GENET archive


8-Misc: Canadian GE policy out of control

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  Absence of genetics policy puts House in turmoil
SOURCE: Western Producer, Canada, Barry Wilson
DATE:   March 9, 2000

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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 
voluntary labeling.

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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