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Canadian Government Continues to Use Public as Guinea Pigs

Biotech firms dodge bullet MPs vote down bill requiring mandatory labelling of GM foods


Canadian Government Continues to Use Public as Guinea Pigs

DENNIS BUECKERT
Canadian Press

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

OTTAWA (CP) - Liberal MPs contributed to the defeat of one of their own
private member's bills that would have required mandatory labelling of
genetically modified foods.

MPs voted 126-91 against the motion Wednesday, defeating the bill in
second reading. Noticeably absent was Health Minister Allan Rock, who
earned applause from consumer groups earlier this month when he came out
in favour of mandatory labelling. But a number of his cabinet colleagues
were present and voted against the idea.

The bill, put forward by Liberal MP Charles Caccia, would have required
mandatory labelling of all foods containing more than one per cent
genetically engineered ingredients.

The bill had some support on opposition benches, but support among
Liberals had been difficult to gauge.

Coming out of a caucus meeting Wednesday, Rock professed not to be aware
the bill was up for second reading, or approval in principle.

"When is it up?" he asked. "I guess we'll have to see if I'm available
to vote. We'll see."

He declined to say whether he thought the bill had a chance of passing:
"I don't know. You can count heads as well as I can."

Polls suggest a large majority of Canadians favour mandatory labelling
of GM foods, even though they are already in widespread use with no
apparent ill effect.

"There hasn't been an adequate level of testing of the health and
environmental effects of these foods," said Angela Rickman of the Sierra
Club of Canada.

Rickman said the bill would have allowed Canadian consumers to identify
which products on the shelf contain genetically modified organisms.

A letter made public Wednesday suggests that cabinet may have agreed on
a strategy to dodge the issue. The letter to Bonnie Brown, chair of the
Commons health committee, suggests the committee hold public hearings on
labelling and related questions.

The letter is signed by Rock, Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief,
Industry Minister Brian Tobin and Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

Rickman noted that the health committee is already tied up examining
legislation on new reproductive technology.

"The Liberals . . . won't be able to fool the millions of Canadians who
want to know what they're eating by sloughing it off to a parliamentary
committee."

Biotechnology has already been subject to two recent major studies, one
by the Royal Society of Canada and the other by the Canadian
Biotechnology Advisory Committee.

The Canadian General Standards Board has been trying for two years to
come up with standards for voluntary labelling of GM foods, but has not
yet produced final recommendations.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture opposed Caccia's bill, saying it
would impose hardship on farmers and undermine confidence in the food
supply.

"(Caccia's bill) will seriously damage our world-class food system," Bob
Friesen, president of the federation, said in a statement this week.

***************************************************************

Biotech firms dodge bullet
MPs vote down bill requiring mandatory labelling of GM foods

Joanne Paulson
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
10/18/2001

The Canadian biotechnology industry heaved a sigh of relief Wednesday
when MPs defeated a bill that would have required mandatory labelling of
genetically modified (GM) foods.

MPs voted 91 in favour and 126 opposed to the private member's bill,
brought forward by Liberal MP Charles Caccia.

Bill C-287 was defeated in second reading, a point in the parliamentary
process where a bill is considered approved in principle if passed.

It would have required labelling of all foods containing more than one
per cent GM ingredients.

Agricultural biotechology is big business in Saskatchewan, where the
value of biotech products was more than $400-million in 1999.

"It's good news for our members so we're very happy," said Janet
Lambert, president of BIOTECanada, which represents 110 businesses and
organizations.

"We commend the MPs for defeating this bill," said Lambert. "It's a
complex issue, and this helps to continue the thoughtful debate and the
work of the experts."

Lambert was referring to the Canadian General Standards Branch two-year
consultation process on voluntary labelling, which would have been
stopped in its tracks by the bill, she said.

Lambert said the bill would have had serious implications for the entire
food production chain, from farmers to food processors to distributors.

"The KPMG study said the labelling would have raised price of food by 10
per cent and the impact on the agrifood sector would have been
significant," she said.

Polls suggest a large majority of Canadians favour mandatory labelling
of GM foods, even though they are already in widespread use with no
apparent ill effect.

"There hasn't been an adequate level of testing of the health and
environmental effects of these foods," said Angela Rickman of the Sierra
Club of Canada.

Rickman said the bill would have allowed Canadian consumers to identify
which products on the shelf contain genetically modified organisms.

Peter McCann, president of the industry support group Ag-West Biotech in
Saskatoon, said mandatory labelling would have had an impact on the sale
of GM products, and therefore on the canola industry of Saskatchewan.

"We're very happy that there isn't going to be mandatory labelling
thrust down on the biotechnology industry," said McCann.

"The important thing in all of this is to provide meaningful information
to the public from which they can make their own choices. Mandatory
labelling is not necessarily that."

McCann pointed out that a recent study by the European Union's executive
branch, the European Commission, indicated that GM foods are as safe as
conventional foods.

The report evaluated 81 biosafety studies conducted over 15 years at a
cost of $64-million.

The research had not found any new risks to human health or the
environment, the commission concluded.

"Indeed, the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory
scrutiny probably make them even safer than conventional plants and
foods," the commission said.

The Consumers' Association of Canada said it was also opposed to the
bill because it would entrench a very narrow definition of genetic
modification, which would make the Canadian regulatory system less
vigilant.

When the bill was defeated in the House of Commons Wednesday, Liberal
MPs contributed to its demise.

Noticeably absent was Health Minister Allan Rock, who earned applause
from consumer groups earlier this month when he came out in favour of
mandatory labelling. A number of his cabinet colleagues were present and
voted against the idea.

Coming out of a caucus meeting Wednesday, Rock professed not to be aware
the bill was up for second reading, or approval in principle.

A letter made public Wednesday suggests that cabinet may have agreed on
a strategy to dodge the issue. The letter to Bonnie Brown, chair of the
Commons health committee, suggests the committee hold public hearings on
labelling and related questions.

The letter is signed by Rock, Agriculture Minister Lyle Vanclief,
Industry Minister Brian Tobin and Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew.

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