Secrecy only makes it harder for consumers to know what they are eating

If you are like most Canadians, you would like to know more about the food you are eating, including whether or not that food is genetically modified.  Polling numbers show that support for that idea exceeds  80% and has been that way for over two decades.  That’s part of what makes it disappointing that parliament defeated a New Democrat bill to make labeling Genetically Modified Foods mandatory.

Going right back to basics, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are plants and animals that have been genetically engineered to have specific traits.  This is done in a lab and differs considerably from the type of breeding and hybridization that humans have undertaken throughout history.  Where in the past there were natural limits to what could be modified, modern laboratory technologies allow for mixing between organisms in different species or kingdoms that could never happen in nature, along with the introduction of new genetic sequences that do not even exist in nature.

The recently defeated bill was the latest effort to help Canadians understand what goes into the food they are eating.  New Democrats have tabled the majority of these, but the Bloc Quebecois also sponsored a bill, and even the Prime Minister committed to action on the issue.  He is on record saying this is about protecting consumers and claiming his government is working with them.  Despite that sentiment, he didn’t support this bill or choose to have the government take it over or draft their own version of the legislation. 

Some politicians who don’t support labelling claim that it amounts to an anti-GMO position, but the contents of this latest bill were anything but that. The main goal of the legislation was to make sure Canadians get the information they have been asking for over and over.   It did not seek to prohibit the production of GMOs in Canada and it wasn’t designed to prevent technological research to improve our agricultural practices. It was designed to ensure transparency and provide people with more information so they can make their own choices on what they eat.

The bill included only three provisions. The first stipulated that no person shall sell any food that is genetically modified unless it is labelled as such.  The second granted additional regulatory powers to define what constitutes a genetically modified food and left that job to Health Canada. While the third gave the government the regulatory authority to define the form and manner of labelling - where the label would be placed along with control over the size and wording on it.  The bill also allowed the government to determine when the bill would take effect.

With so much control left in the hands of the government it is odd that they defeated this legislation.  Given the Prime Minister’s statements – as recently as last year – in favour of GMO labelling and the significant support for the concept across the country it is clear that parliament has missed an opportunity.   There is little doubt the issue will make its way back to parliament and eventually MPs will represent the wishes of their constituents who only want to know what they are eating.