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e-2416 (Health)

Initiated by Veronique Audette from Hamilton, Ontario

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Government of Canada

  • Genetically modified (GMO, GM or genetically engineered) foods are not labeled in Canada;
  • Polls consistently show that over 80% of Canadians want mandatory labelling of GM foods; and
  • The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared GM Crop herbicides – glyphosate – a “probable human carcinogen”. Its use has increased sharply with the development of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crop varieties.
We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to establish mandatory labelling of all genetically modified foods.

Response by the Minister of Health

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): Darren Fisher

The Government of Canada considers issues of food safety to be of the utmost importance.

Under the Food and Drugs Act, Health Canada is responsible for provisions related to public health, food safety and nutrition, through the establishment of science-based policies and standards to ensure that all foods, including those that are genetically modified or genetically engineered, are safe and nutritious. As part of this mandate, Health Canada conducts a rigorous, science-based assessment of all novel food products using internationally agreed-upon guidelines, before they can enter the Canadian marketplace.

Foods that have been genetically modified to introduce a new trait, to remove an existing trait, or which results in a significant change in an existing trait are regulated as novel foods in Canada. Assessments of novel foods are conducted under the Food and Drug Regulations (Division 28 – Novel Foods), which prohibit the manufacturers of these products from selling them in Canada until Health Canada has completed a full assessment to confirm the safety of these products.

The novel food safety assessment conducted by Health Canada involves a scientific review of how the food was developed, a comparison of its compositional and nutritional profile with conventional counterparts, and the potential for the food to be toxic or to contain a toxin or allergen. Scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition conduct a thorough analysis of the data and of the protocols used to ensure the validity of the results. Only when there are no safety concerns is the novel food permitted in the Canadian marketplace.

Even after a product has been assessed and found to be safe, Health Canada takes any new information related to such products very seriously. Scientists in the Department routinely review new information including both independent and peer-reviewed published studies when these become available. Furthermore, the conclusions of Health Canada are consistent with similar findings and methodologies used by regulatory scientists internationally, including those adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, as well as through independent scientific reviews. Should any risks or concerns be identified from the consumption of any genetically modified food authorized in Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would take immediate and appropriate action to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Mandatory labelling for food products, including genetically modified foods, is required by Health Canada where clear, scientifically established health risks or significant nutritional changes have been identified that can be mitigated through labelling.  For example, the presence of a priority allergen in a food must be declared to alert consumers. 

The Government of Canada’s approach to the labelling of genetically modified food is supported by positions expressed previously by the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on the Future of Food Biotechnology; the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee; and, most recently, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. This approach is also consistent with guidance adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standards setting body.

The Government of Canada recognizes that voluntary labelling is an important means of communication between industry and consumers for non-health and safety related information.  To this end, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency worked with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors and the Canadian General Standards Board to develop the “Voluntary labelling and advertising of foods that are and are not products of genetic engineering”, which was adopted in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2016. Companies can voluntarily label genetically modified or non-genetically modified foods using the National Standard designed to ensure label information is clear and not misleading.

In Canada, pesticides are regulated federally under the Pest Control Products Act, which is administered by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). Our number one priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians and their environment.

Before a pesticide is allowed to be used or sold in Canada, it must undergo a rigorous scientific assessment process that provides reasonable certainty that no harm, including chronic effects such as cancer, will occur when pesticides are used according to label directions. Results from more than 200 types of scientific studies must be submitted to determine whether the pesticide would have any negative effect on people, animals (including birds, mammals, and other wildlife), or plants, including organisms in the soil and water. This assessment takes into consideration sensitive populations, such as pregnant and nursing women, infants, children and seniors.

Health Canada must periodically re-evaluate pesticides that are on the market to assess whether they continue to meet the Department’s health and environmental standards and hence, whether they should continue to be permitted for use in Canada. An extensive scientific re-evaluation of glyphosate, completed in 2017, showed that under the established conditions of use, glyphosate (Roundup) does not pose unacceptable risks to human health or the environment. This re-evaluation considered data not only from manufacturers, but also from a large body of published independent scientific studies, and information from other internationally recognized regulatory agencies. Over 1,300 studies were reviewed, totalling more than 89,000 pages.

With respect to your health concerns regarding glyphosate, Health Canada also took the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) into consideration, but found that the levels at which Canadians are exposed to glyphosate do not cause any harmful effects, including cancer. It is important to note that the level of exposure to the pesticide is not factored in to the hazard-based approach used by some organizations such as IARC. Health Canada takes a comprehensive approach to determining risk by assessing the actual levels at which humans and organisms in the environment are exposed.

A number of international regulatory authorities, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) have evaluated the carcinogenicity of glyphosate and have found that glyphosate is unlikely to pose cancer risk to humans. Health Canada’s findings are therefore consistent with those jurisdictions. Health Canada continues to monitor for new information related to pesticides (including glyphosate), and will take appropriate action if any risks of concern to human health or the environment are confirmed.

Open for signature
March 6, 2020, at 1:46 p.m. (EDT)
Closed for signature
July 4, 2020, at 1:46 p.m. (EDT)
Presented to the House of Commons
Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
November 3, 2020 (Petition No. 432-00203)
Government response tabled
January 25, 2021
Photo - Elizabeth May
Saanich—Gulf Islands
Green Party Caucus
British Columbia