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e-2877 (Environment)

Petition to the House of Commons

Whereas:
  • Part 6 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 on “animate products of biotechnology” is the main legislation to prevent genetic pollution of our ecosystems;
  • Canada was the first country in the world to allow the commercial production of a genetically modified (GM) animal and Canadians were the first consumers without their knowledge;
  • The rights of Indigenous peoples must be respected as genetic contamination can have serious consequences on their self-determination; and
  • Transparency in the approval of new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is still lacking in Canada as the science the government relies on is not accessible and mandatory labelling of GMOs is not in place.
We, the undersigned, citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to modernize Part 6 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, including:
1. Reform of the CEPA to harmonize it with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
2. Reverse onus: prohibit the development, manufacture, import or use of a living organism until it has been demonstrated that it can be used safely;
3. Mandatory labelling of food and consumer products that contain GM organisms; and
4. Transparent processes: meaningful public participation and full disclosure of the scientific studies on which assessments are based.

Response by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable JONATHAN WILKINSON

The Government would like to thank the petitioners for expressing their concerns regarding modernizing Part 6 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA). CEPA is an important federal law aimed at preventing pollution and protecting the environment and human health. Canada’s strong environmental protection framework is vital to protecting nature and keeping Canadians safe.

In the September 2020 Speech from the Throne, the Government committed to modernizing CEPA.  The Government is considering amendments to CEPA to address issues raised by stakeholders, and during the most recent review of CEPA by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI). The Committee offered 87 recommendations in its 2017 report, “Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999”, to improve and modernize the Act. The Committee’s report included recommendations to amend Part 6 of the Act, which applies to “animate products of biotechnology”, as well as recommendations relating to other issues raised in the petition such as recognizing the principles put forward in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reverse onus for substance assessment, mandatory labelling and increasing transparency under the Act. In its June 2018 Follow-Up Report, the Government responded to all of ENVI’s recommendations and committed to working towards legislative amendments in future parliamentary sessions.

Please refer to the Government of Canada’s June 29, 2018, “Follow-Up Report to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA)” for more information: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/eccc/documents/pdf/cepa/FollowUpCepaReport-eng.pdf.

The Department under the current Act has been addressing issues raised by the petitioners, for example:

  • CEPA provides for a pre-market notification process for New Substances, including Living Organisms not on the Domestic Substances List. All new substances undergo a pre-market assessment of their potential to harm human health or the environment before their entry into the Canadian marketplace.
  • CEPA includes authorities to require the labelling of products. This authority has been used in various cases such as the Products Containing Mercury Regulations.
  • The Voluntary Public Engagement Initiative (VPEI) on the risk assessment of higher organisms (for example, genetically modified plants and animals) was launched in 2018. This initiative promotes greater public engagement in the risk assessment of higher organisms. The New Substance program publishes voluntary summaries of higher organism notifications and invites stakeholders to share scientific information and test data related to potential risks to the environment or human health from the new living organisms. Since its launch, there has been 100 per cent uptake of the VPEI from companies asked to participate.

Moreover, the Department is closely watching the progress of Bill C-15 currently before Parliament. The enactment would provide that the Government of Canada must take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Government has an important responsibility to protect the environment for current and future generations, and is committed to ensuring that federal environmental legislation remains a strong and robust tool for the protection of human health and the environment.

 

 

Response by the Minister of Health

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable Patty Hajdu

The Government of Canada considers issues of food safety to be of the utmost importance.

Under the Food and Drugs Act, Health Canada is responsible for the establishment of science-based policies and standards so that all foods, including those that are genetically modified or genetically engineered, are safe and nutritious. As part of this mandate, Health Canada conducts a rigorous, science-based assessment of all novel food products using internationally agreed-upon guidelines, before they can enter the Canadian marketplace.

Foods that have been genetically modified to introduce a new trait, to remove an existing trait, or that result in a significant change to an existing trait are regulated as novel foods in Canada. Assessments of novel foods are conducted under the Food and Drug Regulations (Division 28 – Novel Foods), which prohibit the sale of these products until Health Canada has completed a full assessment to confirm their safety.

The novel food safety assessment conducted by Health Canada involves a scientific review of how the food was developed, a comparison of its compositional and nutritional profile with conventional counterparts, and the potential for the food to be toxic or to contain a toxin or allergen. Scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition conduct a thorough analysis of the data and of the protocols used to ensure the validity of the results. Only when there are no safety concerns is the novel food permitted in the Canadian marketplace.

Even after a product has been assessed and found to be safe, Health Canada takes any new information related to such products very seriously. Scientists in the Department routinely review new information including both independent and peer-reviewed published studies when these become available. Furthermore, the conclusions of Health Canada are consistent with similar findings and methodologies used by regulatory scientists internationally, including those adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, as well as through independent scientific reviews. Should any risks or concerns be identified from the consumption of any genetically modified food authorized in Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would take immediate and appropriate action to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Mandatory labelling for food products, including genetically modified foods, is required by Health Canada where clear, scientifically established health risks or significant nutritional changes have been identified that can be mitigated through labelling. For example, the presence of a priority allergen (e.g., eggs, peanuts, fish) in a food must be declared to alert consumers. 

The Government of Canada’s approach to the labelling of genetically modified food is supported by positions expressed previously by the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology; the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee; and, most recently, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. This approach is also consistent with guidance adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standards setting body.

Health Canada has worked with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board to develop the “Voluntary Labelling and Advertising of Foods That Are and Are Not Products of Genetic Engineering,” which was adopted in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2016. Companies can voluntarily label genetically modified or non-genetically modified foods using the National Standard designed to ensure label information is clear and not misleading.

Open for signature
October 15, 2020, at 6:34 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
January 13, 2021, at 6:34 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Monique Pauzé (Repentigny)
February 4, 2021 (Petition No. 432-00475)
Government response tabled
March 22, 2021
Photo - Monique Pauzé
Repentigny
Bloc Québécois Caucus
Quebec
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