Canada Minister of Health Wants Mandatory Labels on GE Food

Canada Minister of Health Wants
Mandatory Labels on GE Food

October 5, 2001
Minister of Health wants mandatory labels on GM food
Plan fought by other federal departments

ByRobert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief
National Post (Canada)

Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
Allan Rock says food labelling would give Canadians choices.

OTTAWA - Allan Rock, the Minister of Health, says mandatory labelling of all
genetically modified foods imported or produced in Canada is necessary to
respond to citizens' growing demand to know what is in the food they eat.

A national task force had recommended in August that the federal government
allow a voluntary system of labels for so-called GM foods, but Mr. Rock told
the National Post yesterday that Canada must follow the European example of
imposing mandatory regulations.

"We should be looking at the question of mandatory labelling," he said. "The
bottom line is consumers want to have the information and they want to have
a choice and to understand what they are eating. I think any government
should facilitate that.

"It is about time government caught up to the will of Canadians to be
reasonably informed about what they are putting in their bodies. There is a
strong public interest."

Despite strong opposition to mandatory labelling from the departments of
Industry, International Trade and Agriculture, Mr. Rock intends to ask the
House of Commons health committee to begin a comprehensive study of the

Genetically modified food is the term used for food that has had its genetic
makeup altered to display certain characteristics or to make it resistant to
pests, eliminating the need for insecticides.

Critics of GM food say it has the potential to cause or inflame allergies,
create strains resistant to antibiotics, and cause so-called superweeds to

In February, a panel from the Royal Society of Canada called for a national
research program to be established to monitor the long-term effects of GM
organisms on the environment and human and animal health.

Mr. Rock said Canada has to catch up to the rest of the world in
establishing regulations governing genetically modified food, including the
labelling of foods.

"In Europe, there is a policy that you must label if there is anything
genetically modified in the food. In Japan, there are rules coming into
effect in January. In Australia and New Zealand, there are rules coming into
effect in December of this year, so I think we should take look at it," he

"This is an ideal issue for Members of Parliament to consult Canadians on --
to bring consumer groups and industry and farmers and scientists in front of
a committee, open the curtains, let some light in."

The biotechnology industry maintains genetically modified foods grow faster,
last longer, are more resistant to insects and weeds, and have led to a
significant increase in food production in developing countries.

"Some people are concerned that if you label a product as genetically
modified, you are sending a message that it is dangerous, and therefore
people won't buy it. I don't agree with that," Mr. Rock said.

"It's all about information and choice, and it's time we in Canada got our
act together on that."

In August, the Canadian biotechnology advisory committee released an interim
report that recommended a voluntary system of labelling, but Mr. Rock noted
there is not an industry consensus on acceptable standards.

"There are questions of what percentages [of genetic modification] should be
the threshold before labelling is required. What kind of labelling would we
have? Should it be negative, should it be positive? What implications are
there for trade, for farmers and the food industry? All those people should
be heard from, but I don't think we can any longer ignore it," he added.

Charles Caccia, a Liberal MP, already has a private member's bill before
Parliament to amend the Food and Drug Act to require mandatory labelling of
all foods or food ingredients that contain genetically altered materials.
Mr. Rock said he supports Mr. Caccia's legislation.

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