Mr. Speaker, first I want to address the issue we are dealing with today as the official agri-food critic for the Bloc Québécois and as a farmer who has worked for many years on ensuring that what Quebeckers consume is of the highest quality in terms of enjoyment and their health.
The agri-food industry is very important in Quebec. Society has been very demanding of farmers over the past few years. They are asked to produce food that is the best quality, the most diverse, sold at the best price, and to protect the environment and service Quebec's land for all of society.
Quebec farmers have met the challenge. The quality and diversity of their food production have increased and the price has remained low.
This is where I want to make a link between the Quebec model in agriculture and the NDP bill, since there are areas where Quebec and the rest of Canada can easily stand united.
Our farmers ensure that their products are of a very high quality, but the quality is ruined when the product is processed by the processing industry. How can we assure our consumers that the food they buy is of the same quality as the food from our processing sector producers?
Today, on this NDP opposition day, we are debating a proposal by this party to urge the government to enact legislation limiting the content of trans fats to the lowest possible level in all food products sold in Quebec and Canada. The motion reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the federal government should acknowledge processed transfatty acids are harmful fats, which are significantly more likely to cause heart disease than saturated fats;
And that this House hasten the development of replacements to processed trans fats by urging the government to enact regulation, or if necessary legislation within one year, guided by the findings of a multi-stakeholder Task Force, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and following the consultation process with scientists and the industry currently underway;
Therefore, this House calls on the government to enact regulation, or if necessary present legislation that effectively eliminates processed trans fats, by limiting the processed transfat content of any food product sold in Canada to the lowest level possible.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this motion.
It is estimated that every Canadian consumes 10 grams of trans fats daily, one of the highest levels in the entire world. The World Health Organization recommends we follow Denmark's example, as the Danes did away with trans fats in 2003, all the more important because 1 gram of such fat is apparently 10 times more dangerous for the cardiovascular system than one gram of saturated fat. The New England Journal of Medicine tells us that consuming 1 gram daily increases the risk of heart disease by 20%.
Getting back to the Danish legislation. It was passed in March 2003 and came into effect on December 31 that same year. It bans trans fats in food. This was the first country to enact such a law and this was not without impact. The European Commission mandated the European Food Safety Authority Scientific Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies to give an opinion on the presence of trans fats in foods for human consumption.
This panel was mandated because some member states of the European Union differed with the Danish authorities on this issue. The Government of Denmark used the public health argument to justify passage of this legislation. In fact, it is claimed that the links between the consumption of trans fats and cardiovascular disease, certain kinds of cancer, type 2 diabetes and strokes are clear enough to justify creating such legislation. Our friends in the New Democratic Party are relying on much the same argument to justify Bill C-220.
Let us now look at the effects on health. Consumption of trans fatty acids increases blood cholesterol levels. The disadvantage of trans fats, compared to saturated fats, is that in addition to increasing levels of bad cholesterol, they also lower the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol. The more trans fats and hydrogenated fats we consume, the higher our blood cholesterol goes. Epidemiological studies have also shown that people who consumed diets high in trans fats were two to three times more at risk of heart attack or other heart disease five to ten years later.
Saturated fatty acids raise the level of bad cholesterol by interfering with the elimination of cholesterol from the blood, due to their inhibiting action on the receptors for bad cholesterol. Trans fatty acids can also cause an increase in bad cholesterol levels in blood, but usually not in the same proportions as saturated fatty acids.
Medical science has not yet discovered the mechanism whereby trans fats raise the level of cholesterol in the blood.
We will recall that, in the last few centuries, our farmers produced food of excellent quality, as they do today, and that this food reached the consumer without undergoing major processing, and with fewer health risks. The consumer enjoyed healthy food, and the risks of disease associated with the new processing practices were much lower. But in the last 50 years, trans fats have become a part of our diet.
It is therefore still difficult today to assess all the consequences of increased or long term consumption. In addition, the Food and Drugs Act requires merchants to list the quantity of saturated fats, but not the quantity of trans fats, on labels, making it even more difficult for consumers to control their intake. It might interest people to know that there are 4,000 processed products on the market containing trans fats.
But more important still, according to certain experts, including those with the Fédération belge contre le cancer, because this type of fat was introduced into our diet barely 50 years ago, the human organism lacks the capacity to process large amounts of these fatty structures. It may therefore well cause more damage than other types of fat. Saturated fats have always been part of our diet, in products of animal origin, while trans fats are not present in large quantities in nature.
Here are the recommendations of the Heart and Stroke Foundation concerning the consumption of trans fatty acids. For starters, the foundation recognizes that reducing trans and saturated fats in our diet would help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Its recommendations are therefore along these lines: provide the public with accurate information about the nutritional value of foods and the health effects of lowering trans fats in order to help consumers make informed and healthy choices; replace as soon as possible and where feasible the trans fats in processed foods by healthy alternatives, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, rather than with equal amounts of saturated fat; get Canadians to adopt a balanced diet that includes items from the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide ; of 20% to 35% of daily calories as fat, that is 45 to 75 grams for women and 60 to 105 grams for men; increased consumption of polyunsaturates and monounsaturates and decreased consumption of trans and saturated fats.
As for the Health Canada recommendations, the following is given on its web site:
Intakes of saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids and dietary cholesterol have each been independently and positively associated with recognized blood lipid biomarkers of heart disease risk. Any increase in the intake of these types of fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease in a linear fashion. However, it is neither possible nor advisable to achieve zero percent of energy from either saturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids in typical whole-food diets. The extraordinary dietary adjustments required to achieve zero per cent of energy from these types of fat may introduce undesirable effects, such as inadequate intakes of micronutrients, and unknown and unquantifiable health risks. Nonetheless, by making judicious dietary choices it is possible to have a nutritionally adequate diet that is low in saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids and dietary cholesterol.
So Health Canada is therefore recommending reducing the consumption of these types of fats to a minimum, while ensuring that one does not end up with an inadequate intake of micronutrients.
The Bloc Québécois supports this motion. The Bloc Québécois pledges to work together with the other political parties represented in Ottawa to ensure that Canada takes resolute action by limiting the trans fat content of foods. Industrially produced trans fatty acids must be eliminated. In that respect, Denmark is a positive example to follow. Recent studies on the subject show that industrially produced trans fatty acids adversely affect health. The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of heart disease, among other things. That is why the Bloc Québécois believes that action to protect consumers ought to be taken as soon as possible.
Members of this House have mentioned the principle of freedom of choice, raising the issue of individual rights as opposed to collective rights and duties and suggesting that society as a whole should financially support, through our health system, the bad habits of individuals.
We are not opposed to individual rights, but we believe that the government has an important role to play in improving the health of individuals, in proactive ways that emphasize prevention.
The government has a mandate to protect the public, and the current legislation is inadequate. Obviously the Food and Drugs Act sets standards for labelling and advertising, but nothing currently requires merchants to reveal the quantity of trans fatty acids in the food they sell.
There will, however, be new Nutrition Facts tables on food labels in Canada by December 2005 for large food companies, and by December 2007 for smaller food companies. These tables will help everyone identify and limit their intake of products high in trans fat.
The government has an increased responsibility in this matter because the law has been inadequate for a long time. Labelling of trans fats will not be obligatory before December 2005. The public really will not have the knowledge it needs to choose its food well until that date arrives. Thus, the public is unable to protect itself and to choose foods without trans fats.
In view of studies that demonstrate increasingly that the consumption of trans fatty acids has a serious impact on heart health, the Bloc Québécois supports the New Democratic Party in its action to improve the health of Canadians and Quebeckers. Need we remind the House that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Canada and Quebec?
Nevertheless, this initiative should not compromise the government's prevention policies so that people to take charge of their own health and choose a healthy lifestyle. And it must not be imagined that such state intervention removes the individual citizen's responsibility with respect to food and lifestyle choices.
In conclusion, if the products that are added to our food were as good as the produce from Quebec's farms, the health of all our citizens would be much better.