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Debate on Bill C-291

On March 10, 2017, an hour of debate was held in the House of Commons on Private Member’s Bill C-291 to establish mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods – the second hour of debate is scheduled for May 5, with a vote a few days later.

Here are some of the arguments for and against the Bill heard in Parliament on March 10:

Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, QC) NDP @pldusseault

“The purpose of the bill is simple: to obtain more transparent information on the labels of food that is consumed in Canada because Canadians have the right to know in detail what they consume. That is why I introduced Bill C-291, which we are debating today.”

“I want to emphasize that my main goal in introducing this bill is to make sure Canadians get the information they have asked for over and over.”

“There is no way for this bill to be viewed as anti-GMO. It is simply a response to opinion polls that have been conducted in the past twenty years. These polls repeatedly and consistently showed that between 80% and 90% of Canadians support this initiative. Over time, the polls have consistently confirmed this support, including the most recent Health Canada survey, which also reported majority support for the labelling of GMO food.”

“I will be very disappointed if less than 80% of MPs support this initiative. That would be a blow to our democracy. I therefore encourage all of my colleagues to support Bill C-291.”

“My bill will restore some of that lost faith because people will have access to more information about the foods they are consuming. The information will at least be on the labels, which is a step in the right direction toward restoring public trust in the approval of novel foods in Canada.”

Francis Drouin (Glengarry-Presscott-Russell, ON) Liberal @Francis_Drouin

“Let us be honest: this bill is calling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods so that people will choose not to buy them. However, that choice will be based on misleading information. Going ahead with this will help perpetuate the myth that genetically modified foods are unhealthy, which is false.”

“Making it mandatory to list genetically modified ingredients could be seen as a warning that the safety of the food is unknown. Not only will mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods not improve consumers’ understanding of the issue, but it could have unintended consequences that the consumer should be aware of. Negatively influencing consumers’ perceptions of these foods could reduce the productivity and safety of the global food supply…”

“In the interest of maintaining the health of Canada’s economy and agricultural industry and considering that the consumption of genetically modified food poses absolutely no health risks, the government will not be supporting private member’s Bill C-291.”

“Genetically modified foods are already a safe part of Canadians’ diet. Genetically modified foods have been approved by Health Canada and eaten by Canadians for years. No negative effects have every been reported, and these foods are just as safe and nutritious as foods that are not genetically modified.”

Joël Lightbound (Louis-Hébert , Québec) Liberal, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health @JoelLightbound

“Canadians are informed consumers and it is important that they remain so. This includes having information on food labels when there are health risks and, equally, not having potentially confusing label information when health risks do not exist.”

“The bill does not align with the government’s role to improve the health and safety of all Canadians and to better protect consumers from fraudulent practices.”

“What does “genetically modified” mean? First, genetically modified food is not merely food that has been genetically engineered. Genetically modified food is simply food derived from an organism that has had modifications made to some of its genetic traits. It can involve using chemicals or radiation to alter the genetic makeup of an organism’s cells in a process called mutagenesis used, for example, to develop varieties of Canada’s world-renowned canola. It can also involve joining DNA from two different species to produce new genetic combinations that are of use in agriculture, such as those used to develop Canada’s groundbreaking, non-browning Arctic apple.”

“Given that science supports genetically modified foods as being as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts, and the fact that voluntary labelling measures are already in place, the government will not be supporting Bill C-291. Having said that, the Government of Canada will closely monitor developments on this particular file south of the border. Since the U.S. and Canada have traditionally adopted a similar voluntary approach, we are closely following the development of the mandatory disclosure rule in the United States, and will participate in any public consultation process. Once the details of the U.S. government’s direction on this issue are better understood, the Government of Canada will be better positioned to assess whether changes should be considered to better align with the new U.S. approach.”

“In addition, the CFIA and Health Canada are consulting with Canadians on food labelling, including discussions on a new approach for claims made on food labels. The Canadian government agrees with the need for transparency in the regulatory system, and is committed to providing Canadians with useful and timely information.”

Kelly Block (Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK) Conservative @KellyBlockmp

“Canadians are best served when the government limits itself to its core responsibility, which is ensuring that the food Canadians eat is safe.”

“The reality is that the main result of the bill receiving royal assent would be that the government regulatory framework would become a marketing tool rather than a judge of food safety. This is unacceptable, and it is one more reason not to support the bill.Bill C-291 would also put the government in the position of legislating consumer choice. Consumer choice should be the role of the market and not the role of government. Companies need to make their own marketing decisions, and it is inappropriate for the government to be doing that for them. This is the position that our previous Conservative government took, and one that the current Liberal government should continue to hold to. Making GMO labelling mandatory would create an unnecessary and unwanted bureaucratic burden from the government on producers.”

“In conclusion, government needs to regulate food for safety. Providing the information that consumers demand, including whether a product has been genetically modified, and to what extent, should be the responsibility of the companies that produce and sell the products, not the government.”