by SUSAN MANN
The person behind the latest federal private member’s bill on GMO labelling says it’s something most Canadians want, but a representative of Canada’s plant biotech industry is skeptical the bill’s terms would meet Health Canada’s requirements.
New Democratic Party MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault has high hopes Canada’s parliament will pass his private member’s bill calling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods sometime next year.
The bill was introduced and passed first reading in the House of Commons June 14. Although private members’ bill are almost never passed, The Sherbrooke, Quebec MP says traditionally members are permitted a free vote on such proposals. That means members aren’t required to vote along party lines.
Even though the Liberals have the majority of members in the House of Commons, the bill could still be approved, as the members don’t have to follow their party’s instructions on how they must vote, he says.
When the Conservatives were in power for the past nine years, “free votes were more rare,” Dusseault says. However, “with the recent (private members’ bill) votes we have had in the House of Commons with the new government, the votes are more free.”
The bill is fairly simple, Dusseault explains, and calls for all genetically modified (GM) foods to be mandatorily labelled. The details of the regulation, the precise definition of genetically modified foods and what information would be required on labels “would be up to the government itself.”
Dusseault says he proposed the bill because he wants increased transparency on GM food labelling. “I have heard a lot of concern from various groups, and mostly from citizens asking for mandatory labelling” on GM foods.
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are jointly responsible for food labelling policies under the Food and Drugs Act, according to an online information sheet on the CFIA website.
A spokesman for one industry group says mandatory labelling of GM food is unnecessary.
Ian Affleck, CropLife Canada managing director of science and regulatory affairs for plant biotechnology, says they’re not in favour of the mandatory labelling.
CropLife Canada is the association representing the plant biotechnology and crop protection industries.
Canada requires labels for food safety reasons and to specify nutritional information, he notes.
Since Dusseault’s bill doesn’t focus on whether GM foods are safe or not, Affleck says,
“it doesn’t fit with why we label foods in Canada.”
Canadians looking for foods that are non-GM already have a number of options, including buying organic and products with a voluntary non-GM label.
“There’s nothing limiting companies from voluntarily labelling their products as non-GM. The ability for consumers to find something that fits their preference already exists,” he notes.
Since Canada’s mandatory labelling regime is about nutrition and safety, “to mandatorily label something gives the impression to the public that it is a nutrition or safety concern so it would lead to potentially misinformation rather than additional information.”
GM foods have been deemed to be safe, he notes. Both Health Canada and the CFIA complete regulatory reviews for every GM food approved in Canada.
“Those same foods are typically approved in 28 other countries for cultivation, and about 40 countries have approved them for consumption for human food and about 70 countries either trade them or feed them as animal feed, ” he notes.
“There’s a consensus among the scientific community that these foods are safe,” Affleck adds.
Dusseault says he plans to hold discussions with his fellow MPs “to try to convince my colleagues to support the bill. I tabled my bill just a week before parliament was adjourned so I haven’t had a lot of occasion to talk about it yet.”
If members of parliament from all sides “just look at the opinion surveys done in Canada in the last few years, the vast majority of Canadians want mandatory labelling of GM foods. I would be surprised if a vast majority of members of parliament wouldn’t vote in favour of that same policy.”
There’s a long road ahead for the bill. And if it comes up for debate, it will be the first time a bill calling for mandatory labelling of GM foods will be debated and voted on in parliament, he says.
There have been previous bills calling for mandatory GM food labels in other parliamentary sessions, however they were “never debated. There was also a motion in the last parliament from one of my (NDP) colleagues, but it was never debated.”
The first hour of debate on Dusseault’s bill will occur at second reading sometime in November or December. The second hour of debate at second reading will likely be in March or April 2017, he says.
If the bill passes second reading, it then goes to a parliamentary committee for a clause-by-clause review and then back to the MPs for the third reading and vote. It then heads to the Senate for review. BF