Bill C-206 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol)
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Paul Szabo Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
December 7th, 2007 / 1:55 p.m.
Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging my colleague from Mississauga South for his commitment to this effort, which he continues to show in this important issue both in the last Parliament and in this Parliament. I applaud his efforts to raise awareness about the negative consequences of alcohol use in Canada.
I agree that as a society we need to be vigilant in protecting the most vulnerable from damage due to alcohol misuse, and there are no more vulnerable than our unborn children, and those born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, also known as FASD.
Throughout their lives, they will often be faced with and cope with the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, and these children can be condemned to lives of missed opportunities and, in essence, outright despair.
Among the common symptoms of the disability are a range of social and behavioural problems, which put affected individuals at an increased risk of dropping out of school and make them far more likely to be unemployed, victimized, homeless or to end up in prison.
As profound as the impact may be for the affected individuals and their families, the cost of FASD is also steep for society. Canadian taxpayers will spend approximately $1.5 million over the lifetime of each of these individuals in extra health, education, welfare, policing and criminal justice system costs.
Consider that given the incidence of 9.1 cases of FASD per 1,000 births, there are estimated 280,000 people in Canada currently living with this preventable disability.
As worthy as the goals are, studies have shown to date that alcohol warning labels do not reach or positively impact those most at risk.
There is very compelling evidence to suggest that alcohol warning labels would not result in a reduction of hazardous alcohol consumption or reach specific populations regarding risk-taking behaviours such as drinking during pregnancy or drinking and driving.
Bill C-206, like previous bills, was not supported by the House as the evidence presented to it was unequivocal. Warning labels on alcohol beverage containers are not effective in changing the drinking behaviours of at risk or vulnerable populations.
This was the resounding all-party consensus reached at committee hearings on Bill C-206, the predecessor to Bill C-251. While laudable, the objectives behind Bill C-251 are not likely to be achieved through warning labels.
I firmly believe that supporting alcohol warning labels would divert taxpayer dollars away from effective interventions such as prevention, awareness and education, to an approach that lacks real evidence of success.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight how the Government of Canada is currently working to reduce the negative consequences of alcohol use through proven prevention, education and awareness interventions.
Led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the federal fetal alcohol spectrum disorder initiative seeks to prevent future births of those affected by alcohol and improve outcomes for individuals and families already affected.
This work is accomplished in a number of ways.
First, by raising awareness and educating Canadians and health care and allied professionals about the harms related to FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy.
Second, by developing a strong evidence base to inform decisions by relevant jurisdictions.
Third, by translating knowledge and producing tools to help build capacity within communities across Canada.
This initiative receives funding in the amount of $5 million annually. Of this amount $3.3 million goes to the Public Health Agency while the remaining $1.7 million is given to Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.
We know that addressing FASD is a shared responsibility. I am pleased to report that the Public Health Agency of Canada has assumed a leadership role and is working with its health portfolio partners, other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and territories, first nations, as well as a host of community based partners.
I think real progress has been achieved to date and I would like to take a few minutes to highlight a few of the examples.
In 2005 national guidelines for diagnosing FASD were published following extensive consultation. These guidelines represent a crucial step for developing both capacity to diagnose FASD and standard procedures for FASD diagnosis.
In the long term it is anticipated that these guidelines will enhance the collection and reporting of incidence and prevalence data across Canada, so that we will have a much better sense of progress to reduce FASD rates in Canada.
Although we have meaningful estimates on the costs of FASD in Canada, work has begun on the development of a Canadian model for the calculation of the economic impact of FASD. In addition, a call for proposals for the FASD National Strategic Projects Fund was announced in January 2007.
These projects, being funded from this call, will build toward enhanced prevention and diagnosis and, eventually, the availability of incidence data.
Unfortunately, some segments of the Canadian population are more at risk of alcohol-related harm. For example, some first nations people and Inuit are at greater risk of experiencing some form of alcohol-related harm in their daily lives.
For this reason, Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch receives $15 million in annual funding from the Government of Canada's early childhood development strategy to support FASD programs. This amount is in addition to the $1.7 million in funding under the federal FASD initiative.
The sum of this funding, nearly $17 million, is used to reduce the number of FASD births and improve the quality of life for those affected in first nations and Inuit communities.
With this funding, communities are supported to undertake various activities that build awareness, develop targeted interventions to support high-risk women to stop or reduce alcohol use while pregnant, enter collaborative work with communities to address the broader determinants of health, provide education and training for front line workers and health professionals, and facilitate access to earlier diagnosis. Progress has been made in all of these areas.
A recent opinion survey showed that 94% of first nations and 86% of Inuit were aware of FASD, and awareness is a start.
Community asset mapping has helped many communities identify their strengths and develop a plan of action. There are now mentoring programs for at-risk women in 32 first nations communities.
All regions have provided training sessions for front line workers and health professionals. For example, in Quebec, 90% of first nations communities participate in education and training activities related to the prevention of FASD in 2005/2006.
Community coordinator positions are being established, so that first nations and Inuit communities can increase family access to diagnostic health teams.
And our efforts do not stop there. Since 2000, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has invested approximately $3.7 million into research around prevention, treatment and diagnosis of FASD.
This action has expanded the knowledge base about the biological mechanisms underlying alcohol's adverse effects on the developing fetus and its long-term health effects.
Clearly, momentum is building across this country to address many of the challenges Bill C-251 proposes to resolve.
Taken together, these activities represent a comprehensive approach to reduce the risks and tragic consequences of alcohol abuse. As witness after witness told the Standing Committee on Health during examination of Bill C-206, that is exactly what is needed if we are to produce meaningful results.
The evidence presented before the committee at that time demonstrated that fully integrated and concerted prevention, awareness, and education interventions are the most effective ways to address challenges, and that was clearly indicated in the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health.
In closing, I would like to express again my sincere appreciation for my hon. colleague's commitment to this issue. However, I believe the evidence is clear. Alcohol warning labels will not bring about the results we all wish to achieve. For this reason, I am unable to support this bill.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
December 7th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage
Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that the motivation for this proposed legislation is highly laudable. My hon. colleague's intentions in pursuing this project so diligently are commendable.
What is also clear given all we know about the likelihood of labelling having the desired outcomes is that Bill C-251 will not achieve its intended results.
The evidence presented to the Standing Committee on Health in 2005, on a nearly identical bill, Bill C-206, is unequivocal in concluding that in the absence of a wide range of other strategies to encourage Canadians to engage in safer alcohol use, warning labels alone will not result in an overall reduction in hazardous alcohol consumption or specific risk behaviours, such as drinking and driving or preventing the dangers of FASD.
Today, I want to speak about the unintended consequences which will likely result from mandatory labelling. As has previously been pointed out in interventions before the committee, an organization in Quebec, Éduc'alcool, came to the following conclusion when it looked into the pros and cons of alcohol warning labels:
Reviews and primary studies concerning the impacts of the U.S. alcohol warning label experience, whether written by independent researchers or those employed by the alcohol industry, agree fairly closely that impacts on drinking behaviour are either non-existent or minimal.
What is particularly worrisome is that the legislation proposed might not just fail to accomplish its objectives, but it could actually produce unanticipated and unwelcome consequences that could inflict another form of harm on some of our constituents.
Another huge concern is that the bill, if passed as it currently reads, would mean that all alcohol beverages currently on the market would be in violation of the new law once the bill would be enacted. The legislation would not allow companies adequate time to redesign the labels and implement the labelling requirements. The business community also stressed that Bill C-251 is inflexible in allowing different coming into force dates for small and large businesses. This is a major concern in my constituency as it could potentially cause unnecessary complications for my constituents.
What is vexatious is that interveners speaking on behalf of these regions and industries at the health committee in 2005 acknowledged that such legislation is well intended but misdirected. They worried that it could be detrimental to the economic well-being of people living in areas like mine.
Other points frequently raised are the implementation costs of the bill and its effectiveness. The costs associated with mandatory labelling would be significant, likely in the millions to make, pass and enforce regulations. It is valid to argue that this money could be better spent elsewhere.
The real concern is that the funds badly spent on warning labels might prevent the implementation of a more comprehensive strategy in the future. This House has been told over and over again by the provinces, the food and beverage service industry, as well as groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving that a comprehensive strategy is essential to have a meaningful impact on the problem of alcohol abuse.
The majority of witnesses who have previously appeared before the standing committee have said that many of the established targeted programs currently in place have a much better chance of success than warning labels. There were strong arguments against diverting funds from these proven programs to underwrite the costs of warning labels which have not been proven to have a measurable effect on drinking patterns.
There is also the issue of potential trade and charter challenges which could further impose costs on the government. A representative from the Department of Justice has indicated that a violation of freedom of expression protected under section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would have to be justified under section 1 of the charter, and justification requires evidence that labels work. That evidence is lacking.
Something else to consider is that Canada must ensure it respects its international trade obligations in imposing technical regulations, including labelling requirements, on imported products. These would apply to any regulations to implement the legislation. No such consideration has been made in the creation of this bill as it currently stands.
Mr. Speaker, do not get me wrong. There is no doubt about the dangers of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, and drinking and driving, nor does anyone dispute the detrimental impacts alcohol can have on individuals and their families. However, all of these are problems of abuse or improper use, and based on the evidence presented by an array of expert witnesses, those behaviours are not likely to be changed because of alcohol warning labels.
Furthermore, in its September 2006 report, “Even One is too Many: A Call for a Comprehensive Action Plan for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder”, the Standing Committee on Health did not call for the implementation of warning labels on alcoholic beverage products.
There can be no debate that the Government of Canada takes this problem very seriously with its annual investment of some $100 million in a vast array of prevention, education and treatment programs. There is no question that the health minister is determined to do even more.
The point I am making is that labels cannot solve every behavioural and health problem. It takes a complete, comprehensive plan, properly resourced, put into action.
I can also assure the House that I am not implying that the underlying goals of Bill C-251 lack merit. I have nothing but praise and respect for my hon. colleague's efforts to draw national attention to the problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption. I am simply pointing out that this legislation does not provide the airtight arguments needed for its adoption and that it could unintentionally produce unexpected and undesirable results.
For all these reasons, I am unable to support this bill.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
November 19th, 2007 / 11:30 a.m.
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor this morning. Bill C-251, which was introduced by the member for Mississauga South, reopens the debate on Bill C-206 sponsored by the same member. In fact, it reopens the debate on labeling alcoholic beverages with warnings about alcohol consumption.
I would like to remind this House that 200 countries have rejected this idea and that New Zealand recently rejected this idea after a lengthy debate.
We have to ask ourselves whether this is an effective way of reaching the various target groups and whether it would be problematic to affix warning labels on bottles. When we talk about alcohol consumption, we are really talking about alcohol abuse. A number of members of the scientific community who are researching alcohol consumption say that placing warning labels on alcoholic beverages might be alarmist. This opinion may not be shared, as we can see in this House this morning. A number of stakeholders have yet to express their views, but each person's perception is different. The issue is how we want to help target those who are affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, such as women and children, as well as people who drive while drunk or who endanger their health.
In my opinion, we really need to look at this issue in depth. Is this the best way to combat alcohol abuse, which has an impact on people's lives? I want to be clear: we are not denying the effects of alcohol abuse on pregnancy, for example, or on driving or heath, as I said earlier. And we are not denying that those effects are completely avoidable. In our opinion, targeting and rigour are the keys to effectively fighting this scourge.
A number of stakeholders shed light on this issue when we had to decide whether we were going to vote for or against this bill. Combatting alcohol abuse requires serious action, based on convincing and conclusive data.
Consequently, we must invest in research. Our government must support targeted research to combat alcohol abuse. A great deal of research has been done in the past 15 years, and I will give an example of the effects of alcohol abuse in Quebec. Obviously, everyone knows that alcohol abuse is a problem. Statistics prove this. Surveys have been done of Quebeckers. Still, members will be surprised to learn that more than 85% of alcohol abusers understand how alcohol affects health.
As I said, we have to find a way to reach the most vulnerable members of our society and achieve a better understanding of these behaviours. We also have to consider those who refuse to be reached through awareness campaigns. I think that is the best way to fight alcohol abuse. It is also important for governments to get involved, as I said earlier.
A Quebec organization called Éduc'alcool asked members of the Groupe de recherche sur les aspects sociaux de la santé et de la prévention, also known as GRASP, to research the social aspects of health and prevention, an issue these scientists have been investigating for 15 years.
Together with a group from the Université de Montréal, this research group analyzed all available research on the subject and found that, when combined with other communication tools and methods, a warning label can be an effective way to make some consumers more aware of the phenomenon.
However, such measures are not effective when it comes to changing behaviour or reducing consumption. They are totally ineffective.
A whole research team analyzed all available research. They also asked a number of centres in Canada and abroad to provide any information they had. In all, over 100 studies were submitted to GRASP, which reviewed all of them.
Personally, what I found striking was the second part, because that is what we have to address. Research suggests that putting a warning label on is not an effective way to change behaviour or reduce consumption, and that a label is useless when it comes to reaching those who consume the most, that is, the target groups, including pregnant women and their fetuses. It is clear that there are consequences for the health and behaviour of children. I believe that this body of research is very important. We are not talking about one study, but about many.
I will now say a few words about Éduc'alcool in Quebec. The purpose of this organization is to educate the general public, young people in particular, and to promote moderation because most people drink in moderation. Many ad campaigns have been run in newspapers and on television. These campaigns have been very targeted; there are ten or so in Quebec. If I have enough time, I will talk about a few of them. These campaigns address all target groups: young people, women, university students, college students and primary and secondary school students.
Drivers are another group that has to be targeted. Various health partners have joined forces with these different ad campaigns. The Brewers Association of Canada is also associated with a foundation that has been set up to address alcoholism.
Éduc'alcool also wanted to examine the historical and cultural context of drinking. We know that a historical and cultural context exists. The first nations are very affected by fetal alcohol syndrome. Why not intervene in very affected groups? Some scientists, or those who have done research on this problem, say that using labels might give the impression that the problem is not so bad, which defeats the purpose.
In Quebec, a lot of money has been invested in this. Éduc'alcool has invested $20 million to educate Quebeckers, generate initiatives and mobilize partners. To that we could also add the free air time the organization often receives on television. Other advertising has also been done. If we add all of this together, these initiatives are worth more than $60 million. And we are seeing results.
That is not to say we do not need to be vigilant or support research. Some might think that because we oppose this bill we do not care about this issue, but we would like to see a different approach, with awareness campaigns and independent foundations. We could also ask those who produce alcoholic products what they might do to help show people that excessive drinking is harmful to health. It is harmful to drink and drive. These are the groups we need to involve to help fight the trend toward excessive drinking. There are also health benefits when we consume less alcohol.
I might have a few—
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
November 19th, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand and comment on this legislation put forward by the hon. member for Mississauga South. He has worked very hard on this issue over a number of years. He has brought the issue before the House a number of times and it has reached the health committee a couple of times. I particularly want to refer to the last time it was before committee, when I had the opportunity to chair that committee and to see exactly what the merits of this piece of legislation might be.
I think it is important for us to understand that FASD is a very serious problem in this country and has to be dealt with in a very comprehensive way. FASD is not a simple thing. It devastates families. It devastates our health care system and our court system with regard to its major impact on the human costs as well as the health costs.
As we look at FASD, we can imagine how a parent feels who, because of the consumption of alcohol, has a child that is afflicted with this disease. Parents have terrible guilt knowing that they have negatively impacted and handicapped a child unintentionally through something that certainly could have been prevented.
We really need to get a handle on this problem through something that is a lot deeper than putting a label on a bottle of alcohol or dealing with it from that perspective. I will get into exactly why I believe this has to be much deeper and more aggressive than that.
I will illustrate this by suggesting that right now we are in a season when many Canadians go big game hunting. Anyone who has ever gone big game hunting knows that it is very easy to be led off the trail by seeing a rabbit track while tracking big game in the snow. I would suggest that this is what we are doing with this legislation here: if the hunter chases the rabbit track, he is still hunting, but he will miss the mark. He will miss what really needs to be done in looking after the needs of his family for that winter. I will get into that a little later.
I would suggest that this bill is a rabbit hunt rather than a big game hunt. I would suggest that this issue is much bigger than rabbits and has to be dealt with in a more comprehensive way, rather than putting a label on a bottle and thinking that we have dealt with the problem.
What I would say to the hon. member is that we must look at the evidence we looked at in the health committee as to whether putting a label on a bottle would actually work or not. We had many witnesses talk to us about the issues and about whether labelling would be substantive and would actually do the job or not. The fact of the matter is that a significant number of the witnesses, although it would not be quite fair to say most of them, suggested that putting labels on bottles of alcohol would not make any significant change in the behaviour of individuals with regard to whether they would drink or not drink while pregnant.
In fact, there are some statistics with regard to drinking alcohol that have come forward since this piece of legislation and a similar piece of legislation, which I think was Bill C-206, brought forward in 2005. Since the early 1990s, 90% of Canadians who drink have been aware that heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy has a negative impact on the fetus. Since the 1990s, that number has gone up significantly. At the present time, according to the most recent information we have, 99% of Canadians know that drinking during pregnancy harms a fetus.
If we simply put a label on a bottle of alcohol to inform the public that it causes problems for the pregnant mother, it is not going to do more than what is already out there as far as information to that pregnant mother is concerned. The message has to be deeper and more aggressive.The solutions have to be more aggressive. The message for the mother must say that if there is the potential of being pregnant any amount of alcohol could potentially cause significant problems for the child.
The report of the Standing Committee on Health, which looked into this, was entitled in part, “Even One is Too Many”, suggesting that the message has to be more aggressive than just putting a label on a bottle that says if a woman is pregnant, drinking may harm the fetus. We have to make sure that the message goes much farther than that.
An individual from my riding who came to see me worked with women whose children were born with FASD. We had a long discussion about the situation, about the impact on these people, and about how we could deal with the problem in a much more aggressive way.
We have talked about a comprehensive program here and about what needs to be done. The hon. member who has moved forward this piece of legislation is suggesting that we just put on a label and that would initiate a comprehensive plan.
The individual who came to see me talked about her experiences in working with FASD children and their mothers. She suggested that the best way to combat this, based on her experience, is to make sure that if an individual has one child with FASD, she never has another child who is a victim of FASD, and that she be dealt with in as comprehensive a way as possible so that there is a support system that comes around that individual.
The issue is not just the person who goes partying on the weekend, drinks too much and is not aware of it. It is more about the binge drinking. It is on first nations reserves. It is in dysfunctional families, where individuals are addicted to this product and have no opportunity to have a support system around them to make sure they can deal with the problem at hand.
This individual who came to me is suggesting that if we really want a comprehensive plan we should work in conjunction with the provincial governments to deal with FASD and the delivery of health care systems in a comprehensive way. We should make sure that we do everything we possibly can to give support to those individuals so that FASD is not repeated.
When we looked at this piece of legislation, we also saw that putting a significant amount of money into putting on labels would have a negative impact on some of the small and medium sized brewers. It would take money away from where they have already designated it to deal with this issue. Putting a label on a bottle, which really does not accomplish the goal, would have a negative impact on their industry, on their businesses and on taxpayers.
I have a real concern about this. People might ask why we do not put a label on a bottle. They might ask what harm it would do. The harm it will do is that, as the government before this one has done with so many things, some think we can just go a little ways toward the right thing and that means actually accomplishing it. They chase the rabbit, even though they are big game hunting, and think that when they catch the rabbit everything is going to be fine.
That is an absolutely inappropriate way to look at this issue. This issue is much too serious for us to think that just putting a label on a bottle will solve the problem. In fact, when we were last in committee, the hon. member actually brought in bottles from the United States and a number of countries and showed the committee the labels on the bottles. The labels on those bottles were so small and so insignificant that one almost would have to bring out a magnifying glass to read them clearly. If one were in a poorly lit room and not seeing very well, or drinking at all, one would not be able to identify the label on the bottle or the significance of it.
Let us look at tobacco. We have very aggressive and abrasive labelling on tobacco packages. I am not so convinced, nor are the statistics convincing, that putting even those very aggressive and abrasive labels on cigarette packages is changing things. Really, what is changing cigarette smoking in this country is banning it from public areas and having so much peer pressure applied to the citizens of this country that it becomes unfashionable to smoke in the presence of other people, particularly children. We need to make sure in regard to FASD that drinking while having the potential of being pregnant is unfashionable as well.
I could go on about how this would negatively impact the industry for no good reason, but my time is just about up and I really want to say that we need to look at legislation that comes into this House and deals with the issue in an aggressive way. We need to deal with the issue in a way that does not just paper over what needs to be done, but actually does something that is aggressive and effective for the citizens of this country.
For that reason, I will not be supporting this piece of legislation. Although the intent of the hon. member is right and goes in the right direction, the bill does not deal with this issue in the way it needs to be done.
Committees of the House
November 28th, 2005 / 3:30 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I move that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented on Monday, April 11, be concurred in.
For the information of the House, I only intend to make a couple of comments on this matter. It has to do with Bill C-206, health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages. The bill passed by a 90% plurality in the House at second reading. It was referred to committee.
As a consequence of the proceedings, the members of the committee wanted to explore the opportunity with Health Canada to have a comprehensive strategy for addressing fetal alcohol syndrome. That was not forthcoming at the time. As a consequence, this report was issued, recommending that the House not further deal with Bill C-206. The members also passed a motion that Health Canada be asked to table a comprehensive strategy dealing with Bill C-206, fetal alcohol syndrome, and that was done in June.
Therefore, it is my sincere wish that the House vote no on the concurrence motion that I have presented today so together we can move forward on a comprehensive public education campaign, including health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages, to address fetal alcohol syndrome, the preventable tragedy.
June 7th, 2005 / 4:35 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I want the hon. member from the Winnipeg area to know that he has our full support in this initiative.
I do not want to be too critical but sometimes a party's voting record comes back to haunt it. In March 2003, I introduced Bill C-206, which would have allowed caregivers the opportunity to take time off work to care for their loved ones under a palliative situation.
The hon. member was absolutely correct when he said that the motion was a wise investment of tax dollars and would be a saving in the long run. Those are the exact words I used in my motion in terms of allowing people the opportunity to leave their place of employment, care for their dying loved ones, collect employment insurance and have their job protected at the same time. It is the exact same benefits that a person would receive from maternity benefits.
Unfortunately, the previous leader of the Alliance Party, the current leader of the Conservative Party and the finance critic for that party voted against my bill. We cannot have a national strategy unless we deal with the caregivers concerned who deal with those people under the serious concerns of rehabilitative or palliative care.
My bill has been reintroduced as Bill C-256 and has had first reading. It has almost the exact wording as what was voted against by some members of his previous party.
Would the member support a strategy that would allow people who care for dying relatives the opportunity to stay at home, collect employment insurance, have their job protected and provide their relatives who are under palliative care the options that they deserve, which is the desire to be surrounded by their loved ones, to be surrounded in the setting of their choice and, of course, to be free of pain?
I wonder if the member who spoke so eloquently to this motion, which we support, would rise up and mention that.
Committees of the House
April 19th, 2005 / 1:05 p.m.
Roy Cullen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and participate in the debate on a motion which would accept the report of the Standing Committee on Health on Bill C-206. First, I would like to congratulate the member for Mississauga South for his very diligent work on Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol.
What the committee dealt with, when it reviewed the private member's bill, was the idea of putting warning labels on bottles of beer, wine and spirits warning against the consumption of alcohol. The member's intent is very well-founded. We know that he has taken a very keen interest in the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and has made quite a study of it. We know he has very good intentions when it comes to his bill.
However, we need to focus on the process where his bill was reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health. That committee had witnesses from a broad spectrum of stakeholder groups. In the wisdom of committee members, after hearing all the testimony, they decided that the bill should be defeated and that the committee ask the Minister of Health to present a comprehensive plan to the committee by June 2, outlining a strategy for helping people who drank irresponsibly, including drinking and driving and fetal alcohol syndrome. That was a very sound recommendation.
The question of the labelling came up and pre-empted the review of the Department of Health and the Minister of Health of a very thoughtful drug strategy. We should not rush ahead with putting labels on bottles of spirits, wine and beer until we have a look at that comprehensive program. A caution is also warranted because there does not seem to be any evidence, notwithstanding the member for Mississauga South's best intentions, that putting warning labels on bottles will have any impact whatsoever.
In fact, it will put an additional cost burden on industry without any appreciable benefit. We are trying to reduce the incidence of drinking and driving, drinking while pregnant and drinking while operating heavy machinery. The information in studies that have been done in Canada tells me that 96% of women know they should not drink while pregnant. If we survey pregnant women, 99% know they should not drink while pregnant. If we do the same survey about drinking and driving or drinking and operating heavy equipment, a full 95% or thereabouts of people know that they should not drink if they are going to operate heavy equipment or drive.
If the objective is to educate people, people already know this. Therefore, I wonder what we will accomplish. What we will accomplish is that we will put an additional burden on the beer industry, the wine industry and the spirit industry. They will have to move resources from programs that already work, and we know they work very well.
For example, at committee we heard a witness who formed a company called TAXIGUY. The firm operates across Canada. If people want to get a lift from a bar because they have had too much to drink, TAXIGUY has a 1-800 number. Drivers will pick them up, drive them home and the next morning they will come back and help them find their car. That program is funded partly by companies like Molson and Labatt and partly by MADD.
The industry would have to review all these programs. I know the beer industry for example does some tremendous work with fetal alcohol syndrome. It has worked with a group called Motherisk which has a hotline for pregnant women who can phone and talk about drinking and pregnancy.
There is a host of responsible drinking programs that the beer industry and other industries support. The industry would have to review those. We could ask review those for what purpose? It would be so they could absorb the cost of putting labels on bottles where there is no evidence to suggest that these have any effect or impact. They have had warning labels in the United States for many years and there is no evidence whatsoever that labels have any impact.
If we look at the mechanics of it, what about if one goes to a bar and gets a glass of draft beer? What if one goes to a reception and gets a glass of wine poured? There are no labels. I think the impact of this measure is very dubious at most.
What we really need to focus attention on, in my judgment, is the drinker who drinks in excess and drives for example, and these are repeaters. We need to deal with them. It is not the casual drinker who is the problem. The same thing applies to women who are pregnant. It has been shown statistically that some 60% or thereabouts of women who drink when they are pregnant will do it again and again. They will repeat that kind of behaviour. Putting a label on a bottle I do not think will have any impact.
For these reasons, I will support the motion. The health committee looked at this very carefully. Let us accept its recommendation. Let us get a strategy from the Department of Health and then see if labels are part of that strategy or not.
Committees of the House
April 19th, 2005 / 12:45 p.m.
James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the discussion on this very important issue calling for concurrence of the House in the ninth report of the health committee. This basically it is a motion where the health committee is asking that Health Canada work with stakeholders to complete and present a comprehensive strategy and plan to address fetal alcohol syndrome.
I will begin by acknowledging the member for Mississauga South. I did mention this earlier in a small intervention but I think all members appreciate the efforts of the member over many years to advance this cause before the House. I personally, as a member of the health committee who sat through the debate and discussion, am pleased that it came before the committee. I think we all learned a lot about it and I am hopeful that we will see this issue advanced.
What is fetal alcohol syndrome? It is the leading cause of developmental disability among Canadian children. It was first established as a medical diagnosis in 1973. That makes it rather modern as something that has been recognized in the medical world.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, is not one set of symptoms alone. It is a spectrum of disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. The issues range from very mild symptoms to very severe mental disability and deformity.
While preventable, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a complex, multifaceted public health and social issue. It affects Canadians from all walks of life but, interestingly enough, we know that there are some communities that have been affected far more significantly and more profoundly. Certainly in our first nations and Inuit communities it has been disproportionately devastating.
The bottom line is that alcohol for a pregnant woman is a disaster and the only way to ensure or guarantee a safe pregnancy is to avoid alcohol entirely. However the message is not that a single glass of wine for a pregnant woman will be a disaster in itself. It is the multiple drinks, the binge drinking or the heavy dose of alcohol that can be extremely destructive to the fetus.
There is a huge range of serious physical and mental defects. It varies with the amount, the timing and the frequency of alcohol consumed and depends upon a number of factors, perhaps the genetics of the fetus and the mother or the overall state of health.
What has been done? I think this is significant. Since the early eighties there has been a patchwork of awareness campaigns and activities that have grown to support women at risk as well as to meet the needs of people in communities affected by FASD. More research, monitoring and evaluation of individual initiatives have increased in recent years.
Some of the programs that came before committee were quite significant. In the province of Quebec, statistics show that fetal alcohol syndrome is even more prevalent in Quebec than in other provinces. The province has responded with a very good educational program. Some of the tools that Éduc'alcool has put out for public awareness are actually very good. They are making an impact. They are out in the schools. They are being used in the communities and in the clinics and there is a real effort to get the information out.
The program promotes moderation; how to behave with our children, whatever their age; and that prevention begins with the family. It provides very good practical advice for parents on how to behave with children, whatever their age and whatever the risk to which the children are exposed.
It also provides advice on how to interact with 8 to 11 year olds and what type of messaging parents should have. It provides advice on how to behave with 12 to 14 year olds who are now increasingly in the risk range as their possibility of pregnancy rises. It also provides advice on dealing with 15 and 16 year olds. Statistics show that some 24% of 16 year olds drink alcohol just about every week. These, I believe, are Quebec statistics because it is the Éduc'alcool program that is providing the information. Just 23% of 16 year olds have never had a drink. They are at risk.
The program goes on to give advice on how to behave with 17 to 18 year olds who increasingly are vulnerable to peer pressure and have more access and more economic capability of accessing alcohol in quantities that could be destructive.
Some of these programs include influencing young people not to drink and drive and to make the right choice.
Efforts have been made in recent years to address education, important initiatives to getting the information out.
It is estimated that 9 babies in 1,000 born in Canada have fetal alcohol syndrome, which is about 1 in 100. It is the leading cause of developmental disability. The costs to society are high. Without taking into account the lost potential and opportunity, which is not measurable for individuals, the direct costs have been estimated to be about $1.5 million per person. That is a huge cost to society.
It is also known that we are facing a lifelong disability when a fetus is damaged at this early developmental stage, that it can be prevented and that we need to be taking some action to reduce the cost of morbidity and the terrible affliction on society.
The essence of Bill C-206 was that we should go out and label alcoholic beverages. I think there are some advantages to be later addressing this with other nations because we have with the United States, for example, some 15 years' experience with labels. The member for Mississauga South had brought us examples of labels from some products. The label on a beer bottle, for example, was around the neck. It was in a text that was either vertically orientated or in a colour that made it nearly invisible. We might wonder why some of those labels are ineffective but when we look at them it is clear that we need a microscope and some special lighting to read the message at all.
We saw other labels that were brought in that were clearly visible. The problem is that after a whole range of initiatives were tried, no one could really provide the committee with any evidence that these labelling initiatives had actually had an impact. In fact, it seems that in spite of the labelling things have become worse and the incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome continues to increase.
The significant thing about Canada addressing the latter issues is that in spite of the fact that some people think it is a good idea to put labels on there and it might feel better that we are doing something, we do not want to take an initiative just so we can feel a little better if the initiative will not be effective. It seems to me that the government has enough initiatives that turn out to be ineffective or misdirected.
We might mention some common examples, like a gun registry that turns out to be ineffective or misdirected, or a range of other issues that are actually misdirected, or the criminal justice with concurrent sentences. Someone gets a five year sentence but in fact receives concurrent sentences. People have committed crimes that are maybe two crimes that call for five years, but they get only a five year sentence and then get statutory release and are released early.
We have a lot of messaging that goes out that turns out to be ineffective.
On the labelling issue, while we want labelling and there may be a way to make labels effective, the evidence is not clear that is the primary direction in which we should be going, and the committee has therefore asked for a comprehensive plan.
We were startled, as committee members, to hear that although Health Canada officials had been working on a strategy for several years and meeting with stakeholders, they were giving indications that although they felt they were closer to a strategy for fetal alcohol syndrome, they felt they were nowhere near a comprehensive plan for the whole range of managing alcohol.
What the committee wants and what we want to propose is that Health Canada put some emphasis on this matter and come up with a comprehensive plan that would include a wide range of issues.
I want to bring up an issue that came out of committee that many people listening to the debate may not have heard. I actually raised the issue with the member for Mississauga South earlier in a question but I think he missed the point I was trying to raise.
The point I was trying to raise came out of a report to the committee by Dr. Gideon Koren, who is involved with Motherisk and the Hospital for Sick Children. The good news is that after some 10 years he reported that some 15 studies in animals showed that administering antioxidant vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, lowers or eliminates the risk to the fetus in animals. Thank goodness CIHR has funded some studies to demonstrate this in human beings.
A little good news came out of the study and it is an inexpensive way to begin protecting people. The information did not surprise me because we know antioxidant vitamins mitigate a whole range of chronic degenerative diseases. It would be very good news indeed if we could recommend and make sure that people at risk, particularly young mothers and women who are consuming, were getting antioxidant vitamins to reduce the risk.
We are asking the House to endorse a comprehensive strategy which might include labelling, include greater public awareness and put some real funds into making sure we advance a program that works.
Committees of the House
April 19th, 2005 / 12:45 p.m.
Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James, MB
Mr. Speaker, if a comprehensive strategy is put forward I hope it would include elements that would require Bill C-206 to be redundant. If they decide that labels are necessary, then that needs to be given serious consideration.
The one thing that really struck me during the hearings was the fact that one of the industry representatives said that if it were part of our constructive strategy and it were shown that labels would in fact change behaviour then they would have no objections to doing so. That buy in by stakeholders is important and that may be one of the great legacies of their participation in this process.
Committees of the House
April 19th, 2005 / 12:45 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Charleswood--St. James--Assiniboia for his thoughtful and constructive participation in the hearings at committee and the counsel he gave to all his colleagues on the issues facing us and the difficult question about warning labels and the likelihood of their affecting behaviour as opposed to simply informing people or improving their awareness.
Some suggestion was made that labels in a vacuum would not do anything special other than satisfy the obligation or the duty to inform.
Should Health Canada table with the House a comprehensive strategy laying out its argument that the strategy would be enhanced by having health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages, would my colleague support Bill C-206 calling for those labels?