Canada’s Proposed “Bill C-474″

A “private members bill” currently before Canada’s parliament will, if passed, require that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted” in Canada. (FYI, a bill that is a “private member’s bill” is a piece of proposed legislation brought forward by a “private member,” i.e., by a single member of parliament, usually a member of one of the Opposition parties, rather than by the governing party. Such bills rarely become law.)

See “A win for Bill C-474: NDP secures extended debate on GE crops in January,” by Lucy Sharratt

For the first time, Parliament is engaged in a real debate over the negative impacts of genetically engineered (GE) food and crops (also known as genetically modified, GM). This debate is thanks to the one-line Private Members Bill C-474, which would require “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.”

Despite industry attempts to prevent the debate from happening in the first place and a successful move to shut down Agriculture Committee hearings on the Bill, Bill C-474 continues to force more debate in both the House of Commons and the Agriculture Committee.

The Bill identifies the core problem of GE crops being approved in Canada despite predicted negative economic impacts….

See also “The Importance of Bill C-474″, by Joyce Nelson, at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

(For some technical details, see the Bill C-474 page at OpenParliament.ca.)

It’s interesting to note that the articles above are trumpeting C-474 as an important anti-GM step, even though all the bill calls for is a strictly economic analysis.

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About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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8 Responses to Canada’s Proposed “Bill C-474″

  1. Anastasia says:

    Isn’t international trade of crops being debated when it comes to EU single country bans (again)? Since the bans aren’t based on science (all European scientific bodies have determined GM to be a safe process) the bans could be considered protectionism which is prohibited by the WTO. So what would it mean if Canada had as a criteria for GM deregulation that they’d have to consider the perhaps illegal bans that various European counties have in place?

    • Good question, and I really don’t know the answer. In principle, the proposed criterion here is not quite the same as the European ones, since economic impact is a pretty clear and precise measure (as opposed to vague worries rooted in hypotheticals about safety).

  2. Anastasia says:

    I think this is what at least some organic proponents in the US are looking for, with a domestic twist. With GM alfalfa and sugar beet arguments haven’t been so much about human or environmental safety but about financial implications for organic farmers if they aren’t able to maintain 3rd party non-GMO labels due to cross pollination (unlike Australia organic farmers that take reasonable measures against cross pollination won’t have their organic certification taken away). The strange thing in both cases is that the specific biology of the crops and the way they are farmed means that few flowers are formed at all in crop production because both are harvested before flowering (unlike seed crops). But that’s back to the science and away from economics and it seems few people are interested in talking about the science.

    • Anastasia says:

      D’oh! I just read “The Importance of Bill C-474″ and see that Canadian organic concerns are very similar to US organic concerns. Complete with the whole silly claim that RR alfalfa will “decimate organic farmers” nevermind that alfalfa is mostly harvested before flowering. It’s clear to me that an organic farmer concerned about cross pollination could just harvest before seed set and their forage would be non-GM. Similar to sugar beets, the only problem would be making sure that seed production of GM and non-GM were kept separate but those sorts of precautions have to be taken anytime seed of a specific variety is desired, so all those protocols are known and already used by seed producers (if they don’t use these precautions then their seed won’t be able to be certified as purely of the desired variety).

      This quote is great: “We can’t allow Monsanto’s GM seeds to destroy the livelihoods of farmers and jeopardize the future of organic farming.” Apparently Lucy Sharratt has never heard of other companies large and small including Canadian ones like Okanagan Specialty Fruits that are working on GM traits or government funded research. And apparently she hasn’t talked to any farmers who would like the choice to use GM traits. And she doesn’t know much about crop biology either.

      Another quick note about the article – ” It’s a huge mystery as to just how the genetically-modified flax seeds resurfaced after a decade to contaminate the exports. ” Except that there’s a very obvious hypothesis – a few farmers didn’t turn in all the seed like they were supposed to. The GM trait was probably there all along at low levels but was never tested for.

      It’s so frustrating. I think I’ve written a blog post for just about every mistaken thing in that article.

      Anyway, I suppose at least in Canada there is an effort to force the govt to consider economic impact by regulation. In law suit happy US everyone’s just suing. Sigh.

      • Anastasia says:

        PS: That article completely fails at meeting CCPA’s supposed standards of myth busting and balanced debate.

      • mem from somerville says:

        It’s funny, last week I was reading about some of the stuff going off-patent. What about when this stuff is not attached to Monsanto anymore? What if the next farmer over is just a regular person using open-source seeds, without the Monsanto legal team? What are they going to do–jail them?

      • Cami Ryan says:

        Anastasia… a note on ‘flax’. Actually, it was discovered that the breeder seed had been contaminated and this is more likely the cause for the widespread low-level presence that we are experiencing in Canada now. There has been no evidence put forward to suggest that seed growers (not ‘farmers’ per se, as the GM flax was never commercially produced) held back seed – – – (not that that may not be a possibility though).

        You make some good points here. I have been following Bill C474. The Bill has been ‘on the books’ for a few years now. The recent GM flax issue has given rise to new interest in it and – in my opinion – it has been hijacked to serve the interests of anti-GM opponents. That’s not what the Bill was ever intended for in the first place. FYI – Here’s an argument from the other side (from Dr. Peter Phillips) and posted on my blog…
        http://doccami.posterous.com/bill-c-474-scientists-reject-market-acceptanc
        More entries on Bill C-474 here: http://posterous.com/explore/?search=Bill%20c-474
        c

  3. Anastasia says:

    One last thing and I swear I’m going away – this is just so very interesting! Thank you very much for this post. The Open Parliament site is awesome. I love how easy to use it is, how easy it is to see what’s happening on a bill.

    I really like what Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture says at the bottom of http://openparliament.ca/bills/2161/. This bill doesn’t consider farmers at all – or at least only considers a tiny portion of farmers – and risks harming not only the rest of the farmers but agricultural innovation in Canada. There are science-based ways to let farmers safely grow non-GM or GM if they wish. We should focus on those instead of efforts like this which will end up being a blanket ban of all new GM traits.

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