MP calls for mandatory GMO labels, echoes Vermont regulations

CNS Canada — A Quebec MP has tabled a new bill calling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods, following steps taken by lawmakers south of the border.

Pierre-Luc Dusseault, the New Democrat MP for Sherbrooke, introduced Bill C-291 Tuesday morning, calling for the mandatory labelling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in Canada.

Dusseault isn’t the first MP to put forth such a bill. Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and NDP MPs have previously and unsuccessfully attempted to pass similar bills.

“But I think there’s a particular momentum going on at this point. Canadian consumers want to see labelling,” said Taarini Chopra, co-ordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a collection of organizations concerned about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

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The tabling of C-291 comes two weeks ahead of the effective date for a mandatory GMO labeling law in the northeastern U.S. state of Vermont.

Vermont’s law will require many companies using GM crops to disclose that information on labels starting July 1.

“This movement that we’ve seen in Vermont is here in Canada too, and there’s a similar push from Canadian consumers,” Chopra said.

A release from the New Democrats said that for 10 years, surveys have shown nearly 90 per cent of Canadians support the labelling of GM foods.

Campbell Soup, General Mills and Kellogg’s, among others, have introduced GM labelling for their U.S. products ahead of July 1.

For those companies, it’s a preventive measure, since they haven’t seen a definitive rejection of labelling movements in the U.S., said Rob Saik, founder and CEO of Red Deer, Alta.-based farm management and consulting firm Agri-Trend.

Saik expects the labelling requirement to continue to have a U.S.-wide impact, as it’s difficult to manufacture individual products for consumption solely in Vermont.

“You can’t just instantly start slapping on GMO stickers to sell into Vermont,” he said.

“This state, that has something like half a million people in it (about 623,000 as of 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) is starting to cause major issues in the U.S.,” he added.

Anti-GMO activism has given biotechnology negative connotations, he said, calling mandatory labelling fear-generated, since research shows GE foods are safe to eat.

“It will generally result in the public not buying because of the GMO label,” he said.

Recent research from the National Academy of Sciences has determined that GMOs are fit for human consumption.

The multi-year report pointed out that GMO critics are concerned about possible adverse effects on human health, the environment and ethical considerations.

GE crops have been in the market for about 20 years, which Chopra said isn’t long enough to fully measure cause-and-effect.

Canada’s current regulations do not require any GE labelling, and assess each crop based on its merits, reviewing new crops or phenotypes on a novel-trait basis.

An Ontario resident in April launched a petition via the House of Commons’ e-petition system, calling on the federal government to “reject any call for mandatory labeling of foods produced using ingredients that result from modern plant breeding techniques.”

Petition e-311, sponsored in the Commons e-petition system by Kennedy Stewart, a B.C. NDP MP and the party’s critic for science, has so far gathered 473 signatures, 27 shy of the 500 needed for it to be presented in the Commons.

Dusseault, in the NDP’s release Tuesday, urged Canadians to sign a separate online petition on the matter. The release didn’t specify where to find the petition to which he referred.

“The NDP believes that Canadians have the right to choose what they put on their plates and to do so, they need full information,” he said.

— Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.

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