Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in debate on Bill C-420.
Just as an aside before I begin my remarks on the bill, members may be aware that for years I fought for the votability of private members' business. I must say that the quality of debate now is at a much higher level than it used to be years ago.
It is very interesting to listen to the different points of view. The two speakers I have listened to today have me almost convinced. I am hoping that all members of the House of Commons are listening to this debate, because we have to vote on these bills now. I think some very good legislation is proposed here, legislation that we should take note of. I say that as a prelude to commenting on this bill.
This is really a very important bill. Many of us are very busy, but we should take note of what is happening here today because this bill would provide a viable choice for Canadians who find natural health products helpful. There are many in my constituency and across Canada who use natural health products and find them useful and helpful in maintaining health.
Many Canadians are upset that, for reasons they feel are inadequate, the bureaucrats and the politicians are excessively regulating products they find helpful. I stand here today and agree with those Canadians who do not like the excessive regulation that is taking place.
We spend a lot of money treating illnesses in our health care system, yet when there is an opportunity to prevent health problems and reduce costs, we throw roadblocks in the way. That is not acceptable.
People have been using many of these health products throughout human history. Often they are simply the packaging of herbs or other natural substances found in nature.
Bill C-420 should be supported by members on both sides of Parliament because it would advance effectiveness and cost effectiveness of personal health care and, in the end, improve the personal health of Canadians.
Even if members do not believe that we should allow our citizens to have a choice in personal health care, members should support what we are doing. It would bring down the costs. In effect, if we do not support this bill we could be forcing Canadians to use a health care system they would rather avoid.
I was a grower of echinacea. Echinacea is a natural prairie flower called the purple coneflower. It has helped boost the immune systems of many people. It reduces the length and seriousness of illnesses.
It is not possible to patent this herb. Why then does it have to be treated as a drug? Yes, it could be regulated to ensure its purity, but it should be treated more like a food than a drug. That is what Bill C-420 tries to do. To treat it as a drug makes it harder for ordinary people to obtain. It drives up the cost. Those on low or fixed incomes have a more difficult time because it becomes too expensive.
In 1988, the parliamentary health committee, with members from all parties supporting it, put out a report with 53 recommendations. The government accepted all of them. Included was a recommendation that the Food and Drugs Act include natural health products and that the companies be allowed to make health claims.
A team of 17 experts was then assembled to take the committee's work, expand on it and clarify it where necessary. That was the mandate they were given, but let us look at what happened.
In 2001 the government ignored the committee's recommendations, treating natural health products as pharmaceutical drugs with all kinds of hoops and hurdles for natural health products to jump through and over before they could get the approval, just like drugs. That, we know, can take years. For the companies or the people who put out these products, this make them more expensive in the end, and we have improved virtually nothing by doing this.
Canadians rightfully were upset when this happened. The result was that many of the most effective natural health products were removed from the market and were not available to Canadians to improve their health. This urgent situation needs to be corrected.
We should support Bill C-420 and send it to committee to be dealt with as soon as possible. Bill C-420 would treat herbs, dietary supplements and other natural health products as a food rather than have them fall under the definition of a drug or we could create some amendments to have a separate category.
Lest members think there are no regulations that food producers have to comply with, let me give an example of some of the safeguards. I am quoting from our food regulatory system:
- No person shall sell an article of food that
(a) has in or on it any poisonous or harmful substance;
(b) is unfit for human consumption
(c) consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed or diseased animal or vegetable substance;
(d) is adulterated; or
(e) was manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged or stored under unsanitary conditions...
- (1) No person shall label, package, treat, process, sell or advertise any food in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety.
We obviously have controls already. It is not like we are asking that everything be thrown wide open so that there is no control over what people buy.
Let me give an example of another terrible thing that has happened. This is something that all members here should note. A vitamin-mineral product was developed in Canada that was having a phenomenal effect on people with a mental disorder called bipolar disorder. The results were published in reputable, peer reviewed scientific journals. Health Canada moved in, however, took the success of this natural product as a violation of the law it created. There was absolutely no evidence that the product was harming anyone.
In July 2003 Health Canada shut down everything. It blocked all access to this natural health product. How many people today are suffering because of this act? Health Canada went in just like the KGB, raided offices, confiscated computers, et cetera. Health Canada told the users of this natural health product to go back on expensive drugs that did not work effectively for them.
This was a low cost solution and is a solution that could relieve great human suffering, yet it was denied to many Canadians. This is just one example of where the rubber hits the road on how harmful our present situation is with the way natural health products are treated.
Bill C-420 can put the brakes on a bureaucracy that is out of control. We need to restore the freedom of choice. It is not like there are no controls if we put it back into the category of food or some separate grouping, as I explained earlier. The Department of Health that should be trying to improve the health of Canadians is doing the opposite.
In conclusion, I appeal to all members of the House to support Bill C-420 because it is designed to do something about a department that does not have as its primary interest the health of Canadians when it comes to the use of natural health products. I have had experience with it. I know of what I speak and I hope all members will take note of this, approve the bill, and send it to committee.