Canada’s Own Version of Prop 37 Already Exists

Last week I wrote about the demise of Prop 37, a California bill that called for, among other things, labeling of genetically modified ingredients in food products.

It didn’t take long after I posted the story for someone to send me a Tweet containing a link to an online petition. The introduction for the petition claims that genetically modified foods make up 70% of food in the grocery store, and that Canada needs mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. The online petition currently has nearly 5,500 (a full 3,500 in the last week alone). The author of the tweet asked, how long until Canada had its own labeling law?

You might be surprised, as I was, to find that one is already in the works. There is a private members bill currently in parliament that demands mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients. It’s private members bill C-257, introduced by Alex Atamanenko, member of parliament for B.C. Southern Interior. Atamanenko is the same MP who introduced a private members bill calling for market acceptance as a component of registration of genetically modified crops.

Bill C-257 has been introduced and passed first reading (see below for the summary of the bill).

This is a private member’s bill, introduced by a member of the official opposition and not likely to become law (private member’s bills rarely do). However, I’m surprised that this is the first I’d heard of the bill, even though it’s been in the parliamentary system since June of 2011.

I spoke with Mr. Atamanenko yesterday from his home in B.C., and asked him about the motivation behind the bill. Where Prop 37 was complicated and wordy, Bill C-257 is straightforward and focused on one thing: the mandatory labeling of food that “may contain genetically modified ingredients.” Atamamenko says that, “We, as consumers, should have a right to know what we’re eating,” and says that foods such as corn syrup, certain sweeteners, baked goods and other foods with a label, may have ingredients from genetically modified corn, soy or canola.

I pointed at that consumers already have access to foods labeled as free of genetically modified ingredients; they’re labeled “certified organic”. Yes, we have organics, he says, but we also have a conventional sector. “If there’s nothing wrong with GM then tell me (if it’s in the food) or not, and let me choose,” Atamanenko says. And that is the crux of the bill: Atamamenko says consumers have a right to know what’s in their food.

Bill C-257 may or may not make it to second reading and debated in parliament. Atamanenko has other private bills he may choose to bring forward instead, he says, but he anticipates an interesting debate period should it make it that far.

What do you think? Do we need labeling of conventionally grown crops? Is labeling of GM ingredients a risk to current farm production practices?

Here is a summary of the bill:

This enactment amends the Food and Drugs Act to provide that the Minister of Health is responsible for establishing that a food or one or more of its components are genetically modified. Once this has been established, the Minister is required to have the name of the food published in the Canada Gazette. The Minister must also prepare a list of all such foods and have a copy sent at no cost to any person who requests it.

This food and food products containing this food cannot then be sold in a package unless a label containing the following notice is affixed to the package: This product or one or more of its components have been genetically modified.

In addition, this food and food products containing this food cannot be sold without a package unless a sign in the prescribed form containing the following notice is posted near the food: Genetically modified

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