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Canadian Parliament Debates
Mandatory Labels for GE Foods

Ottawa Citizen
March 11, 2002

MP expects mandatory GM food labelling

By: Norma Greenaway

Liberal MP Charles Caccia says he's confident Canadians' growing appetite to
know what they are eating will force the Liberal government to bite the
bullet on mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.
He also predicted two Commons committees studying the pros and cons of
labelling will reach different conclusions, leaving cabinet to break the
deadlock.

"In the end, time is working in favour of the mandatory approach," he said
in an interview. "I'm convinced of that because I think politically the
right to know is a very strong factor, and that is something that is
politically very difficult to resist." The Toronto MP said he is not
persuaded by the argument made by some that once some products are
labelled, consumers will turn up their noses at anything that isn't, making it
a de facto mandatory system.

"If it's de facto, why not make it mandatory?" he argued, adding that Canada
is losing markets for such products as canola because the country cannot
provide assurances it has not been genetically modified.

Mr. Caccia was the author of a popular private member's bill that would have
forced labelling of genetically altered foods. The bill was defeated last
fall by a vote of 126-91, but only after the government agreed to ask the
Commons health committee to investigate the issue and report before
Parliament recesses for the summer.

Since then, the agriculture committee has gotten in on the act, hearing
testimony from a range of agriculture interests that have tended to argue
any labels should be voluntary.

Stewart Wells, president of the National Farmers Union, says the committee
is so label- unfriendly that he encountered "hostility" when he made his
pitch in favour of mandatory labelling, arguing it is critical to
maintaining confidence in the food chain.

Mr. Wells recalled with a chuckle that Howard Hilstrom, the Alliance
agriculture critic, informed him he "had ruined his day" and didn't deserve
to be called a farmer.

Mr. Wells acknowledged the NFU's stand does not jibe with most in the
food producing business, who say mandatory labelling will make the sector
uncompetitive, set back science and disrupt trade with the U.S.

The decision by the agriculture committee to hold parallel hearings was seen
by some as an attempt to counter what many suspect will be a more
label-friendly report from the health committee.

Rob Merrifield, the Alliance health critic, says the health committee
hearings are at an early stage, but there appears to be significant support
for mandatory labels.

"If there was a vote today, they would likely say mandatory labelling," he
said in an interview.

The health committee resumes hearings this week. Before it is finished, it
plans to hear from a range of consumer, retail, farm, biotechnology,
agricultural and environmental representatives.


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