel. The Liberal way of managing is unbelievably irresponsible. Canada is doing the same thing again by wilfully ignoring the laws of a foreign country. A number of countries use a rational approach regarding transgenic foods and Canada should take its cues from them. Incidentally, the labelling of GMOs is now mandatory in the countries that are members of the European Union.

Here, the situation is different, since these foods are not subjected to any scientific experiments other than those used for other foods. What is truly worrisome is that, in order to approve a transgenic product, the federal government relies on studies made by companies and merely reviews them. It does not conduct a systematic second assessment of all the plants and foods that are to be put on the market. While approval of new drugs may take years of in-depth studies, approval of transgenic foods takes only a few weeks. It is ridiculous for the federal government to be telling us that there is no risk with GMOs, when the studies have just been thrown together, and many are too superficial.

Of course, these preliminary studies must not lead to our rejecting GMOs. Perhaps transgenic foods do indeed represent no health risk but, as I have already said, given the lack of scientific certainty because of the paucity of information and scientific expertise on the scope of the potential harmful effects of GMOs, we must err on the side of caution.

There is, moreover, another risk, a potentially serious risk to the environment. This is the transmission of genes in nature, what is termed gene flow.

This is not merely a theoretical possibility, but indeed a certainty that has been proven on a number of occasions. When a plant has escaped into nature, it is extremely difficult to recover it, and it can spread before we become aware of the undesirable effects.

It is a matter of concern, therefore, to see companies doing outdoor testing. This might have disastrous effects. Some of the developing countries have raised this very important point. As hon. members are aware, some of these countries are heavily dependent on an economic development strategy that relies on exports, particularly in the field of agriculture.

Genetically modified seeds could quite conceivably harm their agriculture, with the change in genes, the transmission of the resistance to herbicides of some GMOs in nature could give rise to almost invincible weeds that could invade the genes and replace the natural species, including the rare or more vulnerable species. The development of this resistance could lead to the use of herbicides even more poisonous to the environment, benefiting the companies manufacturing these products, which are often the companies that developed the GMOs in the first place.

We become aware of the vicious circle we find ourselves in and we know full well the disastrous effects of pesticides. At the moment, the Standing Committee on the Environment is examining the effect of these pesticides and will soon table a report on their effects on human health. We will be forced to use them more often and in greater quantity in order to eliminate invisible weeds whose existence is directly dependant on GMOs.

Developing countries are very familiar with this problem and do not want their fertile land to serve as a testing ground in order to satisfy the scientific advances of more favoured nations such as Canada and the United States. It may be that a handful of companies will exercise unprecedented control over the world seed and pesticide supply market with all that this entails for prices and the safety of food supply and on farmers' lifestyle.

There is something called the terminator technology, which gives rise to plants producing sterile seed. Producers, especially those in developing countries, are challenging this technology, which makes it impossible to sow seed from the preceding crop. It is therefore not surprising that some European producers are challenging this monopoly. For all these reasons, it is important to take appropriate measures in order to regulate the use of transgenic foods.

The Bloc Quebecois's motion is a step in the right direction because, by supporting the international protocol on biosafety, Canada could better protect the environment, particularly with respect to the export and import of GMOs.

There is increasing pressure in Canada to follow the European approach. The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, which represents food wholesalers and a number of other retailers, feels that there should be a Canadian labelling standard.

When it is known that 30% to 50% of Canadian canola plants are GMOs—twice the number in 1997—consumers are entitled to wonder about the potentially devastating effects of these products.

The government has a moral responsibility to ensure public safety, whatever the cost. It is clear that the federal government is completely ignoring this responsibility. On the contrary, it is shutting its eyes and is in no hurry to provide Canadians and Quebecers with protection against the potentially harmful effects of GMOs.

The health of consumers and the environment must come first. There is no question of sacrificing our health and standing by while fertile land disappears. That is why, on behalf of the inhabitants of the riding of Jonquière, I am asking all members of parliament to support the motion introduced by the member for Louis-Hébert.

I wish to make an amendment to my colleague's motion. I move:

That the motion be amended by adding, in the French version, after the word “denrées” the following: “alimentaires”.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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May 2, 2000