An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Tom Wappel  Liberal

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

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 20, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)

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.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of my constituents, many of whom are restaurateurs, to speak to Bill C-398. Many have said that the objectives of the bill are worthy. I would tend to agree.

As a veteran of the battle of the bulge myself, I appreciate restaurants that provide nutritional information so that I can make more healthy choices when I dine out, which is very frequently given our job. Many of us are veteran customers and consumers of restaurant and food services. I certainly am and I resemble that remark as well.

I believe that there is a good and worthwhile intent for restaurateurs to provide more complete information. The fact of the matter is that it is already happening. One can go down Bank Street to the local Subway franchise and get a brochure filled with nutritional information on the various choices that it offers.

However, it is information that is provided in a way that is plausible for that company. The problem with the bill, as with all similar efforts to impose massive government regulation on a free market economy, is that it would have enormous unintended consequences, and huge additional costs that would be borne by entrepreneurs and ultimately consumers.

My colleague across has pointed out that the food and restaurant business in Canada is one of the largest and most dynamic employers in the country now employing over a million Canadians. Thousands of Canadians have invested their life savings in starting restaurants that have become successful, growing them into chains and becoming franchises.

These are business people who have created wealth, jobs and opportunity for millions of young Canadians, particularly, to get their first rung up the labour market ladder in their work experience for their entire careers. This is an industry which we must support and not burden through unnecessary regulation, the likes of which is contemplated in the bill.

The cost of performing a full nutritional analysis of a menu item could be up to $500 for one item. Restaurants offer dozens of choices and all would have to be outsourced to a lab for testing and analysis. This would present an immediate cost to all restaurants of tens of thousands of dollars.

Furthermore, every time a new special comes in, it would need to be analyzed if an ingredient were switched. A new analysis would need to be performed. This burden would quickly become unbearable for restaurant and franchise owners across the country.

There are other costs as well that are implicit in the bill. Consider the cost of reprinting menus with the specified nutritional information. Adding in the required details to the existing menus would result in doubling their size. This could cost thousands of dollars, not to mention the additional cost of reprinting if an ingredient is substituted or a recipe modified.

Large restaurant chains would be forced to manufacture new and bigger menu boards that include calorie counts. This would be an investment for each outlet of tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The return on this investment of course would be zero. Presumably, the nutrition police would stop the harassment, but there is no other tangible benefit for the restaurant.

The restaurant owners are already in a tough marketplace. Why would we want to burden them with this ridiculous extra cost?

The effects of the bill on the food services industry would be detrimental to consumers. Instead of providing them with extra helpful information, Bill C-398 would only serve to limit the choices available to consumers. Daily specials would be too costly for restaurants to introduce. Restaurant owners and managers would have to think twice before adding to the menu. Substitutions and combos would be a huge headache for both the consumers and restaurant staff. Overall, would consumers really benefit from this legislation? I doubt it.

Besides being inefficient, the bill is also inequitable. The regulations imposed by the bill apply only to restaurants with over $10 million in annual revenues. This unfairly discriminates against the owners of franchise restaurants that have branches all over the country. The bill penalizes one group of business people over another without any justification. It picks winners and losers and the government should not do that.

Even if we ignore all the flaws that I have mentioned, the bill is completely unworkable and impossible to implement. Let us think about the regulations for just a second. The bill would force restaurants to list the number of calories in a menu item next to its price on the menu board.

Consider for example a pizza store. Hon. members should imagine they would like to order a medium pizza, but first they have to choose their toppings. Would they like mushrooms, green peppers, onions, double cheese, or tomatoes? The combinations are endless.

Using simple mathematics it is possible to calculate that the number of different possible combinations for Pizza Pizza, for example, which carries 28 different toppings, would mean 268,435,455 different options for pizza toppings. Can hon. members imagine a menu board with 268 million entries? That is ridiculous.

A simple sandwich store with five possible toppings would imply 120 combinations which would require specific posted information. A Subway store with 10 toppings has 3.628 million possible total combinations. That is why the bill is not workable.

If we go down to the local Subway store, it will give us information that is practical and responds to the market demand in an efficient way. It provides the information with a market advantage over its competitors who are not providing that basic information. However, if we pass this law, we will require them to post 3.6 million caloric entries on a menu board.

This is not just a problem for pizza stores. It is a problem for fast food outlets and for virtually every kind of food service. I would urge all of my colleagues to vote against this ill-conceived bill. The economic effects would be far reaching and there is really no discernible benefit.

I would like to second the view of my colleague. I received dozens of letters from restaurateurs across the country who were very concerned about the bill.

For example, Jean-Pierre Léger, president of St. Hubert Bar-BQ, a Quebec restaurant chain, wrote:

We feel that Bill C-398 is neither realistic nor applicable to the food service industry, and would not help educate the consumer about better food choices.

Stéphane Breault, president of the Van Houtte cafe-bistro division, in Quebec, wrote:

Promoting healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle is a big job. Choices have to be made, but one has to count on the consumer's ability to decide what he or she wants to eat. As restaurateurs, we have to adjust to changes when they originate with the customer. Our survival depends on it.

Patty Jameson, vice-president of Tim Hortons, wrote:

We are also concerned about the inequities apparent in this bill. Our store owners are independent franchised operators who have put their life savings into their Tim Hortons operations, the same as most “Mom & Pop” type operators do. This bill would create an uneven playing field by dictating that our store owners comply with these regulations, while at the same time exempting the “Mom & Pop” operators.

Joan Overin, from ABC Country Restaurants, wrote:

Sure hope the government does not take the heart out of this business by making unreasonable, poorly thought out demands on the restaurant industry. That is what I would call this bill to force some restaurants, (not all) to label the caloric content of their products on menu boards and menus.

Serge Simard of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts wrote:

--introducing such a process would not only be extremely costly, but operationally short of impossible.

I know the sponsor of the bill has been furnished with these and dozens of other letters by the hardworking business people who risk their capital, who work hard to create wealth, and employ hundreds of thousands, over a million Canadians. I wish he would listen to what these people had to say about how the bill is completely unworkable and would take the heart out of businesses of tens of thousands of restaurateurs in this country.

In closing, they need our support through tax relief, lower payroll taxes, and more efficient labour practices. They do not need government imposing yet more burdensome, job killing regulations on a vital Canadian industry.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-398. The first thing I would like to do is congratulate the member for Scarborough Southwest for getting his bill to this stage. I know what it is like. My Bill C-212 on user fees passed on Friday. It took a couple of years and it was a long and bumpy road. I know what he is going through and I congratulate him for taking this initiative.

The bill has some very laudable objectives. For Canadians to understand better what they are eating, what is in the food they are eating is something we should strive for. I think I can support sending the bill to the health committee as subject matter for study, but the problems that I see with the bill are practical in nature. Implementing the bill will cause a lot of difficulties for restaurant owners and I am not sure that at the end of the day Canadian customers will get what they want either.

The food and restaurant industry is a major employer across Canada. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands talked about tens of thousands, but in fact it was a year ago that we reached the over one million threshold of Canadians who work in the food and restaurant industry, many of them young people. Many of them create a lot of economic activity in Canada.

My riding of Etobicoke North is near the airport. It is near the major intersections of the 401 and the 427. There are many restaurants and hotels and they are concerned about this bill.

I would like to read some comments from various restaurateurs who have written to me to highlight some of their concerns. One is the issue around customization. Customization means customers looking at the menu and saying instead of this, they would like that. That creates some very real challenges for restaurateurs.

Mr. Adrian Whitfield of Jack Astor's Bar and Grill in Etobicoke said:

If I have to undertake a detailed analysis of every item on my menu, you will be forcing me to reduce the number of items I carry and to stop customizing meals to meet individual preferences.

I have a letter stating that Pizza Pizza makes its pizzas to the individual specifications of its customers. Variations on a product are endless. For example, a very basic pizza such as pepperoni can be changed as follows: regular crust, thin crust, thick crust, regular sauce, easy on the sauce, extra sauce, regular cheese, extra cheese, double cheese, no cheese, light on the cheese, cheese on one half only, regular pepperoni, double pepperoni, pepperoni on one half only. Some of our customers will enhance their pepperoni pizza with olive oil and oregano. Each of these variations impacts the calorie, salt and fat content. Those are the variations on a single topping pizza. Pizza Pizza states that the average number of toppings is three, so that is a problem it sees with respect to customization.

Here is another concern raised by ABC Country Restaurants, a chain located in British Columbia:

Here is one breakfast selection: bacon and eggs, with toast or pancakes? Will that be multi-grain, white or rye toast? No butter? Strawberry preserves or peanut butter and honey? Pancakes with syrup and butter? Instead of hash browns would you like to substitute fresh fruit? There are five different fresh fruits in our fruit bowl. It changes seasonally. Today we have grapes, bananas, strawberries, pineapple and cantaloupe. Tomorrow it may be honeydew, grapefruit and oranges with bananas and strawberries.

I am getting hungry just talking about it. It goes on, “I forgot to ask about the eggs. Fried, boiled or poached? One egg instead of two? No problem”. These all affect the calorie count and other aspects.

Another letter is from Cara OPerations Limited, a big operation across Canada located in Mississauga. Mr. Barlow, whom I know very well, said:

We serve one million guests per week thru our 350 restaurants utilizing the talents of more than 8000 teammates. Our menu offers many choices from burgers and chicken to salads and soft drinks including milk and fruit-based beverages.

It has Harvey's as part of its operation. It has offered customers all these various side orders. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts also have a problem with the customization. This is the big hotel chain across Canada, and indeed around the world. It wrote:

How often do your customers order off the menu or customize their orders?

In our experience 15% of our clients will order something that is not on our menus, especially with the loyal clientele we have who feel very comfortable ordering whatever they like. For example, salads with the addition of seafood or chicken. Choosing a different style of fish than the menu, herb butter sauce, thermidor glaze, etc. We get requests for vegetarian, no lacto, no garlic, no oils. We also get requests for special meat dishes with additions of salsa or chutneys to replace sauces.

All these changes have an impact on what is disclosed on the menu or the calorie intake of these various factors.

Ho-Lee-Chow, in the Danforth, is a big Chinese food restaurant. Mr. Garner wrote:

We currently have 129 different items on our menu, not counting combos. To add this information for each item would double the size of our menu. As we specialize in home delivery, our menu is also our direct mail vehicle. We produce some four million menus a year and mail them out. The size increase required will significantly increase both production and mailing costs.

That has to do with the size of the menu. That is another issue. The Spectra Group of Great Restaurants said:

All menu items would have to be analyzed by outside labs for accurate nutritional information. We have multiple concepts and each concept would have no fewer than 100 menu items that would need to be analyzed. Most labs now charge anywhere between $600 to $1,000 per item to do a thorough nutritional analysis. Getting set up initially would be an astronomical cost.

The Bay said:

[It would have to] source and hire a qualified professional dietician to analyze approximately 1,200 menu items to start, and on a continuous basis new items.

Van Houtte says:

Not all the information is available, and obtaining it would cost our small and medium businesses a fortune.

St. Hubert also had some concerns.

Jean-Pierre Léger said:

In fact, providing mandatory printed nutrition information is nonsensical in the restaurant business. No restaurateur could bear the costs of it, or the time it would take. There are too many uncontrollable variables.

These are household names. We all know about Dairy Queen as well. Doug White from Dairy Queen wrote:

As a grassroots, community-based company, we help fund many adult and children's recreational programs. We want to be part of the solution and we believe there is a need to create avenues for people to expend energy...Bill C-398 does not address this issue in totality.

Sylvie Paradis, of la Cage aux sports, wrote:

Although I do not have exact figures, the cost would certainly be very high. Outside laboratories would have to be used, as well as specialized consultants. In addition, the time required for this extra task would raise prices considerably.

McDonald's is expressing some concern about space on the menu board, as well as The Keg. These are serious business people employing a lot of Canadians. They are talking about regional differences of supply. How do they deal with that on their unified national menu? New York Fries has some concerns as well as Dixie Lee and White Spot Restaurants. I could go on.

I respect the member's objective here, but there are some very serious practical issues. Perhaps the subject matter can be reviewed at the health committee. It is important for Canadians to know what they are eating, but we have to arrive at a practical solution to this, not put something in place that is going to cost a lot of Canadians their jobs.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-398. I am also pleased that the bill may be going to committee. That is the proper place for the bill to be dealt with.

I must say that I had not really looked at the bill. I do not sit on the health committee. However, as I look at the bill I like what I see. I am pleased that the bill may end up at the health committee and be reported back by the end of September.

As I read the bill, its objectives include the requirement that large chain restaurants, and we are not talking about mom and pop restaurants as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands would have listeners believe, post the number of calories on menu items, together with the saturated and trans fats and sodium contents. In addition, all fresh meat, poultry and seafood would need to be disclosed with full nutritional information. As I further read the bill, it seems to me that with the federal government database available this would be relatively easy for restaurants to include on their menus.

With regard to prepackaged items, multi-ingredient foods would show the percentage by weight of key ingredients, especially with specific relevance to health added items, such as sugars, fruits and vegetables.

A lot of money is being expended in this country, particularly by provinces, to ensure that we have a healthy population. A poor diet contributes significantly to the costs of maintaining good health. The estimates are in the magnitude of $5 billion or $6 billion a year in additional health spending. Unchecked it will result in higher drug costs, higher rates of obesity, diabetes and the like.

The Auditor General has looked at preventive health activities and estimated that, depending on the item, it is somewhere between six and 45 times more effective to deal with health problems before they become problems, to deal with them in a preventive way rather than after the fact. That is why a number of years ago provinces such as Saskatchewan incorporated wellness programs, to try and deal with the rising costs of health care.

Twenty-five thousand deaths annually are related to diet related disease in Canada, including cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes. It is predicted that a new mandatory nutritional label would reduce health care costs and reduce premature deaths and disabilities. That would be a significant return to the economy and that ought to be of concern to members, including the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

I listened with some interest when the member was speaking about going upstairs to the parliamentary restaurant. It is nice that members of the Conservative Party are now taking advantage of the parliamentary restaurant because when they were members of the reform party of course they would not do that. The restaurant does have heart healthy choices, but what does that mean? We do not know what necessarily that entails.

It was interesting for me to read the background material to this bill and to note the difference between the amount of saturated fat in a three ounce top sirloin steak versus a shoulder pork blade steak. The fact is there is four times as much saturated fat in the latter than in the former.

Those are things the average consumer would not be aware of, such as the fact that a small McDonald's milkshake has four times as many calories as a fruit or vegetable shake. These are things that perhaps would make a difference to people when ordering--

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The amendment to Bill C-398 moved by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health is receivable.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.
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Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Gerry Byrne LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to speak to Bill C-398, but first, I would like to speak of the original mover of the bill. I would begin by presenting the truth of his determined resolve. I would like to commend the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest who has shown that he is truly committed to a project and to a cause that he has championed for quite some time, and has shown considerable success.

He has shown a determined resolve to require the nutritional value of food to be clearly stated on packaged foods, and I applaud his efforts to help to ensure that Canadians have the information they need to combat the epidemic of obesity.

I am sure that I am joined by all members of Parliament in applauding the hon. member's desire to work to ensure that a discussion around these important issues take place. It is in this vein that I would now like to offer a consideration of a further opportunity for parliamentarians to participate with the member for Scarborough Southwest in further debate and dialogue on the issue.

I would like to point out that it was indeed the member for Scarborough Southwest's efforts, by the way, that contributed to the new regulations that were published on January 1, 2003, regarding this subject, and I truly congratulate him on that objective and achievement.

I want the House to know that the government shares the hon. member's concern about fair and informative labelling of foods. To ensure that the important issue raised within the bill, including but not limited to the information consumers should receive about food they are eating outside the home, I move, with the full support of the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest, that:

That Bill C-398 be amended by replacing all the words after the word “That” and be substituted with the following:

That Bill C-398, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter of the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Health to report back to the House on or before September 30, 2004.

I ask for the support of the House, with the support of the member for Scarborough Southwest.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

March 30th, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in debate on Bill C-398. This is a bill that we have extreme concerns about. Although what the member has put forward is that he wants mandatory labelling for restaurants, we believe that the bill is impractical. We do not believe it is going to help his cause in any way, shape or form.

We have a number of concerns. Let me outline them. Obviously obesity and inactivity are on the rise and there are concerns. That is what they are talking about when we hear all these studies about our children being at risk. Of course at the same time we are seeing Canadians take more responsibility for their health. They are paying particular attention to the foods they eat. It is widely recognized that there are strategic efforts in health promotion and disease prevention. That is obviously going to pay dividends. I fully support those initiatives.

That being said, I believe that Bill C-398 in many respects is impractical and unnecessary. The bill would require large chain restaurants to post the number of calories of menu items beside the corresponding price on menu boards. Where menus are used, the amounts of saturated trans fats and sodium per serving would be required. We can imagine going into a restaurant and getting a very thin menu and a binder full of information. Every time they changed a menu and every time they had specials, restaurateurs would be required to provide all that information.

I think the restaurant industry has been doing a very noble and responsible job. Even the fast food chains are offering many low calorie alternatives. They are offering healthy choices. I have letters here from some of them. The general manager from Burger King sent me a letter. He says that on a voluntary basis they offer seven different meal packages with under seven grams of fat.

My little guys love going to McDonald's, which now offers a number of salads and healthy alternatives. It offers veggie burgers. A number of voluntary initiatives are being taken by the restaurants. Most of the restaurants I go to offer alternatives that have a heart beside the healthy choice menu item. Restaurants are doing this on a voluntary basis.

I just do not think it is practical to start regulating and creating another level of bureaucracy, and that is aside from the astronomical cost and the regulation of all of this. It would force a lot of owner-operator restaurants right out of business, of course, because they change the menus all the time. It would mean a redesigning of all the menu boards. Again, there are just so many ways in which this is just not going to be possible.

Not only is it impractical, but there is an absolute economical cost to this as well. Of course the implementation of this would mean that every time there was a menu change the new food would have to be sent off to a laboratory for analysis. It can cost up to $150 just to have one single food sample analyzed. Of course as they make new menu items this would all have to be done to be in compliance with the legislation.

In regard to putting on labelling requirements for these restaurants, although the member may have some noble efforts here, I have spoken to hundreds of people from across the country, and I have spoken to members from all five political parties of the House who have raised concerns to me, and I just do not think that this would be a healthy option at this time for the industry. I do not think it is going to address the problems that the member is trying to address. It is not going to address the health conscious. It is not going to address the obesity issues at all.

Therefore, I would urge all government members to vote against this. I have been told that during this debate in this hour there is going to be a motion coming forward for the member to withdraw the bill. In response, he is going to send it off to committee for further study.

I even have issues of concern about sending this off to committee for further study, not to mention that since I have been a member of Parliament we have spent a quarter of a billion dollars on various health care studies. I just do not see any need in this case.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, which represents restaurants across the country by the thousands, has done an enormous job in researching the bill. It did an objective analysis that showed all sides of the debate and has presented that to all members of Parliament. It has done an absolutely outstanding job on the bill.

The short answer is that the bill is ineffective. Absolutely no research has been done to show the impact of the bill. No research has been done to show if labelling would even have any effect on consumer eating habits. This really is unworkable with the complexity of the bill, because every time there would be a menu change or restaurants would have specials of the day, restaurants would be required to send the food out for analysis, of course because it is composed of many different ingredients. There would have to be labelling and all of that.

I think the industry needs to be commended for its voluntary efforts to promote healthy alternatives. I go to the dining room in the Parliament Buildings. There are designated symbols for healthy alternatives on the menu. I can name restaurants in my riding, like the Fireside Grill and other local restaurants. There are all kinds of restaurants in my riding that show healthy alternatives symbols on the menu. People who have concerns about what they are eating usually raise those concerns with the waiter or waitress who is serving them, and they are dealt with in a professional manner.

As for creating another bureaucracy to deal with this and to try to regulate this, I believe we have far too much regulation. The restaurant industry itself has been doing an outstanding job in dealing with this on a voluntary basis. Regulation is absolutely not necessary at this time.

To be perfectly honest, I do not see it at any time and this is an issue that I have looked at extremely closely. Because the bill came forward, I took it upon myself to get actively involved and talk to the restaurateurs about what impacts this would have on them. I was not aware of the efforts they do go through to offer healthy alternatives, from Burger King to McDonald's to A&W and all those fast food chains, which are probably at the top of the hit list for being criticized for unhealthy choices. They have very healthy choices. As I said earlier, Burger King alone offers a number of menu items with a very low calorie content.

I would encourage all members to oppose the bill. I look forward to listening to the comments of members from other parties. The owner-operators, the small businesses and the restaurateurs, these people employ hundreds of thousands of people across the country. We can argue that they are the backbone of the small business economy. There is no question about it; they do contribute so much to the economy. Tying their hands in this way is completely unnecessary. We have to recognize that this industry itself has been a leader. It has been out in front of Parliament on this issue on a voluntary basis and it has done an outstanding job. For us now to try to regulate that would be ill advised. I would strongly urge all members of the House to vote against the bill.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

moved that Bill C-340, an act respecting the use of dairy terms, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased in this final hour of the day to address my private member's bill, a bill that promotes accuracy and honesty in the use of dairy labels and marketing of food products.

Bill C-340, entitled the dairy terms act, would ensure the correct use of dairy terms to protect consumers from being misled and to ensure fair practices in the food trade. The act would establish rules for using dairy terms on food labels and, with some exceptions, would prohibit dairy terms from being used when a food contains no dairy ingredients at all.

That is the concern because we have more sophisticated kinds of processing, substitutes for this, that and the other, vitamins and minerals are added in and a whole plethora of possibilities, and the consuming public is being misled by some of the labelling. Sometimes we have products that have no dairy in them at all and yet they make the pretense of being good dairy products. We take objection to that. This is the very nature of the bill before us now.

I am glad the bill is votable because I know there is cross-party support for this initiative. I have had members from Liberal governing side approach me today, and in recent days, in respect of what they say is their support. We will see at the time of the vote. I assume that will materialize when they stand to vote for this. Then at least it will go to committee for some good discussion and adjusting and tweaking for the good of the consuming public and dairy farmers across the country.

I am optimistic that we have that sense of goodwill across party lines to have this at least move into committee and possibly through the House entirely, for which we would be appreciative.

The bill reflects an important trend today. It is a consumer oriented trend. We are talking about honesty and accuracy in the labelling of food products. We see concerns about accurate labelling of food everywhere today in the matter of genetically modified foods. We have had debate on that and on mandatory labelling of irradiated foods. Some people want labels to accurately distinguish organic foods from non-organic alternatives. Those are all legitimate debates that need to take place. However, this one is much more simple in that we want truth and accuracy in food labelling.

Just last month my colleague, the member for Scarborough Southwest, led off debate on the first hour of a food labelling bill that he introduced, Bill C-398. The bill would expand requirements for nutritional information on food labels.

The bill before us today really concerns the use of dairy terms in the labelling of food items. Specifically, it aims to ban the false or inaccurate labelling of non-diary products with terms traditionally associated with dairy foods. We are talking about the use, and the alleged misuse, of words such as milk, butter, cream and yogurt, when there are none of the constituent ingredients in the product, and people are misled by that.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada, the national association that represents Canada's dairy industry, has been seeking such provisions for several years now. They have tried to prosecute companies that they believe have crossed the line in this area, using what is called Canada's guide to food labelling and advertising. Maybe that is the problem. It is a guide and does not have any real force of law by way of real teeth. They have also tried to use provisions in law to challenge trademark applications. Rarely do they meet with success, and current guidelines seem to be unenforceable.

That is why we need a new law. There is an absence, a vacuum, so we need this law, the dairy terms act, which would be enforceable and would protect consumers and producers alike.

One case that the Dairy Farmers of Canada challenged at the trademark application level was a brand of popcorn called “Gout de Beurre”. Not only was the term butter in the name, but the imaging on the package was of a piece of popcorn slamming down into a slab of what appeared to be butter. The name and the image gave a rather different impression than the reality and the actual facts of the case. Another case involved a product called “Molly McButter”. They attempted to take those cases forward under the registration of trademarks, but they lost in these and other cases.

Interestingly, Canada has backed provisions, such as those found in the bill, on the international stage. The bill is actually intended to bring Canada's domestic policy in line with the commitments that we have made overseas. Canada participates in the process for developing and amending the Codex Alimentarius, the international food code produced by an international body set up through the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

The codex was amended in 1999 to strengthen provisions on dairy labelling, and far from opposing that international move, Canada endorsed the codex general standard for the use of dairy terms. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has not been willing to implement these pro-consumer measures in Canada. It is a question that we are engaged in today and we hope to have the support of the government in respect to this so it can follow through in terms of that particular international commitment and its agreement to these particular measures.

Dairy term regulations do exist at the provincial level, but in the year 2000 a government established working group did recommend deregulation at the provincial level. The working group was set up in September 1999 at the request of the federal/provincial/territorial agri-food inspection committee, which is responsible under the agreement on internal trade. It is supposed to deal with interprovincial technical barriers to trade. The purpose of the working group was to examine the regulatory options available to balance producer protection in the development of new products and the need to protect consumers with accurate labelling and the prevention of practices that could mislead consumers.

This position was based on the idea that sufficient federal controls exist through the Food and Drugs Act, other relevant legislation and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising to prevent fraud and consumer misunderstanding. The Dairy Farmers of Canada's experience trying to combat some questionable labels, however, suggests that stronger federal measures need to be implemented. That is why I have introduced this dairy terms bill. This recommendation to deregulate at the provincial level adds impetus to the need to pass the dairy terms bill as soon as possible.

With that background I now want to discuss some of the specific concerns related to the misuse of dairy terms in the labelling of non-dairy food products.

In many cases consumers looking for a dairy product know it contains good, nutritional dairy calcium and many other minerals and vitamins. However they could unintentionally buy a non-dairy alternative due to the misuse of dairy terms on the label.

On the other hand, there are consumers out there who are lactose intolerant or maybe they cannot have a big amount of dairy products. They might be looking for a non-dairy alternative and they may mistakenly overlook some substitute products when those products are labelled in such a way that suggest at first glance that they contain dairy ingredients.

The greatest concern, of course, is consumers who purchase a non-dairy product thinking that it has dairy ingredients. Young moms going into a shopping centre, assuming that they are buying a healthful dairy product, could be buying a product that has little or no dairy ingredient. Since quality and nutritional value are believed to be leading reasons for the popularity of dairy products, accurate labelling is essential. Misleading labels can have negative health implications for consumers.

Canada's dairy producers spend over $75 million each year on advertising dairy products and promoting the nutritional benefits of dairy foods.

It is kind of hard, Mr. Speaker, to be talking over the noise here. I wonder if my colleagues across the way could kind of shut it down temporarily. I know the member across the way on the Liberal side supports the bill so he will want to give me his rapt attention.

I do not think anybody in the House believes that it is right for the producers of non-dairy products to tale advantage of the marketing of dairy foods with labels that misrepresent the presence of dairy ingredients in their alternative products. Not only does this impact the health of consumers, but it illegitimately takes market share from the dairy industry, taking money out of the pockets of Canada's hard-working dairy producers. It is not right, not honest and not accurate, and there is a moral underlying theme.

When manufacturers of dairy alternatives use dairy images, such as cows or slabs of butter, in the labelling of dairy products, it is quite obvious to me that there was clear intent in likening their products to the original dairy items. Such actions reinforce the claim of dairy products that dairy terms are an important selling feature for foods because of the quality and nutrition that consumers associate with these food products.

It is the evidence of intentional misrepresentation in the use of dairy terms that demonstrates the need for this dairy terms bill. It would protect consumers and it would protect dairy producers from false labelling and marketing. Consumers are entitled to that. I am convinced of that. We need truth in sentencing and we need truth in labelling. Consumers should have the right of a properly informed choice in the matter of dairy products and non-dairy alternatives.

In 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which does not have a vested interest, performed a consumer survey which demonstrated the importance that consumers place on product labels in terms of their expectation of what important ingredients are in the food item. Despite acknowledging these results and offering verbal support for concerns about the reliability of dairy terms in product labels, the government has failed to act, unfortunately.

This proposed dairy terms act, I need to make plain, would not ban all uses of dairy terms. Exceptions are recognized. The main category of exceptions is non-dairy foods that people are sufficiently familiar with due to their historic usage. Let us be clear that the bill would not require the renaming of apple butter. We all know what that is. It is not purporting to be a dairy product. Peanut butter, maple butter, cocoa butter, coconut milk or milk of magnesia are things that do not fool or mislead the public. That is not at all affected or changed by the bill or the effects of the bill.

When people walk into a pharmacy and grab a bottle of milk of magnesia, they are obviously not walking in there for the purpose of pouring it on their children's cereal the next day as they head off to school. There is not a need to make adjustments in respect of these terms where people are long familiar with them through their historic usage.

I hope the proposed dairy terms act, if passed, will be used in a very positive, useful way in the country. It is not intended to be a heavy-handed instrument indiscriminately and blindly used. The intent of the bill is to deter intentional deception in the use of dairy terms for non-dairy products.

The dairy terms bill also provides room for some flexibility with terms such as creamy that could refer to the dairy content of a product or it could be just a reference to the texture. That is well and fine. Also, with many of the names listed as acceptable due to their historical usage, we know that the use of butter in the name refers to the texture of the product and the way that it spreads like butter. These would not be things that are banned. We are not going after that. When it is describing texture, it would be very permissible.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada have noted how some producers seem to design their labels in a way that seems to highlight the dairy term, while making the reference to texture much more obscure. One is hard pressed to think up a reason, other than intentional misrepresentation, for why a label would be designed in such a fashion.

I can speak from personal experience on this. I drink a soy beverage. I enjoy dairy products such as cheese and milk, but I have to be careful not to consume too much of it. I know about this on a personal basis. People use soy products. We call it soy loaf if it is a cheese like product, but it is not cheese. Let us not deceive the public about that. If it is a drink, it is called a soy beverage. This does not have any effect on those as long as there is accuracy in the labelling that way.

As I see my time has run out I will cede the floor to others and perhaps respond to questions in order to shed a little more light on the subject.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2004 / 2:20 p.m.
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Ahuntsic Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege today to speak to Bill C-398. Before I address the bill directly, I would like to commend the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest who has introduced a bill in every Parliament, as he said in his speech, since 1989 that requires the nutritional value of food to be clearly stated on packaged foods. His efforts, by the way, did contribute to new regulations that were published on January 1, 2003. I congratulate him on that.

The member is now asking Parliament to take the next step: consider mandatory labelling of nutritional information for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood; require anyone selling food for immediate consumption to provide information on nutrients and/or calories; require percentage declarations of ingredients highlighted in words or pictures on the front panel of the label; and finally, require that the first three ingredients in the ingredients list be accompanied by a percentage declaration of the amount of the food.

As a mother also, as other hon. members said, yes, I do worry about what my kids are eating at McDonald's. However, I think we all have to go further and beyond that and look at some of the problems with the bill, not that it is not a good bill.

At the outset, I want the House to know that the government shares the hon. member's concern about fair and informative labelling of foods. In fact, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recently conducted public consultations on a proposal to clarify the labelling and advertising of products with highlighted or emphasized ingredients, flavours or sensory characteristics.

To begin, I would like to acknowledge the significant amount of work that has already been done in the area of labelling food and the impact of the legislation on current policy.

On December 12, 2000, nutritional labelling became mandatory in Canada. The new regulations now require a nutrition facts table to appear on most prepackaged food sold in Canada.

The new regulations are the result of four years of work during which we did consumer research, heard from experts, and held broad consultations in the consumer, health, and food industry sectors. An external advisory committee was created to guide Health Canada throughout the process. It was a big undertaking.

The nutrition facts table gives information on calories and 13 key nutrients contained in every serving of food. The comprehensiveness of the information, and the presentation required, makes Canada a leader in nutritional labelling.

The nutrition facts table is an excellent way to inform Canadians about the food they eat. As well as being an effective source of information, the nutritional label helps improve the health and well-being of Canadians.

The food industry had the opportunity to take part in the process, but only saw the final version of the regulations on January 1, 2003. The industry has three years to meet the nutritional labelling requirements, and five years if sales are under a million dollars.

The new regulations represent an enormous challenge for many sectors of the food industry, because certain foods must be tested and new labels must be produced.These sectors need time to adjust. While some can spring into action very quickly to add the nutrition labelling format on their labels, others will need all the time provided under the regulations.

During the consultation process one the new regulations, consumers and dietitians both told Health Canada that the amounts of nutrients on the labels have to be correct. Ensuring that a nutrition label contains valid information requires the testing of many samples of each food over time to take into account factors related to variability, like the time of year, climatic conditions, soils and the feed given to animals.

The data do not exist for all products at this time. Because of the lack of information on nutritional composition, an exemption has been granted in the bill with respect to some food: raw, single ingredient meats that are not ground, meat by products, poultry meats, poultry meat by-products, and raw, single ingredient marine or freshwater animal products.

The industry is willing to produce precise data for nutritional labelling of poultry and seafood, but it must have the time to carry out the necessary analyses. There are many kinds of cuts of meat, and their fat content varies considerably depending on the grade of beef or the fishing season.

If the number of samples is not realistic, it must be examined to obtain uniform and accurate data.

Moreover, Bill C-398 introduces an economic perspective that is absent from the legislation and the criminal law on which the legislation is based. It provides for an exemption from certain requirements, as a function of sales. Such a change clearly establishes a precedent and its impact has not been evaluated.

Bill C-398 also requires the provision of information on the nutritional value of food served in restaurants and other outlets. The restaurant chains and franchises with standard menus, such as McDonald's, can easily provide nutritional information about the food they serve, something they already often provide on request, as does Subway, as other hon. members have already mentioned.

Other restaurants, however, do not have such strict requirements for food preparation. These restaurants often find it difficult, if not impossible, to give precise information about the nutritional value and calorie content of their meals. In such cases, feasibility studies would be required.

Moreover, the bill raises questions of jurisdiction. Restaurants and other service establishments are generally considered to be under provincial jurisdiction. Inspection is a provincial matter and is usually carried out by municipal inspectors. It is impossible to require the disclosure of nutritional information by such establishments without consulting the provinces and territories.

If this bill is passed, it would create new inspection requirements for the provinces—if they agree to do this work—and for federal inspectors if they do not.

My father owned a restaurant in my riding of Ahuntsic for 35 years. I know for a fact that it was the municipal authorities who did the food inspection in the case of my father's restaurant.

I also would like to say, as hon. members on the other side have said, that the restaurant association, with which I have had the opportunity to discuss this bill, and other colleagues have raised certain concerns. I am sure, as the hon. member has said, that maybe those concerns can be discussed in committee, but they are very serious concerns. I encourage the hon. member to perhaps sit one more time with the restaurant association and have another discussion on his bill.

As I stated, the CFIA has recently conducted public consultations on a proposal that would clarify the labelling and advertising of products with highlighted or emphasized ingredients, flavours or sensory characteristics. The object is fair labelling that provides clear and relevant product information for consumers and is not deceptive or misleading.

The government's labelling proposal would be made as regulations in the food and drug regulations, with an interim policy in the guide to food labelling and advertising.

The discussion paper includes a requirement for a percentage declaration for ingredients that have been highlighted on a label, like Bill C-398. However it does not include the requirement for the percentage declaration of the first three ingredients nor other ingredients. As it stands already, prepackaged foods in Canada are required to list ingredients in descending order by weight.

The CFIA's proposal follows the provisions for quantitative labelling of ingredients in the current general standard for the labelling of prepackaged foods established by Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is the international body responsible for establishing food standards. The proposal is similar to the standards established in the regulations of our trading partners, including the U.S.A., the E.U., Australia and New Zealand.

However there are reasons that Codex does not require the percentage of the first three and some other specific ingredients to be listed. One of the reasons is that the formula for these foods is proprietary information. Companies do not want to provide too much proprietary information on product formulas to the public and to competitors.

Because we are running out of time I will end by saying, as one other hon. member said, Canada has to look at the trade barriers that exist in order to qualify because we may have an unjustified trade barrier.

Even though I have quite a few reservations about Bill C-398, I applaud the intentions of the member for Scarborough Southwest to give consumers the information so they can made informed choices. His efforts to have Parliament debate this issue have already been applauded by all members of the House.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2004 / 2 p.m.
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Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-398, introduced by my colleague from Scarborough Southwest. I am speaking for my colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve who, unfortunately, could not be here today. It is a pleasure because I am personally very concerned about foods. I have a family and children, and I closely monitor what they eat.

That said, the Standing Orders were changed to make all private members' bills votable. They can then be referred to committee.

We must give bills the best possible chance to shine and be considered in committee, so they can be amended and improved, or the conclusion simply reached that they are no good. In which case, the bill is sent back to the House and defeated.

Consequently, we must give each bill a chance. It is quite difficult to learn all the details before a bill is scrutinized in committee, before witnesses are asked to make suggestions to improve it and before a final decision is made.

The Bloc Quebecois agrees with the principle of the bill. However, it is clear that if it goes to committee, we will move quite significant amendments. I cannot, perhaps, provide full details, but if I understand correctly, labelling is not a simple matter. We will have to see how to proceed.

We must have this discussion on foods. When this House decided to ask cigarette companies to change their packaging, the industry was in an uproar. These kinds of things always cause uproars.

Obviously, the restaurant and foodservices association will be opposed because its members do not want to spend any money. We will also need to calculate what kind of savings this will mean to health.

Consequently, we need experts to tell the committee how much it will all cost. Then, we will be able to make a final decision. However, if the bill does not have the opportunity to get to that stage, obviously, it will die because a broader discussion will not have taken place.

As regards the labelling of cigarette packages, hon. members may remember the substantive debates and the discussions that took place here in the House. We finally got the message across. Now, the labelling on cigarette packages is much more detailed, and I am convinced that many people stopped smoking for that reason.

Of course, the tobacco industry did not want such labelling, because it is losing money. However, as parliamentarians, we had a responsible decision to make about health and we made that decision.

I think it is pretty well the same thing with the bill before us. We have a duty to act responsibly and to discuss this measure, because this is where we are headed.

I am told that it will be very difficult because, for example, there are all kinds of ways to make a submarine. We must take a very serious look at this issue. I do not think that we want absolutely each and every product to be labelled. There are specific things for which we want labelling, and these will be discussed in committee when we look at the feasibility of this measure.

There are chains of restaurants, such as Subway, that already indicate the fat content of certain ingredients. There are two or three meals on the menu that are really low in calories and fat content. So, this is already being done in some restaurant chains.

Here, we are primarily targeting such chains, because we are talking about businesses that have sales of $10 million. The local food outlet is not affected by this legislation, which is really aimed at large chains such as St-Hubert, Subway, McDonald's and others.

In my opinion, it is very important that we have this debate. We all know how colourful Americans can be, and I say this in all friendship. Not too long ago, I heard about someone in the United States who did a test. He ate at McDonald's for breakfast, lunch and supper for a month. He became seriously ill, so much so that he even developed a psychiatric disease. It is easy to see that we should have a better idea of what we eat.

I personally do not go to McDonald's very often, it not being my favourite meal choice. It is true, however, that from time to time we all go out for a treat like that because we have children, but we do need to know what we are eating, and I think that there has not been enough progress made in this area so far.

We need to have the possibility of progressing further. This bill stirs up debate, although it may not be the ideal bill. Many people will come up with this or that amendment, will want to see indication of fat content, sugar content and so on. We will see how it progresses, however. There will be a discussion in committee, and then decisions will be reached on what we really want to see included in a label.

There is reference to the GMOs. In talking with the public, we come to realize this is a very popular subject. People do want to know. They want to know if they are eating something that has been genetically modified. In my opinion, they are absolutely entitled to know, since they are the ones paying for it.

It is absolutely normal for questions to be raised about this. I would like very much to see this bill examined in committee, the standing health committee in particular. What I want most of all is to see it accorded the necessary importance to be debated.

Even if this bill is not the one that eventually gets passed, we must at least be able to continue addressing the issue so that one day people will really know how many calories are in their food, and whether they are eating genetically modified food. We need to make progress in that direction.

Maybe then the food industry will also be forced to sell us much healthier products. Indeed, food vendors will have no other choice because people will no longer eat just any kind of food; they will want to eat quality products.

That being said, when the time comes to vote, the Bloc Quebecois will support the principle of the bill. I should add that the Association des consommateurs du Québec is also in favour of this bill.

Finally, I want to mention an article that I read in Le Devoir . It was entitled “Junk food just as harmful as nicotine”.

The article says that malnutrition and bad food habits are just as dangerous as cigarettes and nicotine.

We know that cardiovascular diseases are now affecting people at an increasingly younger age. More and more children suffer from obesity. That must change. We must pay more attention to our health. We must see to it that obesity stops being a problem in our children. A lot of children are obese because young people these days are less active and also because they are not careful about what they eat.

We must create a whole new culture. I believe that looking at this bill and its possibilities will help us go forward.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2004 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, to the extent that an individual can do so, my answer is yes, I have thought it through.

The member has raised very good questions, questions that should be put at committee where there is ample opportunity to examine the facts, where there is ample opportunity to talk to the experts, to talk to the people from Health Canada, to talk to the restaurant association, to talk to actuaries and ask the very questions he has asked.

Of course he is using some humour to make his points, perhaps not the funniest humour, but nonetheless he is using it. Why would I suggest that we have bilingual menu boards? The menu boards are already up in his very riding whether it is Edmonton or Calgary, although I know it is Calgary. If he goes into a fast food outlet, the menu board is already there. It already tells him what he can order and the price. I do not know if any of his menu boards have prices in Braille, but I would think not because people would not have the ability to reach above and check the menu board. What is he talking about?

The reality is that cost estimates have been done and I will give him an example. Even if the smallest full service restaurant chain subject to Bill C-398 had to do a full chemical analysis for every menu item at $350 each for a particularly large 100 item menu, and that is a gross exaggeration of most businesses, the total would involve a maximum one time cost of $35,000 or about one-sixth of 1% of sales revenues during the two year grace period for compliance with the bill. That amounts to less than 2¢ for a $10 meal, which is barely noticeable to the consumer.

In the spirit of laissez-faire he asked why we would not leave this up to businesses and let them do what they think is right. We already know government has to lead in many instances. That is why we had to introduce the mandatory nutritional labelling regulations because after years of consumers demanding it, manufacturers did not want to give it. That is why we have to put warning labels on tobacco. That is why we want to get warning labels about what happens to unborn babies when people drink alcohol. The industry does not want those labels. Why? Because that is a false statement? No, because it will affect their sales.

Sometimes government has to take responsibility to help people get the information that they require in order to make a choice. Once they have the information, it is up to them to make the choice as to what they wish to do.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2004 / 1:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not doubt for a moment the good intentions of the member bringing forward Bill C-398. He has raised an important issue about health and its relation to restaurant produced food.

Why is it that the member does not trust consumers to inform themselves? Why does he not believe that if there is sufficient demand for nutritional information, that restauranteurs, as good business people, will provide that information without being dictated to by the Government of Canada? Why does he not allow consumers and people who run these businesses and employ more than one million Canadians to solve the problem in a natural and organic market based way?

Would these boards be required to be posted in both official languages? Is he going to require that they be posted in Braille for the visually impaired in both official languages? Has he made a cost estimate of how much this will be? Has he considered that when a restaurant reaches close to $10 million in sales, the perverse incentive that Bill C-398 would create for people to split the restaurant or to play legal games to avoid the coverage of the bill? Has he really thought through the implications of this?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

moved that Bill C-398, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to have my bill come up this quickly after the House has resumed. What I would like to do today is break my comments down into three categories. First, a little bit of history; second, what my bill would do; and third, address some of the criticisms that some portions of the industry have levelled against the bill.

Before I do that I want to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Bill Jeffery from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest for his hard work in helping me to prepare the bill and some of the arguments that I have put forward in support of the bill. I would also like to thank the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and all the people across Canada who have taken an interest in the bill and have expressed their support for it.

I will now give a little bit of history. In 1993 I began my interest in this subject matter. I introduced a private member's bill to provide for mandatory nutritional labelling on prepackaged foods. That was about 11 years ago. We are still talking about that issue as frequently as question period today about what should or should not be in prepackaged foods and various other aspects.

The point I want to make is that back in 1993, when I brought in the original bill on prepacked foods, the respective industries were against mandatory nutritional labelling, as indeed was Health Canada. They were of the view that voluntary nutritional labelling was the way to go and that the industry would voluntarily provide all the nutritional information necessary for consumers to make an intelligent choice on what they are eating.

As it turns out, of course, it is obvious that in business one emphasizes that which is beneficial to or touting one's product. Businesses do not say some of the things that are not that good about the product which might affect their sales.

Sloughed away with a lot of other people and out of nowhere, in approximately October 2000 the then minister of health reversed the longstanding position of the Department of Health and announced that there would in fact be mandatory nutritional labelling of prepackaged foods in Canada. I am glad to say that will be coming into force over the next year or so, allowing of course a period of time for industry to adjust.

Of course the very same kinds of arguments that were used for seven years about why we should not have mandatory nutritional labelling on prepackaged foods will be used against Bill C-398, and they have just about as must efficacy. In any event, that was a little history.

What is the bill all about? It is an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling). It contains all of three pages, half English and half French. We might as well say it is a page and a half. And it has three main sections. In my view what it is about is the empowerment of consumers. How do we empower consumers?

We have all heard the phrase “knowledge is power”, and that is absolutely true. The more knowledge we provide to consumers the more opportunity consumers have to make more informed and free choices about what they wish to do. In this case it is what foods they wish to eat.

As far as I know, no one who I have spoken to about this issue argues that consumers should not have more and better information about the foods they are eating. If that is the case, if it is not a bad idea to empower consumers, then it must be a good idea or at least a neutral idea. If it is either a good idea or a neutral idea then what is wrong with providing consumers with the information they need to make healthful food choices?

What is this bill not about? In my view the bill is not about harassing the restaurant industry. I love eating in restaurants. I do not want to harass the restaurant industry.

I also do not want to over-regulate any industry. I am a long-time member of the scrutiny of regulations committee, Mr. Speaker, as you know since you were a member of that committee, and we know that over-regulation is the bane of many a government. The issue is the balancing of requiring reluctant organizations to provide information with trying to keep that from being over-regulated. I hope I have struck a reasonable balance in my bill to that effect.

Let me describe the sections of the bill so people listening today understand what it is that I am trying to accomplish. Since we already have mandatory nutritional labelling of most prepackaged foods, what is this bill about? I can divide it into three sections.

Section number one is that some prepackaged foods do not yet have mandatory labelling requirements. One of them is prepackaged meats. The bill contains a section requiring prepacked meats to have a reference amount of serving of the food. For example, it does not matter how much of the prepackaged meat we buy, the label would say “one serving (400 grams equals whatever)”. The consumer would be required to think about how many servings there are in a package, although with prepackaged foods now, quite often the manufacturer will put the number of servings that are in the container or the package. That is up to them.

It would also require the number of calories in that serving and the amount of total fat, saturated fat and trans fat, and I emphasize trans fat only because again that subject came up today in question period, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fibre, sugars, proteins, iron, calcium and vitamin A and vitamin C per reference amounts expressed as a percentage of recommended daily intake. For example, on a package of medium ground hamburger meat it would say that one serving contains X grams of fat which equals approximately 35% of the recommended daily intake and that it contains two grams of trans fat which is two grams more than we should have, or however they want to phrase it. That is what we would see on prepackaged meat.

It does not affect packagers, for example, whose annual revenues are less than $500,000 from the sale of those types of meats. Why would we do that? Because we do not want to over-regulate. We do not want to affect the mom and pop operations, or the small business operation, or the local Chinese restaurant run by two or three generations of Canadians or the small pizza store. What we want to do is spread out the cost of requiring this information over the largest number of consumers, and I will get to the figures shortly. We would not be talking about the smaller packagers of meats.

What about this information? Is it hard to come by or is it impossible to come by? I suggest everyone takes a look at the websites of some of the beef producers or their associations. We find virtually every cut of meat is described and most of the information I have just set out is already described on the website. Why is it there? Because it is clear that consumers want that information and it is becoming clearer every day. More and more information is being provided by more and more associations and businesses, and I will get to that in a moment as well.

These are not fanciful things that I have simply thought up out of the air and am writing into law to annoy packagers of meats. The information is already available. It is a question of putting it on the package so people do not need a computer, or access to a computer or take the time to go to a computer, especially when they are in a market and they want to make a decision about which cut of meat to buy or how much of it.

The second portion of the bill deals with restaurants, not all restaurants, but I will get to that in a moment.

What does it want restaurants to do with respect to providing consumers with information? If the restaurant has a menu, then the bill asks that on the menu beside the item that it state the number of calories in a serving of that item offered for sale. In addition, it would state the amount of sodium, the sum of the saturated fats, including the trans fat, expressed as a percentage of the recommended daily input. What do we have? We have calories per serving, sodium and fat on a menu, and that is it.

If they are menu boards, as they have in fast food places where they do not actually have a menu and people look on a board and order what they want, the only thing the bill requires in that case is the number of calories per serving. If we are ordering a plain hamburger from a menu board, it would say “One hamburger”. If we looked over, halfway between the name of the item and the price, presumably, it would say “460 calories” and then the price. There is lots of space right now between the name of the item and the price of the food. There is plenty of room to put in that information.

Even though it is just the calories per serving, the sodium and fat at this point, the bill does not apply to restaurants or places that serve food that have less than $10 million in annual revenues per year. Again, we want to provide this information to the largest number of people. Studies have shown us already that many Canadians are eating outside the home much more frequently than they used to. Studies will also show that most of them eat in what we ultimately would call chain restaurants. It would not affect the local small restaurant, but it would provide consumers with the information they need.

Let us take a simple scenario. We go to a restaurant with the family. I do not want to single out any particular restaurant chain so I will just call it Tom's. We go to Tom's, which has 450 branches across Canada, and we want to have hamburger, fries and a soft drink. We drive up to the window. There is a beautiful picture of that grouping of food, hamburger, fries and a soft drink. Right below the picture of the hamburger it would say “450 calories$, under the fries, “300 calories” and under the drink, “110” or “150 calories”. It would also say things like “If you supersize the fries, it is an additional 350 calories”. There is lots of room on these little advertisements as we drive up to a fast food order window to provide that information. That is an example.

In a restaurant we would look at a menu. It would say “Grilled cheese sandwich” and as we are looking over to see that the price is $3.50, halfway across we would see the sandwich has 250 calories, 10 milligrams of salt and 30 grams of fat, or something along those lines.

The final item that the bill covers would be pictures in particular of foods that tend to mislead. I was going to give an exaggerated example of that but since I only have a minute left I will be unable to do that.

However, I want to at least have the opportunity to say that there are some criticisms of the bill. That is fine, but it is not a fair criticism to say that the bill should be killed now. I say it should go to committee and we should have witnesses come to express their pleasure or displeasure. Let us investigate. Let us cross-examine. Let us find out what is or is not hyperbole. Let us see what we can do to educate consumers to the best of our ability.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2003 / 6:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Madam Speaker, we are here today to discuss a very important bill, Bill C-398, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act.

However, in realizing that health is important in my riding of Scarborough—Agincourt we have had a devastating occurrence. We talk about the war in Iraq, but I want to talk about what is happening in my part of the world.

Scarborough Grace Hospital is ground zero for the war against SARS. I call it the war against SARS because we are in an area where on a day to day basis we constantly have to be vigilant and we have to make sure that the public is healthy. One of my staff members was voluntarily quarantined because that individual had visited Scarborough Grace Hospital.

One thing I am pleased to talk about is that the Government of Canada, after a phone call to the Minister of Human Resources Development, automatically moved to recognize that this is an important issue. If working Canadians who provide for their families on a day to day basis need to have support, EI will kick in immediately. I want to elaborate on this for the benefit of all of my colleagues here as well as the Canadian public.

Under employment insurance there is a two week waiting period before people can qualify to collect benefits. The minister has moved very rapidly to forgo the waiting period and immediately kick in support for people who are voluntarily or mandatorily quarantined. If an employer recognizes for one day that an employee is sick and that employee receives benefits for the one day from that employer, employment insurance will automatically kick in immediately after that.

This is very important as we talk about health and see what is happening around the globe. Gone are the days when it would take two or three months for people to travel from England to Canada. Gone are the days when it would take four months for people to travel from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Today a flight takes 16 hours. People can contract SARS before getting on the flight and by the time they arrive in Canada it has been incubated and is ready to spread.

We have to do whatever we can to battle this disease that has hit our population. This disease is not confined to Canada. It is a global situation. A lot of people have said that we should not allow people from a particular country into Canada. I for one, being in ground zero and working with people, do not sympathize with those views. I do not even agree with those views. This disease does not affect just one person or one country. It affects the whole world.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2003 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick

Liberal

Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, we are here to discuss a private member's bill. As you already know, I am referring to Bill C-398. This bill proposes amendments to the Food and Drugs Act that would make it mandatory to provide labelling of nutritional information for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.

More specifically, Bill C-398 would prohibit the importing or packaging of meat, poultry, fish or seafood for retail sale unless the labelling indicates, in both official languages, and in the manner stipulated, portion size, the number of calories, and the quantities of 13 nutritional elements that are found in the nutrition information panel.

I would like to make a few comments regarding the enormous amount of work that has been done in the area of food labelling.

On January 1 of this year, changes to food and drug regulations came into force. The new regulations require that most labels for prepackaged foods provide a nutrition information panel containing information on calories and the 13 essential nutritional elements contained in a specific portion size.

January 1, 2003, also marked the culmination of a four-year process as a result of the recommendations contained in the National Plan of Action for Nutrition. The purpose of this plan was to improve the effectiveness of nutritional labelling by providing more nutritional information and providing more information to the public as to how to use it.

An external advisory board was responsible for the process, which included research into consumer needs, as well as indepth consultations with all sectors, including consumers and the health and food industry sectors. It was a massive undertaking.

The nutrition information panel is an important way to help Canadians learn more about the foods they consume. This is important. The current nutritional labelling, combined with effective information, provides a significant opportunity to improve the nutritional health and welfare of Canadians.

This measure will allow Canadians to compare products more easily, to evaluate the nutritional value of a greater number of products and, finally, to better manage specific diets.

The new nutritional labelling will be easy to find, easy to read and easy to use. The nutrition information panel will only be a useful tool to help consumers make healthy nutritional choices if they know how to use the information. That is fairly obvious.

That is why Health Canada is committed to launching a large-scale education program. The Minister of Health recently launched an information package on nutrition labelling, as you are no doubt already aware, Madam Speaker.

This information package was specially designed for dietitians and other health providers to help them inform Canadians about nutrition labelling. It was sent to 8,300 dietitians, diabetes experts, provincial nutritionists and other essential partners in the area of nutrition across Canada.

The new regulations represent an enormous challenge for many sectors of the food industry, because certain foods must be tested and new labels must be produced.

These sectors need time to adjust. While some can spring into action very quickly to add the nutrition labelling format on their labels, others will need all the time provided under the regulations that will come into force.

For each product, the nutrition labelling format provides information on the nutrient content of food at the point of sale. The nutrient content of most foods varies for any number of reasons, and it is not possible to test a sample of each food before it is sold.

It is therefore necessary to provide for some exemptions, to accommodate situations where it would be difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to list nutrition facts for a variety of reasons.

Ensuring that a nutrition label contains valid information requires the testing of many samples of each food over time to take into account factors related to variability. These factors include the time of year, climatic conditions, soils and the feed given to animals.

The data do not exist for all products at this time. Because of the lack of information on nutritional composition, an exemption from including a nutrition information panel has been granted with respect to raw, single ingredient meats that are not ground, meat by-products, poultry meats, poultry meat by-products, and raw, single ingredient marine or freshwater animal products. That is the reason.

Bill C-398 further proposes that information on calories and nutritional composition may come from an independent chemical analysis of the product or from representative nutrition composition data recognized by the Department of Health.

During the public consultations that led to the new regulations on nutritional labelling, consumers and dietitians told Health Canada that the quantities of nutrients shown on the nutrition information panel should be accurate.

Industry wants to analyze these products in order to be able to provide consumers with nutrition information. However, there are many cuts of meat, and fat content varies significantly according to the grade of beef or the season in which seafood is harvested. Taking these factors and other variables into account, an unrealistic number of samples would have to be analyzed in order to obtain standardized data for nutritional labelling. Such analysis is expensive and time-consuming.

This change would obviously create precedents; moreover, the repercussions on all categories of products regulated by the act and the constitutionality of such a change have not been evaluated.

In conclusion, the intent of Bill C-398 is clearly to provide consumers with more information about the nutritional value of the foods they eat. However, the current lack of representative data on meats, poultry and raw fish and seafood creates a risk that it might become mandatory to provide consumers with inaccurate information. That is not what we want to do. The information provided must be correct and that is what the dietitians told us.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

April 2nd, 2003 / 6:25 p.m.
See context

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague from Scarborough Southwest for this thoughtful bill. The bill is to amend the Food and Drugs Act, food labelling. Specifically, it would do some of the things I think all of us would like to see done.

A little later on I will go into some of the problems of the bill because there are always problems with any legislation initiated in the House, whether a government bill or a private member's bill. We are here to intelligently debate the bill, to point out some of the flaws and deficiencies and also to support the bill. What the member is attempting to do would be very difficult to argue against.

There are a few things the member is attempting to do with the bill.

First, the bill would require large chain restaurants to post the number of calories in menu items beside the corresponding price on menu boards, and, where menus are used, also the amounts of saturated fat plus trans fat and sodium per serving.

Second, it would require that full nutritional information on all fresh meat, poultry and seafood, not just ground meat, sold in retail stores be disclosed. This nutrition information already is required for most other foods by new regulations finalized January 1, 2003.

Third, the bill would require that prepackaged multi-ingredient foods show the percentage by weight of key ingredients, especially those relevant to health such as added sugar, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The member has tremendous support across the country for this and I just want to list some of the supporters. It is basically a partial list of supporters for this initiative. They include: National Pensioners' and Senior Citizens' Federation; Community Nutritionists Council of British Columbia; the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health; the Canadian Women's Health Network; the Toronto Food Policy Council; the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology; the National Eating Disorder Information Centre; the National Retired Workers' Advocacy Council, and so on. I also received a letter also from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

There is clearly support for this type of legislation. This is an interesting day for this to be debated in the House. I would mention to the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest that I just left a committee meeting where the witness was Mr. Roy Romanow, former premier and author of the Romanow report, which we debated in this House and the government responded to not too many weeks ago in terms of an accord for the provinces, the funding issues and generally I guess the state of health care in Canada.

Today in questions and answers one of the questions put to Mr. Romanow by another member had to do with healthy living and the benefits that were derived in our society with healthy living. He came under slight criticism for not addressing that as much as the member thought he should have in his report to Parliament, which was tabled in the House in November.

I guess the point the member is trying to make is there is a huge cost in our society for not maintaining a standard of healthy living. A lot of that has to do with lack of exercise, but more important not knowing what we are eating.

This gets back to the member's bill which we are discussing now. In relation to that is the cost. This point was brought across today in health committee when we were speaking to Mr. Romanow. These were some of the numbers that were used. The cost of dietary related disease is $6.3 billion in health care spending and lost productivity every year in Canada.

If unchecked, these costs will likely increase substantially in the coming years as a result of rising pharmaceutical drug costs, the rising rates of obesity and the aging baby boomer population, which includes at least myself and possibly the member for Scarborough Southwest. We are talking about dollars but dollars do not tell us the whole thing. There is a human cost. As many as 25,000 deaths annually in Canada are due to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, and that number is growing as the population continues to age.

Those are the types of things that have to be considered when we look at a bill like this. The point that we have to speak on is the cost to industry. There is a way that we can get around this. Some of the ideas can be fleshed out at committee. I support moving the bill to the next stage so we can flesh out some of the details that could make a bill like this a reality.

I will quote from a letter I received yesterday from the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. This letter was signed by Joyce Reynolds, the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. In the third paragraph the letter says:

This simplistic proposal would be highly impractical and unworkable for food service operators. It would effect food served in a wide variety of settings including full service restaurants, quick service restaurants, hotel dining and banquet rooms, catered functions in institutional cafeterias, schools, clubs, hospitals, airplanes, trains and boats.

They are all in there.

The letter then goes on to talk about the multitude of choices that are available in a restaurant and the problems in attempting to comply with the bill if those multitude of choices had to be considered in adapting the restaurant industry to fit the details of the bill.

There are some problems. I do not want to read this letter in its entirety because it becomes a bit mind boggling. However it goes on to say:

The multitude of choices available to customers ordering a simple sandwich, illustrates the complexity of mandatory menu labelling. The make-up of a sandwich consisting of just five items or toppings (such as bread, meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato) can be ordered in 120 ways. A sub comprised of 10 items or toppings could provide 3,628,800 combinations. When the items for a sub are expanded to 15, then 1.3 trillion combinations are possible...

In other words, she is trying to say that it is virtually impossible to communicate that kind of information to the consumer.

In all practical terms there is a way this can be overcome. I want to be as generous as I can. This is something we have to consider. We are concerned with the health of Canadians. They have a right to know what they are eating. It would serve the purposes of a lot of people in Canada if we could find a way to adopt this legislation. Details have to be fleshed out in committee. We support moving Bill C-398 on to the next logical step.