Skip to main content

AGRI Committee Meeting

Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.

For an advanced search, use Publication Search tool.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the accessibility of this publication, please contact us at

Previous day publication Next day publication




[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, December 4, 1997

• 0909


The Chairman (Mr. Joe McGuire (Egmont, Lib.)): Good morning, everyone. I will call the meeting to order.

Some time ago the committee expressed a desire to get an update on what's happening in the biotechnology industry when it comes to agriculture. As a result all our witnesses came here on time and MPs are trickling in. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we shall commence the study relating to biotechnology and agriculture and agrifood.

• 0910

This morning for witnesses we have Joyce Groote from the Industrial Biotechnology Association of Canada; Jack Wilkinson, president, and Garth Sundeen, science officer, from the CFA; André Gravel and Margaret Kenny from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; and Tony Zatylny, vice-president of crop production from the Canola Council of Canada. Welcome, everybody.

This is a round table discussion. We'll begin with Joyce. I understand you have a short presentation to make on the overheads.

Ms. Joyce Groote (President, Industrial Biotechnology Association of Canada): Yes, I do.

Thank you very much. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak here. I recognize that we are short of time, so my comments will be brief.

First of all, I would like to introduce myself and my organization. I'm with the Industrial Biotechnology Association of Canada. We represent about 85% of the biotechnology industry, either directly or indirectly through other members we have.

We are really part of a larger framework that represents the industry and works on behalf of the industry in Canada. The other two organizations are the Canadian Institute of Biotechnology and the Biotechnology Human Resources Council. In fact, those three organizations are amalgamating and becoming a single organization in June of next year. I think we truly are becoming a strong industry association and we're looking at what we need to do to support that industry in Canada. The primary things we deal with are advocacy, communications, human resources, and other member services.

Just to quickly get into some of the things I wanted to leave with you today, there are really three main messages. The first one is that biotechnology is here, and Canada is a leader in the development of the commercialization of biotechnology products. The second message really reflects the fact that the Canadian community has established itself in a number of very important ways that have contributed to what we feel is a world-class regulatory system, a high level of scientific expertise, and a thriving industry.

However, we cannot become complacent. There are still a number of issues and we need to address these issues in different areas to ensure that we maintain our leadership position and we continue moving forward.

Just to start off, to convince you that Canada is a leader, I have put a slide up on the overhead. What I have done is compared Canada to both the United States and Europe. We've done this comparison on a per capita basis, and I think it demonstrates very clearly that per capita-wise, Canada is a leader. The number of companies we have in Canada is almost double that in the United States and close to seven times what is available in Europe.

As well, we employ a lot of people. It's responsible for a number of jobs in Canada as well as the other countries. Specifically, we employ about 23,000 people at this point. Currently there are about 532 companies. To give you an idea of how much the financial community has invested in this technology, about $1.1 billion was raised last year.

I'm talking about biotechnology as if it's an industry. In fact, it's not. It's an important tool that can be applied to all sectors, whether they be health, agriculture, environment, aquaculture, etc., to help to increase the competitiveness of that sector. As an example, farmers can benefit from yield enhancement because crops are now available that can resist herbicides and insects.

• 0915

Some of the first products we have seen have become producer oriented, but we are now moving into products that are consumer oriented. This is the area of nutraceuticals and functional foods.

With respect to how we have organized ourselves as a community, this has happened in a number of ways. The government has established a national biotech strategy, and out of that strategy was the regulatory framework to develop the system we have right now.

I know that my colleagues in government and I, as a former government employee, were often sent to developing countries to talk about a regulatory system, because other countries are looking at duplicating it and feel it's the best the world can offer.

The industry, as I indicated earlier, is becoming much stronger and associations are working together under what we now call a biotechnology accord. This accord sets out working principles for regional, provincial, and national biotechnology associations to work together. It's been a very effective way to make us not duplicate and to work with scarce resources.

On research and development, there is a report that supposedly 25% of Canadian scientists discover genes in the area of health—that we know of today. They come out of either Canadian or American labs. There are of course other activities going on that represent consumers, dietitians, and those types of organizations.

Regarding the issue of becoming complacent, we still feel it's important to have an association that works on a number of important issues. Certainly human resources is a very important issue. We know that by the year 2000 we will need between 8,000 and 10,000 new highly skilled people. We don't have them. The Biotechnology Human Resources Council, which is part of our organization, is looking at ways to meet those needs.

As for regulation, yes, we have a world-class system, but we still have to fine-tune that system, and we need to continually work toward international harmonization. That will in fact help to open up other markets as well.

Some of the other issues we need to address concern labelling, intellectual property.... There is a myriad of issues we continue to work toward. As well, we constantly need to strengthen our ties at national, regional, and international levels.

In closing, biotechnology is here. In Canada we have a choice. We can export the technology to other countries that are using this tool to become more competitive and import their products, or we can benefit by value-added products that enhance the competitiveness of different sectors in Canada and contribute not only to Canada but to Canadians as well through jobs and economic growth and by developing products for and exporting products into world markets.

Thank you very much.

The Chairman: Thank you, Joyce.

From the view of the farmers, Jack.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson (President, Canadian Federation of Agriculture): Thank you very much. Any mistakes I make, Garth will correct.

It's a pleasure to be here in front of the committee.

We don't have a lengthy brief, because it was relatively short notice, but I think our points are relatively clear and consistent. We made presentations when CEPA was looking at moving into dealing with the regulatory framework around biotechnology, and we continue to have a very direct point of view in relation to biotechnology.

I think the point is very clear. As Canadian farmers we want to have the ability to use the technology, and there is real opportunity, particularly where the environment is concerned.

It's my belief and our organization's belief that we can reduce the use, for example, of plant production material with a number of the new technologies that are coming out. We can have much more benign herbicides and insecticides. That will, in return, not only make us more competitive but also, from an environmental point of view, lower the risk into the future.

The sense is very clearly that there is going to be a growing demand from an agriculture production point of view to meet the consumer growth in the future. Already, as we know from the World Food Summit, we are talking of a situation in which 800 million people in the world are malnourished. We are going to continue to have that growth in population over the next decade, and it's going to have to be food produced on fewer hectares of land than we currently have. Our sense is that any technology is going to have to be looked at for what it can do to enhance production in an environmental and sustainable way.

• 0920

From a regulatory point of view, I think it's fair to say that farmers, as do consumers, want to have a very thorough and effective regulatory framework so that when the product is released and made available for production those aspects have been looked at and it's a safe product. As individual producers, we have no more ability than individuals anywhere of making the value judgment as to whether this product is safe or not. We have always advocated a very effective and thorough regulatory framework, which we think we have. That framework should be within the line ministries currently responsible for it.

We have the Seeds Act and a host of acts that I'm sure Dr. Gravel will be going into in answering questions. He can answer them better than I. That's where we think it should be dealt with. If there are any products that need to be looked at as to whether CEPA in the future should have a role in this area as far as new technologies that aren't currently covered under the existing legislation are concerned, I think we should cross that bridge when we get there.

We want consumer confidence. We want the ability to have the products available in Canada similar to when they are available around the world—or hopefully lead in that. It obviously means we need to harmonize a regulatory framework from a North American context and ideally move just as aggressively at an international level.

These will always be issues around labelling and all parts of the biotech industry until we move to an internationally acceptable system of dealing with both ideology and safety. We've seen these problems, for example, in Roundup Ready canola, soybeans, and Bt corn. We have a host of European farm organizations that are keeping product off the market in Europe, for example, until some of these questions are resolved, because they are afraid of consumer reaction to biotechnology in Europe. Until this debate is resolved, they are effectively holding back product they have already developed.

From a labelling point of view, our position has been very clear. The only items we think should be labelled are those that deal with nutrition and allergies, or the possibility of that reaction being transferred. We think the regulatory framework deals with that currently in a very effective manner. To put on a label such as “this may be a product of biotechnology” really doesn't add anything for the consumer. It becomes one of those Spam labels: It may contain mutton, beef, pork, or whatever. What the hell does that tell the individual who is actually consuming it?

The question of labelling becomes very difficult as to where you draw the line. Is pork a product of bioengineering if it eats canola meal that was a product of bioengineering? In our opinion, it doesn't really say much. Unless it's a different food product...the only time, as I said, we think the labelling makes sense is when it concerns nutrition or allergies.

Consumers will be comfortable with this system only if they are assured that a regulatory framework is dealing with all the basic questions. Our sense is that there has to be more done by government to advertise and explain to consumers how much is involved in the regulatory process right now. There is a sense that people become nervous because they think these products aren't looked at in any serious way before they come to the market. If people were made aware of the detailed process, it would alleviate an awful lot of concerns.

With that, we are quite willing to answer questions.

The only other point obviously at issue here is the development of the biosafety protocol, with which we have a major concern. And we have expressed this. If in fact this labelling question does not get resolved, it does have the ramification of affecting agriculture trade very substantially, and in particular as the biosafety protocol is being developed.

If we have to label and go through a process of advance agreements on all shipments, for example, of canola, soybeans, and a host of other products that are going to be coming on the market in a very short time, and not deal with it, especially from the processed product point of view.... For example, if product is going into Japan to be processed, we think it runs a very low risk from a biodiversity context within that country. There is no risk at all from a food point of view because those issues have already been looked at outside of that question, so it would be inappropriate to require labelling for that bulk shipment of product. But there will be circumstances from a seed sales point of view where certain countries will want to look at that, and we have no problem with that as long as it's done on a science-based background and doesn't become a non-tariff trade barrier...which these issues can work their way into.

• 0925

I think the committee needs to give some thought to what advice it should be giving in relation to the biosafety protocol, because we're concerned it may get off track with regard to the federal government negotiating more than is required to deal with the biosafety issue by itself.

Thank you. I would be quite happy to answer any questions as time goes on.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Are there any mistakes, Garth? Is everything fine?

Some voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. Garth Sundeen (Science Officer, Canadian Federation of Agriculture): What can I do?

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: You need another five minutes.

The Chairman: Dr. Gravel, welcome again to the committee. Will you or Ms. Kenny be presenting?

Ms. Margaret Kenny (Associate Director, Biotechnology Strategy Co-ordination Office, Canadian Food Inspection Agency): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We have prepared a briefing, but in the interest of time I will abbreviate it somewhat.

I'd like to start off by explaining that federal regulatory departments and agencies in Canada have agreed to a common definition of biotechnology. You'll find that in the first paragraph of the paper that has been provided. It's a technical definition, so just simply say biotechnology is the application of technology to biology.

In this sense the discipline is certainly not new. In agriculture biotechnology has long been practised by the very cultivation of plants and the rearing of animals to provide food, fibre and fuel. Later, as civilization became more sophisticated, deliberate selective breeding was introduced using only those individual plants and animals that had desired traits.

In the late 1940s scientists found their first evidence that the complex DNA molecule is actually the carrier of genetic heritable information, and that chemically DNA is arranged into units called genes. These genes code for an individual's traits and are passed from one generation to another.

Scientists, as we've heard today, are now applying this tool to further improve the genetic characteristics of agriculturally important plants and animals. This has meant that a new generation of agricultural products are now reaching the marketplace.

In 1993 the government announced the regulatory framework for biotechnology. At the top of the second page we have listed the key features of this regulatory framework. In brief, the framework includes the maintenance of Canada's high standards for the protection of the health of workers, the general public and the environment, the concept of using existing legislation and regulatory institutions, clear guidelines for evaluating products, a sound scientific database on which to assess risk, a development and enforcement process that's open and includes consultation, and a recognition that it must contribute to the prosperity and well-being of Canadians by fostering a favourable climate for investment, development and innovation.

In this context, specific regulatory amendments relating to notification and environmental assessment have been implemented under the Seeds Act, Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act and Health of Animals Act. These are administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

I will briefly run through those particular pieces of legislation and describe the kinds of products that we are reviewing and evaluating that relate to this aspect of biotechnology.

The first is the Seeds Act. Genetic engineering has been added to plant and tree breeders' ability to develop new varieties with new types of traits such as herbicide tolerance, insect and disease resistance, special nutritional components, and greater tolerance to environmental stresses. The seeds regulations cover both the field trials of these kinds of plants, under conditions that restrict their ability to spread, as well as larger unrestricted plantings towards commercialization. In 1997 nearly 800 confined field trials were conducted in Canada, and since 1995 we've had 30 plants with novel traits approved for unconfined or pre-commercial release.

• 0930

Under the Feeds Act, livestock feeds are regulated. The kinds of products we're talking about here include living micro-organisms that would help maintain the bacterial populations in an animal's stomach, fermentation products such as amino acids and vitamins, micro-organisms such as forage additives, and new plant types used directly for livestock feed. To date 30 new plant types have been approved for livestock feed in Canada, as well as 180 microbial products, only nine of these derived from genetic engineering.

We also administer the Fertilizers Act. Here, these products are developed to supply plants with nutrients, and they can include micro-organisms. Microbial fertilizers have been used as alternatives to chemically based products for many years, and we have examples where they're used as seed coatings.

We currently have 80 microbial-type fertilizers registered in Canada, and none of these have been genetically engineered. But we have had nearly 200 field trials since 1993, and of these, 10 included genetically modified micro-organisms that would act as fertilizers.

Under the Health of Animals Act, veterinary biologics are regulated. These products are used in the prevention, treatment and diagnosis of infectious diseases of animals, and they include products such as vaccines and diagnostic kits. Until now 42 biotechnology-derived products have been licensed. Of these, 33 are diagnostic kits and the rest are vaccines for viral and bacterial diseases.

I should also note that the importation of plants, micro-organisms and animals are controlled by way of an import permit system under the Health of Animals Act and the Plant Protection Act.

In closing, I would note that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has endeavoured to make public information concerning the regulation of these products. As an example, information can be found on the agency's Internet or World Wide Web site. This site includes the regulations themselves, guidelines, consultation documents, the results of these consultations, lists of field trials, lists of products that have been approved, and actual documents that describe what we have reviewed when we look at these products and why we arrived at the decision we arrived at.

Thank you very much.

The Chairman: Thank you, Ms. Kenny.

Mr. Zatylny.

Mr. Tony Zatylny (Vice-President, Crop Production, Canola Council of Canada): Thank you. I welcome the opportunity to speak to this committee. We have had three years' experience with biotechnology in canola production, so we can address some of the issues around grower acceptance of the technology.

But the main message I come with today is that if the Canadian canola industry is going to survive and flourish, we must improve the supply and assurance of supply of canola. Today we can sell an estimated 7.5 million to 8.5 million tonnes of canola seed annually. In the past 25 years we have been able to produce more than 7 million tonnes only once, and more than 6 million tonnes only four times.

The Canola Council of Canada is devoting the lion's share of its programming budget, people and resources towards improving the supply of canola. In fact, that is our primary focus and will continue to be our focus over the next ten years. The primary members of the Canola Council include growers, crushers and exporters, grain companies, federal and provincial governments, feed and food manufacturers.

• 0935

The main program areas of the council, just so you know who we are, are research, the crop production area, which I head up, market development, and information transfer. All program areas work together to achieve the Canola Council's mandate in leading the charge for a more stable, adequate supply of canola. The crop production area has set a target for the council to produce an average yield of 8.5 million tonnes by the year 2005, so we're at least eight years out before we achieve our current demands in terms of production.

In 1997, canola growers seeded just over 12 million acres of canola, and in 1998 that's expected to rise to 13 million acres. At the current average yield of 0.5 tonnes per acre, we have a long way to go.

This ambitious goal can be achieved, but it will require the adoption of both existing and new technologies. The target can be achieved by either increasing average yield or increasing the acreage dedicated to canola. Currently less than 60 million acres in Canada are well-suited to growing canola. Following the current industry guidelines of one canola crop every four years, that gives us a sustainable canola average of 12 million to 14 million acres. Therefore, increasing the acreage of canola is going to be very limited unless we begin to move canola into non-traditional areas that are not well-suited to growing canola, or unless we can shorten the rotation. Neither of these solutions are currently practical, because we don't have the technology to be able to do that.

The most promising way to hit our production objectives is to increase average yield. The Canola Council and our industry partners strongly believe that biotechnology is an essential process for developing the tools needed to reach those objectives. Today, as much as one million tonnes of canola are lost to weeds, disease and insects. This represents $400 million in lost revenue to Canadian growers annually.

The first tools of biotechnology to emerge in our industry are canola varieties resistant to specific broad-spectrum herbicides. In 1997, more than two and a half million acres were seeded to herbicide-tolerant canola varieties that were developed through the use of biotechnology. The acreage could double or triple in 1998. This is the strongest indication that growers can give for the support of biotechnology.

Growers accept this technology because of the tremendous benefits. The benefits include more flexibility in field selection, the ability to reduce tillage, more options for weed control, higher yields and lower production costs, which ultimately lead to improved profitability.

I would like to share with you some more specific ways that herbicide-tolerant canola has benefited growers and the industry.

The weed, wild mustard, is a relative of canola and is therefore not easy to control in the crop. Ten wild mustard plants per square metre can reduce the yields by 20%. A small amount of wild mustard seed, 5% in canola, will seriously reduce the quality and the value of the canola crop. It will go from $8 a bushel to under $4 a bushel if it gets graded down to sample.

In the past, growers avoided planting canola in fields that were infested with wild mustard, even though those fields were well suited to growing canola. Today it is very easy to control wild mustard, using today's technology—growing herbicide-tolerant canola varieties and using one of the broad-spectrum herbicides.

A single broad-spectrum herbicide not only reduces the number of herbicides used; in some cases it can reduce the application from three herbicides to a single application. It also reduces the passes over the field. This reduces costs and the pesticide load on the environment.

Herbicide-tolerant canola has other environmentally friendly attributes as well. The most common weed control practice over the past 25 years has been the use of soil-incorporated herbicides. Soil-incorporated herbicides do not fit well in reduced tillage or direct seeding systems. Tillage is a major cause of soil degradation and soil erosion in several areas of western Canada. The new herbicide-tolerant varieties allow growers to use direct seeding systems that minimize tillage.

Finally, weed competition is a major yield-limiting factor in canola. Herbicide-tolerant varieties developed through the use of biotechnology increase yield and profitability for growers.

• 0940

With the success over the past three years of herbicide-tolerant canolas, growers anxiously await new production tools developed through biotechnology. Growers can foresee canola varieties resistant to insects, disease, and some environmental factors, such as drought and frost, with higher yield potential and, again, improved profitability. In the future it will be possible to use biotechnology to improve the quality and value of canola.

Today the farm gate value of canola is $2.5 billion. This could easily double, and biotechnology will be a major factor in this growth.

The Canola Council of Canada, on behalf of its members, continues to support the use of biotechnology to increase the supply and value of canola for the benefit of our industry and all Canadians.

Thank you very much.

The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Zatylny.

I think everybody kept their remarks geared to plant biotechnology. Does the federation have any opinions on animal biotechnology or what's going on in Canada in regard to that?

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: The regulatory framework for dealing with patenting of higher life forms has to be sorted through. I don't believe Canada has a position on this.

As far as the Canadian government is concerned, we have had a series of meetings with people within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to encourage the development of this. We've been doing some work at this point, but as of yet we do not have a firm position on where Canada should go in relation to patenting of higher life forms. It will be a critical issue in the very near future, and it's something that can't be put off much longer, but we do not have a clear position on that at this time.

The Chairman: So there's more fear in that area than in plant...?

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: Well, I think part of the situation is that the science is moving faster than the regulators in a lot of these areas. It's the same with the patenting of new plant varieties. We have the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, which was brought in in Canada a number of years ago. It was thought that would deal with a number of these questions, but patenting of whole plants or the holding back of seed is not suitably dealt with in that question, from the seed companies' point of view, because under that legislation farmers were able to hold back their seed for their own production.

Well, clearly, with the new canola varieties that are Roundup-tolerant, for example, they're signing technology agreements to deal with that so that in fact the patenting will be available for the companies into the near future, and farmers aren't allowed to hold back the seed, because it's a common variety versus a hybrid. I can understand that the producer of the seed wants to get a return on their investment and what not.

Those aspects have to be upgraded. What type of regulation are we going to need in some of these areas to deal with these questions? The U.S. patent legislation is different from ours in the interpretation of it reaching out and dealing with the whole plants. Theirs does, in the U.S. That's my understanding. Ours doesn't; it's exempt in Canada. And we'll need some legislation around the animal question.

Ms. Margaret Kenny: I would just explain that the matter of the patenting of higher life forms is not a regulatory matter dealt with under agricultural legislation. Further, my understanding is that this particular issue right now is before the courts in the case of the Harvard mouse.

The Chairman: So it's under Health as far as Canada is concerned.

Ms. Margaret Kenny: It's with the patent office, which is affiliated with Industry Canada.

Ms. Joyce Groote: Perhaps I could make a comment on why we did focus on plants more. It's a valid question.

Plants have been easier. It's a complex science. Scientists have been looking for single gene traits that are easier to transfer. It's easier to do the work on plants, and plants have lent themselves very easily to some of the first producer-oriented traits we've been looking at.

The science in animals is coming along, but it simply isn't as far as it is in plants.

The Chairman: We're not close to a Dolly yet.

Ms. Joyce Groote: Well, we have situations like Dolly, but in terms of actually transforming and moving traits from one organism to another, it's not as easily done in animals.

• 0945

The Chairman: Mr. Benoit, you'll begin our first round of questions.

Mr. Leon E. Benoit (Lakeland, Ref.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome, ladies and gentlemen.

I'll just start with a question to Ms. Groote. You made a comment that we'll be needing 8,000 to 10,000 new people in the biotech industry by the year 2000. Are these people in the pipeline? Are they coming along? Will they be there when we need them?

Ms. Joyce Groote: We are working very hard to meet that need. Maybe I can tell you of the five different areas where we're working to do that.

No, we don't have them yet, in answer to your first question. What we are doing is looking first of all at immigration, trying to facilitate moving people into Canada so it's a little easier than what it is right now. We know we're going to be facing immense competition internationally for these same people. Europe has put together a study saying that they will need 3 million people by the year 2005. That's pretty stiff competition.

One of the areas where we've developed strategies is to bring knowledge of the science and what it takes to move a product through from research and development to commercialization into the business community. I don't think there's an awareness of what the issues are, what the science is, and some of the unique factors we need to consider when commercializing products.

There's another track looking at entrepreneurs in particular and scientists, trying to let them know what business skills they are going to need to move something into a commercializeable product.

The third area is looking at colleges and universities, trying to ensure that programs will turn out highly skilled individuals, whether they be scientists, people who will be able to provide marketing or managerial expertise in a company, etc.

The fourth area is high schools, trying to let people know that there are careers in biotechnology.

The fifth area is government regulators, to make sure that in fact they can keep up with the new types of products that are coming in. We're training people to be able to handle those kinds of products.

Mr. Leon Benoit: Yes, I've actually heard concerns from people in many high-tech industries that it's so difficult to get people into the country in that area. It's such a slow process and the demand is there.

I know this is probably not directly in your area, but do you have any thoughts on why our education system hasn't developed these people? This isn't a new area; it's been around a long time. People have been talking about how this was the area of the future 15 or 20 years ago. Why wouldn't our education system have provided these people? Do you have any ideas on that?

Ms. Joyce Groote: That's an excellent question. The only thing I can say is that I don't think we had ever really defined what those needs were. If you consider that over a 6-year period the industry moved from 12 companies to 224, that's a very dramatic increase. The school systems don't work that quickly. The education systems don't work that quickly.

It was only last year that we quantified what those needs were in terms of saying that we know that given x amount of economic growth, we will need between 8,000 and 10,000 new jobs. This is the first time it's been quantified in looking very specifically at what the skills are that we're looking for.

Mr. Leon Benoit: Mr. Zatylny, you were commenting on the need for more production in canola. I understand this quite well. I've been involved in growing canola for 35 years, since 1960. On our family farm my father started growing rapeseed at that time. It later became canola.

There is a production problem. We just can't produce enough. I've had crushers say that they could market any amount in the United States. These are crushers who are partially owned by American interests, saying the demand is there. If we can guarantee a supply, more and more of these major companies will switch to canola in cooking oils rather than soybean, for example. So the demand is there.

Could you tell me what types of problems, if any, you've had in the development, in the registration process to do with trade, importing and exporting products to other countries, that type of thing?

Mr. Tony Zatylny: The demand is there around the world for canola products. We are primarily focusing on those markets that we have easy access to today. Japan is a consistent buyer of 1.6 million tonnes of seed. Our next major consumer is the U.S., followed by Mexico, in domestic production.

• 0950

With those trading partners, it's been a relatively smooth process. The U.S. adopted the feed and food and environmental clearances at the same time as we did. Japan followed a couple of years later in 1996.

Mr. Leon Benoit: I meant specifically regarding genetically engineered products.

Mr. Tony Zatylny: Those are clearances that you have to have in every country where you have unconfined release of these products.

Farmers in general trust and respect the regulatory agencies in Canada and they do not want to see any release of products without due diligence. The science is good, the decisions are based on science, and it's been a slow progression of developing the rules.

We've had no problems in Canada or with our major trading partners. In the future, as supply continues to grow, we will really need to look at harmonizing the world so that we can easily export our product around the world. We encourage everybody who's in the industry and has a role to play to look over the horizon and see where the challenges are going to be.

Mr. Leon Benoit: I believe there have already been some problems in exporting genetically engineered canola to Europe. Are you pretty confident that these problems will be ironed out in time to meet a new market or an expanded market that might be there?

Mr. Tony Zatylny: I guess one of the misconceptions is that Europe is preventing us from exporting to Europe. In fact, we made the decision. In 1996 we looked at our European opportunities and said that in order to meet any export demand in Europe we'd have to segregate our canola, genetically modified versus conventional, and the industry came together and said it's not worth our while to look at Europe. We'll wait for them to develop their rules and have rules in place so that we can begin to do business with them again.

In essence, there was an industry decision not to take action to appease Europe. We're hoping that again a combined industry with private and public effort can resolve those issues. I would suspect that those issues will be resolved when the Europeans in fact need canola. Part of our decision was based on the fact that they didn't have a need for Canadian canola, so we weren't going to move.

The Chairman: We'll move on to Mrs. Picard.


Ms. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ): Welcome. You will have to excuse me but I am new on this committee as I am replacing the spokesperson responsible for this issue.

I noticed some differences in your views and I am wondering what to believe. Ms. Kenny, you say that there is a regulatory framework dealing with plants that seems to be safe. You also say that there are clear guidelines regarding the assessment of products and the health of consumers and that the review process is closely linked to environmental assessments. On the other hand, Mr. Wilkinson has concerns about the biosafety protocol, wants more to be done concerning the regulatory process, believes that the labelling process is no use to consumers and says that the regulation concerning animal life will be a critical issue in the future. I wonder who to believe.


Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I'm not sure there's as much difference as you think. We are agreeing that in the regulatory framework within Canada dealing with plants, there are appropriate places currently within the appropriate acts, whether it be the Seeds Act or the number of acts that have been named by Ms. Kenny, that currently look at the health and safety issues prior to the registration. We're saying that is an adequate process that guarantees health and safety in relationship to Canadian consumers.

The only concern we have is that in the future, hopefully in the near future, more work is done intergovernmentally to harmonize different systems around the world. In that case, hopefully acceptance in Canada is going to automatically give acceptance in other countries, and as we have products come up we don't have to clear them through every time with the country from a trade point of view.

• 0955

One of the concerns with the biosafety protocol being developed is that some countries are advocating that for every living modified organism—and I understand the Canadian definition is very broad—there will have to be prior consent for every shipment and every trans-country movement. This is a major concern to us as agriculture producers, because it is going farther than we think is required to deal with biosafety in many of these countries. We think there are many products, from a biosafety point of view, that are extremely low risk in entering countries. Take, for example, bulk shipment of canola going to process in Japan, not to release a seed variety or for production. Why should it need, for example, prior notice for every shipment? We're saying that's going way too far, and it's going much farther than is required to protect the world biosafety questions.

In relation to the patenting of higher life forms, I think we do disagree with the government right now. We don't think the Supreme Court should decide what Canada's position around the patenting of higher life forms should be. Yes, we know it's in the court. We know there's an appeal on the Harvard mouse question, etc., but we think Canada has to sit back and start the development process on where we should go as a government in relation to the question of the patenting of higher life forms.

It's very clear that the technology is very close. It has occurred in some countries. The U.S. has made a position on whether it wants research and how it's going to deal in a very tentative way with the patenting of higher life forms. We think that work needs to occur in Canada, because it will take a while to develop a position that's appropriate and has the input of consumers about the ethics and the regulatory framework for it.

We think the Canadian government should move quickly in that area. We have made overtures to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to try to encourage them to do the development work. I know that until it becomes something you have to regulate, it's not your issue. We appreciate that, but we think the work needs to be done.

I don't think we have as different a point of view as you may think on the surface.

The Chairman: Mrs. Kenny, did you want to answer? Could you expand on the bioprotocol?

Ms. Margaret Kenny: Yes, I would like to do that.

The Biodiversity Convention was ratified, I believe, in 1993. Canada was a signatory to that particular convention, and as part of the convention there was agreement that a biosafety protocol would be developed. The biosafety protocol itself is defined as a mechanism that would regulate what is called the transboundary movement—that's imports and exports—of living modified organisms that would have a potential harmful effect on biodiversity. There's a lot of jargon in that particular description, as you can appreciate, but in summary we believe it to mean that we're talking about protecting the ecology of a country from the movement of various living products of biotechnology.

Canada certainly is part of the negotiations on this particular protocol. I believe we've had three negotiating sessions with the other 150-odd countries involved in this process to date, and there are several more negotiations to come. The objective is to have a protocol in place by the end of 1998. The Canadian negotiating team is led jointly by Environment Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is on that particular team, as are various industry representatives and environmental groups.

We do agree with many of the concerns that Mr. Wilkinson has expressed. Our objective in these negotiations is to have a system that protects biodiversity, but we certainly recognize that it has to be a system that is compatible with trade. We are approaching these negotiations in that sense.

The Chairman: Mr. Coderre.

• 1000


Mr. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.): Good day everybody. If I understand well, biotechnology is effectively genetic manipulation to create new varieties, increase productivity and so on, without affecting health I hope.

Ms. Groote, first, it is said that science moves faster than regulation. We talked about labelling and different other things. Often, in the case of genetic manipulation, other problems can arise. I will come back to rbST a bit later. Do you feel, if science moves faster than regulation, that you have all the tests that are necessary to protect consumers' health each time that a new product is created?

We talked a lot about factories but I think that we should also be talking about dairy products among other things.


Ms. Joyce Groote: You've raised a number of issues. I'm not quite sure what to hit first, but perhaps I'll start with what we see as a definition of biotechnology. Biotechnology in our minds is not equivalent to genetic manipulation or genetic engineering. Biotechnology is a set of tools; genetic engineering is one of those tools. Other tools could be things such as cloning, tissue culture, etc. There's a whole raft of them.

You're right; there are a number of issues that need to be dealt with. Science is moving rapidly, but we also believe it's in our best interests to ensure that the legislation is there to protect the consumers and also to protect the industry, because it gives the industry a level playing field. It means that if you have something that has been assessed by the government, it is safe, and it tells everybody else that it is safe and everybody must abide by the same rules. Certainly I would never want to see a situation where legislation does not exist. We fully support it.

In terms of the science moving faster than regulation, I don't believe that was a comment I made, but I would like to respond to it. It is moving fast, but I do think that because we recognize that legislation is important for us too, we're working very hard to try to help identify for the government where it's moving so that we can start working with them very early on and they can gather the expertise necessary to properly regulate that product.

Do we have enough information to make sure these products are safe? I think science is one of those areas where we only get better. The fact that you get better means that where you are right now is not 100% perfect, but we do the best we can. I truly feel we use the science in the very best way we can to look at the safety, short term and long term. I believe the government has worked very hard to look at what tests and what information are necessary to decide if something is safe or not.


Mr. Denis Coderre: Do you know that there is now a test to detect the infamous rbST in milk as well as in butter oil?


Ms. Joyce Groote: You're talking about rBST? No, to my knowledge there is no test available for this hormone.


Mr. Denis Coderre: I agree. Mr. Wilkinson, of course, you have to face two challenges: the first is to compete with your rivals and the second is to make sure that our consumers are not penalized health wise.

First, can you tell us a bit more about labelling? And, second, can you also tell us if, in the name of productivity, producers won't be tempted to sacrifice consumers' health to remain competitive and have level playing fields with the Americans, amongst others?

• 1005


Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I think some people make the assumption that a new product somehow is worse than the current product, but I don't come at it from that line of thinking. I think food safety and food nutrition and what not have improved over the time period, and generally the regulatory framework that exists in Canada has worked very well at protecting consumers when new products are coming on line. I think we have an excellent record.

I guess I'd look at issues such as breeding insect tolerance into potatoes to deal with the Colorado flea beetle as a good thing, because it relieves the farmer from the necessity of repeated applications of insecticides, which aren't very effective. That no longer takes place if you in fact have that product.

As an individual farmer, I cannot judge the safety of that species. We need a a regulatory framework, the same as a consumer does, to look at this product as it comes on the market, to review the science, to review a host of issues, and to say it is a safe product to be released for sale for production. That currently exists under the Seeds Act in a number of places.

All I'm saying, as far as the science getting ahead is concerned, is that I think one place in which we don't have that regulatory framework—and this is not an issue to any great extent right now—is not in the whole question of plants but on the animal side. Very clearly, that's on the horizon. There are going to be many products coming forward, and from a Canadian policy point of view, I'm saying we should deal with that question versus having it put up for the Supreme Court to look at.

That was my comment in relationship to the regulation. Maybe it's not as fast as we're going to need something in that area, and we should deal with it.

So on the question of farmers cutting corners, in general I don't think the new technology does do that. I think there are many benefits to it. We're not advocating one product over another; we're advocating a very open, transparent regulatory framework there.

I think the biggest problem we have on this issue is that people don't read their websites. To me, sending out the website address is not advocacy work on behalf of government to teach people what system exists in Canada. There are still lots of people who actually just listen to the radio and watch TV and read newspapers. And I think that if they knew the regulatory framework that does exist, in plain language, if they knew of what has to take place before products are available, there would be a lot more assurance for the Canadian consumer.

I have one last point. Other than the supply-managed commodities, generally speaking, we do have a very open North American and world food system today. Whether we agree with it or not, the federal government has signed many trade agreements that really have made a North American and world food system in which products are coming from everywhere. That's our logic behind moving internationally to a harmonized system as much and as quickly as we possibly can, so that we have this assurance that when products come on the market in another country, they have been looked at and they are deemed safe, and that technology is then made available to us at the same time period so that we don't have a competitive issue.


Mr. Denis Coderre: The problem is...


The Chairman: Mr. Proctor, please.

Mr. Denis Coderre: I'll be back.

Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP): Welcome, everybody.

I wanted to pick up on this area of consumer confidence. I'm not going to direct the question to anybody in particular, but you folks must do polling and databases on whether or not Canadians think we're headed in the right direction in this area. I'd be interested to know what the results are. It seems to me that the people who come to my constituency office to talk to me are not the people who are wearing the pom-poms for biotechnology. They're concerned about labelling. We may all dismiss them as the “crunchy granola” crowd, but these are folks who are coming to talk to me, so I'd just be interested to know.

I think Canadians generally have felt, over my lifetime, that we have a very safe food system in this country, that we have a good regulatory system. My question is, is that confidence being eroded, or is it going up as a result of what's happening over the last ten years in this area?

Ms. Joyce Groote: Perhaps I can respond.

Previous to this job, I used to work for the Food Biotechnology Communications Network. As a result, we did in fact produce a document—this document in front of you—to provide information to consumers about biotechnology.

• 1010

When I was there I had the opportunity to look at a number of polls that had been done. There are polls on food in general and how people feel about food in the marketplace. What we saw from those numbers is actually very comforting. There's a high level of confidence.

We then looked at polls on how people feel about science and technology, and cautious optimism is really the bottom line. They recognize that science contributes to an improved standard of living, but there also seems to be some recognition that there will be a cost associated with it and they're willing more or less to pay that cost.

We see that same attitude has shifted over to biotechnology, and again there's cautious optimism. We've seen the awareness increasing over the last few years. Certainly the acceptance is clustered in different parts of the country. There's much greater acceptance and awareness in Saskatchewan, for instance, than in British Columbia.

So we have been keeping track of this. I certainly can provide a number of different surveys, if you're interested in seeing those results. We probably have one of the best libraries on biotechnology at our offices, which are just down the street. Anyone is more than welcome to look at that library.

There is one other thing I would like to address. We often talk about the public as if it's one amorphous mass, while, as you alluded, there's a whole number of different groups.

I think the surveys have told us not everybody wants to know about biotechnology and not everybody cares. But there certainly is a segment of the population looking for that information, and we're looking at ways to target that group. One of the ways we have used in Canada is to give information to third parties such as consumer groups, dietitians and doctors.

We've done an enormous job in Canada trying to get that information out and make it available. This is a document I've brought that itemizes a number of different activities we've done in Canada over the last five years to try to get that information out to the government, consumer associations, the industry, you name it.

So we haven't been sitting around wondering what the public thinks. We've been surveying people, trying to look at what their specific information requirements are, and looking for ways to get that information out.

The Chairman: You've used up all Mr. Proctor's time.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: Can I make a short comment?

The Chairman: Okay, we'll let Mr. Wilkinson speak.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I think there's reason to be concerned. In general, there are those people who know what sort of system is there and are very comfortable that it's being watched. But if you look at the European example and, very clearly, as you say, a percentage of the Canadian population.... There are two or three things happening that we need to deal with upfront and very quickly.

We need to educate people about the current system and the protection mechanisms that are there to reassure them. Second—and this is in particular from a European context—there is a sense that there is not one singular point of view from science. So when we say a science-based system, people think of the BSE problem in beef in Europe and England, for example. They see a scientist one day get up and say there's no problem and a scientist get up another day and say there possibly is a problem. So I think that has started an issue we should pay attention to. I still believe the vast majority of Canadian consumers trust a science-based system in Canada, but we shouldn't take that for granted.

Another thing that is making people nervous is that the federal government and in some cases the provincial governments are downsizing their regulatory and science-based organizations and privatizing and commercializing them. We should very seriously think about how far down that road we should go. If you look around the world at where that has happened and gone too far in relation to consumers, when a health scare issue occurs—and I'm thinking of Australia as an example—there is a backlash and people say they hadn't realized how much the system had eroded.

We should think very seriously about that from a Canadian context. Every time Health Canada lays off people or whatever, you see the editorials and people become very nervous. I don't think there's any reason for over-concern at this point, but I think we should look at those signals and we should be careful and deal with those issues upfront before we do lose any consumer confidence.

• 1015

The Chairman: Thank you very much.

We'll now go to the man who got smoking banned from committee rooms, Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Greg Thompson (Charlotte, PC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That's pretty generous of you.

Because the chairman, Mr. McGuire, is sort of our potato expert in the House of Commons, as you probably know, maybe he should be asking this question, not I, but I'll ask it on his behalf. Incidentally, I'm a fill-in for Mr. Borotsik, who had to go back to Manitoba. The chairman and I sat on the agriculture committee in a previous life.

Anyway, this goes back to a statement Mr. Wilkinson made in regard to what I would call genetic manipulation in regard to the potato plant and the Colorado potato beetle. I think what you're doing is basically praising that advancement.

My question is this. Isn't there a little bit of concern out there in the marketplace that when the beetle adapts to the new generic strain of the plant, at some point it will mean increased or more powerful pesticides or insecticides to deal with the problem? You're getting into this vicious circle. You're using technology on a short-term basis to solve a problem, but in the long term you're getting into this increasing absurd application of more powerful insecticides to deal with the beetle that's adapted to the very thing you've created.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: You're making an assumption that I wouldn't necessarily agree with. If you carry this logic—

Mr. Greg Thompson: Excuse me. I think there's scientific evidence in many areas—I'm not using this exclusively for the potato plant—to suggest that the very thing I'm suggesting has in fact happened. In fact, in the potato beetle situation, the Colorado beetle, there's a group of experts out there today who believe this very same thing is indeed going to happen and that we have a problem on our hands.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: Is it okay if I actually answer the question, since it was asked of me and then I got cut off part-way through?

I think the facts also show that pesticide use in Canada is substantially reduced from where it was a decade ago. There are government studies and other studies that show, for example, that we've brought in intensive pest management systems, where we monitor the pest and then we apply. In Ontario we're down to half the usage of herbicide that we had in the past.

I'm a canola grower. I have replaced a number of products by being able to use Roundup Ready canola, and I have a product that I'm now ploughing at much lower rates and that is much more benign to the environment and in fact breaks down as soon as it comes in contact with the soil and the sunlight. That is a vast improvement from an environmental point of view of not having to use that.

I would like to have a variety of canola, for example, that I don't have to put flea beetle insecticide on, because one of the most toxic substances I have to use on my farm is to control that flea beetle.

So do we not do anything? Do we not apply science because in the future we may have a tolerant variety of something that may come along so that we may have to do something else?

Mr. Greg Thompson: Mr. Chairman, I don't want all the time chewed up by the witness. I appreciate his.... Talking about the flea beetle, for example, I think we have to have a balanced view on this thing. In regard to the flea beetle, which is a good example, I think the flea beetle has adapted to past insecticides. So let's hear a different point of view, if we could.

The Chairman: We'll go to Ms. Kenny and then Mr. McCormick.

Ms. Margaret Kenny: Thank you very much.

Certainly in Agriculture, we recognize that pests such as the potato flea beetle can and do become resistant to the measures we take to control them, and this has been the case with certain chemical pesticides that have been used for this purpose. There are also examples of this with the natural Bt sprays that organic producers are using. Resistance does come about.

In the course of our evaluations, this is a factor we take into account, and the way we have approached it is through management practices. We believe that with management practices this kind of resistance can be delayed or reduced. The kinds of conditions that we have put on these approvals include monitoring for an early detection of these kinds of pests; education for growers; continued research in this area, which is obviously a very important component; and certainly, immediate notification if those kinds of problems arise.

• 1020

So it's recognized as an issue, and we take it into account in the system we have.

The Chairman: I think Mr. Thompson's point—and we may get back to it later—is that we are developing super beetles or super insects that are going to overcome whatever we are doing. Maybe we can come back to that at a later time.

Mr. McCormick.

Mr. Larry McCormick (Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do appreciate having you people share your time with us today, because I have much to learn about biotech.

Many of you people are responsible for the fact that we do have the finest quality of food and the safest food system in the world today, and I appreciate that. We all have to work together to maintain and to better that. I try to do my part for biotech, but a few people seem to be alarmed when this comes out, so I often remind them that just a few years ago it was called “good science” and today it's biotech. And I think I saw the words “new science” in there.

I just want to make a comment about rBST. I also would like to ask that no one take away from the answer from IBAC, by Joyce, on any possible tests. We keep hearing different things in the hallways, that there will be a test soon from Russia, that there is a test here and that there may be a test there. I'm not asking you from the point of view of Health Canada or anything else. I just wondered what you've heard. You people are exposed to this all the time.

But the lobbying efforts on behalf of a multinational company for rBST are not helping the cause of biotech in Canada in some cases. If we had had this tomato first rather than trying to...I think the rBST was pushed more to the front than the tomato was. Probably money is behind that.

As I've said in the last couple of days at this committee, many of my neighbours are milk producers and some want to use rBST, but other neighbours are alarmed about it. They're saying there is no need for this product today, and the producers, of course, are saying they want to be more competitive.

I just wonder again why the mother, the pure, the wholesome, the milk...the fact that we went that way before we went with some other products. I just want to give you an opportunity to speak to that and also about whether you've heard anything about a test yourselves, Jack or Dr. Gravel or others.

The Chairman: Thank you, Larry.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I think the BST issue in Canada has made it difficult for other biotech products, it being the first that was sort of engaged by the public.

My best knowledge of any test is that you can test for BST in the milk, but you still do not have a commercially available product to determine whether it is the naturally occurring hormone in the cow or whether it is the product of the injection. I think that is where the dilemma comes in. It becomes a very difficult question to deal with labelling or anything else. That's my understanding.

It becomes a production methodology issue versus something that is a product within the milk product itself. Probably the company that created it would have thought again and would have done it differently as far as introducing that product in Canada is concerned.

And to some extent it is in a different commodity. Because of the way we have our border system and supply management, you can fairly easily say that from a Canadian point of view—it's not necessarily science-based—we choose not to have that product here, for whatever reasons. To a great extent, there is only a limited importation of product from other countries, although there appears to be the possibility of more these days, which is obviously a concern. Therefore you have border controls.

• 1025

Many of the other issues, though, we don't have. Let's take, for example, beef. We have really a north-south market in beef. We ship it south from the west and import from the south in eastern Canada. It really is a North American market. Products around that obviously have to be treated in the North American context versus a Canada one. The same goes for a lot of our grains and oilseeds, our horticulture products.

I mean, we import an awful lot of product, and it makes an awful lot of sense to have a North American or a world system to try to deal with the health and safety issues.

Dr. André Gravel (Interim Vice-President, Programs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency): If I may, Mr. Chairman, I have a comment.

The only thing I've heard about a possible test is a test that would be applied to serum of cows. We're not in a position now to determine whether or not it would be effective. The difficulty it raises is that if you're dealing, as an example, with an imported product, and the test is on serum, it makes it an awful lot more difficult to find out whether it's there. But given the fact that science is evolving very fast, who knows in the next little while whether that test, which would be a very useful tool, will be available.

The Chairman: You'd have to test the cow.

Dr. André Gravel: Yes.

The Chairman: Mr. Benoit.

Mr. Leon Benoit: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Jack, I want to follow up on a comment you made in your presentation—and there's been some discussion involving this—that you want biotech products available in Canada at a time similar to the time that it's introduced to our competitors, such as the United States. Part of the reasoning—and I've heard this from many farmer groups, including your own—is that once these products have been tested in the United States and accepted there, first of all the testing process is adequate, and it should be accepted in Canada; and secondly, products that use some of the new products coming on are imported into Canada anyway.

So on the one hand, the regulatory system can be saying that this product can't be used in Canada to produce this particular agricultural commodity, and yet we can import from the United States the same commodity that has had this new product used on it.

I've heard many groups express a concern about that. Am I accurate in saying that you've said you believe products that are tested and go through the system in the United States should be allowed to be used in Canada?

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: What I said was that we need to harmonize internationally a regulatory framework, which doesn't automatically assume today that a product we're advocating that's released in the U.S. should automatically be released in Canada. There are some different climatic conditions, and certain products will react differently. So to that extent....

What we're pointing out is exactly the issue you raised. We have a very North American and world food system in many commodities. It therefore becomes critical from a health and safety point of view. If one wants to advocate that health and safety is the most critical issue, from my point of view, then, it really presses one to try to have an international harmonized system to deal with the health and safety issues that would be acceptable from a Canadian point of view—i.e., a standard high enough that it would be acceptable from a Canadian point of view—at the international level.

So when a product—and I'm not saying we're there yet—is registered in a particular country, it then will have that degree of acceptance, even though there may be some additional tests done in Canada to deal with climatic differences and what not. But it will be a fairly quick system so that we're not going to have a situation where it is three and four years just because a regulatory framework may be slow in dealing with the question. I'm not implying it is, but there are examples. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency, for example, is a major problem.

Mr. Leon Benoit: I've heard those expressed by many groups—

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: So that's what we're wanting to see, that type of internationalization so that we don't have those delays.

Mr. Leon Benoit: Under that, then, Jack, if you mean what you say there, you must support the use of rBST in Canada because it's been tested in the United States. It's been approved there. Products, in fact, that come from cows that have had rBST used are being imported into Canada.

So do you in fact support the availability to farmers, not just the use, of rBST?

• 1030

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I think you did a little twist on what I had said.

Mr. Leon Benoit: I didn't mean to. Straighten me out.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I'm sure you didn't. That's why I just wanted to clarify that, because I'm sure you didn't mean it.

I did say that we're not there yet and there would be different tests required from a Canadian context to meet the food and safety requirements. We should work towards a system internationally at a high enough level that Canadians would be comfortable with whatever decisions are being made in another country. We're not there yet. That doesn't mean that I advocate automatically the application of BST in Canada since it's registered in the United States.

Do you have a question on BST? Should it be made available in Canada? Is that the question?

Mr. Leon Benoit: No, I'm just saying that by the general reasoning you use, it would indicate to me that you would support the availability of rBST for farmers.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: But if we were to follow exactly what I said versus the generality of it, I said that when we have that system in place, which we should strive to have and which isn't in place, then I would agree with you on your other point.

Mr. Leon Benoit: What's the hold-up in getting the harmonized system?

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: In Canada there are many people who think it's important to maintain a separate entity. Health Canada, for example, has many people there whose sole occupation is regulating to Canadian standards. I think it will take some time for people to accept the notion that we need to have world standards as much as we need to have domestic standards because of the movement of food products.

The Chairman: We'll go to Mr. Calder now.

Mr. Murray Calder (Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, Lib.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

As a middle-aged farmer, I'm going to start off using an old farm analogy. I'd like to take a look at the forest instead of the trees we've been looking at this morning. I want to look at this forest through the consumers' eyes.

I know right off the bat a number of things are going to happen and are happening. In 23 years from now, we're going to have 8 billion people on the face of the earth. Currently the population is turning 50 at the rate of 500,000 a year on the average and it will be doing that for the next 20 years, the baby boomers. That generation now is very interested in its food supply because it's worried about cholesterol and about weight and definitely wants to retire in good health. So there is a real interest now in food, and yet the perception of the population of the farm is seen through the eyes of a generation where, for the majority, the last ones they had on the farm were Grandpa and Grandma.

I always get a kick out of seeing some of the ads you have here. For instance, there's this individual right here sitting on Mr. McCormick's International Model M. That's the perception of the farmer. He's in bib coveralls, with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth. That guy was gone 35 years ago, maybe 40 or 50.

How do we educate the public? Mr. Proctor started to touch on this. We are going to have to address the reality that there will be 8 billion people on the face of the earth 23 years from now and we desperately need biotechnology to have that food production in place for that population when it happens. We've already proven that it's going to happen, because everybody said there wouldn't be 5 billion on the face of the earth by 1995. Guess what? There are 5.8 billion now and it's climbing.

How do we educate the public? One of the ideas I have is that obviously we have to educate the generation that's coming up; it will probably help correct the generation that's there right now. But there are also going to be specifics within biotech with which that generation has a problem. How do we do that? I know we have to have it on an industry aspect, where you're going to put out material, videos or whatever media you're going to use, and we as a government will probably need to have something working towards the education system. How do you see those two things melding to counteract this problem?

• 1035

Mr. Tony Zatylny: I agree with everything you've said. In fact, we had a pilot project last year. We brought 300 kids, aged 4 to 12, out to a canola field where biotechnology was used, so that they could do a scavenger hunt: look for insects, diseases and weeds; and talk about the control and impact on the farmer and the importance of the farmer understanding what's going on in this field. At the same time, we gave them all a take-home package so that they could in fact educate their parents on what they saw. Those things are really nice projects; however, they all require money.

There is a role for government to play to co-ordinate all those people who are interested in educating the children. We could have an integrated, streamlined system with the limited amount of dollars that everybody has. Pool those dollars and make the best educational program that we can have, directed at people who are two or three generations removed from the farm—and we're willing to take cheques today.

Mr. Murray Calder: I think there are a few others who want to respond to this, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: Well, your time's running out, Mr. Calder.

Go ahead, Ms. Groote.

Ms. Joyce Groote: Very briefly, this is a question we've been asking ourselves as well. As I said before, there's no clear, single audience to target information to. Who are you educating? Are you educating people in the high schools, primary schools, the consumers? In fact, it's all of them, and we have to target our information appropriately.

I really think the Biotechnology Human Resources Council is one opportunity that we have, through the colleges and the universities and the high schools. Industry and government are also looking at ways to target youth in primary schools. And Connaught has in fact done an excellent job in having science exhibitions. In fact, this year, for the first time, it is taking those science exhibitions across the country. So youth is the priority of the Department of Human Resources; we are seeing a real push to try to do this.

At the level of the consumer, again, it's really difficult. We've been finding the information multipliers are right now the easiest, however, so we've been dealing again with the consumer groups, the dietitians, those kinds of things. Grocery distributors are another example.

The Chairman: Mr. Benoit—and this is the last round.

Mr. Leon Benoit: I have some questions on the cost of registration, not only of biotech products but of other products; and on the whole issue of user fees, which have been increasing the cost to farmers and others in the agriculture industries.

Mr. Wilkinson, I'd like to ask you to give some general statements on what your concerns are in terms of user fees, cost recovery, or call it what you like. I would then like a response from Margaret Kenny.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I know seed growers, for example, have been very concerned about some of the user fees that have come into the system and are still coming into the system in relationship to that cost. We have field inspectors. There is a host of, for example, registered seed growers and what not for whom those systems are in there.

In general, if the question is cost recovery from the farm community side, it is a very onerous bill, and this is one aspect of it that always hurts. Whether or not we're going to have a seed industry in the future determines, to a great extent, how people are charged back for all the services the government used to give free of charge as part of its support to an industry.

Mr. Leon Benoit: What general principles should guide what those user fees should cover?

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: Well, I think there are two or three general principles that we've had always in the cost recovery debate. Number one, there's a public good to much of the work the federal and provincial governments do. Where there's public good, that should be paid out of a taxpayers' refund. Only a certain amount of this is a private benefit to the individual farmer. As a general principle, it's only that aspect that should be charged back.

• 1040

Then within that context there are still some competition-related issues. For example, if in Canada we are moving in one direction in cost recovery and all of our major trade partners are not moving in that direction because they view it as support to an industry or an agrifood industry, we can in fact kill the industry in a Canadian context. And when you get to that point, even if it's of benefit to the grower, to go down that road is a ridiculous system.

The U.S., for example, has maintained much more of these green programs under the WTO, such as food inspection and a host of others. Many of those have been maintained at a higher rate by government support there than they have been in Canada.

So all we're saying...and we'll be going through a whole cost recovery review now. We're waiting for a report from Agriculture Canada in which it was going to track products through the system in all those areas of cost recovery. Seeds, for example, is one of them. I don't know if there's a big bill through the registration system for seeds. I know there is a concern from seed growers about the field inspections and a host of inspections that take place, which is on the verge of making them uncompetitive in some areas.

Mr. Leon Benoit: Another concern I've heard is the burden of the cumulative effect of all of the user fees, not just from the agriculture department but from all of the other government departments, and not only from the federal government but from the provincial and local governments in some cases. It has become such a burden. And really, there's no single body within the federal government to take a look at the cumulative impact on industry and on competitiveness, just as you've said. It seems to me there really is no body doing that.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: There is a study going on within Agriculture Canada, and there is supposed to be a report by the end of February or by March. They have picked a number of major commodities to study, and we've asked them to look at some minor commodities in relation to horticulture. There's one being done in P.E.I., I understand, with the potato industry, where they are tracking it through the system and will deal with port fees, coast guard fees, all of these issues, and take those products all the way through the system and find out the cumulative impact. Those studies are supposed to be available in a couple of months, and at that time we'll have something more than speculation as to the impact. Over 42 areas in the food system right now have impacted on cost recovery, where farmers are paying bills at various levels.

The Chairman: We'll bring you back at that time.

Mr. Coderre.


Mr. Denis Coderre: Yes but...


I'm not Italian today. I'm French Canadian, okay?

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Denis Coderre: He is calling me “Mr. Gauderie” all the time, and “gauderie” means


to be delighted in French.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to get back to the issue of rbST. I am worried because I sometimes feel—and I might be wrong—that one does not take this issue seriously enough, especially when I listen to Mr. Wilkinson. Following on Mr. Benoit's question, you know as well as I do that this hormone is available in Canada. A veterinarian can use it without any problem. According to the information I have, we can already use this hormone. If I'm wrong, I'll be happy because I am against this hormone.

Mr. Wilkinson, given the fact that studies and data have shown that this hormone is bad for our health, would you be ready to take a position today? I'm not asking you to give me a speech but to take a position, if this hormone is in fact dangerous, in favour of its banning. Even if we are for free trade and know that this hormone is used in the States, we must work together as Canadians to protect people's health. We must find a test and make sure that this test is used as soon as possible.


Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I'm totally unaware of this product being legally available to veterinarians or anybody in Canada. My understanding, and I think that the people in the inspection side will say—


Mr. Denis Coderre: Mr. Gravel said no, but my sources tell me yes.


The doctor said no, but my information says that it is available.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: I'm saying that to the best of my knowledge, based on any information I have, it is not legally available for use in Canada.

Ms. Margaret Kenny: If I may, let me just say that the product is still under a review by Health Canada. It's certainly my understanding that until a notice of a compliance is issued for such a product, it cannot be legally imported, sold or used in Canada.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: So I was not trivializing the question of BST. If you want to say I was trivializing anything, it was the question that Mr. Benoit was trying to walk me around.

Mr. Denis Coderre: Okay, I understand.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: Okay? And we all understand that.

Mr. Denis Coderre: He's the Reformer.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: The point is that to the best of my knowledge it's not legal in Canada. Dairy farmers in general across the country have had great difficulty and much debate over where they should go in requesting this, even if it were proven to be acceptable from a regulatory point of view. I don't think it's fair for me to make comment past that.

• 1045

We have had many discussions at milk committee meetings, and different provinces have taken their positions to Dairy Farmers of Canada. Dairy Farmers of Canada, to the best of my knowledge, from its policy point of view has not chosen to bring it in, and if it did, it would have to find some way of segregating that milk so it could give the consumer a choice. That's my understanding of the Dairy Farmers' position, but it's not available yet.

The Chairman: We only have time for some short snappers. We have to be out of the room by 11 a.m. Maybe we should go to Mr. McCormick.

Mr. Larry McCormick: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

If biotech is so interesting as a phenomenon of the future, then the future is here today. I just want to put on the floor that some time over the next year or so, perhaps when the House is not sitting, our committee should take the opportunity to visit Guelph and especially Saskatoon. Some of us have done that already. There's much to learn and much to support, and I think we need to work together on it. Thank you.

The Chairman: Okay, I'll take note of that.

Ms. Joyce Groote: If I could open an invitation to you, if you would like to do something like that I'd be more than happy to set up meetings for you across the country.

The Chairman: Good. It sounds better all the time, Larry.

Mr. Calder.

Mr. Murray Calder: Two years from now we'll be hot and heavy into the negotiations at WTO. It seems to me we would have a perfect vehicle in place to take a look at the harmonization of testing within that. We'll have all the countries around the table. I'd like your comments on what you think would be a good way of approaching that, if that were true.

Mr. Jack Wilkinson: My understanding is that the phytosanitary discussions start next year at the international level, so they will be ahead of the actual agricultural negotiations. It is on a number of these issues that the work needs to be done. We would like to see governments in particular try to get a resolution to a number of these very important questions. The issues include how far can we go internationally in harmonization, how far can we go in joint submissions, and are governments ready to accept decisions made in other jurisdictions at an international level as long as the standards are high enough for that?

We think there's great merit from an agriculture point of view. Many of these issues will end up being non-tariff trade barriers if we don't deal with these questions.

A comment was made by the canola representatives here about deciding not to go to Europe. There will be a trade panel from the U.S. If they don't negotiate how they're going to deal with biotechnology around soybeans—because they're going to push to try to get Roundup Ready soybeans into Europe and will basically force a decision—it will end up in a panel.

Some of these things are very critical as to how they work their way out, Mr. Calder. I think it's very important for us to take seriously the phytosanitary discussions next year, and at the international level, and find an answer to these questions.

Mr. Murray Calder: Would there be a possibility of establishing an ISO equivalent in harmonization of standards?

Dr. André Gravel: I agree with what you're saying in terms of getting ourselves ready for these discussions. I think Canada is very well positioned from the standpoint of its participation in international organizations.

As an example, the chair of the Office international des l'épizootie, OIE, which is the referee in the matter of animal health, is a Canadian. He is an employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

We also chair the labelling committee on Codex Alimentarius. We participate very actively in IPPC, which is the International Plant Protection Convention. So these types of participation in international fora probably take us a long way in terms of influencing the standard-setting organizations so they reflect our own standards as opposed to somebody else's standards.

• 1050

So yes, the SPS group is important, but the ongoing participation of Canada and of the agency in these international organizations also involves a slow but evolving process in terms of getting our points across.

The Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mr. Zatylny, your canola seed is patented under the Patent Act. Who owns the patent?

Mr. Tony Zatylny: There's a really broad patent out there right now that's being challenged a lot. My understanding is that there is a patent at the U.S. patent office held by Calgene and Monsanto that suggests that all brassica transformations are patented by Monsanto and Calgene. It's a very broad patent. I don't think it will stand the test of litigation anywhere in the world.

The Chairman: Is that the reason you're not going into, say, developing countries rather than trying to get into Europe?

Mr. Tony Zatylny: No, we go to wherever the market access is available. We make our decisions based on the value of that market, how easy it is to access or to get product into that market. Patents at this point haven't played a role in it.

The Chairman: Finally, Ms. Kenny, would you respond to Mr. Benoit's question about user fees? He wanted you to respond to that.

Ms. Margaret Kenny: I'm not in a position where I can talk about user fees for agriculture in general. It is true that there are fees associated with the approvals for plants with novel traits and other products of biotechnology. That's a fact of life we are living with, appreciating that when companies have their approvals, as you've heard here today, there is an industrial benefit to it as well as a public good benefit.

What we have done in terms of defining our system and how it works is that if we took a plant, for example, the breeding line and the individual event would be approved. You would only come to the regulatory system the one time. Subsequent varieties bred through traditional breeding would not require additional approvals that additional user fees would be associated with.

So we have a scientifically based system that is streamlined in that sense, which should minimize those types of costs.

Mr. Leon Benoit: Yes, but what portion of the total costs within the agency would be considered to be for the public good and what portion for the good of the user? That's an important part of the issue.

Ms. Margaret Kenny: Again, I'm afraid my knowledge of this area is somewhat narrow. The costs associated with the approvals for plants with novel traits, for example, are estimated at approximately 50% of the costs of actually doing the work.

The Chairman: Okay.

Thank you all for a very interesting morning. I feel we've just scratched the surface, and I'm sure you'll be back many times over the next few years.

The meeting is adjourned.