Libby speaks in support of C-474: An analysis of the potential harm of GE seeds

House of Commons
February 8, 2011

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who gave a very spirited debate, and to be another New Democrat to rise in the House tonight to speak in support of Bill C-474, An Act respecting the Seeds Regulations (analysis of potential harm).

I represent an urban riding, Vancouver East, which has about 120,000 people. We have no farms and no crops in our community but we do have a growing number of community gardens. People are realizing that we need to grow vegetables and things that we can eat and live off in an urban environment. These gardens are blossoming all over East Vancouver and are being run by volunteers.

We also have a local farmers market, the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market, which is open from spring to fall. People can go to the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market and actually see people lined up for two things that drive them to the farmers market. One is for the local produce that is grown locally in our community, in the lower mainland, in the Fraser Valley, a very fertile and agriculturally rich community. People want to support their local farmers and local producers. The other thing that brings people to our local farmers market is the fact that 90% of the food is grown organically. Most of the people who sell at the market are organics. People want that.

This is quite an incredible issue. Yes, I’m an urban MP and I represent urban issues but people in my community in East Vancouver are incredibly concerned about this whole issue of genetically engineered seeds and products, sometimes called GM products and seeds. People are very worried about it. It is one of those issues that’s kind of just below the radar. It does not hit the front pages of the major newspapers. It is not necessarily a story on the nightly national newscasts and so on and so forth.

However, it’s one of those issues that kind of percolates under the surface because people are so concerned about the quality, the source and the availability and whether we are supporting our local producers. People are very concerned about that.

In a way, this bill, which is a very simple and straightforward bill, a one-line bill, is a bill that is just the tip of the iceberg of this whole issue of what is happening in our country and globally as we see these mega-multinational corporations take control of agriculture, of local farmers and of local communities and push these GE products and techniques into the agricultural marketplace and force them on consumers.

I feel like there is a revolt taking place by consumers. People are saying that no one will dictate what they eat nor will they narrow the choices of what’s available in the marketplace.

This bill, which would require an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any genetically engineered seed is permitted, is a very important element in this bigger debate about what is taking place with GE foods.

As we know, and from the experience that we have had, Canadian farmers had a crisis when it was found that illegal GE flax seed was selling in about 35 countries and there was contamination that took place. The countries that had their own strict regulations began removing these products from their shelves and quarantining all the shipments, and in this case it was flax from Canada. Let us note that 60% of our flax exports go to Europe. What happened was that there was a devastating economic impact to our Canadian farmers and producers.

The price of flax plummeted and the market, even today, is still very uncertain. Farmers are still paying for testing and clean-up. It was a catastrophe because there was no due diligence in ensuring and analyzing the potential harm in terms of what could happen to that export market. We did not do that before these products were actually exported. I feel that this bill is just absolute common sense.

I was flabbergasted to hear the Liberal agricultural critic say that he would be recommending that his members vote against this bill. I do not understand why there would not be support for this very reasonable assertion that we need to have an analysis of potential harm.

We know the Conservatives are opposed to it, which is no surprise because they are already in the pocket of the big multi-nationals. I am very proud of the fact that it’s the New Democrats who understand this issue, who are standing up, who are bringing it forward and who are forcing a debate in the House of Commons.

Our agricultural critic, the member for BC Southern Interior, had to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure his bill would receive the legitimate open debate in Parliament that it required. He had a heck of a time in committee. All kinds of tricks and antics were pulled to shut down this bill. Fortunately, however, we were able to get it to the House for debate. I am very proud to be part of a caucus that has an agricultural critic who has done such strong courageous work on this issue.

I hope people will reflect a little more carefully on this bill and realize that there is incredible support. The member has received something like 12,000 letters in support of this bill. As I said, this is something that is just below the radar. People know about it and they are worried about it. They do not understand why all members would not support this bill.

I will quote Lucy Sharratt who is with the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and who I believe was at the press conference today with our member from BC Southern Interior. In an article she wrote, which is quite illuminating, she says: “Alfalfa growers do not need nor want GM alfalfa and have been trying to stop it for at least five years. The introduction of Monsanto’s GE herbicide tolerant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa would have serious negative impacts on many different types of farmers and farming systems, both conventional and organic. Without Bill C-474, there is no mechanism to even ask the question of what the economic cost of introducing GE alfalfa will be”.

This is a very core question. If we can’t do the analysis about the potential harm economically as well as environmentally before a product is introduced, then what are we doing in terms of upholding the public interest?

We already know that GE contamination is hurting Canadian farmers. If a contamination incident similar to the one that I mentioned around flax contamination that took place in Europe in 2009 were to happen with wheat or alfalfa, then the economic consequences to farmers would be devastating. The example of the GE flax contamination crisis makes it clear that we cannot keep living in denial of the market reality that exists internationally toward GE.

This bill is meant to give the government a mandate to provide a mechanism that is currently missing in the regulations. It is a mechanism that can actually protect our farmers from economic hardship caused by the commercialization or contamination of their crops by GE seeds in the face of widespread market rejection.

That seems pretty clear and straightforward to me. It is very necessary. I strongly advocate that we look at this bill and move from these ideological positions of opposing something just because the big multi-nationals say that they do not want it. We should look out for the interests of the farmers in our communities. We should look out for the interests and concerns that our constituents have about food security and GE products and what it is that is taking place so rapidly. I don’t think anyone can keep up with the changes that are taking place. We barely have the resources to push back to say that this isn’t in the public interest.

The bill before us today is an element of what we need to deal with but it is a very important element because it gives us the opportunity to ensure that a protection mechanism be put in place and that an analysis would be done and that it will be mandated if this bill passes.

It feels great to be in the House today to speak to the bill as an urban MP, to support my constituents and their concerns and to support Canadian farmers. I hope it will be approved.