Letter to the Federal Minister of Health, Allan Rock, Regarding Bill C-80, The Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act.

Thursday, February 10 2000

The Honourable Allan Rock
Minister of Health
16th Floor
Brooke Claxton Building
Tunney’s Pasture
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9

Dear Mr. Rock:

The members of the Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wish to bring to your attention our concern with certain elements of Bill C-80, The Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act.

Recent months have evidenced an increasing public debate over food safety concerns, both in our own country and internationally. What seems to be unavoidably clear is that federal governments need to strengthen their ability to guarantee consumer safety and environmental protection in the face of rapid scientific change and globalizing markets. For this reason, any new legislation in the realm of food safety should be able to offer enhanced assurances to consumers.

Mr. Minister, a reading of the proposed Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act (C-80) suggests that it would fail to provide such necessary assurances. In particular reference to your own role, the agency responsible for food safety would report to the Minister of Agriculture and not to you. Bill C-80 would exacerbate the conflict of interest at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Another growing concern with the proposed Act is that it provides no improved review process for genetically engineered foods. Not only would reviews continue to be done in secret, but prohibitions against deceptive labeling in the current Act would be removed. We noted that last November the Catholic Health Association of Canada called for the immediate mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods (such as already happens in Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom). The proposed legislation militates against increased consumer safety in this area.

Mr. Minister, after watching last weekend’s discussions in Montreal on biosafety, we do not have full confidence that food safety standards for Canadians are best achieved through the negotiation of international trade agreements, since there is such a preponderant influence of corporate influence in such fora. We need the federal government to assume its proper role in guaranteeing its citizens’ health and safety. Certainly, any new legislation should also enhance transparency and public participation in order to ensure consumer trust in our food safety regime. We ask that you reconsider this proposed legislation in terms of these principles.

Sincerely yours,

XMost Reverend V. James Weisgerber
Bishop of Saskatoon
Episcopal Commission for Social Affairs

cc. The Honourable Lyle Vanclief,
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food