Jean speaks in favour of the NDP bill to analyse the effects of GE seeds - February 8, 2011

February 10th, 2011 - 6:05pm

Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-474. I know others have talked about it but I want to read into the record exactly what we are talking about here.

The bill asks that we “amend the Seeds Regulations to require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted”.

What we are asking for is an analysis. That seems like a perfectly reasonable and responsible way to approach any introduction of new technology.

I want acknowledge the very good work that the member for British Columbia Southern Interior has done on this bill. He has advocated tirelessly for the farmers throughout our country. He has been so concerned about it that he has really and truly fought the good fight in order to keep this bill alive before the House, despite the overwhelming obstacles and despite every effort to prevent us from having an adequate debate and from hearing witnesses who could talk about the pros and cons of moving forward with this legislation.

I will start with an email that we received from Doug Storey of the Poplar Glen Organic Farm in Grandview, Manitoba. Mr. Storey writes:

I am an organic farmer in Manitoba and I'm very worried that Genetically Engineered crops will contaminate organic fields and put my farm out of business. As you know, GE contaminates the surrounding crops. This hits the organic farm extra hard and can devalue our crop and destroy our export market. Now GE alfalfa is being pushed into Canada. Alfalfa pollen spreads easily and will contaminate the neighbourhood and ruin our organic status.

He goes on to thank the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, by saying:

Thank you so much for creating Bill C-474. New seeds like GE alfalfa must be analysed for their Market impact before they are unleashed into the fields. Market analysis will show if my fears are sound. The Big seed companies must know that GE seeds will fail market analysis because they sure are lobbying hard against Bill C-474. Farmers need Bill C-474 to pass.

Those are the words of an organic farmer and I think those are the people we need to be listening to.

I want to turn for a moment to Gabriel Island which is a beautiful island in my riding. There are many people who are very active around food security on Gabriel Island and throughout my riding. Of course, like other members, I have received numerous letters asking me to support Bill C-474.

I have a blog called the Gabriola Organization for Agricultural Liberty that was posted on February 1, 2011. It is entitled, ”The trouble with Monsanto and GMO”. I will read a bit of the article because it talks about why we should be looking at Bill C-474 in terms of doing an analysis and what that potential harm could be.

The writer quotes David Suzuki who says:

Because we aren't certain about the effects of GMOs, we must consider one of the guiding principles in science, the precautionary principle. Under this principle, if a policy or action could harm human health or the environment, we must not proceed until we know for sure what the impact will be. And it is up to those proposing the action or policy to prove that it is not harmful.

Suzuki goes on to say:

I'm a geneticist. What bothers me is we have governments that are supposed to be looking out for our health, for the safety of our environment, and they're acting like cheerleaders for this technology, in its infancy and we have no idea what that technology is going to do.

The person who wrote this article goes on to talk about unintended consequences and about putting the genie back in the bottle. He says:

How do you clean up a potential GMO mess? You don't.

The difference with GMO food is that once the genie is out of the bottle, it would be difficult or impossible to stuff it back. If we stop using DDT and CFCs, nature may be able to undo most of the damage - even nuclear waste decays over time. But GM plants are living organisms. Once these new life forms have become established in our surroundings, they can replicate, change, and spread; there may be no turning back. Many ecologists are concerned about what this means to the balance of life on Earth that has evolved over millions of years through the natural reproduction of species.

He goes on to say:

A review of the science conducted under the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development in 2008 concluded that “there are a limited number of properly designed and independently peer-reviewed studies on human health” and that this and other observations “create concern about the adequacy of testing methodologies for commercial GM plants.

We have learned from painful experience that anyone entering an experiment should give informed consent. That means at the very least food should be labelled if it contains GMOs so we each can make that choice.

I think the person who is writing this blog ably outlines some reasons that we should at least conduct the analysis before any sale of new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

I want to go on to cite a particular case, not of alfalfa, but a case in which concerns have been raised. The Ram's Horn from January 2011 writes about how Bt corn, genetically modified corn, breeds new pests. It cites some studies. The article states:

There are several studies explaining how the spread of the western bean cutworm is fostered by growing genetically engineered corn. Apparently it is a case of so-called pest replacement.

It goes on to state:

Pest replacement opens up new ecological niches in which other competitors (pests) can thrive.

Then it states:

Interaction between the western bean cutworm and the corn earworm was confirmed in 2010, showing the spread of the western bean cutworm is in fact fostered by the cultivation of Bt corn.

Then it states:

Damages caused by the western bean cutworm can even exceed those caused by the European corn borer in conventional plants.

Once again it speaks to the fact that we need that appropriate analysis before we introduce new genetically engineered crops into our food chain. Examples like this, demonstrating that a GE crop has had an unintended consequence--because surely nobody could want this other pest to suddenly start thriving--just reinforce the notion that we must do that analysis to protect our farmers and to protect our export markets.

In the same article in The Ram's Horn, the editor has a note that says,

As we put this issue together, we realized that much of the content deals with the wanderings of, and resultant contamination by, GE seeds and crops, which is heightening the contradiction between GE agriculture and non-GE and Organic agriculture. While some, including the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, seek an impossible “balance” between GE and non-GE, it is farmers around the world, both subsistence and commercial, that are paying the price. There simply is no place for GE crops, and no excuse for trying to avoid this conclusion.

One of the things we know is that farmers need to be protected. Last week I was in the House talking about freight prices, but what farmers on Vancouver Island and throughout Canada are concerned about is continuing to be able to make a living producing good, quality food. We have to look at the whole process that impacts on their ability to make a living, whether it is the freight cost to deliver supplies to the farmers, as is the case on Vancouver Island, or the fact that they have access to seeds that result in produce that their consumers are willing to eat. That is a very important aspect of the survivability of our farmers and the economic contribution they make to our economy.

I want to close by talking about the Cowichan food charter. Food security is a big issue in my riding, and many different parts of the riding have food charters in place. Although the Cowichan food charter does not mention genetically engineered food specifically, it says,

Our food system will be economically viable and ecologically sustainable; our community will grow, harvest, process, preserve, and distribute food to all of its members while minimizing waste. A thriving local food culture that celebrates eating locally and eating together will support us in living healthier, happier, and richer lives--connected to the land, to growers, and to each other.

On food security, the charter has a number of points. I do not have time to read them all, but one of them is that “Farmers' roles as environmental stewards will be protected and financially supported”. Another is that “Ongoing research will ensure long-term food security in the face of a changing climate”.

Farmers are often the stewards of our environment, and I know many farmers want that kind of research and analysis to ensure that the crops they are planting are not actually decimating their future ability to survive on their farms, so I urge all members in this House to support Bill C-474.