8-Misc: Canadian GE policy out of control
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----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------
TITLE: Absence of genetics policy puts House in turmoil
SOURCE: Western Producer, Canada, Barry Wilson
DATE: March 9, 2000
-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------
Absence of genetics policy puts House in turmoil
In Ottawa these days, the federal government is frantically trying to
get control of the political debate over genetically modified
organisms without any apparent idea how to do it. At times, it seems
the debate might spin out of political control. It has led the
Liberals to try some heavy-handed and ineffective issue management
tactics that have served little purpose other than to stir up more
political opposition. At the moment, one of the results is a
political impasse on the House of Commons agriculture committee.
What's up? Why would the government feel it necessary to control the
debate? Simply put, the GMO issue is potentially explosive. The
government has no consistent message or policy. At the moment, the
government is seen as a promoter of GMO technology (Agriculture
Canada, Industry Canada and the trade department), a regulator
(Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and an uneasy
observer (Environment Canada).
It insists the debate must be "science based" and yet concedes that
in the absence of uniform scientific thinking, political judgments
play a role. And it has been slow off the mark, responding to demands
for more consumer information by working on guidelines for the
voluntary labeling of GMO products. By the time the Standards Council
announces guidelines, the debate likely will have moved beyond
Meanwhile, the debate is popping up everywhere on Parliament Hill.
Witnesses raise it at the agriculture committee, worrying about
market uncertainty and the vocal campaign by the anti-GMO activists.
At the health committee, MPs and witnesses raise safety issues. At
the environment committee, questions often surface about the
biosafety side of the GMO debate. In the House of Commons, a stream
of petitions is tabled.
It seems the genetic modification debate can rear its head at any
time, in any committee. So how does the government try to get control
of it? This leads to the uproar at the agriculture committee. Last
December, led by GM skeptic and Bloc Québecois MP Hélene Alarie,
opposition MPs scored a coup by approving a motion to hold hearings
on the implications of GM product labeling. In late February , chair
John Harvard announced there would be no hearings. The government has
decided the health committee will hold hearings instead.
The official Liberal line is that an agriculture committee report
would have little credibility because of perceived close links with
industry. Opposition MPs complain that farmer interests will be
overwhelmed by health and environmental concerns if the health
committee is in charge. Harvard would not budge. Opposition MPs are
outraged. Tory Rick Borotsik has asked Commons speaker Gilbert Parent
to intervene, arguing that the chair of the committee should not be
able to thwart the will of the committee.
It even drove Reform and BQ MPs to send a joint letter calling for
the hearings to begin. Now that's a united alternative.
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