I really appreciate your setting aside time today to do this on the last day of the session.
I'll keep my remarks very brief so that we can focus mostly on questions. I do believe you have a copy of my handout.
Simply put, food matters. It's at the heart of our culture, our economy, and our communities. A national local food day would provide an opportunity for all of us to recognize the hard work of the many producers, harvesters, manufacturers, restauranteurs, and others who put food on the table for Canadian families every single day. It would also give us an opportunity to reflect upon and raise awareness of the challenges many Canadians face in finding healthy, affordable food close to home and to take action to foster local food systems that work for everyone.
In working on this bill, I have had the great privilege of meeting with many producers, organizations, and individuals dedicated to local food. I've heard about well-loved Canadian products such as melons from Miner Heritage Farm in Shefford, maple rye ale from Cassel Brewery, and Strom's Farm pumpkins in Guelph. I continue to hear from Canadians across the country about just how important local food is to their families and to their communities. It would be a sad world without Laval's famous organic tomatoes or the locally caught fish from Richmond, B.C., or Arc en Ciel Farm's magnificent apples.
I understand the committee has received letters of support from a number of national and other stakeholder groups, and the clerk has distributed them. In addition, we have received letters of support, and we will be circulating these, from Food Secure Canada, the Canadian Meat Council, Restaurants Canada, and Turkey Farmers of Canada. They have submitted letters to us that we'll be happy to send on to the committee.
As I've said often, Bill is an easy bill to love, and I certainly hope that's true for the members sitting around this table. I'd also like to speak briefly about Food Day Canada, an event originally organized in 2003 as the world's longest barbecue. It is a private enterprise that coordinates dinners at about 31 restaurants nationally but has no provincial or federal recognition and no direct relationships with producers, farmer's markets, or other agricultural organizations across Canada—at least none that we have heard from. I believe there's lots of room to promote Canadian food in conjunction with Food Day Canada.
Whether it's Miramichi gold honey, Mégantic maple syrup, Rabbit River eggs, Haltwhistle cheese, Red Deer beef, or White Owl whisky, we all have food in our communities to be proud of and to celebrate.
I'm hopeful that, with your support, we can celebrate national local food day this fall.
I thank you again for having me here today and look forward to answering your questions.
Thank you so much, Mr. Stetski.
Without being biased, being an organic food producer myself and belonging to a co-operative, the real local food co-operative that I was also a founding member of, I would certainly support that day in October when we could celebrate local food.
I'm sorry if I'm kind of biased, but that's where I stand.
Are there any comments or questions?
Mr. Longfield, the floor is yours.
You're right. It is hard not to love a local food initiative.
I've talked with Anita Stewart at Food Day Canada as well. Guelph and Wellington have a local food initiative called Taste Real, which has a tourism initiative attached to it. In terms of the bill, the one thing I'd like to see is coordinating with other local food initiatives across Canada, so that we're not duplicating and maybe we're enhancing the local food initiatives. I'm not sure it needs to be in the bill, but I think it would be in the spirit of what you're doing to try to build on what is already out there in the network in Canada.
I'm really interested in the Taste Real group. They're quite active in Guelph. I was a member of their organizing and planning committees back when they first got going, as well. I'm sure there are other local food initiatives in Canada that could benefit from this, and we need to make sure we're not isolating ourselves as a federal government by stepping in and doing something that other people are doing really well.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Stetski. thank you very much for introducing this bill. It was not at all hard to get the Conservative caucus to support it. All my colleagues were really delighted with the idea of celebrating local food.
In each of our regions, those close to the producers, those who see them working day after day, sometimes get the impression that city-dwellers do not realize the importance of buying products from places located as close as possible to where they live. This is a wonderful initiative.
If members in the House move quickly and reach an agreement to pass the bill, the first National Local Food Day would be next October 5. Until very recently, I was thinking that October would be one of the most beautiful months in 2018 because of that, but we have just learned that marijuana will become legal on October 17. That reduces my desire to see the month of October come along.
However, I really wanted to tell you that you have done good work, You consulted a number of groups. Many people have written to us in support of this initiative. In my constituency, I have received many very positive comments after the various speeches in the House on Bill .
I jokingly said that there are a lots of turkey producers in your constituency and they were going to be very happy that National Local Food Day is being celebrated in Thanksgiving week, but that the turkeys would be a little less happy. This is a fine initiative.
I really have no questions to ask. I just wanted to tell you that we support the bill. I commend your desire and your will to make this happen, to establish this day recognizing local producers.
Thank you very much, Mr Chair.
I too thank you very much for introducing this bill, Mr. Stetski.
I also have the good fortune to live in a constituency where there are turkey producers. So it is possible for me to celebrate, several days in advance, with everything found on a plate at a typical Thanksgiving dinner. However, I know that in other regions of Canada, that is not possible. With this bill, I hope that we will be able to highlight the importance of local food and the importance of growing food locally, even in the places where that is more difficult. I am thinking specifically of Canada's north.
I want to congratulate you and would appreciate you staying with us longer, though the House is going to adjourn its work today.
Thank you very much for this fine initiative, Mr. Stetski.
Mr. Stetski, I too would like to say congratulations. This is good because it shows that we can do many types of agriculture. Local food is important, but it's not just for farmers' markets. It's not just for the “foodsters”. You can have a regional food system with surpluses and have a pretty good economic power in exporting food, so Wayne, I'd like to commend you.
As I mentioned, we're going to be having an event at Kwantlen Polytechnic by someone I always refer to in this committee, Kent Mullinix, who is in charge of the agriculture department. I'd love to have you there. We'll be talking about regional food systems.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to end by saying, Wayne, great work. I look forward to clause-by-clause.
I too congratulate you, Wayne. As someone who has actually had a private member's bill go through the process, I know how significant it is. I know you must be proud, and the folks who have worked with you as well.
First of all, you had me at Red Deer beef. I noticed that. I think the key thing is that there are so many generations, unfortunately, that are away from the farm. People have stopped understanding what growing food, processing food, and selling food is all about. If this is an opportunity—and I hope that everyone will look at this as an opportunity—to respect those who are on the land, the true environmentalists, one hopes this will help in that awareness,
Are there any other comments or questions?
We shall go to clause-by-clause consideration.
Pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), consideration of clause 1, the short title, and of the preamble, is postponed.
I therefore call clause 2.
(Clause 2 is carried.)
(Clause 3 is carried.)
The Chair: Shall the short title carry?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the preamble carry?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the Chair report the bill to the House?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
We now resume the meeting. Please take your seats.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee proceeds to a briefing on genetically modified wheat in Alberta.
With us today, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, is Mr. Fred Gorrell, assistant deputy minister, international affairs branch. Also with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Mr. David Bailey, director of the plant production division. Here from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food is Kathleen Donohue, director general of the market access secretariat. Welcome to our committee.
If I understand correctly, there will be just one opening statement, from Mr. Gorrell.
I'll use my time effectively. Thank you.
Good afternoon, everyone.
On June 14 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a public statement regarding the discovery of a few genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant wheat plants found growing along an access road in southern Alberta. When the CFIA was notified of the finding, CFIA scientists conducted tests to determine why the wheat survived. The CFIA tests confirmed that the wheat found was genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant.
Since GM wheat is not authorized in Canada, the CFIA worked collaboratively with partners at all levels to gather as much complete, accurate, credible information about this discovery as possible. Based on extensive scientific testing, there is no evidence that the GM wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated spot where it was discovered. In addition, Health Canada has concluded that the finding does not pose a food safety risk.
While genetically modified wheat is not approved for commercial use in Canada, the same genetically modified trait has been approved in canola, corn, and soybeans for over 20 years in Canada. In these crops, previous Health Canada and CFIA safety assessments have demonstrated that this trait does not pose a risk to public health, the health of animals, or the environment.
The CFIA will continue to work with the landowner to monitor the area over the next three years to help prevent any GM from persisting in the environment. As a trusted science-based regulator, the CFIA is committed to being transparent and accountable. Details and information on the findings of the CFIA's work related to it, including a full report, are available on the CFIA website.
So, in summary, there is no evidence that this genetically modified wheat is present anywhere other than the isolated site where it was discovered. The unauthorized wheat is not a match for any currently registered seed variety authorized for commercial sale or production in Canada. This means that no seed sold in Canada should contain this trait. Buyers of certified seed can have confidence in their purchase. In addition, this wheat has never been seen in the Canadian Grain Commission's records of past grain shipments.
Canada's crop and food safety system is supported by world-leading practices in farm management and by sound regulations that are based on science. In 2017 Canadian wheat production was 30 million tonnes across an area of approximately 22 million acres, making it one of the largest field crops in Canada.
In response to this finding, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Global Affairs Canada, and the Canadian Grain Commission, as well as all provincial partners, have worked together to maintain market access conditions and to ensure a predictable, stable trading environment. The excellent quality and consistency of Canadian wheat has allowed us to build the confidence and trust of Canadians and buyers around the world. One of the government's top priorities is to maintain that trust and keep markets open.
In 2017 Canadian exports of wheat were valued at approximately $6.6 billion. Canada exports to more than 60 global markets. The top five markets for Canadian wheat are the United States, Japan, Indonesia, Algeria, and Bangladesh.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada representatives are in regular contact with Canadian wheat and grain associations and other Canadian agricultural associations to inform them of the impact of this finding on international markets.
We assured our grain industry that we would share all information available to allow them and Canadian wheat growers to make informed science-based decisions. The federal government will continue to work closely with provinces and territories, as well as with the industry, to monitor and assess the needs of the wheat producers.
Since the announcement, AAFC and CFIA officials have been fully engaged with trading partners on the issue. Canadian government officials at our missions and in Ottawa are in daily contact with Japanese and South Korean counterparts. We are informing them that Canadian wheat is GMO-free and that a test to detect this GM wheat is available should they need more reassurance that the unauthorized product is not in commercial supplies or in Canadian wheat shipments.
Posts in our missions abroad have been in contact with their counterparts, and senior Agriculture and Agri-Food officials have called the United States, the European Union, and Mexico. We also continue to engage with other markets. The and the have also reached out to their counterparts.
At this time, Japan and South Korea have temporarily suspended the sale and distribution of Canadian wheat in their respective markets. This is not a surprise, as these two markets closed temporarily when the U.S. had similar discoveries. We have shared our test kit to identify the GM wheat with these countries and are prepared to do so with other markets. Also, CFIA officials are in close contact with them to answer any technical questions they may have.
This week, Canada is also hosting a delegation of Japanese government officials who are reviewing the analytical work done in the last few months. The delegation is meeting with officials of the CFIA and the Canadian Grain Commission, and with Agriculture and Agri-Food officials, as well as industry stakeholder representatives.
Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continue to monitor international market reactions and are ready to engage with foreign countries to provide all of the information and science-based evidence to maintain market access.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you very much, Mr. Gorrell and team, for being here to walk us through this.
We certainly have some questions in terms of the background on how we got to this, but also on what our steps are moving forward. Certainly, I think some of the frustration we've heard is that those of us on this committee didn't know anything about this before that press conference.
If something like this were to happen again—hopefully it does not—I think it would behoove the CFIA and the government to at least inform the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food about this situation so that we could be prepared to address it. I was inundated with calls from my grain growers across Alberta, and I didn't have a whole lot of answers because I didn't know anything more than they did at the time. I think one step that was missing was informing members of this committee about this, and I think that in the future we should be prepared and have some tools in our tool belt to address something like this.
I'll ask my first question. What was the contact between Japan and Canada before the news conference was held? Were there discussions between those two countries before the CFIA news conference was held?
I'm going to give you a part of the answer and then ask my colleague David Bailey to also help.
This is new for us. This is a sensitive issue, as people appreciate, and information such as this can affect markets. I think we're all aware of that.
As you indicated, key industry stakeholders, leaders in the industry, were advised an hour or an hour or so in advance. We felt that was—and that has been—to keep the information that way to allow...so there was not any market disruption. You'll notice that when the announcement went out, it was after the markets were closed in North America.
We're always prepared to look at these things going forward, but we had worked and we had all the information available—Qs and As and other information—for the industry. That is the protocol, especially in this event, which is new for us.
David, is there anything else that you might want to add?
Thank you for the question. It's a good question as well.
First of all, in terms of my opening comments, we anticipated, out of all of the markets in the world.... We learned from the U.S. experience. In fact, there were some good lessons learned. Japan and South Korea reacted that way with the United States.
As I've indicated, we've reached out through Global Affairs to almost all of our embassies that we would be exporting wheat to. They have all of the information and were contacted. You made reference to Indonesia and other Muslim countries, where they're just finishing their holiday of Ramadan and have taken a week. Our embassies have been in and talking to them, and there has been no indication.... But for our key trading markets, we have talked to them. We've also made requests for calls at senior or even ministerial levels. At this time, for example, the Japanese do not feel they need to have a senior call. Instead, they put a team on the ground. They wanted to know the technical information.
Going forward, we are monitoring every day—and even at night because of the time differences—any reactions or any questions from any of the embassies or our trading partners. We're on it right away. All of our embassies, and that's with Global Affairs, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Agriculture Canada, are very proactive in responding to any questions and sending out test kits if they're required.
We are feeling right now that we are responding to all of the requests, and we're obviously monitoring any media in other countries as well.
Thank you for coming to present the information to us.
I'm going to approach this slightly differently from my colleague across the way to say that it's good to get a complete package with the briefing and the timelines involved, and that if you were to come in early and say you found something and you're not sure what the extent of it is, then you leave room in the market for people to speculate about how things happened, where things happened, and the extent of the damage.
I was interested in one of the pieces.... There were two things that came out for me: the science that was involved, and that it was done quite early and was able to get right down to the product code from Monsanto, the MON71200.
The University of Guelph does bar code research on the Barcode of Life. They have a catalogue of all life forms and are using partial segments of DNA to trace whatever life form we're trying to trace. Was that the type of technology that was used? It was a very.... In terms of lab time, the end of January for the discovery and then April 8 for this detailed scientific reporting isn't a lot of time for labs to do the detailed analysis. How were we that quick on doing that? Was the U of G involved, or can you say that?
I can see from your report here and I understand why you wanted to complete extensive testing. I mean you went through 60,000 square metres, 284 wheat heads, nine fields, and 1,500 acres. You want to do your due diligence and I can appreciate the sensitivity of this in relation to our market partners. That said, I'm just sort of following up what Mr. Longfield said. Page 5 says that you don't have any evidence “that would explain how or if the current GM wheat finding is linked to the previous trial.” Is there a leading theory that is guiding you?
As a follow-up to that, with the existing trials what kinds of precautions are mandated by CFIA to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the first place, and will you take this example to inform how you regulate in the future?
It's a good question. I won't prejudice the concluding comments by the Japanese or the South Koreans, but we do have lessons learned from what we saw with the United States. You're looking at four weeks, six weeks—a month. I think the evidence that we have is very well suited if not better than what the United States had, but that would give us a testing idea.
The Japanese, to put it this way, instead of taking phone calls were on planes on the weekend. They arrived Monday, so they were in Ottawa yesterday with their labs. They're meeting with the CGC in Winnipeg and they're going to be in our Port of Vancouver on Friday. They want to do due diligence and get this done quickly, efficiently, effectively, for all of the questions. If we look at history, they need a number of weeks to do their due diligence, do the testing, and confirm.
In South Korea what they've done is that they are stopping the sale and distribution of Canadian wheat in Korea. They're going to be testing it as well. The idea would be that the two markets that we anticipated, given past contacts, have temporarily suspended. They're here. They're doing the testing. I would say they would be pleased that we are reacting so positively and quickly to them. If we follow forward, I would like to say weeks to a month. I don't want to go beyond, but we're using the U.S. as an example—two weeks to six weeks, somewhere out there.
At the same time, no other markets have reacted, but the products are not going to Japan right now because the Japanese will need to test everything. We will in due course...and we're talking on a daily basis with the grain industry, the traders as well, to understand what the implications are vis-à-vis exports, transportation, etc. These are things that we're dealing with on the agriculture side on a day-to-day basis, and it would be something we would be able to share with you on a go-forward basis.
First, I think we wouldn't want to speculate on what the future might look like. This is definitely an anomaly.
We've had a long history of scientific field trials, both in Canada and in the United States. We have a rigorous regime in place, a regulatory regime, around field trials. As field trials go forward and complete, we ensure, through inspection activities and instructions to those who hold those field trials, to destroy everything that is related to that.
For this particular find, even though the event-specific, the MON71200, was what we found and it was tested in Canada and the United States, it is not linked to the unknown wheat that we found. We know what the unknown wheat is by its fingerprint, but we don't have a name for it and, therefore, on the relationship between that and previous field trials, there isn't any link between those two at this point that we can point to.
Thank you for the question.
There were some similarities with the U.S., and one of the answers I want to give everybody is that in the 2013 Oregon case, the U.S. was never able to determine the origin. There's one example where it was. They were able to confirm that the product had not entered into the food system and that it did not represent food safety risks, but they were never able to understand or determine the origin. So there are many similarities there. This is not related to the U.S. wheat. We're quite confident there's no connection between this and the Oregon wheat or with another issue that was in, I believe, Montana. That is good. I want to reiterate as well that the GM wheat is not approved, registered, or grown in North America or anywhere in the world. That's another similarity: it's not registered and it's not reproduced, but the trait that is used, the herbicide-tolerant trait, is approved for use in soybeans, corn, and canola in Canada as well as in the United States.
The similarities with the United States are that they did an investigation; they found that it wasn't in the food supply; it wasn't a food safety risk. In one case they weren't able to determine the origin; in the other ones they were able to from the research. At the same time, the input, the trade, temporarily stopped. The testing was done; we confirmed with our trading partners that everything was okay, and trade recommenced.
I hope that answers your question.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Gorrell, for being here today. I just have a couple of things. First of all, I went through the report. I think it's excellent. It goes through all of the different details.
The questions we've had so far today—I had written down a lot of them—have more or less been answered. A couple of days ago I had a chance to be at the U.S. embassy, where they were talking about food safety testing and that type of thing. I think some of the folks from your department would have been there as well. The technology we have to be able to determine this, with DNA tests and so on, is amazing. I think people should recognize that what you've done and what you've been able to determine certainly should give everybody some comfort in that regard.
I'd like to turn to some information provided by the library. Between 2013 and 2016, there were three incidents of unauthorized GM wheat releases. These were in Oregon in 2013, in Montana in 2014, and in Washington in 2016. Here we have it kind of spaced along these three years in different places. How and where were those found? Do you have information about that?
In terms of what we're doing now and going forward, as I mentioned, we will focus very much on the monitoring and mitigation plan to ensure there is no persistence in the environment, and that what we have isolated and controlled remains that way and that it does not move into the system.
We will also continue with our partners at the Canadian Grain Commission to do sampling around everything that's going through the system, and by ensuring that no cereal crops will be planted on those fields, we will also ensure there is no persistence.
As Mr. Gorrell mentioned earlier, we always take lessons learned, so as we get out of this period of time, we will sit back and look to see if we need to refine any of our programs or policy approaches, and we'll learn those lessons as we often do for that continuous improvement so that we can maintain a world-class, rigorous regime when it comes to agricultural innovation.
I would also add what I think is important for Canada. We have been open and transparent. That's been one of the mottos of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as well as just overall how we handle.... We're continuing that and having a dialogue, as we've indicated, with the industry and with Canadians.
Relative to the trading partners, I think our being forthright, making sure they have the information, and opening our books, so to speak, so that they see everything allows them to trust. There always are consequences in the sense that they have to look at everything, but at the end of the day, they know our science, and they know what we're doing. I think going forward we will learn whether we need to have different dialogues, different conversations, but at the end, we want to assure all of our trading partners and Canadians that our products continue to be GMO-free for wheat. The idea would be that they can have assurance of the high quality of wheat around the world, as they have. That is one of our trademarks. As well, it is a large economic driver for farmers and producers as well.
Right. It wasn't brought to our attention until January 31 of this year. The process, which has been outlined, went very quickly from the testing there.
Now, when you look at it, some people might ask why it's taken a year, but that's not putting it in the right context—how it was found in July, how it wasn't really considered to be a problem, how it was just a sprayer who was looking at it, and how, when it was brought to our attention, we immediately grew it and tested it. When it was found to be GMO, that's when things moved rather quickly between April and going forward.
So no, I think that's a good point and a good question. It's something that we're making sure people understand.
Thank you. By all means, I want you to do your due diligence in the research, the identification, the traceability, and all that first before we make that public. I appreciate having that timeline there.
I'm not sure if you can answer this question, but we've talked about, and my colleagues have asked questions about, the future or the implications with regard to other trading partners. There's CETA, and then I look at the CPTPP. If that is signed, dispute resolution is part of that agreement. Could Japan do something like this, once CPTPP is signed, without a science-based decision behind it? Would they have to go through the dispute resolution process first and prove it's a science-based decision before blocking imports of something like this?
I'm just curious if that is the case. To my understanding, that is the case, but you may know that better than I do.
I'll start by saying that the Japanese are very science-based. That's why they're very rigorous in how they look at it. We have a high level of comfort with the Japanese and how they look at things.
Right now, in all of the cases we've had—I lived through the BSE “era”, if we may call it that, as well—the Japanese have been very systematic in how they ask their questions. We've never had problems with their being capricious or non science-based.
Relative to TPP, there is a dispute resolution mechanism in it, and I think ratified, that could be, if they took a non scientific-based approach, like a non-tariff barrier. Quite frankly, though, the way the Japanese work, and have worked to date, I don't think that would be a specific concern in this instance.