Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act

An Act respecting the implementation of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Libby Davies  NDP

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

Status

Introduced, as of May 8, 2013
(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

(a) to implement the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada;

(b) to establish the Sodium Reduction Advisory Committee, the mandate of which is to advise the Minister of Health on the progress made in implementing the strategy; and

(c) to require the amendment of the Food and Drug Regulations.

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

  • May 8, 2013 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, World Salt Awareness Week falls between March 11 and 17. However, unlike last year, there does not appear to be a record on Health Canada's website of the Minister of Health issuing a statement on the importance of reducing salt in the diet of Canadians. That is perhaps because of the fear of potential blowback for the Conservative government's killing of this important bill, which would implement the recommendations of the previous Conservative health minister's sodium working group.

The minister's reason for killing the bill is, wait for it, not a $21-billion tax but a $48-billion tax. Perhaps the government would be good enough to table, for all members of this House, who did the calculations for the tax, the method that was used and the results obtained. Perhaps, at the same time, the government would also table the health costs of chronic diseases that are linked to consuming too much salt.

In her statement on salt last year, the Minister of Health said:

On average we eat more than double the amount we need for good health.... It is important for Canadians to remember that consuming too much sodium is a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke and is also linked to other diseases such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.

She continued:

As Minister of Health, I want to help Canadians avoid these health risks by promoting the adoption of a healthy diet that is low in sodium.

Therefore, it is clear that the minister understands the problem, yet thinks it is funny to say the bill is “...tough on potato chips”. It is not funny to a family struggling to control blood pressure, and not funny to a family battling heart disease or stroke. More distasteful still is the fact that once again she is prepared to put industry before the health of Canadians. Specifically, the minister is refusing to reduce the average sodium intake from about 3,400 milligrams per person per day to 2,300 milligrams by 2016. Health Canada's own recommended daily intake level for sodium is just 1,500 milligrams. The minister's own sodium working group estimated that a decrease in the average sodium intake to about 1,800 milligrams per day, still above Health Canada's recommendation, would prevent 23,500 cardiovascular disease events every year, and would save $1.4 billion per year in health care costs.

The Minister of Health is also refusing a consumer education campaign, a monitoring plan and public database to track if individual food products meet specific reduction targets, and new regulations to force companies to use uniform serving sizes and the nutritional facts on food. Why did this health minister disband the sodium working group at the end of 2010? Why did the minister fail to endorse a federal-provincial sodium reduction plan at the health ministers' meeting in Halifax in November 2011? Why is this minister ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence?

The reality is that this private member's bill is supported by the Canadian Medical Association and 40 other groups and experts, including: the Canadian Institute of Child Health; Canadian Nurses Association; Canadian Pharmacists Association; Canadian Public Health Association; Canadian Society of Internal Medicine; Canadian Women's Health Network; Dieticians of Canada; Food Secure Canada; Hypertension Canada; Kidney Foundation of Canada; and Public Health Physicians of Canada.

The Canadian Medical Association stated:

The Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act is an important piece of legislation that can lead to healthier lives for all Canadia2 Parliament support it.

The Canadian Medical Association also very clearly stated:

Canadians consume on average 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, well above recommended levels. High sodium levels in food are responsible for almost one-third of hypertension cases in Canada. Hypertension is a major cause of heart disease (heart attack and heart failure), stroke and kidney failure, and is an important contributor to premature death, disability and health care costs in Canada. It is estimated that 7.5 million Canadians have been diagnosed with this chronic condition, with an estimated 1,100 new patients being added every day.

Dr. Norm Campbell, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research chair in hypertension prevention and control, said:

The bill provides concrete measures for reducing the amount of salt food processors add to food. The measures proposed in the Bill include close government monitoring and oversight and mandatory labelling of foods that fail to comply with sodium targets. If passed, Bill C-460 will for the first time provide Canadians an opportunity to even know if they are even making a healthy or unhealthy food choice.

Canadians should be asking broader questions. Why did the minister quash trans fats recommendations in 2009 and again in 2012? Why did she ignore the advice regarding caffeinated energy drinks? Why did the minister immediately shoot down the idea of the Institute of Medicine's report, sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling for a fundamental shift in the way companies were allowed to present certain nutritional information on the front of food packages? Where is the leadership?

It is outrageous that the government would resort to invoking fear in Canadians to kill this bill. We heard from a government member who said:

—the bill would pose many challenges. While unintentional, implementing the bill may potentially have negative impacts on food safety and health; I repeat, negative impacts on food safety and health.

The member suggested that reducing salt and sodium-containing food additives to levels still higher than Health Canada's own recommended limits might affect preservation.

The member did not stop there, saying, “The bill simply does not anticipate the food safety consequences that this could create”.

Equally ludicrous is the government's argument that a warning label for sodium could be very misleading to Canadians, even though the government's own approach has been to encourage healthy eating through positive messaging, awareness and education activities.

I would like to finish by bringing some reality to the government's position and arguments.

On average, adult Canadians consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. This is significantly above recommended levels. Health Canada and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have determined that the tolerable upper intake level for adults is 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Of most of the sodium Canadians consume, 77% comes from processed foods sold in grocery stores and in food service outlets. Only about 11% is added during preparation at the table, with the remainder occurring naturally in foods, hence, showing the fundamental flaw in the parliamentary secretary's comments regarding a salt shaker.

In some people, too much sodium causes blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure increases risks for heart disease and stroke. About six million adult Canadians have high blood pressure or hypertension, the leading risk for death in the world, the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.

It has been estimated that excess sodium intake is responsible for one million hypertension cases in Canada today. Dietary sodium reduction could eliminate hypertension for over a million Canadians, with a resulting savings of at least $430 million annually in direct high blood pressure management costs alone.

A recent study in the United States shows reducing salt intake by three grams per day would save the country up to $24 billion in health care costs a year. Even a modest reduction of one gram per day between 2010 and 2019 would be more cost-effective than using medications to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.

Is it not time that Canada's Minister of Health acted, not ignored experts and stonewalled?

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the Minister of Health ate All-Bran this morning, she ingested six times more salt than if she had filled her bowl in the United States.

This evening, if the minister stops at Burger King on her way home, which I do not recommend, her onion ring will contain three times more salt than one of Uncle Sam's. Why? Because Canadian regulations are just not good enough when it comes to sodium.

The Minister of Health said that my party is “soft on crime and hard on chips”. I would like to point out that, according to Statistics Canada, there were 598 homicides in Canada in 2011. If we can reduce Canadians' daily sodium intake to just 1,800 milligrams, we will be able to prevent between 10,000 and 16,000 deaths every year. Obviously, we cannot put chips in jail. The Conservatives would be well advised to reconsider their approach, just as they have done for crime.

Canadians are asking us for smart, effective regulation. That is exactly what Bill C-460 has to offer. I hope that the Conservatives care about Canadians' health enough to support the bill.

The Minister of Health has accused us of trying to introduce more red tape. I do not see how a government that loses track of $3 billion spent on anti-terrorism legislation can deny the importance of a strict regulatory framework. This is not about adding more red tape. This is about saving lives and helping Canadians live longer lives among their loved ones.

Three billion dollars. That is how much money the Conservatives managed to lose between the couch cushions. Coincidentally, that is also exactly how much money Canada would save if we reduced daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams. Why slash people's retirement income when it is so easy to save money by investing in their health?

Salt is everywhere. Now that Canadians have to work more than ever to make ends meet because of ill-advised Conservative cuts that are slowing our economy down, they have to eat salt in restaurants, frozen meals and cafeterias. All of the prepared food we buy every day because we do not have time to cook is full of salt. It would be cheap and easy to address this problem by forcing companies to label foods as high in sodium.

That is exactly what Bill C-460 is proposing, and that would of course have a positive impact on the market.

This bill is very sensible. It is not rooted in a political agenda, but rather in recommendations by experts, particularly recommendations provided by the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada, published by a working group set up in 2007, but which was dismantled by the current minister in 2011. Was the working group too bureaucratic?

The minister must have known that the strategy was supported by the provinces, territories and health organizations. The government must stop making budget cuts everywhere and start doing what a government is elected to do, which is to serve the public.

People are asking us for a tough policy to force companies to reduce sodium levels and inform consumers properly.

A recent survey shows that 76% of Canadians want warning labels on products that are high in sodium. That is almost twice the number of people who elected the Conservatives in the last election. A majority of Canadians agree that government intervention is needed to reduce the sodium levels in our food.

Sometimes it is funny to see how much the Conservatives hide behind their open market ideology when they do not want to disturb the agri-food industry, and how heavy-handed they can be when it comes to stealing from the unemployed.

Where do the Conservatives stand? Are they tough on people and soft on industry? Canadians are not fools. They want what is being done elsewhere and what is being recommended by all the proper authorities.

Finland is a good example because it has been regulating salt consumption since 1979. Through simple labeling, Finland has managed to convince a number of companies to reduce the amount of sodium in their products, which has helped citizens become more aware of what they are consuming. The outcome is that, in 1979, the average daily sodium intake dropped from 5,000 mg to 3,300 mg.

Since 2004, the World Health Organization has issued a number of reports and held many forums on the importance of reducing sodium. In 2010, the World Health Organization met with the government, but clearly the WHO did not get the attention it needed. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, criticizes Canada in his report that followed his May 2012 visit.

According to Mr. De Schutter, Canada is not doing enough to discourage the consumption of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. He even added that it was unfortunate that Quebec is the only province to ban advertising directed at children under the age of 13.

How did the Prime Minister respond? He called the man a lazy intellectual and said his findings were ridiculous. Given their tendency to mock the most reliable multilateral organizations in the world and to refuse to listen to what Canadians want, the Conservatives could very well wind up all alone in their tiny ideological universe.

It is time to put an end to this schizophrenic governance and start operating like a democratic government. That is why I invite all members across the floor to support Bill C-460, which will finally allow Canada to show some leadership in the fight against sodium.

In closing, I would remind the House that malnutrition causes nearly 50,000 deaths a year in Canada, 20 times more than the number of deaths on our roads. After the fight against tobacco use, the fight against sodium is the most direct and effective way to reduce preventable deaths in Canada—yes, I said “preventable”.

Our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children and even grandparents will enjoy better, longer lives if we all support Bill C-460. That is what Canadians expect from their House of Commons, and they deserve nothing less.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the opposition's Bill C-460, an act respecting the implementation of the sodium reduction strategy for Canada.

I am also pleased to speak to our government's efforts, which are already starting to work, to address sodium reduction, as it is an important issue to all Canadians. Our government is fully committed to working with our stakeholders to reduce the average amount of sodium that Canadians consume.

However, we cannot support the heavy-handed approach to sodium reduction as proposed in Bill C-460. The approach to sodium reduction creates unnecessary red tape and additional financial costs to the taxpayers that may also result in unintended risks in food safety.

I will be walking through some of the highlights of how the measures proposed in this bill compare to the actual recommendations of the sodium working group and to the actions our government has taken with respect to sodium reduction.

I think it is important to highlight that the sodium working group recommendations were pan-Canadian recommendations. Pan-Canadian, in this context, means the recommendations were addressed to all levels of government, and even to individuals.

I would point out that Bill C-460 has excluded the province of Quebec. As was highlighted in the first hour of debate on this bill, it would seem rather impractical and costly to try to impose mandatory labelling requirements on the food industry to only selected parts of the country.

This side of the House wonders why it is only Quebec that is spared the heavy-handed provisions of this bill. If Quebec would benefit from an exemption from the bill, why not the rest of Canada? The experts did not recommend that Quebec be exempted. They recommended a pan-Canadian approach, which is what our government is pursuing. The experts also recommended a voluntary approach. The call for mandatory compliance with guidance levels as described in the bill stands in direct contrast to the working group's recommendations.

A voluntary approach is what we have in place now, with guidance for the food industry on reducing sodium in processed foods. The guidance provides direction to the food industry to continue with the sodium reduction efforts and help Canadians lower their average sodium intake.

The guidance, which provides specific benchmark levels for over 100 categories of processed foods, directly supports one of the working group's core recommendations, and that was to reduce the average amount of sodium consumed by Canadians from 3,400 milligrams per day to 2,300 milligrams per day, by 2016. Our government, along with provincial and territorial governments, endorsed this recommendation back in September 2010.

The bill also proposes that consumers be alerted to additional mandatory labels on packaged foods with sodium content that is above “target levels”. Again, this is not one of the recommendations of the working group, and for good reason. By focusing on a warning label just for sodium, Canadians could be misled into believing that sodium is the only nutrient about which they need to be educated. It is overall diets that have the greatest impacts on health, not any one food or nutrient.

This government has developed a number of tools to help Canadians make informed decisions about the foods they eat. This includes mandatory nutrition labelling for most packaged foods. There are also set criteria for phrases such as “low in sodium”, “salt-free” and “reduced in sodium”. These phrases can be used on food labels to help consumers identify foods that are lower in sodium.

Our government has invested $4 million for new activities as part of the healthy eating and awareness initiative. The goal is to help Canadians move towards healthier diets, which includes supporting them in reducing sodium intake.

The sodium working group recognized the importance of engaging all stakeholders, as does our government. However, this bill has overlooked this critical component of a strong sodium reduction strategy. Governments, Canadians and industry have important roles to play.

This bill proposes the establishment of an independent sodium reduction committee that excludes the food industry from the committee. This exemption would limit the successive activities already in progress and undermine the spirit of the working group's recommendations.

What we currently have in place is the food expert advisory committee. This committee has been extended to ad hoc members with expertise in areas of sodium to provide advice to this government on sodium issues. Members include some members from the former sodium working group, as well as some new experts.

Finally, the bill proposes that industry be required to report the sodium content in prepackaged food so that a public registry of this information could be established and maintained. We have heard about registries before. As has been previously stated, this registry would be ineffective. The cost to taxpayers to implement these measures would be significant. Maintaining a public registry for the 100,000 prepackaged food products sold in Canada would require considerable new resources and additional regulations and red tape. Again, this bill's proposed sodium registry was not recommended by the sodium working group.

Before I summarize, I want to point out that budget 2012, which both opposition parties voted against, contained measures which were in fact recommended by the working group and the red tape reduction committee. Both called for a streamlined approval for food additives, and budget 2012 delivered. I would point out that the opposition did not support those proposals.

Mr. Speaker, please allow me to summarize. The bill unnecessarily regulates mandatory sodium limits in prepackaged food. This is not consistent with the working group's recommendations. Our government is advancing a voluntary approach to sodium reduction, just as the working group recommended. The bill calls for misleading warning labels on foods that exceed sodium limits. This is not one of the sodium reduction strategy recommendations.

Our government will continue to take into account the full diet of Canadians in its approach to nutrition labelling and awareness and education initiatives, so that Canadians can make informed choices about the food they eat. My family and I read food labels all the time. I know it is simple to say and it may be tough to do, but if Canadians would simply take that one step before they put something in their shopping cart, we could avoid the necessity for bills such as the one proposed.

The bill would legislate the creation of an advisory committee that excludes the food industry. This is not in line with the sodium reduction strategy recommendation to take a multi-stakeholder approach. Our government will continue to seek the expertise of all stakeholders regarding sodium reduction initiatives.

If the bill is in fact to support the recommendations of the sodium working group, as the opposition claims, it has failed to meet that objective. It took a team of stakeholders nearly three years to develop the sodium reduction strategy for Canada. We are making progress, but time is needed to reach our sodium reduction goals. That is why provincial and territorial health ministers agreed to a 2016 deadline.

In closing, I cannot support this bill. It is not consistent with what the experts have recommended. It increases costs for Canadians and red tape for industry in its heavy-handed proposal for a wasteful and ineffective sodium registry, just like the other wasteful and ineffective registries we have finally taken off the backs of Canadians.

It is unnecessary because our approach is working. My hope would be that all members of the House will continue to work with our government on this important file. We will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders to reduce the sodium intake of Canadians. By increasing education, awareness and guidance to the industry, we believe it is the balanced approach that will deliver results.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we marked the second anniversary of the election of the NDP as the official opposition in the House of Commons. I would like to acknowledge the exemplary work of my four assistants, Olivier Thibault, Katia Isabelle, Isabelle Bourassa and Camille Bouillon Bégin.

Today, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-460, An Act respecting the implementation of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada. This bill is very important to me.

First of all, I would like to say that foods high in sodium are the health scourge of the 21st century. Bill C-460 proposes a strategy to prevent thousands of needless deaths by reducing Canadians' sodium consumption. The government must address the issue of high sodium consumption, just as it tackled drunk driving and smoking a few years ago.

It is imperative that we lower sodium in foods to a safe level, improve food labelling, protect our children from misleading food advertising, ensure that public money is not used to pay for high-sodium foods and, above all, have Canada lead the way in food industry monitoring.

Our society is grappling with a deadly killer. Consuming too much sodium is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease in Canada. It also has devastating effects on the health of people suffering from serious illnesses such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis, asthma, obesity and kidney disease.

Sodium is a true blight on our health care system. We allocate time, money and human resources to the treatment of illnesses that are directly caused by the overconsumption of sodium, which is present in processed foods. Therefore, these resources are not available to fund research on and treatment for childhood diseases, congenital disorders and heart defects.

It is time to examine our conscience and make a choice. We can put in place a national sodium reduction strategy that will impose clear rules on the food industry, decrease Canadians' sodium consumption and help Canadians make healthier food choices. By reducing Canadians' sodium consumption to 1,800 mg a day, we could prevent almost 24,000 cardiovascular incidents a year. We could also prevent 10,000 to 16,000 deaths a year.

This government has proven to be particularly obsessed with the economy in recent years. Reducing sodium consumption would help save billions of dollars. For example, reducing our sodium consumption by 1,500 mg a day would generate direct savings of $1.38 billion in health care alone. Furthermore, if we include indirect costs, we could save $2.99 billion, which is almost $3 billion. That is a significant amount.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Another $3 billion that the Conservatives could recover. We are used to seeing the Conservatives lose billions of dollars.

When will the government implement a strategy to save billions of dollars and thousands of lives? We have the choice, but we need to make the right choice and we need to make it now. I repeat: excessive sodium intake is a serous public health issue, and it is too important for us to ignore. This could save lives.

Governments have had to pass laws to change how individuals and industries act. Take seat belts, for example. When they became mandatory in 1976, road fatalities dropped by 43%. That is unbelievable. Attitudes are hard to change, and sometimes the government has to try to force these changes in the name of public health and safety.

Another example would be drinking and driving or anti-smoking legislation. Prevention is no longer enough. The government has taken this approach for years to reduce sodium consumption in Canada.

This approach has been a huge failure for two reasons. First, it is very difficult for Canadians to analyze the ingredients on products they are purchasing so that they can make healthy choices. Second, food companies refuse to change their production methods. Right now, manufacturers are encouraged to reduce the amount of salt in their products voluntarily. This is in no way effective, because the food industry does not comply. The industry continues to say that sodium reduction targets are unrealistic.

Manufacturers are resisting because they are worried that consumers, used to the taste of salt, will go elsewhere. We understand their concerns. Manufacturers want to remain competitive at all costs. The food industry says it is impossible to reduce the amount of sodium because food safety would be affected.

That argument does not hold water, however. The fact that sodium levels in chain restaurants vary from one country to another is proof of that. Why do the amounts vary? Because the food industry has gotten Canadians used to foods that are much saltier here than elsewhere. I see no reason to keep it that way. Companies' concerns are unfounded. All of the experts agree. Consumers have the ability to adapt to the taste of food that is less salty, and it is up to the government to force that change.

The lack of legislation that is binding on the food industry also affects consumers. Making healthy choices is increasingly difficult. I spoke with Marie-Claude Jolicoeur and Manon Rousse, two nutritionists at the Suroît hospital in my riding. They confirmed that trend. They said that they meet with patients every day who need a low-sodium diet, including people with hypertension, heart failure, liver disease, kidney failure, diabetes and other diseases.

In all of those cases, a low-sodium diet is essential to effectively treating the disease. The nutritionists told me that their role is to teach people how to reduce their sodium intake by recommending which foods to avoid and suggesting alternatives. In reality, 80% of sodium intake comes from processed foods, not from salt. The nutritionists maintain that despite their good intentions, their patients have difficulty making healthy choices and adhering to a low-sodium diet.

That is especially true of seniors and the sick. They rarely cook and often rely on processed foods. Their health declines further, which increases costs for our health care system.

Even for those who are in good health and eat well, it is very easy to exceed the recommended intake. That is why the government needs to step in. Legislation that imposes limits on the amount of sodium in processed food is the only solution that will have the desired effect.

The government has demonstrated a blatant lack of leadership on this issue. Why did the Minister of Health dismantle the sodium working group? It does not make any sense. The government's inaction has forced the provinces and territories to take the bull by the horns and create their own sodium reduction strategies. The Conservative government needs to stop burying its head in the sand. The Department of Health Act clearly sets out that Health Canada is responsible for “the protection of the people of Canada against risks to health”.

Does high sodium intake not constitute a sufficient risk for the Conservatives? Do the resulting cardiovascular diseases not constitute a sufficient risk for the Conservatives? Do the billions of dollars in costs not constitute a sufficient risk for the Conservatives? Of course not. They are already $29 billion in the hole, and no one knows where that money went.

I think that, instead of subjecting us all to its austerity measures by cutting all the programs that Canadians value, each time that the government tables a budget that we are not even allowed to comment on, it should pass legislation that would allow us to really make economies of scale, not to mention save lives.

This is a major public health issue. I would even go so far as to say that we are facing a food safety crisis. Foods that are high in sodium are poisoning Canadians. It is imperative that we develop a strategy to put a stop to this trend. We need to think about the health of our children and the billions of dollars that our inaction is costing our health care system.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening intently and I have find it very interesting that we are going to set up a sodium control mechanism by registering the amount of sodium that goes into food. I wonder if the next thing is we will have trigger locks on all of our salt shakers on the table.

The NDP members want to have a sodium registry, but they want to decriminalize marijuana. They talk about health issues with sodium, but have they thought about the other issues that they bring forward? It seems they are sucking and blowing at the same time in relation to many of the policies they are behind.

It just does not seem to fit. In fact, I am wondering what is going to happen next after they control the amount of sodium that goes into products instead of just providing information and education. Maybe they are going to throw people in jail for testing too high on salt. Maybe we are going to have lineups of people being tested for salt. I am not sure. I just do not know where this ends.

The control mechanism those members want to force on consumers clearly indicates the disrespect they have for taxpayers and Canadians alike, thinking they cannot make their own decisions based on proper information.

We know for instance that on processed foods it is required to list the amount of sodium that is contained within those products. Therefore, consumers can go along, pick up a can when they are buying their groceries and see how much sodium it has. Then if they have a sodium issue, they can control the amount of sodium they take by being educated. As we know, just about all Canadians have the ability to read the labels.

The NDP wants to set up this mechanism, this highly regulated and expensive Canadian government registry that will have all of these products on the list and the amount of sodium in them. What are people going to do? Every time they want to go out to get a processed product, such as a bag of chips from the grocery store, will they have to run home and check the computer or take the information with them? Are the New Democrats trying to create more money for large cellphone companies? I am really not sure where they are coming from. I clearly think this is a disrespectful model to follow. It is wasteful, ineffective and will simply not work.

I would like to begin by reiterating the work the government is doing to address sodium intake in Canada because it is a serious concern. However, the NDP members say that it will lower health costs and yet they want to decriminalize something like smoking marijuana that would have such a high health cost to consumers. Their position just does not make sense.

I would like to talk about what the Canadian government is doing.

First, the sodium working group that my friend talked about recommended the government take a voluntary multi-stakeholder approach to reducing the amount of sodium found in foods in the Canadian market. I agree because Canadians are smart. They can feel their health. They see their doctors. We have a good medical system in our country. It does need some work, like most things, but one thing that does not need more work is a sodium registry. Clearly, this would not be good for Canadians and, as I said, I think it disrespects Canadians. It certainly disrespects the independent working group that was set up to find some solutions to the issue.

The government recognized the need for this comprehensive approach by setting up the group. It acknowledged the roles of industry, government and Canadians in working together to reduce sodium consumption. However, we must not do so through some draconian methodology that will, frankly, be very expensive and accomplish nothing except to penalize companies and consumers.

In particular, I would like to talk about the 90-day coming into force program. I know many people in this place have not been commercial printers, but I can promise them that a 90-day coming into force regime would not even enable companies to change the labelling fast enough if they were to reduce the amount of sodium. It would not allow them to change the product. These are products they have spent many years on in putting the perfect ingredients in, as they see it and consumers demand, and sodium is used as a preservative for some of these products.

What are we going to have with a 90-day coming into force? If the NDP had its way and if it were in government, it would have its way, we would find there would be nothing on the shelves. That is what it wants to do. It wants to control the lives of consumers, drive up taxpaying costs and disrespecting Canadians through this.

We have established a voluntary approach. It focuses on three main pillars. The first is awareness and education for consumers. It is clear that the Conservative government respects Canadians and respects the ability of Canadians to make proper choices.

The second pillar is the provision of guidance to the industry to reduce sodium in processed foods. This is a voluntary approach, but at the same time one that will make changes. We have seen this work in other areas, including the transportation industry, consumer groups and food safety issues. It does work and it works in such a way that industry members have an opportunity to do so in a consumer-minded and commercial-minded approach that makes sense and does not shut them down and take all of these processed foods off the store shelves.

The third pillar is proper research. This government has done a lot of investment in research and development, not just in the aerospace industry, not just in the transportation industry, not just in the criminal situation where we need to make sure we have proper laws that are not too draconian, but send criminals to jail because they have done wrong things and the public needs protection. Research is very important, especially in food safety and looking at consumers and consumers' patterns of eating, especially Canadians because we are a little different.

We have the far north and some other areas that frankly need to be more careful in relation to the amount of food they eat and what types of food they have. I highly recommend fresh fruits and vegetables and proper foods like that, regularly going to a marketplace and having the food come in every two or three days. Many European nations and other nations do this. They do not buy in large bulk like Canadians do and like we had to do as a result of our heritage. They buy regularly every day and that is why they have sometimes a much better source of food than we do in Canada.

Focusing on these three areas, we are clearly working to respect Canadians' views, but also to lower Canadians' sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day by 2016. This is an ambitious target, but by educating consumers and Canadians we can do that.

This is an approach that is already showing progress. We have had success in this area in meeting its target. As a result of that, in the small amount of time we have taken to do this, it shows that this government's approach is clearly working. Data recently collected from samples of breads, breakfast cereals and canned soups show that sodium levels have been reduced by about 10% overall in these products.

I find very interesting that the NDP members vote against, for instance, infrastructure projects and all the economic action plans that the Conservative government brought forward. They vote against jobs. They sent a delegation to Washington to shut down the oil sands industry, to shut down the jobs that Canadians are working in, to shut down the manufacturing industry in Ontario and Quebec that supplies somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40% to 50% of the jobs outside of Alberta that are working in the oil sands. It is shocking that they would try to shut down Canadian jobs, that they would vote against action plans to create employment and infrastructure and a higher quality of life in Canada, yet they want to control the amount of salt that Canadians eat. Quite frankly, it is ridiculous.

Bill C-460 unfortunately does not acknowledge the work that has already been done and the positive changes that are coming out. It just criticizes. I would like to focus today on the costs especially.

I know I do not have a lot of time because I have a lot to say about the bill because of the ludicrous nature of it. This would be a significant cost to taxpayers and how do we maintain that? Well, the government has to maintain it. The government has to maintain it on a continuous basis and keep it up-to-date. I think it would be underutilized, if at all utilized, by Canadians and would cost a lot of money. The only people who would actually know what is on the website, because those would be the only people able to use it, are government people who are inputting the data. I just do not think it makes sense.

By mandating the levels of sodium in food products, manufacturers would also be forced to reformulate their product in a very quick fashion. That is not how it works. Frankly, as I said before, they would end up pulling the product off the shelf until they could conform properly because it is an issue of food safety as well. They would be changing the products that go into their food because they would have to, as a result of the NDP bill. It would mean so many disruptions to Canadians' lives and accomplish absolutely nothing.

It is clear that Canadians made a choice in the last election. They voted for a Conservative government so that we can continue to operate as they want us to do, continue to respect Canadians, continue to allow them to make their own educated choices, but to make sure at the same time that they have the ability to understand what they are consuming and be able to understand what choices they are making.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 2:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, my remarks will follow a proven formula based largely on the empirical nature of the matter before us.

In my analysis of the bill respecting the implementation of the sodium reduction strategy for Canada, I will focus on detailing the true impact and omnipresence of fast food and the hold that junk food lobby groups have over northern communities.

My remarks will be informed by my own experience and by the 2012 meeting with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, to which some of my colleagues and I were invited.

During the meeting, I made a point of providing certain documents and photographs to the United Nations representative. The photographs showed how some fast food lobby groups have a monopolistic hold over my own community.

At the risk of repeating myself, I come from a community located on the 52nd parallel, where food transportation costs are quite high. Oddly enough, some of the least healthful food products, such as soft drinks, are available for ridiculously low prices in my home community. One of the photographs I provided depicted the cost of soft drinks.

For example, a two-litre soft drink costs $.99 during heat waves in July, but a pint of milk costs about $4 or $5.

I mentioned soft drinks, but the same is true of products high in sodium, such as chips. It is a shame that this example comes up so often.

During my early university years, I worked for the parks service when I went home in the summer. I had to pick up trash from sandbanks—grass does not grow particularly well where I am from. I had to pick up trash, and most of the trash I saw was fast food packaging, especially chip bags.

As I have already said several times, children in my community enjoy an unusual degree of freedom. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to that. Young people with a few dollars in their pockets automatically spend their money on chips, soft drinks and cakes to feed themselves, because parental supervision is often lacking.

That is why some elementary school children are overweight and morbidly obese. This is a real problem in my community. It also explains why so many aboriginal people have health conditions with a high mortality rate. These conditions are associated with diabetes and fairly high blood glucose levels, among other things.

The spectre of diabetes hangs over the everyday lives of many aboriginal social groups and is inextricably linked to access to prepared foods. As I mentioned, the cost of these products is ridiculously low in my community.

However, I also took advantage of Mr. De Schutter's visit to mention the fact that beverages with a high alcohol content of 10% and 11% are sold in 1.2 litre quantities in my community. There is a very good chance that these beverages are sold to specific target markets and that lobby groups have done market studies and found that there was a very high demand for these products in aboriginal communities.

I doubt very much that the same type of product could be found in Westmount, for example. One might be able to find them in the east end of Montreal. These products are sold to specific target markets, and suppliers are well aware that there is a high demand for them in these communities. As a result, very powerful lobby groups will simply support the sale of these products at a low cost in my community.

The World Health Organization estimates that one-fifth of the deaths in high-income countries—nearly 48,000 deaths a year in Canada—are caused by preventable nutrition-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer, which result from a high sodium intake, high blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels, an insufficient intake of fruits and vegetables and excess abdominal fat.

Proportionately, these problems are much more common in aboriginal communities. The traditional diet of aboriginal peoples did not include processed and prepared foods.

Fifty or 60 years ago, the Innu and Naskapi, whose communities were north of the 52nd parallel, lived in the traditional way. They went into the forest and survived on game and food found there. Their diet did not include all the high-sodium, high-sugar prepared foods. That is why in 2013 we are seeing this deplorable situation. It is not in keeping with the traditional diet that the Innu and Naskapi are more or less adapted to.

Let me give you a personal example. I worked for my band council for two years. Every year, health care professionals met with community leaders, as well as officials and members of the community's administration. The health professionals set up seven or eight kiosks in the community hall. All band council employees had to undergo testing at each kiosk. They took blood, tested our glucose levels, measured our body fat, and assessed our VO2 Max. Basically, they tried to get an overall picture of everyone's health. Every employee had to do it.

I myself took all of these tests during my years on the band council. After undergoing all of these tests, a health care professional was happy to tell me that she was going to give me a medal at some point that day, because I was the only one who had achieved balanced test results.

This has many implications, especially considering that the band council had about 70 employees. That day, I was the big winner. I am not saying this to boast. I had to come clean and I told her that I was taking medication and pills to try to reduce my body mass index. They were non-prescription drugs and supplements. So, the test results were false. I had the same lifestyle as everyone else in my community and I did not eat well. I was aware of the problem. When I started eating a healthy diet, everything balanced itself out.

Despite some efforts that have been made by various food stakeholders in Canada in response to concerns linked to high sodium levels, it is up to government bodies to implement measures to reduce Canadians' daily sodium intake from 3,400 mg to 2,300 mg.

The 2,300 mg limit is applied automatically by many private entities that use this limit as a guideline. Some industry stakeholders and certain corporations in the food industry know that, although it may not be mandatory, limiting sodium intake is necessary to maintain balance and a healthy weight. They will automatically use that guideline even though it has not yet been implemented.

Yesterday, I was reading a report by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association that mentioned these voluntary measures taken by certain industries, retailers and restaurant owners.

I submit this respectfully.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

May 3rd, 2013 / 2:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today at the end of the second hour of debate on Bill C-460 to have the last five minutes to respond to the debate.

First, I would like to thank all of the members on all sides of the House who have participated in this debate. Many members have participated with great passion and vigour, and certainly the issue before us is a very important one. In fact, I would argue that this is probably the most critical public issue that is facing us today.

It is very interesting to note that there has been an incredible amount of media attention on the need for sodium reduction. There are major articles in the press every day. It is something that is of great concern to many people in Canada.

I am looking at a recent article in The Globe and Mail, which says, “Health Canada's voluntary, unsupervised guidelines for the food industry aren't adequate to the task, say health experts and advocates”.

The article quotes Kevin Willis, the director of partnerships at the Canadian Stroke Network, who said:

We don't have data available in a transparent way that we can monitor that these changes are actually occurring. Government could require companies to make that information available so it can be verified. It's all part of the transparent monitoring process.

I have to say that in the development of this bill there has been an incredible amount of support across the country, and some of the organizations have been mentioned here in the debate today. I particularly want to thank Dr. Norm Campbell, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada CIHR chair in hypertension prevention and control, and Bill Jeffery, national coordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. These two individuals have been just incredible, both here on the Hill and in providing information, education and awareness. I think they have spoken volumes about the critical need to have this bill move forward at second reading.

I have listened to the arguments from the Conservative members, and I want to reiterate that this is actually a very straightforward bill. Again, this bill would implement the sodium reduction strategy that was developed not by me or by any member in this House, but by an expert working group in 2010. The purpose of this bill is to make sure that the guidelines and strategy that were devised are actually followed through.

As we have heard from many members in this House, the non-action, the pathetic lack of leadership from the government on the sodium reduction strategy and its disbanding of the sodium working group have really been quite shocking. As many people I have spoken to in the community and some organizations have told me, at one point Canada was the leader in the world, and other countries looked to Canada to take leadership. However, that situation has now been completely reversed. We are so far behind on this issue and on many other public health issues that it really is very disturbing.

In arguments we have heard today, in fact, we have heard members who wanted to ridicule the bill and make fun of it and come up with jokes. That was very perplexing. It makes me wonder if they know of the major organizations in support of this bill. They have done the research, they are the experts, and they believe this bill is sound. Do the Conservatives not understand that the Canadian public want to see the Canadian government take leadership?

Some members referred to a survey that was done. A very recent survey was done by the University of Toronto in March of this year. It tells us that 78% of Canadians support setting maximum sodium levels in food sold in grocery stores and that 76% agreed that warning labels and statements should be displayed so that people have the information they need.

I want to end by saying that other countries are doing what needs to be done. Recently South Africa announced that it is now going to require regulations for sodium reduction that have to be met by June 2016. Many other countries have taken much more significant action than Canada has.

At the end of the day, I think we have to ask ourselves a question: are we committed to the health of Canadians and to preventing the deaths that are now taking place? Will we ensure the health of Canadians in the future? If so, then this bill is one concrete measure that would allow that to happen.

I urge all members of the House to read the bill properly, to look at who is supporting it and to support it at second reading so that we can look at it in committee, where we can address any issues or concerns that may exist. I urge members to vote to support the bill in principle.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-460, An Act respecting the implementation of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to begin the debate at second reading on Bill C-460, a sodium reduction bill for Canada.

I know that when we choose our private members' bills a lot of thought goes into it because we basically get one shot at it. I did put a lot of thought into what I would bring forward for my private member's bill. As the health critic for the official opposition for the NDP, I tried to think of a measure that would have a very significant impact in improving the health of Canadians.

After looking at a whole number of issues and talking with a lot of people, I decided that this was probably one of the single most important issues that could be brought forward because of the over-consumption of sodium in all of our diets. I selected the bill because there has already been an incredible amount of work done on a sodium reduction plan for Canada. The provinces and territories and experts have basically come together and said that we absolutely have to do something in terms of reducing the amount of sodium that Canadian ingest. That is why I brought forward the bill.

Over-consumption of sodium is a major contributor to heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses in Canada. In fact, StatsCan estimates that Canadians currently consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is more than double the recommended intake of 1,500 milligrams. It is estimated that 77% of the sodium consumed by Canadians comes from prepackaged food.

Anyone of us could go into a grocery store and see Canadians poring over labels and trying to figure out what it is that they are eating. People do want to make healthy choices, but the way things are constructed now and the amount of sodium that is in the food that we are eating is really quite astronomical.

The bill seeks to reduce sodium levels in the food supply by implementing the sodium reduction strategy for Canada. This is not a strategy that I came up with, it is a strategy that already exists. It was developed by the expert sodium working group in 2010. It was a group that was set up by the minister. Their report was released in 2010, but it has not yet been implemented by the federal government.

The core of my bill is to implement that strategy. The bill also prioritizes a number of areas where work needs to be done by ensuring that the amount of sodium in prepackaged and restaurant foods is reduced to safe levels. It will improve the labelling of sodium on foods. It will help protect children from being deceived by advertisements for high-sodium foods. Here I want to use Quebec as a model. Quebec has a very successful program around advertising as it affects children. This is a model that we should be using in all of Canada to protect children from the junk food and high-sodium content that they are ingesting without even knowing it.

The bill would establish the Government of Canada as the leader in monitoring and ensuring progress is being made by food companies to achieve sodium reduction plans. All the details about how this will be done are in the bill. It is very clearly laid out. As I say, the core of the bill is to implement the strategy, which already exists from 2010.

In developing the bill, I had tremendous support from across the country. I have been working with different organizations on the bill. I just want to quote from some of them.

Bill Jeffery, national coordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, has done incredible work on this issue over many years. In fact, he was a member of the sodium working group. In his press conference yesterday, he pointed out that this year as many as 16,000 Canadians will die needlessly of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes caused by excess dietary sodium, three-quarters of which is added to foods by food manufacturers and restaurants.

As well, the Canadian Medical Association and its president, Dr. Anna Reid, said:

Canadians consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, well above recommended levels. High sodium levels in food are responsible for almost one-third of hypertension cases in Canada. Hypertension is a major cause of heart disease (heart attack and heart failure), stroke and kidney failure, and it is an important contributor to premature death, disability and health care costs in Canada. It is estimated that 7.5 million Canadians have been diagnosed with this chronic condition, with an estimated 1,100 new patients being added every day.

It goes on to say:

The Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act is an important piece of legislation that can lead to healthier lives for all Canadians, and we urge all Members of Parliament to support it.

One of the main advocates of action in this strategy for Canada has been Dr. Norm Campbell who is the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Canadian Institutes for Health Research chair in hypertension and prevention and control. He is from the University of Calgary.

In his letter, he says:

The bill provides concrete measures for reducing the amount of salt food processors add to food. The measures proposed in the Bill include close government monitoring and oversight and mandatory labelling of foods that fail to comply with sodium targets. If passed, Bill C-460 will for the first time provide Canadians an opportunity to even know if they are even making a healthy or unhealthy food choice.

He goes on at length about what is in the bill, but that is a particularly pertinent comment.

I also point out the breadth and depth of the work that has been done on this issue of sodium reduction. Some members in the House may remember that a year ago we all received a letter that was addressed to the Prime Minister and was signed by 17 major organizations across Canada, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Medical Association. That letter was a real convergence of medical and scientific individuals, experts and organizations who came together with a very significant letter to the Prime Minister. In their letter of January 2012, they said:

—we are concerned that recent federal decisions not to endorse the federal, provincial and territorial sodium implementation report, presented at the November 2011 Health Ministers Summit meeting, will be seen as a signal to the food processing industry and food service establishments that our national government is not serious about the need to commit to the 2016, as well as interim, targets. The argument that the sodium implementation plan would fail to garner commitment from industry sends the clear message to Canadians that private interest takes precedence over food safety and [the] health and wellness [of Canadians]...

This was a very thoughtful and well-worded message to the Prime Minister.

In addition, since we have been developing this bill and it was introduced a number of months ago, we now have close to 40 organizations and key experts across the country who are supporting it. They include: the Canadian Medical Association; the Canadian Public Health Association; the Dietitians of Canada; the Canadian Nurses' Association; the Canadian Pharmacists Association; Public Health Physicians of Canada; Canadian Federation of Nurses Union; Hypertension Canada; the Kidney Foundation of Canada; Food Secure Canada; Canadian Institute for Child Health; Canadian Society of Internal Medicine; the Canadian Women's Health Network.

I have just read a very few of the endorsers. These are organizations, and also a number of individuals, that have specifically endorsed this bill.

I am very interested to hear the comments of government members and of other opposition members. Rarely, in public discourse, is there a time when a number of different interests come together where there is a very strong consensus and that is what we have seen on sodium reduction. Let us remember that there was an expert working group put together by the Minister of Health. It produced a report by consensus. It was a unanimous report. It included industry representatives. That report came out and there was no follow-up from the government.

In addition to that, the provinces and the territories, in their own meetings, have considered this issue. They too have called on the federal government to take action on implementing a sodium reduction strategy.

We see the body and the weight of all of these organizations across the country. It seems to me that we are at a particular time where there is a very broad consensus about the need to take serious action and to show we do put public health and public interests as the top priority. If this plan were implemented, there have been estimates that we could save something like $2 billion a year in health costs.

I am also concerned about the kids. We think about our kids and what they eat. I know many us here are parents who have young children and we do the best we can to make sure our children eat well; yet, it is so difficult to do with the array of products that are around us.

When we think about the health of our children as they grow into adults, sodium is not the only issue. There are many factors to a healthy lifestyle. There are things we can do ourselves, and that is certainly something that is part of the bill, by advocating for education and proper information and disclosure. However, it seems to me that the need to ensure there is a sodium reduction plan that is real, meaningful and takes proper steps is absolutely essential.

Many other countries have done this. The World Health Organization lists it as a priority. The sticking point is probably going to be whether it is voluntary or whether there is a plan that has clear target reductions, as my bill would lay out.

We have had a voluntary regime and opportunity now for many years, and frankly it has failed. It is now imperative that we see this as a public health issue that impacts all of Canada and all Canadians. The federal government must demonstrate its leadership and commitment to follow through on the incredible body of work and the plan being produced. That is a duty. It is a public responsibility, and anything less than that is a cop-out.

I want to argue today that continuing on some kind of voluntary path has not produced the results we need to see. The bill would move us in a direction to adopt the plan that was agreed to by the expert sodium working group. It is a reasonable proposition. The steps contained within it are reasonable, and I think it is achievable.

I would encourage all members of the House to not dismiss the bill because it has come from the opposition, but to look at the merits of the bill and who supports the bill. These organizations are non-partisan. They base their decisions on merit. They base their decisions about what they do on evidence, on medical information. When they say they are supporting the bill, maybe they do not agree with everything, every word—if it goes to committee, we will take a look at that—but the principle of the bill and what it is trying to do is there, and it is showing it has very broad support.

I am happy we are having this debate, and I look forward to the debate. I certainly encourage all members of the House, from all sides, to look at the bill in all seriousness. I want members to consider what we are here for and what we do to uphold public health, the public interest, to represent our constituents, and most of all, the future generation of kids, who we want to make sure have the best opportunity to grow up healthy in this wonderful country.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for bringing this issue forward. Earlier I noticed a salt shaker on the member's desk, and this addresses the major problem with the bill. It addresses processed foods. The NDP could spend millions of dollars on a sodium registry, but Canadians who want choice can still pick up that salt shaker and put salt on their food. That is why our voluntary approach is better, especially with the education and collaboration, and it is working.

My question is quite straightforward. In the member's bill, Quebec can opt out. I want to ask why. Would this not create a two-tiered sodium system and give Quebec a monopoly on certain products? For Canadians who want choice, especially around Super Bowl, I would not want to see Canadians smuggling potato chips and cheeses across the Quebec border.

I would like the member to address why one province gets treated differently than other provinces.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, actually, this bill is about choice. It is not about banning any foods. It is about proper disclosure of information and allowing Canadians to make healthy choices about what they are eating and to make sure that the industry is very clear about what it is doing.

I am very surprised that the only thing the member can come up with in the bill is this issue about Quebec. We could get into a great discussion now about Canadian federalism, but I think he is aware that a number of bills that come forward in the House are very respectful of Quebec and its role in Confederation. The fact is that a number of bills have this clause to respect the jurisdiction of Quebec.

This is not about creating two tiers but a pan-Canadian strategy working within federalism, a strategy that the NDP has laid out on so many occasions. We have put forward many bills, whether on child care, post secondary education, housing, and now the sodium reduction bill, recognizing how we work as a federation in this country and with Quebec. This bill simply reflects that very strong principle that we have always put forward.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, from my reading of this, it is make-sense bill. If we give consumers more information about what they eat, they get healthier.

We know that heart disease is one of the number one killers, if not the number one killer, in Canada. Sodium consumption is one of the major contributors. Therefore, it surprises me to hear any resistance from the Conservative benches to this idea. It seems that increasing choice for Canadians just makes sense.

What are the expected impacts on the health of Canadians from divulging this information? Would my hon. colleague have any comments on that?

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the impact, first and foremost, is that Canadians would have a lot more information about what they are eating, whether their purchases in grocery stores or meals in restaurants. To me, that is very important.

Part of the issue here is to track what is happening with sodium reduction and to make sure that is fully disclosed. I think that more and more people are very interested in what is going on. People do take their own health very seriously. Therefore, within the bill, some of the impacts would certainly be better education and better information.

At the end of the day it is about meeting the targets that have already been laid out in guidelines from Health Canada but are simply not being met. That is the irony of the bill. It is all there. The work has been done and all been laid out, but it is actually not being implemented. It is not that I am creating anything new with this bill but implementing what we already know and what needs to be done.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I think everyone in this House can agree that sodium reduction is an important goal when it comes to the health of Canadians. The Government of Canada is committed to helping Canadians move toward healthier diets. We do this in many ways, one of the most notable being Canada's food guide.

When it comes to sodium, our government has already taken meaningful action and this approach is working. That is why I will not be supporting Bill C-460.

For a bit of background, the government established a sodium working group in 2007, which included representatives from food manufacturing and food service industry groups, health-focused non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, consumer advocacy groups, health professional organizations and government. The working group produced the report, “Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada”.

The report recommended that the government adopt a voluntary approach to reduce the average amount of sodium that Canadians consume from 3,400 milligrams per day to 2,300 milligrams per day by 2016. It was also recommended that the approach engage different kinds of stakeholders, including the food industry, provincial and territorial governments and Canadians themselves.

Let us be clear: our government is totally willing to co-operate with our partners in order to achieve that goal. Our government has already begun implementing a voluntary system meant to reduce the average amount of sodium that Canadians should consume.

Our approach is based on three main pillars: increasing awareness and educating Canadians; guiding the industry towards reducing the amount of sodium in processed foods; and research.

I will discuss our government's approach in more detail a little later.

Bill C-460 references the sodium working group's report but proposes a much more heavy-handed approach. Instead of a voluntary approach, the bill calls for new legislative and regulatory measures to implement the sodium reduction strategy for Canada. Sodium levels in foods would be heavily regulated and industry would be required to report the sodium content in prepackaged food so that a public registry of this information could be established and maintained.

There are several problems with the bill. There would be financial costs to taxpayers, industry and Canadians. There may also be unintended risks to food safety and health. We would also lose the current balance that has been struck between the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders. Finally, the measures proposed in this bill could not feasibly be regulated or enforced. Let me examine each of these issues in more detail.

First, the cost to taxpayers to implement these measures would not be insignificant. New resources and regulations would be required to develop, implement and maintain a public registry for well over 100,000 products sold domestically. It is also not clear how this registry would be used. Foods that are low in sodium are not necessarily healthy foods. We would not want Canadians to think that any food that the registry says is low in sodium is healthy. Additional resources would also be required for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for compliance and enforcement activities.

There would also be a significant burden to industry, the costs of which would likely be passed on to Canadians. Adopting this bill would take money out of the pockets of small businesses across the country and add layers of red tape. This would not be a good approach to take, especially during a time when the economy remains fragile.

The costs of implementing this bill go beyond financial impacts. Let me address two of the key health and safety risks that implementing this bill would pose.

First, the 90-day coming into force period would not afford industry the time needed to extensively reformulate food products. This is a significant oversight, as sodium is not only used for flavouring but also for food preservation and control of pathogens in food. The result could be unintended food safety consequences to Canadians.

Second, the warning statements proposed by the bill may be misleading to Canadians when they are trying to choose healthy foods. Products with no sodium warning statement could be perceived as healthy choices, even though they may not in fact be nutrient-rich foods. Nutrition labelling must cover all the bases if it is to have the desired positive effects.

We already have the nutrition facts table on prepackaged foods that provides information on various nutrients, including the sodium level in a serving of food and the percent daily value. A warning label for sodium alone could divert attention from this valuable tool.

The government wants Canadians to have choices, and to have the information they need to reduce their sodium intake. To achieve that, we need to take more ambitious action than this bill proposes.

In addition to financial costs and potential health risks, the adoption of Bill C-460 would not respect the important balance with stakeholders that has been struck in the work our government is already doing. Sodium reduction is a shared responsibility among the food industry, the Government of Canada, provincial and territorial governments and Canadians themselves. We need to continue with this balanced approach by engaging with all our partners and avoid shifting the majority of the burden onto any one stakeholder.

Finally, I mentioned that one of the problems with this bill is that the measures being proposed could not be feasibly regulated or enforced. Let me explain what I mean.

In seeking to enable industry to provide Canadians with healthier choices, the Government of Canada engaged interested stakeholders to develop guidance to the food industry to reduce sodium in processed foods. This guidance was released less than a year ago. Bill C-460 calls for this guidance to be put into regulation. Not only is that not feasible, but it is unnecessary. In order to understand why this is the case, I will take the House through the core elements of the guidance.

The guidance serves as a guide for the food industry to reduce sodium in its products by outlining sodium level benchmarks for processed food categories. The benchmarks have two components that must work together to be effective, a sales-weighted average and a maximum limit.

The Government of Canada has recognized that reducing sodium levels in the more popular products within the food category, such as bread, would have a greater impact than only targeting those with the high sodium levels. The sales-weighted average does this by taking into account the sales numbers across an entire food category, so that sodium levels would be reduced in products that are the most popular with Canadians. At the same time, the maximum limit targets the products within a food category that might otherwise remain high in sodium, such as salt and vinegar potato chips, to help decrease their sodium levels as well. It is the combination of the sales average and the maximum limit that will effectively reduce sodium content.

In addition, the guidance cannot be put into regulation as it is not possible to enforce an average. Flexibility is needed to help ensure that the sodium in the more popular foods is reduced while still providing Canadians with the food options they expect.

The food industry is an active partner in achieving our collective goal. A regulatory approach is not required.

We can see that there are many concerns with Bill C-460.

The Government of Canada adopted a different approach to reduce the amount of sodium consumed by Canadians. Our approach favours awareness and education, so that Canadians can make informed decisions regarding the food they eat.

In February 2012, the Minister of Health announced $4 million for new activities as part of the healthy eating and awareness initiative. A component of this is a social marketing campaign to raise awareness of healthy eating, including reducing sodium intake. The goal is to both educate and motivate Canadians to make healthy food choices. In addition, the food industry has already demonstrated willingness to put more healthy choices into the Canadian marketplace. As Canadians' demand for lower sodium options grows, industry will respond to that demand. We are also working with industry to collect information. Imposing mandatory reporting is simply unnecessary.

In fact, I am pleased to say that early progress toward the 2016 goal is already evident. The government carried out a small monitoring project to estimate changes in the sodium levels in three food categories that are popular with Canadians: bread, canned soups and cereals. The results of this project indicate that the majority of new products being introduced in these three categories have sodium levels below the 2016 maximum and existing products in these categories have seen reductions that will have them well placed to reach the goal by 2016.

We have already seen the results that the bill says it would achieve. In fact, adopting the bill would jeopardize progress already being made through the current collaborative approaches. The Government of Canada continues to be committed to helping Canadians move toward healthier diets and creating conditions that make healthier choices easier choices. We are already beginning to see positive results. The heavy-handed approach proposed by Bill C-460 is not necessary.

Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2013 / 2 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support Bill C-460 that would implement a sodium strategy that would be clear, concise, accountable, reportable and in fact achieve the goal of reducing sodium intake among Canadians.

Why do we need this bill? Personally, I do not think we would have needed a bill like this if the government had been doing the work it was supposed to do. The Government of Canada has a responsibility, through the Minister of Health, to protect the health of Canadians and to prevent disease where possible. That is the clear mandate of the Minister of Health and the federal government.

As we heard from the hon. member who introduced the bill, high sodium intake creates hypertension or high blood pressure, as it is called, and heart disease and strokes. We know these have caused some of the highest numbers of deaths and disease in this country and cost a huge amount of money.

I noted that my colleague across the way, the hon. parliamentary secretary, talked about costs. The cost to the health care system from hypertension, stroke and heart disease is actually inestimable when one compares it to what it would cost to implement this bill.

In 2007 the government, under the then health minister, set up a sodium working group to look at the issue of the amount of sodium Canadians were taking. The group heard it was three times the amount that Canadians should be taking to keep them healthy and that it should do something about that. That was what the Minister of Health and the government did in 2007.

The sodium working group was set up, and in the interim the then Minister of Health suggested that there would be some voluntary guidelines put in place by industry to bring down the amount of sodium. Why industry? It is because the government cannot come into my kitchen and tell me how much salt I can put in my food. We know that 77% of high sodium intake in this country comes from processed foods. The Minister of Health said that the government would ask processed food manufacturers, the food industry and certain restaurants to look at this and voluntary diminish it until they heard from the working group.

The working group did that, coming down with its report in 2010, three years later. The working group decided it wanted bring down the current sodium intake by Canadians. It was already clearly defined by the working group that by 2016, 95% of Canadians would actually reduce their very high level of sodium consumption and have a set level of sodium.

In the working group there were the food industry, academics and health care professionals. It is most important to note that there were two levels of government at the table. There were federal and provincial governments. They all had a role to play. The only government that had a role to play in ensuring that regulations were put in place to decrease the amount of sodium was the federal government. The provinces were there at the table because they have to take on the high cost of health care when people get sick, so they have a vested interest in this. Only the federal government could have done the job.

That is why I said that this bill should not have been necessary. In 2010, when the report came down, it was found that the work in the interim that was being voluntarily undertaken by industry to bring down sodium levels was not working. Nothing was happening. In 2010, all of the people and groups within the sodium working group, including health care professionals and the provinces, looked to the federal government and suggested getting an implementation strategy moving.

Nothing happened. In fact, the current Minister of Health moved very swiftly to disband the group so that nothing could happen, so that no follow up could be done. I do not even understand why a minister of health would do that.

This is not new. Members have seen the same Minister of Health and same government, who have a mandate to protect Canadians' health and decrease the amount of disease in Canada where possible, fail abysmally on the sodium strategy. They have done nothing, except to say they will educate people.

That is good, but education is only one part of any kind of strategy to bring about a decrease in certain risky health behaviours. We all know that. We have seen that with tobacco and with practically every other thing that used to cause death a long time ago and now has changed. There is evidence that tells us that this is how things work.

The minister has had a result from the sodium working group. She has had reports from her own health department. Provinces and territories have asked her to do something about this because voluntary initiatives are not working. The minister disbanded the working group and has done absolutely nothing. This is now five years later. This is 2013. Nothing has happened. Imagine how many people continue to increase their intake of salt and continue to be at risk and get hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Obviously this does not seem to matter.

I heard the parliamentary secretary say that it is totally useless to regulate. One of the tools the government has is regulation. Governments exist for that. They do not exist to tell me how much salt to put in my pot. Governments can educate me but they have the duty and the responsibility to regulate foods for Canadians' safety, to regulate the content of harmful ingredients in any food. Governments around the world have been doing this for years.

Let me tell members what some governments are doing. The United Kingdom has a food standards association that holds the government's feet to the fire as it has now put in regulations to reduce salt consumption by adults. Finland has taken legislative action and is a world leader in population-wide salt reduction primarily through punitive high salt labelling. It punishes industry that goes above the levels. Then there is Ireland, which does not punish but rewards industry. It uses a positive reinforcement methodology where it legislates and regulates and then it advertises those companies that meet the standards. Ireland has used one tact and Finland is using another. At the end of the day, governments are using their legislative authority and their regulatory authority to change the salt content in food.

In Canada we have a medicare system where we pay for everyone's illness and disease when they get sick and they need medically necessary care. The cost to the system will be extraordinary if we do not take steps to do this.

Once again, I do not understand why the government has not done it with sodium. I do not understand why it has not done it with trans fats. The government has had every single advisory group, including the health department, tell it that it must regulate trans fats in processed foods. It has not done it.

Then we have the issue of energy drinks. The president of the United States has taken this on as a personal agenda, to look at what that country can do to regulate or legislate energy drinks. Canadians have died from drinking energy drinks. The minister moved to do one thing. She said the allowable amount of caffeine in energy drinks will be dropped to a certain level, but the point is that even that level is unacceptable. All people asked for was for them to be sold behind the counter in pharmacies, but that is too much for the government to do.

Obviously the government and the minister seem to favour not getting industry angry at them. If the Minister of Industry was doing that I would understand. That is his mandate. The Minister of Health's mandate has nothing to do with industry. The Minister of Health's mandate is to protect Canadians and prevent disease. Why has she not done anything about it? Now the hon. member for Vancouver East has to bring forward a bill to tell the government it must do what it is supposed to do.

The working group talked about governments working collaboratively with health professionals, academia, industry and provincial governments to bring about a strategy. Provincial governments are waiting. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen.

The hon. member has brought forward a bill. I support the bill but nothing is going to come of it. We have a majority government that could and should have the political will to do what it must to help Canadians with their health, to help them prevent disease, to help protect them from illnesses, but that is not happening. I support the bill but I do not think it will get anywhere, and that is a very sad indictment of the Conservative government.