Speech on Genetically Engineered Seeds (C-474)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm). I would like to commend my colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, for bringing this legislation forward.

The bill calls for an amendment to the Seed Regulations Act to:

require that an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.

This bill would give consideration to any potential harm to export markets and resultant economic harm to farmers. Currently, approval of genetically engineered crops for human consumption and environmental release based on safety alone does not take into account the adverse effects on our market and/or farmers.

Food security is a growing concern, especially in a world of changing climate. In order to maintain a viable and sustainable food system in our country, we need to support small and organic farmers. We need to keep our local, small-scale and family farmers in business.

The government must nurture this important industry and do all it can to protect it. It needs to guard the economic interests of farmers to allow them to continue to grow and flourish, rather than be unable to compete in the global market. Our laws must work for all men and women who work everyday to put food on our tables.

I want to talk briefly about local farmers' markets, a growing movement in my home province of British Columbia and, indeed, across the country. My riding is home to the Royal City Farmers Market. Its mission states,

Connecting with our heritage of having a vibrant city market, the Royal City Farmers Market Association brings locally grown and produced food to the community, thereby contributing to environmentally sustainable food production, local economic development, healthy eating, and food security.

I have had the opportunity of visiting the Royal City Farmers Market on several occasions, and I am not alone. As people are looking for healthy and sustainable products, the Royal City Farmers Market is always busy. We can find organic apples from the Okanagan Valley, winter vegetables from the Fraser Valley, certified organic produce from Delta and dairy products from local farms.

I also have the Coquitlam Farmers Market in my constituency. Its mission is to support local British Columbia food producers and to raise awareness of the benefits of a localized food system. The impact of the Coquitlam Farmers Market in my community cannot be understated. It operates a market at the Dogwood Pavilion and winter and pocket markets in Port Moody. The Coquitlam Farmers Market attracts people from across my community who are looking for local and, often, organic food. The farmers market also creates a sense of community. It provides an opportunity to say hello to neighbours, to meet and support local producers, and there is sometimes live entertainment, creating a festive atmosphere. My constituents want to know where their food comes from. They want to know that it was grown in a sustainable way, and they want to support local farmers and producers.

I speak today of the local farmers' markets in my riding because they represent a larger trend, a movement toward sustainable food that we see locally and abroad in our export markets. Genetically engineered seeds and products do not fit with this trend and are not sustainable. Foreign markets do not want their seeds contaminated with genetically engineered seeds.

Paul Gregory, a professional agrologist and president of Interlake Forage Seed Ltd., states that:

Speaking of customers, specifically my European friends, who buy over half of Canada's trefoil and 20% of our $142 million forage seed exports, they are stubborn on the GM issue.

Basically, there is a zero tolerance policy in Europe for GE seeds. One of the major reasons the global market does not want genetically modified seeds and products is contamination. For over 15 years, Canadian farmers have been facing the issue of seed contamination.

For over 15 years, Canadian farmers have been facing the issue of seed contamination. Lucy Sharratt, coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, writes:

Contamination from GE crop plants or other GE organisms can occur through a number of different means, including insect or wind pollination, seed mixing and human error. Commonly, the contamination is not examined before GE crops are approved, partly because the social and economic impacts of contamination are not taken into consideration when government creates regulations. Bill C-474...would recognize the possible economic cost of contamination by requiring that the government assess export market harm before a new GE seed is permitted.

A specific example of the effects of contamination occurred in Saskatchewan. For six years, Saskatchewan organic grain farmers tried to start a class action suit against Monsanto and Bayer corporations for loss of organic canola. Unfortunately their class action law suit was never allowed to go to court. Organic canola can now only be grown in a few geographically isolated areas in Canada, Prince Edward Island being one of them.

It is time to have a debate in the country about genetically modified seeds and other products. Canadians are outraged about the prospect of genetically modified salmon or “frankenfish” as they are now being called. Canadians are even more upset at the prospect of having any role in the proposed processing and development of genetically modified salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island. Yet Environment Canada will not disclose any information about a possible risk assessment to allow genetically modified salmon to be grown in P.E.I.

Whether it is genetically modified salmon or genetically engineered seeds and crops, the government must get on side with the Canadian people.

Unfortunately, too often, as seen in the United States and in Canada, the government sides with the multinational corporation. When we speak of genetically modified seeks, most people think of Monsanto.

Monsanto is a large U.S.-based multinational agriculture biotechnology firm. Many of their genetically modified organisms are resistant to Monsanto's agricultural chemicals, such as Roundup. Monsanto is know for using the court system to protect its patented GMOs. This has been problematic for many farmers whose crops have been contaminated by GM seeds.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer, well-known for his legal battle with Monsanto, states:

Now at 70, I am involved with this fight with Monsanto. I stood up to them because...a farmer should never give up the right to use his own seed. I felt very strongly about it because my grandparents came here from Europe in late 1890s and early 1900s to open this land, to be free, and to grow what they wanted to grow. Now we are going back to a feudal system that they left because they were not free—basically we are becoming serfs of the land.

Feudalism has been a recurring theme while researching the topic of GE seeds. In Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite's book, Information Feudalism, they state:

When Monsanto contractually imposes obligations on farmers using the lever of its control over intellectual property in seeds, Monsanto does act like the feudal lord who allows serfs to till his land so long as they honour the obligations that are his due.

Marc Loiselle, from the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, said:

If farmers don't take a stand on limits to patenting and how biotechnology is used to alter seeds such as wheat, we risk: the loss of market access, loss of income, loss of choice; as well as loss of control over what we produce, how we produce it, what value it has, and who will buy it.

This would also be an unacceptable situation for consumers who are ultimately the market for the food that we produce.

Countless farmers have shared their concern about genetically engineered seeds. They put local independent farms and farmers at risk and can have a devastating impact on organic certification. People in my community support local sustainable farming because it invests food dollars back into the community. It produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions on food transportation and storage and ultimately helps with the production of a healthier diet. GM seeds endanger local farming. It is time for the government to step in and protect farmers.

My colleague, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior, has travelled extensively around the country. I commend him for his actions and I support Bill C-474.