GMO exportability bill back in Commons Wednesday

A bill meant to block federal approvals for seed of genetically modified (GM) crops not wanted in export markets returns to the House of Commons Wednesday for what’s expected to be a quick death.

Bill C-474, a private member’s bill introduced in the Commons in November 2009 by the New Democrats’ agriculture critic, British Columbia MP Alex Atamanenko, is booked for third reading in the House Wednesday.

“Despite having received over 12,000 letters in support of C-474, the Conservatives remain opposed,” Atamanenko wrote Tuesday, ahead of a press conference he has scheduled on Parliament Hill for mid-morning Wednesday.

And Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter “has indicated he will recommend his party vote against this popular initiative,” Atamanenko wrote Tuesday.

The bill, which narrowly passed second reading in April 2010 by a 153-134 vote, is unlikely to survive if both the Conservative government and Liberal opposition reject it. The two parties combined hold 220 of 308 seats in the Commons.

C-474 calls for amendment of the federal Seeds Regulations to require that an “analysis of potential harm to export markets” be conducted before federal permission is granted for the sale of a new GM seed.

The bill does not propose shutting down all approvals for GMOs, but Atamanenko has said he believes the government’s science-only approach to how GM seeds are regulated is “irresponsible because it completely ignores market considerations.”

He blamed the government’s “lax regulatory process” for allowing CDC Triffid, an approved but later deregistered GM flax variety, to make its way into Canada’s supplies of certified flax seed, shutting out Canadian flax exports from their key markets overseas.

“For the first time, Parliament has a chance to seriously consider a regulatory mechanism that will ensure farmers are never again faced with rejection in our export markets because we allow the introduction of (GM) technologies that they have not approved.”

But a number of crop commodity and biotech industry groups have lined up against C-474, warning such “non-science-based” criteria for GM seed approvals could put a needless chill on future developments in seed biotech.

Grain Farmers of Ontario, for one, argued in April that C-474 “could indefinitely delay all future approvals on the basis that there may be one country somewhere that would not accept genetically modified crops.”

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