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.

Sponsor

Paul Szabo  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of May 3, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

The purpose of this enactment is to require alcoholic beverages to bear a warning regarding the effects of alcohol on the ability to operate vehicles and machinery and on the health of the consumer, and regarding the possibility of birth defects when consumed during pregnancy.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • 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.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-251 under private members' business.

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.
See context

Liberal

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.
See context

Liberal

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.
See context

Conservative

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.

There have been other private members' bills on alcohol warning labels since 1987. For example, prior to Bill C-251 there was Bill C-206.

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.
See context

NDP

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.
See context

Bloc

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.
See context

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

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.
See context

Bloc

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 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking Ms. Elspeth Ross who is with the FAS Network at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. I cannot say enough about the work that she has done in support of families and children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and helped parliamentarians to understand the devastation that alcohol has caused.

Alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug in the world, but in Canada beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm us if misused and one that does not warn us of that fact.

Existing legislation does not adequately recognize alcohol as a drug or indeed as a product that is clearly associated with significant risk to public health and safety. It plays a role in thousands of premature deaths, preventable injuries, and prenatal brain damage each year. It is associated with increased cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, homicides, suicides, as well as motor vehicle, boat and snowmobile crashes, falls, fires and drownings.

Moreover, high rates of consumption are associated with increased mental illness, an increase in crime and reduced work or productivity. These translate into a human loss of devastating proportions and an economic toll of billions of dollars.

The active ingredient in alcohol is ethyl alcohol, commonly known as ethanol, which works much like ether. Acting like an anesthetic it puts the brain to sleep. It also acts as a central nervous system depressant that slows body functions down such as heart rate and respiration.

Small quantities of alcohol may induce feelings of well-being and relaxation, but in larger amounts alcohol can cause intoxication, sedation, unconsciousness, brain damage, physical or mental illness and even death.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or FASD is a term which describes a range of effects that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant. These effects can include physical and mental disabilities and problems with behaviour and learning, and often a person has a mix of these problems.

Persons with FASD often have problems with learning, memory, attention span, problem solving, speech and hearing, and they are at very high risk for trouble in school, trouble with the law, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health disorders. FASDs include fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes growth problems, abnormal facial features and central nervous system problems.

Children who do not have all the symptoms of FAS can have another form of FASD and these children can have problems just as severe as those children who have FASD. There is no known amount of alcohol use that is safe during pregnancy and there is no known time during pregnancy when alcohol is safe to use.

FAS is often described as the leading known cause of mental retardation. While it is true that it is more prevalent than Down's syndrome or spinal bifida, it is not the cause. The simple fact that the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is the one and only cause, FAS is 100% preventable by abstaining from the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

It must become the cultural norm that drinking during pregnancy is inappropriate, but since 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and the highest risk period to the fetus is between days 15 and 22 of pregnancy, when a woman does not even know she is pregnant, the fact is that if a woman is in her birthing years, if she is sexually active and not using protection, she should abstain from consuming any alcohol to totally eliminate the risk of harming her children.

Bill C-251 was inspired by a report from the health committee back in June 1992. It was entitled “Foetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Preventable Tragedy” in which it recommended warning labels on the containers of all beverage alcohol to alert consumers that consumption during pregnancy can hurt the fetus.

The House will note that the bill is only one clause long which deliberately leaves the details of the labelling requirement to be prescribed by governor in council. That means that the precise wording, form and size of the label together with other details necessary to enact the bill will be provided in the regulations of the bill. That was recommended to me by Health Canada officials on order to provide as much flexibility and latitude to respond to industry concerns and suggestions.

I know that health officials have been dialoguing with various stakeholders and I very much hope that the industries affected will agree to work collaboratively with Health Canada, and become part of a national harm reduction strategy related to alcohol.

This past summer there was a conference of experts in Regina. The headline of the release stated that: “Doctors, judges, lawyers agree more needs to be done about fetal alcohol exposure”. There is one quote that caught my attention and it was from Dr. Gideon Koren, a professor and director of the Motherisk Program, at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He said, “There's no way we are doing the right things--we are not...Compared to some other maladies, from heart and stroke to cancer, there is no big societal drive to do something”.

That is an assessment of an eminent medical professional who, prior to this, had been supporting the beverage alcohol industry position with regard to labelling. He has changed his mind. What we are doing is the wrong thing. He also said, “Health Canada estimates that about one per cent, or 300,000 Canadians, suffer from some form of this disorder...That's one child in every 100 births, or about 4,000 new cases, occur each year and the costs are huge”.

Since I last spoke about this bill last May, I told the committee at the time that there were 20 countries which already had health warning labels on containers of alcoholic beverages. Let me remind the House they include: Armenia, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico, United States, Cost Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

There have been changes since then and I want to let the House know, but first let me go through a few press clippings that I picked out. On September 4, 2007, not so long ago, South Africa announced that it has new regulations requiring containers of alcoholic beverages to display messages highlighting the negative effects of alcohol consumption. The department said that the regulations would come into effect in the next 18 months as part of an ongoing campaign to promote healthy lifestyles.

In Ireland, on October 14, 2007, not so long ago, mandatory labelling of alcohol containers with health warning labels about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy will be introduced. Members should note that Drinks Manufacturers Ireland, DMI, the umbrella body for the alcohol industry, confirmed yesterday that it had agreed to the health warning which will apply to all alcohol containers sold in the republic. The message will carry an image of a pregnant woman with a diagonal red line or written warning on it.

Let us look at August 14, the European Union is calling for the dangers of alcohol such as drinking while pregnant and driving to be highlighted on bottles and labels of bottles and cans.

Let us look at Tasmania, July 2, 2007. Tasmanian child commissioner, Paul Mason, said, “Women of childbearing age should not drink alcohol in the case they fall pregnant”. He is pushing for labels on alcohol containers to warn women of the risks associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder which affects about 5,800 Tasmanians. He went on to say: “there is no safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy”.

How about New Zealand? For the last two years it has considered and now has the recommendation from the health committee which makes the following recommendations including: first, that it develop legislation or standards to require mandatory labels to be placed on all types of alcohol liquor reminding women of the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy; second, that it publicize the adverse health consequences of drinking during pregnancy including community education about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; third, that it increase monitoring of, and research into, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and that effective intervention demonstrated by this research be applied immediately; and finally, that it adopt a policy encouraging women not to drink at any time during pregnancy.

How about Australia? On June 17, also since the last time I spoke in this place on this bill, says that all alcohol products will carry warning labels of the links between binge drinking and brain damage if the new safety push succeeds. This is from the alcohol education rehabilitation foundation who said that, “We have an epidemic of intoxication in Australia. We don't drink more in total than we did 10 years ago, but the way we drink has changed”. It is talking about binge drinking. It went on to say, “While it's not the complete answer, it should be one of the ways we get the community to understand that alcohol is not a benign product”.

Further, in Australia, it is estimated 50% of individuals with FASD will end up in institutional care, a mental health facility or in prison. It has been estimated that Australia spends more than $13 million a day on FASD-affected individuals through health care, institutional care, mental health, in justice services and other areas. Acting now would not only reduce these costs but improve the lives of children, families and communities.

Finally, let us look at the UK. The UK has just, under Tony Blair, adopted a national alcohol harm reduction strategy. In the executive summary it says:

The Strategy Unit’s interim analysis estimated that alcohol misuse is now costing around [$40 billion Canadian per year.]...The annual cost of alcohol misuse includes: 1.2 million violent incidents (around half of all violent crimes); 360,000 incidents of domestic violence (around a third) which are linked to alcohol misuse; increased anti social behaviour and fear of crime--61% of the population perceive alcohol-related violence as worsening; expenditure of [$200 million Canadian] on specialist alcohol treatment; over 30,000 hospital admissions for alcohol dependence syndrome; up to 22,000 premature deaths per annum; at peak times, up to 70% of all admissions to accident and emergency departments; up to 1,000 suicides; up to 17 million working days lost through alcohol-related absence; between 780,000 and 1.3 million children affected by parental alcohol problems; and increased divorce--marriages where there are alcohol problems are twice as likely to end in divorce.

That is pretty compelling. The UK is working on a voluntary compliance, just like in Canada.

Let me go on to the stats. When I gave the stats the last time, 67% of Canadians supported health warning labels, in a survey commissioned by Decima and Health Canada.

We have a new one now. It is an Environics survey done for Public Health Agency of Canada, published in May 2006, just after I gave my speech with regard to support for the initiative to provide information about the risks of alcohol use. In response, an overwhelming number approved of the initiative to provide information on the risks associated with alcohol during pregnancy.

What are the numbers? Some 87% approval for requiring health warning labels, 97% of Canadians approve government-sponsored advertising, 95% approve of warning messages on alcohol advertising, 85% approve of warning signs in bars and clubs, and 80% approve of warning signs in restaurants.

Canadians overwhelmingly support labelling and messages about the significant risks associated with alcohol consumption. Now is the time for Parliament to act.

If we could prevent even a small percentage of the problems caused by misuse of alcohol, the savings in health social programs, education and criminal justice costs would be many times more cost effective than an effective national alcohol harm reduction strategy. More important, we could eliminate so much misery and human suffering, and that is the essence of a caring society.

Members will want to know, do labels work? That is the wrong question. Labels on the bottles of beverage alcohol should be considered to be the declaration of Canada that alcohol is a harmful product if misused and Canada is going to start the strategy to ensure that we get a real harm reduction strategy very soon.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

May 14th, 2007 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by making clear my respect for the hon. member for Mississauga South. There is no question that my colleague has been a relentless champion of this worthy cause and deserves great admiration for his dedication. However, while Bill C-251 is based on good intentions, research indicates it is not based on good science.

I remind the House that this issue has been thoroughly reviewed by the Standing Committee on Health, which heard from many witnesses and experts both for and against alcohol warning labels. No matter on which side of the argument they stood, there was general agreement that there is very little evidence that alcohol warning labels alone will encourage people to change their drinking habits. Even one of the greatest proponents of this legislation, Dr. Tim Stockwell of the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria, has admitted:

--there are a host of powerful economic and social factors that determine the level of alcohol consumption and rates of hazardous use...The idea that a basic informational strategy such as warning labels could compete with such powerful factors as the price of alcohol to affect overall consumption is implausible.

Moreover, the implementation of Bill C-251 will require significant funding from the federal government. Given the need for a broad strategy, diverting resources to labelling specifically at the expense of proven targeted programs is not cost effective.

Then there is a host of legal questions to consider. The implementation of the bill is likely to raise trade and charter challenges which would impose further costs on the government and by extension, all Canadians.

In the absence of clear proof that alcohol warning labels make a significant difference in drinkers' behaviours, it is hard to make the case that Bill C-251 is the solution. Instead, witness after witness told the committee that what is needed is a comprehensive approach that encompasses all aspects of behaviour modification. In fact, most people who appeared before the standing committee said that the programs currently in place would have a much better chance of success than warning labels.

Certainly, no one is denying the need to address the serious health and social challenges associated with problem drinking. The 2004 Canadian addiction survey indicated that while the vast majority of Canadians drink in moderation and without harm, 14% of Canadians, some 3.3 million people, do engage in high risk drinking. There is no question that we must do more to make Canadians aware of the health and safety risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol misuse comes at a great cost to the individuals involved and our country at large. In 2002 the cost of alcohol related harm totalled $14.6 billion, or $463 for every living Canadian. This included $7.1 billion for lost productivity due to illness and premature death, $3.3 billion in direct health care costs, and $3.1 billion in direct law enforcement costs.

This is about more than dollars and cents. It only makes sense to prevent unnecessary loss of life and lost opportunity when we see the terrible toll it takes on Canadian families and communities.

Nowhere are alcohol's devastating effects more apparent than in the case of children and adults coping with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD for short. From anti-social behaviour to developmental delays and learning disabilities, people living with this preventable condition face profound problems which may put them at increased risk of dropping out of school and making them far more likely than other people to end up in prison. No one can deny the damage caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy and our collective obligation to make sure Canadians understand that alcohol poses grave danger for developing fetuses.

We need to bear in mind that the Government of Canada already invests heavily in initiatives dealing with alcohol misuse. Programs within the health portfolio alone include the alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation program, the drug strategy community initiatives fund, as well as the national native alcohol and drug abuse program, the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder initiative, and the first nations and Inuit FASD program.

I am also pleased to report that Health Canada, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission have developed recommendations for a multi-sectoral national alcohol strategy to reduce alcohol related harm in Canada. The strategy has been developed in consultation with relevant federal departments, provinces, territories, non-governmental organizations, researchers, addiction agencies, and the alcohol beverage and hospitality industries.

It recommends a range of both population level initiatives to address overall alcohol consumption and targeted interventions to address specific high risk drinking patterns and vulnerable populations, such as women who are pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant. It should be noted, however, that alcohol warning labels were not identified as an area for action.

In addition, it is worth noting that in its 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 alcohol beverage products.

In the absence of clear proof that alcohol warning labels will make a significant difference in drinkers' behaviours, it is hard to make the case that Bill C-251 is the solution to this or any other alcohol related problems. As well meaning as my hon. colleague may be in promoting this bill, it seems obvious that this is not the right legislation at the right time. With this in mind, while reiterating my appreciation for a steadfast commitment to address the alcohol related challenges, I am not able to support the bill.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

May 14th, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-251. I want to compliment my colleague from Mississauga South who has been the embodiment of determination and persistence on this topic.

As previous speakers have pointed out, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a tragic yet entirely preventable health issue, and the mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages will be an integral part of any prevention strategy.

I disagree strongly with those who have suggested that such labelling should be avoided because it might have economic impacts on the producers of alcoholic beverages. I note that these sentiments are being expressed by the same party that recently announced its intention of increasing the levels of allowable toxin residues on our fruit and vegetables because the agri-business transnationals consider our current standards to be a trade irritant in our commerce with the United States.

Suggesting that labelling is not effective is clearly hypocritical. If it does not work, then the beverage producers have nothing to fear from this bill. Their sales will continue to rise. The fact is that labelling does work. It may not be a perfect or complete solution, but it is certainly going to help and be an integral part of a comprehensive prevention strategy.

Suggesting that Canadians should take a back seat to the profits of corporations is not only highly offensive, it is plainly irresponsible for legislators, in my opinion. If some members of this House truly have concerns about the economic implications of Bill C-251, then they should be strongly in favour of it. Any minor impact to alcohol beverage producers from some envisioned lost market share of pregnant women will be dwarfed by the savings to the Canadian health care system which has to treat the victims of FASD throughout their lives. On both moral and economic grounds, this bill makes eminently good sense.

I would also like to point out to the House that FASD is part of a vicious circle that entraps citizens in a cycle of mental illness and addiction. If a woman consumes alcohol while pregnant and gives birth to a child with FASD, that child is going to face particular challenges at school and in trying to grow up. They will experience the frustration of not getting it at school and not knowing why they are not getting it as well as the frustration of being embarrassed by a poor report card which they will not understand the reason for. All these things will not encourage regular school attendance. School will become an unhappy place, a place to be avoided.

Once branded as a truancy problem, chances are good that the branding will become a behaviour problem and the downward spiral will begin. Serious unhappiness and frustration can lead adolescents to seek comfort in mood altering substances like alcohol and illegal drugs, and overuse of such substances in adolescence can lead to mental health disorders later on.

However, mental health costs are just part of the costs incurred. Often it includes child welfare, special education, youth justice and youth corrections, so the taxpayers are paying for these social problems that seem to come with FASD.

Another fact is that the cost to the federal and provincial governments for youth who drop out of school for lack of mental health treatment is $1.9 billion, and that is just the federal government and the province of Ontario. What the other provinces would add, I am not sure.

If the child with FASD is a female, then she is at high risk of behaviours during her own pregnancies that would lead to her own children suffering from FASD, and the cycle continues. Sadly, it is a cycle that afflicts many people who suffer from mental illness and addictions. We should be doing all we can to stop this cycle from perpetuating itself.

I believe that Bill C-251 is a step in the right direction. I would urge all members of the House to support this simple measure. It could have a dramatic impact on Canada's future health care costs and more important, on the lives of Canadians yet unborn.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

May 14th, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, before I explain why I cannot support this legislation, I want to applaud the convictions and conscientious approach of my hon. colleague. He has performed a tremendous public service by drawing attention to the damage caused by alcohol misuse. He deserves full credit for his unflagging efforts to promote legislation to prevent this unnecessary tragedy. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is truly a terrible disease.

I also want to commend him for recognizing society's responsibility to protect the most vulnerable from the most devastating effects of alcohol misuse. There is no greater a vulnerable group than people who are born with one of the diagnoses under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. These people may be condemned to lives of missed opportunity and, all too often, all out despair.

Among the common symptoms of the disability are low adaptive quotients, in other words, the ability to solve everyday problems, and anti-social behaviours that affect at risk groups of people as they drop out of school and make them far more likely than other Canadians to be homeless or end up in prison.

An overwhelming proportion of people with FASD have substantial personal costs, not only for themselves but their families, and the price tag is also very steep for society. The cost to Canadian taxpayers to care for alcohol affected children to adulthood will be an estimated additional $571 million annually. Given the incidence of 9.1 cases of FASD per 1,000 births, there is an estimated 280,000 people in Canada currently living with this preventable disability. About 3,000 babies are born every year who are affected.

If only Bill C-251 could dramatically reduce the costs and reverse the statistics, I am sure all members of the House would gladly embrace it. However, as the history on this issue in the House with previous bills, such as Bill C-206 and others, have already made clear, our well meaning colleague has not selected the best vehicle to advance his cause.

As worthy a goal as he espousing, the evidence appears unequivocal: alcohol warning labels do not positively impact those most at risk. This was the resounding all party consensus at committee hearings on the previous bill, Bill C-206, on alcohol warning labels. Expert witnesses before the Standing Committee on Health at that time said repeatedly that while warning labels may have a small part to play in a larger public education strategy, they cannot achieve the long term objectives of this legislation in isolation.

Expert opinions and the opinions of parliamentarians who have studied this issue are that what is clearly needed is an integrated and comprehensive approach that builds on work already underway. This approach would include public education, awareness and interventions to prevent FASD.

It would leverage the work of communities, as well as health practitioners, target interventions for vulnerable populations, such as aboriginals, and integrate research and potential regulations into the federal government strategies. For example, research shows that women are very likely to turn to their health care professionals for information on alcohol during pregnancy. This reinforces that it is important to educate those on the front line on prevention and the people on the front line, of course, are the health care providers.

Sensitizing and supporting health care professionals with the tools that they need will enable them to deal more effectively with at risk clients and help reduce the risk factors. A very important point here is that all women are at risk if they do not have the information that alcohol use, even in small amounts, is potentially harmful to their babies during pregnancy.

To that end, the Public Health Agency of Canada has been working with its health portfolio partners, other federal departments and agencies, the provinces and territories, first nations, as well as a host of other community based partners on a FASD strategy.

Its objective is to address the critical gaps and pressures caused by FASD and provide individuals and organizations working with at risk groups with the tools and resources they need to reach and educate perspective parents. These are activities that go far beyond warning labels.

A lot has already been accomplished. Among the many activities completed to date, the Public Health Agency of Canada has developed, published and distributed the framework for action on FASD. It has also conducted and published the survey of health care professionals, and it has supported the development and publication of diagnostic guidelines to assist health care providers.

In 2000 and again in 2002 and 2006, the Public Health Agency of Canada conducted public opinion surveys to gauge public awareness and general knowledge about FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy. The intelligence gathered through this process helps to shape common messaging regarding FASD, developed by the agency in partnership with the provinces and territories. Posters and pamphlets using those messages have been prepared and distributed to the public.

The Public Health Agency of Canada subsequently conducted targeted social marketing and awareness activities using these materials.

That is not all. Working in partnership with Thyme Maternity and News Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada ran newspaper articles aimed at increasing awareness of FASD and the need to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.

Of particular importance to organizations working with high risk groups, the Public Health Agency of Canada funded eight projects across the country through the FASD national strategic projects fund. The projects led to the development of tools, resources and training programs for use by community based organizations to prevent FASD and to improve the life prospects of people living with a disability.

Much work is being done at the regional level to support local projects that will reduce the incidence of FASD and improve outcomes for those affected.

Another excellent resource produced by the Public Health Agency of Canada is the “Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy”. Based on the latest research, this new resource will help women who are planning a pregnancy to make healthy choices to ensure their children have the opportunity to have a good life.

This is just the beginning. Work currently underway will result in even greater supports for prospective parents, as well as children and youth already living with FASD. For instance, research has been carried out on FASD training opportunities and public awareness across Canada. Focus group studies have been conducted among women to understand alcohol use patterns and potential effective interventions.

A series of meetings were scheduled, including one to follow up on the publication of the diagnostic guidelines, as well as a national symposium on FASD. A survey of allied professionals' knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy is planned.

Work has also been undertaken in collaboration with Canada Northwest FASD Partnership to develop a scan of the diagnostic capacity, tools and forms across Canada. This will lead to further work in developing common intake forms, data collection and reporting tools, as well as common tools for diagnosing brain and central nervous system dysfunction.

Progress has been made in these areas: A recent opinion survey showed that 94% of first nations and 86% of Inuit were aware of FASD; Community Asset Mapping has helped many of these communities identify their strengths and develop a plan of action; and mentoring programs for women at risk are now underway.

I could go on but much has been done and we need to move forward with an effective plan.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

May 14th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-251 proposes health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages to remind consumers about the serious risks associated with alcohol misuse.

Why? Because alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm us if misused but does not warn us about that fact.

Furthermore, existing legislation does not adequately recognize alcohol as a drug or, indeed, as a product that is clearly associated with significant risk to public health and safety.

Alcohol is an integral part of our society. While nearly three-quarters of Canadians drink, no one is immune to its consequences.

Alcohol plays a role in thousands of premature deaths, preventable injuries and prenatal brain damage every year. It is associated with increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, homicides, suicides, motor vehicle, boat and snowmobile crashes, falls, fires and drownings.

Moreover, higher rates of consumption are associated with increased mental illness, an increase in crime, and reduced worker productivity. These translate into a human loss of devastating proportions and an economic toll of billions of dollars each year.

In Canada, for instance, it is estimated that the cost of alcohol abuse is at least $10 billion per year in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity.

Here are some interesting facts. Do members know that 42% of serious crime involves the use of alcohol? Thus, when we talk about getting tough on crime, we also have to deal with the prevention side, and certainly this is one opportunity. As well, the latest statistics on impaired driving show that over 1,100 Canadians were killed in 2004 and over 68,000 injured.

I also want to talk a little about fetal alcohol syndrome. It is a subject I have been working on for over 12 years and it is integrally related to the subject matter.

In one week, as many as 10,000 babies are born in Canada. Of these, three are born with muscular dystrophy, four are born with HIV infection, eight are born with spina bifida, 10 are born with Down's syndrome, 20 are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and 100 are born with other alcohol related birth defects.

Fetal alcohol syndrome, commonly known as FAS and now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, refers to a group of physical and mental birth defects. Its primary symptoms include growth deficiency before and after birth, central nervous system dysfunction resulting in learning disabilities, and physical malformities in the face and cranial areas.Other alcohol related birth defects involve central nervous system damage like FAS, but without those physical abnormalities.

Since FASD is incurable, most victims will usually require special care throughout their lives. Depending on the severity, the estimated lifetime cost for the care of a person with such an affliction ranges from $3 million to $6 million.

The secondary symptoms of FAS relate to the quality of life characteristics: 90% have mental health problems; 60% will be expelled or suspended from school or will drop out; 60% will get into trouble with the law; 50% will exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour; 30% will abuse drugs or alcohol; 80% will not be capable of living independently; and 80% will have employment problems. As well, federal and provincial authorities both have estimated that as many as 50% of the inmates in the prisons of Canada suffer from alcohol related birth defects.

Tragically, these severe problems could have been prevented if the mother had abstained from alcohol consumption during her pregnancy.

Harm can occur at any time during the pregnancy, even during the first month, when most women do not even know they are pregnant. Research findings suggest that days 15 to 22 make up the period of pregnancy during which facial and cranial deformities could be caused by alcohol consumption. That is why women should not wait until they find out they are pregnant before they stop drinking.

Over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Therefore, if a woman is sexually active and pregnancy is possible she should abstain from consuming alcohol. To choose not to abstain is the same as playing Russian roulette with the lifelong health and well-being of her child. There is no recommended safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Therefore, the prudent choice for women is to abstain from consuming alcohol.

Beverage alcohol is ethanol. Many do not know that alcohol is a poisonous substance and in high doses can be lethal. Small amounts of alcohol can impair judgment, motor ability and reflexes. Many also do not know that alcohol, when combined with innocuous over the counter medications, can result in significant health problems.

Alcohol is a depressant, which can result in increased anxiety levels, severe mood swings, and clinical depression. Young people are also at greater risk because they are still developing physically and psychologically.

In an era of reduced social spending and a widening disparity between rich and poor, it is extremely important that we not lose sight of the role of government in promoting and protecting public health and safety.

There is no simple solution to this complex problem. As such, governments need to develop a comprehensive strategy to address both prevention and remediation.

The strategy should include policies, social marketing, skill-building and educational measures. It may include taxation and other policy measures to reduce alcohol related problems. There could be increased support for addictions research and treatment and more support for community-based health promotion, prevention, early identification and, of course, treatment programs. It should provide equitable access to housing, employment, a clean and safe environment and needed health and social services, all of which contribute to a responsible drinking environment in the community.

In September 2006 the second report of the Standing Committee on Health recommended that the government develop a comprehensive national and federal action plan. It is notable that this is exactly what the health committee recommended in June 1992, almost 15 years ago, in an identical recommendation.

The alcohol industry does have a moral duty and a social responsibility to warn the public of the potential harm associated with its products. The industry spends billions of dollars each year promoting its products, with a disproportionate amount of that promotion being targeted at the younger population.

The industry would like us to believe that it discharges that responsibility by sponsoring public service announcements, distributing brochures, or running multi-media messaging. However, the cost of these initiatives is only a small fraction of its marketing budget.

The industry also suggests everybody knows that alcohol consumption presents a risk of harming oneself or others, so it does not have to do anything about it. That is not the point. Clearly there is a risk associated with every drink consumed and, whether or not it is heeded, this risk should be clearly and consistently spelled out on every alcohol label, package and container and in every advertisement and promotion.

To argue whether or not information on a warning label has an immediate impact on individual behaviour is pointless. There are many factors that influence behaviour, and health warning labels just happen to be one. The fact is, research shows that even Coca-Cola will lose market share if it does not continue to advertise at the same levels that we see day in and day out. The constant repetition of the message or image does make a difference in terms of consumer behaviour.

Health warning labels have been described as a consumer lighthouse, sending repetitive signals of impending danger. They remind us of all the responsible use messaging we have ever been exposed to.

Labels are not just for potential abusers; they are also for the broader population that may have an opportunity to identify situations where someone else's drinking risks harming themselves or others. The label, therefore, also serves as a reminder that in these circumstances we all have a responsibility to take appropriate action to ensure that the abuser does not become just another statistic.

The presence of a simple, readable and targeted health message on alcohol products does one important thing: it acknowledges and reinforces the fact that alcohol is not just another consumer commodity. It is in fact a product that when misused has negative consequences, not only for consumers, but also for their friends, family, co-workers and community.

Warning labels and consumer health information can play a role in educating the public but should not be considered in isolation since knowledge alone rarely results in changed behaviour. Consumers do have a right to know what constitutes responsible consumption, the potential consequences of misuse, and where to go for assistance.

If we want to be serious about reducing the incidence of injury, disease, and death associated with alcohol misuse among the general population, we should not ignore the crucial parts of the equation: the consumer and the industry. Consumers have a right to be informed. The industry has a responsibility to give consumers clear and unbiased information.

Advertising and promotion tell only one side of the story. Labelling and consumer information tell the other.

I have worked on this issue for over 12 years now and I have yet to see any indication that what we have done over the past 12 years has helped at all in this matter. Two-thirds of Canadians support labelling, according to a Decima poll commissioned by Health Canada in February 2006. Seventy-one per cent of them were women. Two-thirds of the supporters said they were even willing to pay more for the product if the label was put on.

A number of groups and organizations support labelling. Let me mention a few: Health Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Canadian Police Association, and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

Bill C-251 advocates for health warning labels for containers of alcoholic beverages. Warning labels, which could include standard drink information, and health information targeted at the individual consumer complement existing population control policies. They also send a clear message that alcohol is not just another consumer commodity and that its consumption entails specific risks.

The absence of a warning label clearly sends the wrong message. We need to reassess why beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm people if misused and does not warn the population about that fact. If we accept our responsibilities to promote and protect public safety and health, the beverage alcohol industry needs to be part of that solution.

Let me quote from 1992 report of the Standing Committee on Health. It said:

The Sub-committee is aware, as were most of our witnesses, that warning labels on containers of alcoholic beverages will not, by themselves, completely solve the problem...The design and presentation of a warning label is vitally important to its effectiveness. The Sub-committee has examined several examples of warning labels on alcohol products from the United States.

I must emphasize this next sentence:

In all cases, the warnings were generally inconspicuous and difficult to read. It is essential that the warning labels adopted for Canadian products not emulate the United States examples....

That has been the problem all along. As people have suggested, a bad label does not work. That is prima facie.

Let me conclude by saying that if we could prevent even a small percentage of alcohol related birth defects, the savings in health, social programs and educational and criminal justice costs would be many times more than the cost of a national prevention strategy. More importantly, we could eliminate much human misery and suffering. That is the essence of a caring society.