GMO exportability bill shot down in Commons

Federal lawmakers have voted down a bill meant to prevent approvals for sale of seed of any new genetically modified (GM) crops that export markets won’t accept.

While Bill C-474 — introduced in the House of Commons in November 2009 by the New Democrats’ agriculture critic, British Columbia MP Alex Atamanenko — got farther than most private members’ bills, it fell short of the votes needed to keep it alive at third reading Wednesday night.

The bill had called 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.

Members of the Conservative government and Liberal opposition rejected 10 amendments to the bill by a count of 174 to 95, before voting down the bill itself, 176 to 97. Members of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois voted in favour of the bill and amendments.

“Once again we see these two major parties putting the interests of their big business buddies ahead of everyday farmers whose livelihoods can be destroyed in an instant from contamination by genetically engineered seeds and crops,” Atamanenko said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Nevertheless, he said, “it has been an honour for me to bring this important debate to the forefront in the House of Commons.”

Motions for the bill and amendments were seconded by Ontario MP Malcolm Allen, the NDP’s caucus chair and deputy ag critic.

C-474, which passed second reading in April 2010 by a 153-134 vote, did 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 had previously described the bill as “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 mounted vocal opposition to C-474, claiming “non-science-based” criteria for GM seed approvals could put a needless chill on future developments in seed biotech.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was quoted in news reports Wednesday evening as calling C-474 “short-sighted.”

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