Quebec Liberals would accelerate mandatory traceability

A Liberal government in Quebec City would accelerate the implementation of mandatory traceability systems throughout the province's food chain, and would work with the federal government to ensure tough GMO labeling requirements said party leader Jean Charest.

"Consumers want to know what's in their plates," said Charest, at a recent press conference held to unveil the Liberal party's agricultural platform. "Other governments, such as Europe have acted, and now it's time for us to take the lead."

Under the Parti Québécois, Quebec has been a leader among Canadian provinces in the field of product traceability notably in the beef industry. Among its intitiatives the government has set 2005 as a target date for the implementation of systems that would identify meat from the farm all the way to the kitchen table.

But according to the Liberals, the government isn't moving fast enough, nor is it targeting enough products. A Charest administration would move beyond beef to encompass all livestock as well as fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and so on.

The Charest plan would include revising labeling rules to provide customers with information about food origins and types, and tighten controls during inspection tours of company premises. In addition all foods containing GMOs, be they processed, unprocessed or those containing inputs with GMOs, would have to be identified as such.

A public identification system would be set up to point out retail food operators that repeatedly violate the new food safety regulations.

According to Charest, Quebec currently has the jurisdiction to implement rules regarding food processed within the province, but would work with the federal government to develop regulations for imports from other provinces and countries, which are governed by separate statutes.

But according to one industry observer, traceability is easier to propose than it is to implement. "There are a lot of questions about how such a system would be implemented, especially in the produce sector" said Danny Dempster, president of the Canadian Produce Marketers Association. "I means what are you going to do, put stickers on each apple?"

Polls show the Quebec Liberals in a tight three-way race with the governing Parti Québecois and the fledgling Action Démocratique for the upcoming election expected to be held this Fall at the latest. Liberal support is traditionally understated in polls and for the time being Charest appears to have best chance of leading the next Quebec government.

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