The debate over Bill C474 has demonstrated exactly how the partnership of Canadian politics and agribusiness now work. Bill C474 called for the amendment of the federal Seeds Regulations to require that an “analysis of potential harm to export markets” be conducted before federal permission is granted for the sale of a new GM seed. The private Members Bill C-474 was introduced by Alex Atamanenko, NDP Agriculture Critic and MP for BC Southern Interior in November 2009. This bill would have been good news for farmers who needed a voice regarding GMO contamination.
On December 1, 2010, the biotech industry made strong attempts to prevent debate in the House of Commons. However, the New Democratic Party was successful in securing a five hour debate on Bill C-474 and the impacts of genetic engineering. That debate took place on February 8. Every MP who had concerns either of their own or from their constituents presented them to the House.
MP Wayne Marston for Hamilton East asserted, “GM seeds will lead to economic disaster for our farmers.” Jean Crowder, MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, explained how “GE will destroy our export market.” She reminded Canadians that our export markets do not want crops grown from GM seeds because these are considered “contaminated.” Canada’s flax exports collapsed because of GM flax seeds. Currently seven countries do not allow any food imports that contain GMO.
Peter Julian, MP for Burnaby-New Westminster stated that “the purity of our seeds is fundamentally important.” MPs who spoke shared grave concerns that if C-474 did not pass, the wheat and alfalfa exports will collapse just like flax. Terry Wilson, founder of the Canadian Awareness Network wrote in his blog, “We are seeing how Canadian politics work very clearly here. The multi-national corporations getting their way, and the Canadian people getting shafted.” Joe Comartin, MP for Windsor-Tecumseh stated, “If we don’t stop the four multi-nationals (Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Syngenta), they will own all the food production on this planet.”
Missing in Action
The vote was set for February 9, 2011. However, most members of the House of Commons Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee including Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter were not in Ottawa to vote on C-474.
In a Canadian Biotechnology Action Network press release, Maureen Bostock who speaks for the National Farmers Union stated, “It’s outrageous that instead of being at the vote in Ottawa, most Agriculture Committee members are actually in Guelph listening to the President of Monsanto Canada.”
The Bill was shot down. All Conservative MPs voted against C-474, and out of the 58 Liberals who voted, 40 voted against the bill. Members of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois voted in favour of the bill and amendments. The multi-national bio-tech corporations got their way.
But the fight is not over yet. In a February 10 press release by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Coordinator Lucy Sharratt stated, “The Bill was voted down but a real debate about the impacts and future of genetic engineering has now started. Canadians defied the tremendous power of the biotech lobby by pushing the Bill further than any other on this issue.”