Bill C-251 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
This bill was previously introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session.
Paul Szabo Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
- Dec. 12, 2007 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
December 12th, 2007 / 6:05 p.m.
The House resumed from December 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business
December 10th, 2007 / 11 a.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill today because alcohol is an issue which has been on my agenda as an item of consideration in terms of legislative initiatives almost since I became a member of Parliament.
The particular bill before us has to do with trying to amend the laws of Canada to provide an opportunity for those who are incarcerated but can use help to deal with their addiction and their problem with alcohol.
I support the bill 100% because when we have a social problem, education is always part of the solution. It is part of the prevent model. When we already have the problem, the other part of it is remediation. Sometimes people make mistakes in their lives and it is extremely important that people understand what problems they have, that denial has to be dealt with, and a person needs that opportunity and that support. What we do not want to have is recidivism.
People eventually get out of jail and we have a justice system which includes, as part of its operations, the rehabilitation of people. With regard to most people rehabilitation may be appropriate. I say may be appropriate because I know that there are circumstances under which rehabilitation is not applicable and not appropriate.
However, in regard to the member's bill, we are talking about those cases in which there is an incident in which individuals who are incarcerated will have the opportunity to be available, so that they can have the benefit of the kind of assistance that they may need to ensure that they understand what their problem is, why it happened, and how to cope and deal with it in the future. I support the bill 100%.
I also want to comment on those possibilities where rehabilitation is not applicable and not appropriate. That has to do with people who suffer from some sort of mental disability. More specifically, I gave a speech in the House last Friday on this, on Bill C-251. It is related to warning labels on alcoholic beverages to caution those who see the label about impending danger. It is a consumer lighthouse just sending out a “be careful message”. That is all the bill is.
It relates also to the messaging dealing with things like how alcohol can impair one's ability to operate machinery or equipment, or to drive a motor vehicle. It is extremely important that we talk about the problem when there is consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
Recently, there have been some judicial statements with regard to the problems coming before the courts. The latest I heard, and I included it in my speech, was that almost half of the people who appear before the courts of Canada suffer from some sort of alcohol problem or alcohol related birth defect.
It is enormous when we think of the cost to the courts, the cost to the system to deal with this. This is a social problem which requires a comprehensive solution. It is not going to be good enough to lecture people about them doing something bad and that they will serve their time, the key will be thrown away and they will be there until the very end.
When people come out, they have to understand what the problem is, but rehabilitation in our system is not applicable to persons who for instance suffer from alcohol related birth defects.
As a consequence, questions also have to be asked, in addition to the issue that the member raises, about giving the kind of support to people who are in jail who understand what they did, so that they can get treatment for their addictions and problems. However, what happens to all the people who are in the same jails that are set up for rehabilitation who have a mental disability such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder? For them, rehabilitation is not applicable.
What is wrong with our system? It needs to go further and perhaps the member has an opportunity for another private member's bill he would like to champion. Our system should not assume that everyone who is incarcerated, because of alcohol misuse or abuse, is in a situation where rehabilitation is applicable. Maybe we have to start talking about the equality of our criminal justice system in terms of addressing what happens after we have the problem and whether or not the jails generically are applicable to all.
Maybe there should be special institutions where people get an opportunity to be able to cope with a permanent disability. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 100% preventable, but it is not curable. In that regard, we are talking about prevention as well as some sort of remediation, only to the extent that one would have the kind of assistance that the person may need to cope, as well as the kind of assistance that the families need to cope.
People who know anything about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will know that the parents have a lifetime responsibility of caring for their children. Most of them never make it through school. Most of them are going to have problems in the labour force. Most of them are going to run afoul of the law, not because they did something wrong but because they did not know it was wrong.
They can be told 100 times not to do something because it is wrong and they will still do it, but it is not because they understand and just want to react and rebel. In those cases, people who have FASD do not know the difference between right and wrong, and there are many cases.
I wanted to raise that perspective here because the bill tends to address all those who are incarcerated from the standpoint that they are all the same, they are all subject to the same kinds of rehabilitation possibilities, and that we should have that.
Yes we should, for those who can be rehabilitated, but what happens to those who have no possibility of rehabilitation, those with permanent brain damage and permanent disabilities? They are likely to reoffend, not because they are bad people but because they have a mental disability.
Regarding this whole question of addressing addictions in our society, whether it be alcohol, drugs or anything else that can be harmful if misused, we need to ensure that we understand what happened, why it happened, how to prevent it, and how to remediate it.
There are many elements to it. This bill deals in part with part of the equation, but our criminal justice system has a very narrow focus. It says that if people do something wrong, they are going to jail. They will stay there, do their time and they will be subject to rehabilitation.
It is missing a significant component. Let me repeat. If the judges are telling Canadians and they are telling parliamentarians that 50% of the people who appear before the courts of Canada suffer from alcohol related birth defects or addictions to alcohol, now is the time for Parliament to act.
I encourage all hon. members to take whatever steps necessary to explore the situation, to examine what is happening in other countries around the world such as France, South Africa, the U.K., Ireland, and 20 other countries that I mentioned in my speech last Friday.
Those are the kinds of things that we have to learn. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. The evidence is there. Parliament should have a look at that evidence and Parliament should act.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
December 7th, 2007 / 2:05 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-251 was inspired by a report from the health committee in June 1992 called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”, in which the committee recommended health warning labels on containers of alcoholic beverages to caution consumers that consumption may impair one's ability to operate machinery and equipment and may harm the fetus during pregnancy.
Members will note that Bill C-251 is only one clause long. I do not know where everybody gets all these intents that it is supposed to have; it is one clause long. It deliberately leaves all the details required for the label to be prescribed by governor in council. That means the precise wording, form, size and label, together with other details necessary to enact the bill, will be provided in regulations of the bill. In other words, it is entirely up to the Minister of Health.
The idea is to put on a warning label and that is it: to caution. Does it achieve its goal? Darn right. Does it solve every alcohol problem? No, but the members are arguing, for some odd reason, that it does not achieve what they want it to achieve rather than whether it achieves what the bill intends to achieve, which is to be a consumer lighthouse cautioning impending danger. That is what it is.
Beverage alcohol is the only consumer product in Canada that can harm us if misused and that does not warn us of that fact. That is the bottom line.
Each year, alcohol plays a role in thousands of premature deaths, preventable injuries and prenatal brain damage and is associated with increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, homicide, suicide, motor vehicle, boat and snowmobile crashes, falls, fires, and drownings. Moreover, higher rates of consumption are associated with increased mental illness, increased crime, and reduced worker productivity.
These translate into human loss of devastating proportions and an economic toll of billions and billions of dollars each year in Canada. It is estimated that alcohol misuse costs Canada approximately $15 billion in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity.
I can tell members that I know the personal cost of alcohol misuse. Alcohol misuse took away my father at a very young age when his family really needed him. I do not need to have lectures from members about how important it is to deal with alcohol.
The fact is that we have not done anything in the last 12 years. That is why I have been fighting for this for the last 12 years. The members have absolutely no conception of the damage that alcohol has done to Canada over these 12 years. With all of the programs that have been run for the last 12 years, with all these programs that the beverage alcohol industry says it is doing, if we look at the numbers, we will see that the numbers have gone up.
It is getting worse in Canada, not better. It is time to do something different. It is time to act. Let us see whether parliamentarians are prepared to respond to what Canadians say. Health Canada commissioned the Environics study in 2006 and the parliamentary secretary knows it: 87% of Canadians approved of requiring warning labels; 97% approved of government sponsored advertising; 95% approved of warning messages on alcohol advertising; 85% approved of warning signs in bars and clubs; and 85% approved of warning signs in restaurants.
Canadians are overwhelmingly in support of health warning labels as a caution, just like there is for any other consumer product that can harm us if misused. That is what they are asking for. They are not asking whether or not a label is going to solve every problem related to alcohol.
Members have to get with it. It is time for Parliament to get with it if we believe that the carnage associated with alcohol misuse is worth looking at. There are 20 countries that already have this. Since the last time I spoke to this in May of this year, five more, South Africa, Ireland, Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K., all also have said that they are now going to move forward with health warning labels.
If 26 countries are prepared to have warning labels on their beverage alcohol containers because of the carnage it causes, why is it that Canada is going to sit back and do nothing? It is not acceptable.
Canadians support it. I am asking parliamentarians to look in their hearts and send the bill to committee to find out why these other countries are doing it and we are not.
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 / 1:45 p.m.
Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-251, a bill that would place labels on bottles for substances containing 1% alcohol. I come from the Northwest Territories where labels have been on bottles for almost 20 years. Therefore, I feel somewhat enlightened on this issue in comparison to many other places in the country.
People in the Northwest Territories have struggled with alcohol issues for a long period of time. There are higher rates of consumption and incarceration. The criminal justice system is taken up with alcohol related issues. We can say what we want about other substance abuse, but the RCMP that polices us and the justice system that enforces penalties speak clearly with one voice. They say that alcohol is the substantive problem within the Northwest Territories.
In the last boom in the Arctic in the seventies, a boom that was artificially enhanced by the super-depletion allowance given to oil and gas companies to explore for oil and gas, we saw an incredible increase in fetal alcohol syndrome disorders in children. In some cases, schools were reporting that over 30% of children could be identified as perhaps having a fetal alcohol effect or fetal alcohol syndrome. This was an enormous problem and a heartbreaking problem in the lives of people. It created cost to society from birth onward. It caused family problems. It had an enormous impact on the population.
Therefore, 20 years ago we put labels on bottles to identify alcohol content for young women who may have drank for the first time or people who did not understand the impact of it. These labels would at least give women some indication that they were putting something very valuable and important at risk if they drank while pregnant. Over the years this action, along with others, has somewhat helped the situation with alcohol abuse in the Northwest Territories. It did not help completely, by no means.
We have also instituted rules that allow individual communities to ban alcohol consumption or to make decisions about alcohol rationing. We have done many things to try to combat the problem because we see the impact on society and in families, and it is still very much the case.
When it comes to supporting labels on bottles for the rest of the country, it is a great idea. The way it is done in the Northwest Territories is pretty simple. The bottles go into liquor stores and the owners and workers have a device similar to a device to put prices on a bottle but with a slightly larger imprint and they put a label on a bottle. It is a simple process, it is not costly and it is effective in providing information to people about the nature of the impact of the content in the bottle.
Six years ago the House voted overwhelmingly for a motion by one of my colleagues from Winnipeg North to put warning labels on bottles of alcohol. However, in the intervening years both the Liberal and Conservative governments have ignored the will of Parliament. I find that strange and unsettling. We have to take account when private members' bill and motions come forward and are supported by Parliament as a whole for the good of the people of Canada. We have to follow up on these things.
One private member's initiative, which I respect, was brought forward by a Conservative member. It took the material out of cigarettes that kept them burning after they were put in an ashtray or when it fell out of somebody's hands onto a bed, which caused so many fires and deaths in the country. We got that law and finally after years and years, we changed the system in our country to protect people. It saves lives.
Here we have another private member's bill that pleads with the House and with the government to follow through with things that are good for Canadians. Why are we not going with it? Why are we not making this effort? Why do we have this inertia in the system? Why can we not be more accommodating to the will of Parliament?
On the other side, we could put warning labels about drinking and driving. We could encourage educate people in this regard. We entirely support Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but let us help people understand that drinking and driving is wrong. They can look at the bottle and see, “When you drink this, do not drive, get a cab”.
What is wrong with those kinds of instructions to society? For those who like their $20 bottles of wine, is it demeaning to see a label on the side of it? Have we wrecked the ambience of the drink by putting a label on the bottle? That is part of what we do.
When we put those rather obscene labels on packages of cigarettes, they were a good indicator. They show people what happens, what the results of the overuse of the tobacco product are. We do not argue about them anymore. They are there. Let us do the same thing with alcohol. Let us recognize that. Let us put the labels on the bottles. Let us do something for Canadians that is useful. Let us not get this caught up in the inertia of Parliament and the special interest groups and all those who stand against the will of the people of our country.
We put warning labels on kites so people do not fly them next to power lines. What a good idea, a little indication to somebody to keep the kite away from the power line. Does that hurt people? No. It is a sensible thing to do.
We put warning labels on coffee cups in case people might burn themselves. My goodness, a burn heals a lot faster than a fetus attacked by alcohol in the womb. A little burn on a leg from a cup of coffee does not match up to a lifetime of misery for a family and for the person who has the particular disease or accident of fetal alcohol syndrome.
I totally support the bill. It works in our territory. I ask the rest of Canada to follow suit.
Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business
December 7th, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is my turn to rise in the House to discuss Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol).
Before discussing my colleague's bill, I would like to mention something. On Wednesday, as I was telling the House about the situation facing potato producers in my riding, my microphone switched off before I could finish listing the families who have been affected. I would like to mention Marius Messier, his wife, Réjeanne Jussaume, their daughter, Manon, and their son, Michel, who are among the 21 families affected and who are continuing their fight in the hope of finding a very special gift under their Christmas tree: some assurance that they can feel optimistic about the future. I urge them to continue their fight. If, perhaps, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food has not yet contacted them because his office has lost their phone numbers, I invite them to call my office, and I will be happy to send their numbers over to the minister again.
And now, back to Bill C-251. I am the second member of my party to talk about this bill. If my colleagues and those listening would like more information about my party's position, I invite them to check the Hansard for the brilliant speech given by my colleague from Québec, the Bloc Québécois health critic. It is my great pleasure to sit with her on the Standing Committee on Health.
It is clear that drinking alcohol can be harmful to people's health. Several factors are involved, including the drinker's age, the amount consumed and the physical condition of the person drinking. Ignoring the guidelines can have a negative impact on people's health. However—and this is what I will try to show—federal and provincial legislatures, including Quebec's legislature, already have regulations governing the consumption and advertising of alcoholic beverages.
First, I would like to mention some restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Quebec, the provinces and the territories have passed various limitations on the sale of alcohol and have also created organizations that not only sell alcoholic beverages, but also control access to those beverages. They have also put in place a system to control alcohol consumption, by issuing licences to sell alcoholic beverages to establishments that meet a number of preset criteria. Quebec, the provinces and the territories have also set minimum ages at which individuals may purchase alcohol.
In addition to these restrictions on the sale of alcohol, there are also a number of restrictions on advertising. Quebec, the provinces, the territories and even the federal government regulate the sale of alcohol. Quebec has also passed a number of acts and regulations establishing rules for the display, promotion and presentation of alcoholic beverages.
As well, Quebec has introduced an approval process for alcohol advertising and education programs. In addition, the CRTC, a federal agency, implemented a Code for Broadcast Advertising, which regulates the presentation of alcoholic beverages.
Speaking of the CRTC, it is clear that this agency acts as a regulator for communications and telecommunications, and in the coming years, the CRTC should be allowed to continue playing this role. However, it seems as though the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages is planning on doing the same thing as her colleague from Industry, who last December issued an order changing the telecommunications rules. We must push to have the CRTC continue to act as a regulator. I would like to read from a speech made by the Minister of Canadian Heritage at the convention of the Association of Canadian Broadcasters:
[There must be] an increased reliance on competition and market forces—
She went on to say:
I challenge you to be open to change—because change will come...The status quo is no longer an option.
However, we should not make changes that will prevent the CRTC from providing an appropriate regulatory framework in order to preserve what our society has achieved in terms of broadcasting and communications.
Naturally, I am expressing an opinion on the specific situation in Quebec with regard to the control of alcoholic beverages. As with a good number of other matters, Quebec has its own mechanisms, different from those of other Canadian provinces, for creating awareness of and preventing the consequences of alcohol consumption. In this regard, I would like to draw your attention to Éduc'alcool, an independent, non-profit organization established in 1989 by the industry and parapublic organizations to set up information, prevention and education programs to help youths and adults to make responsible and enlightened decisions about alcohol consumption.
Éduc'alcool provides various programs with an annual budget of almost $2 million derived from contributions by partners in the alcoholic beverage industry, the Société des alcools du Québec and private donors.
With regard to Bill C-251, which we are currently debating, the Bloc Québécois acknowledges that alcohol consumption can have devastating consequences and that Quebeckers and Canadians must be made aware of the risks of inappropriate alcohol consumption.
However, the Bloc Québécois notes that preventive measures already exist in Quebec, in particular the Éduc'alcool awareness programs. Other measures include discouraging alcohol consumption by pregnant women, prenatal courses, and SAAQ awareness campaigns—particularly spot checks—to change the attitude of pregnant women and drivers.
The Bloc Québécois notes that several microbreweries and other producers of alcoholic beverages already invest respectable amounts in awareness and prevention campaigns.
The Bloc Québécois believes that it is possible to meet the same objectives, and even to extend prevention campaigns to other groups, by introducing more effective measures to reduce the incidence of unfortunate consequences of alcohol consumption without imposing a heavy burden on microbreweries, brewers and other producers of alcoholic beverages who already invest in programs for the prevention and awareness of the effects of alcohol.
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.
The House resumed from November 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-251, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
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—