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

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.


Tom Wappel  Liberal

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


Not active, as of May 15, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)


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

This enactment specifies the type of information that is to be provided on the labels of imported and prepackaged food and food sold for immediate consumption.

It also establishes criteria for labelling using words or pictures.


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.


Nov. 8, 2006 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Health.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 2006 / 6:05 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-283 under private members' business. The question is on the motion.

The House resumed from November 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-283, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2006 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I well recognize the intent and the spirit with which Bill C-283 has been brought forward. The member for Scarborough Southwest and I have shared some of the finer nourishment that is available in many parts of the globe. I recognize the desire to enjoy, as all the public should, food that is safe, that is consistent and that we recognize will provide a long term benefit to society.

Having said that, I would like to comment on the bill because I have reservations. I would like to comment from two perspectives, both as a legislator with the inherent responsibilities that come with passing legislation that is reasonable and responsible, and as a 30-year veteran of the hospitality industry. I am a person who has been involved as a builder, owner, operator, consultant and teacher and I have been exposed to the many different facets of the hospitality business for literally a lifetime.

From a legislative point of view, it should be noted that Health Canada carefully considered the issue of the provision of nutrition information for foods sold in restaurants and food service establishments during the development of the nutrition labelling regulations for prepackaged foods. Health Canada, at that particular time, chose to exempt these foods from these requirements due to the inherent variability associated with the food service industry.

As we all know, the food industry is a very complex and diverse business. It is not a one size fits all. The unique challenges associated with the food service industry, where recipes and ingredients are often not standardized and customization is common, makes it difficult to provide accurate nutrition information to consumers.

From experience, many menus are changed on a daily, weekly, monthly and a quarterly basis within restaurants and food service operations, even within cafeterias. It is almost improbable to suggest that every time there is a menu change, which could be done on a daily basis, that we should come up with and be expected to provide data to the public on a consistent basis.

I note that before the introduction of mandatory nutrition labelling on prepackaged foods in Canada, provisions for the voluntary labelling of these food products had existed since 1988. We have seen a recognition that the public does not want to know more of what they are eating. There has been a move to seek more information and I think the industry has responded. In a voluntary fashion, there has been a great move from those who have the capacity and the capability to do so.

We have had considerable research and information on consumer use and interest in this information and on industry implementation.

The nutrition labelling regulations were developed after an extensive five year consultation period. This was not just a let us think about how we are going to make food safe. There was an extensive period of consultation within industry and with regulatory boards. This lengthy consultation period was necessary to obtain the buy-in necessary to ensure the new regulations not only met consumer needs, but that they were capable of being implemented and utilized in an effective fashion by industry. In other words, that they were workable on a day to day basis. The result was a nutrition labelling system within the industry, which, to many jurisdictions around the world, has been referred to as the international gold standard.

What we have within our health and our labelling and our criteria in the CFIA is actually recognized very well. It certainly sits up at the top of the bar with regulatory regimes around the globe.

However, It is extremely difficult to justify mandating the provisions of nutrient information to consumers if the benefits are unclear or unknown. The cost of providing such information to consumers should be measured against the benefits that would accrue to the customers or the consumers as well.

This is a balancing act and if the pendulum is too far out of balance either way it will be made very difficult to implement.

It should be noted, however, that nearly 10,000 locations, representing approximately 40% of the major restaurant chains in Canada, voluntarily provide nutrition information to their customers under the Canadian Restaurant and Food Service Association's voluntary nutrition information program. It is astounding that this is being done on a voluntary basis but it happens to be the type of operation where there is a consistency in menu and it has the resources, the talent and the traffic volume to substantiate the cost.

Under this program, participating establishments provide nutrition information to consumers that is consistent with the requirements of Canada's mandatory regulations.

While larger firms have some access to this expertise required to comply with the regulations that are making progress in implementing the Canadian restaurant and food services voluntary guidelines, this is obviously not the case with the entire industry.

The cost of implementing and enforcing this bill must also be considered. The cost of laboratory analysis for nutrition information ranges widely depending on the complexity, the number of items on the menu and the prices charged by individual laboratories. This has the possibility of being a technical and costly nightmare.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest has estimated that it would cost between $11,500 at the low end and $46,000 at the high end to analyze the entire menu of larger scale restaurants with between 50 and 200 items on the menu. We can just imagine the cost.

If we were to extrapolate that across the entire population, we would realize that this assumes that the menus never change. As I said earlier, sometimes the menus change monthly, quarterly, weekly or daily. It is just not practical at this particular point.

I also note that in addition to these initial costs, there would be ongoing associated costs with the analysis of new items as they are added to the menu every day and the analysis of reformulated items because menus change and products change. A rice product today might be a different rice product tomorrow. It might be from a different manufacturer. We might have seasonal implications whereby we are getting oranges from one particular area one day and the next week we might be getting oranges from a different area and they may have a different nutritional component.

This bill just does not make a whole lot of sense.

We then, of course, have marketing which is crucial to any business these days. All of these businesses, regardless of their size, need to market. The cost of marketing and the cost of tools, equipment and the reprinting of materials for menus is astronomical. Is it enough to ask small business operators to bear the cost of that once a year but, as their menus change weekly or daily, on an ongoing basis? The cost is just not feasible.

We also have the significant cost of enforcing the law. Having a law is one thing but enforcing it is another. What kind of bureaucracy would we need for that? It is estimated that Canada has 50,000 restaurants, 24,000 grocery outlets, 5,300 unregistered manufacturing plants, 1,710 registered fish, seafood and meat establishments, and 3,400 unregistered importers who would be subject to the inspection to verify the provisions of this bill.

We could discuss a number of other items in the bill, but one of them is not just a fad but a reality. One of the problems facing society right now is obesity. It is important to stress that there are many factors that may contribute to obesity. As the hon. member from Scarborough brought forward, people want to know what they are eating. They want to ensure they are getting value for dollar and that they are getting the nutritional component.

I am not sure if the member opposite was pointing to my waistline when I mentioned obesity.

While it might be laudable to deal with all this, the reality is that it is our duty to ensure that when we mandate by law, the law has to be practical, cost efficient and it must provide the results that we are seeking.

In closing, the member's intentions are honourable and the spirit of the bill is honourable but the practicality of implementing this just is not there.

Until a way is found to build a better mousetrap to protect the Canadian public and provide the food safety Canadians want and need, let us strike a balance between practicality and desirability. Let us work toward an accommodation that will satisfy all of us in the House.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2006 / 5:55 p.m.
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Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-283.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Scarborough Southwest. He and I are working together on another committee right now and we are doing that very well. He will not be surprised, though, when I speak against his bill because I have done so before when the bill was in a different parliament, in different numbers and in different forms.

He has the objective right. Canadians need to understand better what it is they are eating, and if there was a way to do that which was economically feasible, I certainly would support it. I do not think the bill as it now stands does that.

We have heard from others about the importance of diet, about the problems with obesity, and if there is a way to educate Canadians better on these facts, we should be doing so. The food service industry has been doing a lot of that through their voluntary measures and some of the measures introduced by our government to comply with nutritional labelling. However, the bill goes a little bit too far.

My riding of Etobicoke North is out by the airport. There are a lot of restaurants and also a lot of light to medium sized industry, food processing companies, and yes, I have heard from them. If I thought the bill was for the benefit of all Canadians and it was workable, I would support it, but I do not think it is workable, economically feasible or technically feasible to accomplish what the member so rightly wants to accomplish.

I would like to talk about a few of those factors. First, just to recapture, the bill would require companies with over $10 million in annual food service sales to list calories, salt and the sum of the saturated fatty acids and trans fats per serving for each menu item on their printed menu and to list calories per serving for each menu item on their menu board.

I see a number of problems with that. As I say, I think the objective is a good one, but I see a number of practical problems. Right now, if we go into a fast food restaurant, we will see menus displayed throughout the restaurant. To add another layer of information would cause some difficulties in terms of fitting it all on one menu board, or else the lettering would have to be reduced to a point that it would be illegible.

The other problem I see is that there are many trends now for customized meals. Let us face it, these fast food restaurants are here to stay and they are very popular, particularly with our pace of life, and people use them. That is the reality. When we get into these combos that fast food restaurants have, which are very popular, people will say, “I want a big Mac, but I do not want the fries; I want the salad, and by the way on that salad, I would like this dressing. Actually, you can supersize the fries, double up on the cheese, hold the bacon and give me the onions”, et cetera. It sounds mundane, but this is what is happening. In fact, fast food restaurants are marketing in this way. They want to give consumers more choice.

What would we do then? I think we could do it technologically on a computer and on a website, and I think that many of the businesses are doing that now, so if we want to know exactly, we could go to various portions. It will do all the arithmetic. It will add it all up and it will tell us what we are eating in terms of calories, salt and these various elements. If we do that, what that information does for us is another thing, but for those people who want that information, there might be ways of getting it from some of the bigger chains.

However, for some of the smaller restaurants, I know that there is an exemption here of $10 million in sales, but that actually creates another issue. I know what the member is trying to achieve, but it creates a level field that is not quite fair or even. We could have a Harvey's that is required under the bill to comply with all these nutritional elements and put this on its menu board for all the various combinations, and then we have Joe's hamburger shop next door, just a one off little independent, and it will not be required to do that. There is a cost to doing this. We have to have access to a nutritionist.

How could a regular manager of a Harvey's do this work? How could the owner of Joe's hamburger stall? He would not have the information to do that and would have to hire a nutritionist. That is why, quite rightly, the member would exempt small businesses, but then it would create a problem of an uneven playing field.

I read an interesting book not too long ago called Freakonomics and in it there is an interesting part where it talks about Starbucks, the coffee people. Actually, every day on the way to work I pick up a Starbucks. I am a Starbucks fan. That is the way it is.

The author says, and I think he can probably demonstrate it, but I did not do an audit on his numbers, that in a Starbucks coffee shop there are something like 3,000 different permutations and combinations of what people can ask for. I must say this is borne out by my experience when I go into Starbucks and listen to people as they place their orders. I am not that conversant with all the products. They will say they want a double latte, topped up by this, warmed up, doubled up by this and that. They will want Halloween or pumpkin sauce and they want this and that. Apparently, there are about 3,000 different permutations and combinations.

I am asking this question. How would Starbucks do that? I could see how it could do that on a computer or a website. If someone wanted to go in and say they wanted to do this combination, permutation number 1,876, boom, plug it in and it would give all the nutritional content of it. How could that conceivably be put on a menu board? I have no idea how that would work.

The other problem is that there are many restaurant chains that have operations right across Canada. There is an issue, I believe, with supplier variability. I think that some are discounting the argument. I am not going to argue that it is an insurmountable issue but it is an issue.

We have, for example, Tim Hortons chains. I know they backward integrate. They standardize in a very holistic and very professional way, but if they are buying their flour and all the ingredients, let us say in Nova Scotia, and they are making their muffins there, and they are buying their ingredients in British Columbia from a different source, notwithstanding that they are going to have very tight standards and requirements, there is going to be some difference, I think.

Perhaps I used a bad example because Tim Hortons chains would probably have the most standardized and most integrated supply chain management system around, but I can think of other examples where they might not have that consistency. What do they do then? Do they make an assumption that the flour that is bought in Halifax is the same as the flour that is bought in Trail? I do not know. I think it is an issue.

Do not forget that we would be asking the restaurants to comply with these laws and rules if the act is passed. It is not to be taken lightly. They would have to comply.

I have many food processors in my riding and they are also concerned about section 5.3 of the bill which basically requires manufacturers, people making biscuits or bread or what have you to comply.

It says that manufacturers are to prescribe in the ingredient list the percentage by weight of the three most prevalent ingredients and all those that are of vegetable, fruit, whole grain, legume or added sugar. Additionally, manufacturers would be required to list the percentage by weight for ingredients emphasized on a food label using words or pictures.

First of all, to comply with the requirements that our previous and this government is requiring has cost the industry, in terms of mandatory nutritional labelling, about $300 million. This would cost a lot of money and the industry argues, and I think with some merit, that it would create not necessarily more knowledge or information, but it could add in fact more confusion.

I will tell my colleague that I never like speaking against a private member's bill. I brought in a private member's bill a couple of years ago on user fees, Bill C-212. It took me two years, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, so I congratulate the member for taking this initiative, but I will not be supporting it.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2006 / 5:50 p.m.
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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join in the debate on Bill C-283, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act regarding food labelling, put forward by my colleague from Scarborough Southwest.

I am prepared to accept that labelling of many of the ingredients in the processed foods we eat is beneficial. It is a good idea. I can say at the start that we intend to vote for my colleague's bill. I recognize his long commitment to this issue and I appreciate the opportunity to address it today. I qualify my support somewhat though by saying that even though labelling is useful, I think it is of limited use.

First of all, a healthy and balanced diet is largely a matter of personal choice. Therefore, labelling will be of great value because in order to choose the right foods, we have a right and a need to know what is in those foods, but I will also say that government has a duty and an obligation to ensure that the foods we eat are safe and that the materials labelled in those foods are safe.

While I welcome having saturated fats, the total amount of calories, sodium, cholesterol, et cetera, listed on the label of these products, I do not ever want to see trans fatty acids listed on a label of foods sold in Canada, because I do not want trans fatty acids to be allowed to be a part of food in Canada. While labelling is advantageous, it is not a substitute for the obligation that Health Canada has to eliminate certain aspects from the food supply system.

In the context of childhood obesity and the current study under way at the health committee, I sometimes sit in on the health committee as an associate member when my NDP colleague is unable to be there. There is a very interesting study being done on the whole issue of the near epidemic incidence of childhood obesity.

I had a conversation with Senator Wilbert Keon, a medical doctor, a cardiologist who runs the cardiac centre. I worked with him very closely on the campaign to ban trans fats. His comment to me while we were riding on one of the little green buses the other day was that caloric intake is the single biggest health problem that our society faces in terms of general public health, not in terms of diseases, but in terms of general public health. I agree with him. We are poisoning a generation of kids by supersizing them. I will not overstate things and say that we are killing children; I am simply saying that the quality of life of our children is suffering and the long term general health of our children is suffering because of their caloric intake, the amount of calories they are ingesting. It affects the quality of life of children in very scary ways.

At the health committee there was a cardiologist who appeared as a witness. He said that children three years to 10 years old were coming to his office with arterial sclerosis, clogged arteries. Imagine, children three years to 10 years old with symptoms we would expect from middle aged out of shape men like me who sometimes present with those symptoms.

It creates lethargy. Even if children are not showing any overt symptoms of illness, they are sluggish. They are not feeling well. They are probably not participating in activities at school because their little arteries are clogged with these terrible fatty acids or saturated fat, whatever it is. They are unable to enjoy their young years to their fullest because they are being hobbled by this terrible problem.

I know that diet is only one aspect of healthy children. Activity is just as important. There are two sides to the same coin to create a generally healthier population. There are programs, such as in the inner city of Winnipeg, that cost very little to get very little children busy and active.

There was one program called Wiggle, Giggle & Munch, which teaches new mothers to get their children moving and active even at six, eight and nine months of age. This program costs $5,000 for 18 classes for 20 and 30 young moms and their newborn babies to come together once a week and learn the importance of diet, eating the right snacks, and getting their kids active. Do members know how hard it is to find that $5,000 to renew that program? It is like pulling teeth. It is one of the frustrations that we face in this era of budgetary cutbacks, that we are not prioritizing important small programs like Wiggle, Giggle & Munch in my riding of the inner city of Winnipeg.

I would like to dwell again on the trans fatty acids issue. I know that my colleague's bill calls for labelling. I think the general population, though, has come to a realization that trans fatty acids are the worst possible type of cooking fat or cooking oil we could imagine. The scientific community is onboard. The industry has come to this realization, where companies like KFC have now eliminated trans fats from their products even though they used to be one of the worst offenders. Voortman cookies, New York Fries, all these companies have realized that they do not have to compromise quality or taste or shelf life to eliminate this material.

In speaking in favour of my colleague's bill, I think in the same context the member for Scarborough Southwest will not mind if I use this as a platform to advertise this other important initiative that has been running along parallel to the activism of my colleague on the food labelling. It is interesting to note that all of New York City may in fact take steps to unilaterally ban trans fats if its federal government is too slow to act.

I think the federal government should take note of this debate today and recognize that it is safe political territory to take this step and ban trans fats.

I do hope we pass Bill C-283, but I also hope that the current government of the day realizes that Parliament has spoken on trans fats, too. We had a vote in the 38th Parliament and we essentially gave direction to the Government of Canada to take steps to virtually eliminate, as far as is reasonably practical, trans fats from our food supply. It is rare that one single food product gets debated in the Parliament of Canada and is subjected to a vote as this product has.

A blue ribbon task force took 18 months to agonizingly, but thoroughly, analyze the problem from coast to coast to coast. It came back with a very firm recommendation as well: ban trans fats. I do not understand what the holdup is now.

Governments are reluctant to take steps if they think it is politically dangerous, but I can assure this government that banning trans fats is politically safe. I will be the first one to acknowledge the government and to recognize it if it does in fact take this step.

Getting to my colleague's bill, Bill C-283, the only thing that I would like to see revisited at committee, as far as specifics of the bill, is the threshold that my colleague has built into this bill, where it does not apply to a person who has, I believe, gross annual revenues of less than $500,000.

I believe there should be ways around that, even if it is done through associations or restaurants, et cetera, that may be able to cooperate to take some of the burden off smaller restaurants, so that they are not dealt with a disproportionate cost factor in listing these items.

I will simply close by saying that I admire and respect those who use the private members' system to champion a cause patiently, year after year. It is a good system and it can be used to the advantage of the general public by those who are patient enough to use it well. My colleague from Scarborough Southwest should be recognized for taking this important step that may in fact end up elevating the general public health of all Canadians.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2006 / 5:40 p.m.
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Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-283, which I consider to be very important.

I am sorry if I am not in my usual spirited form or if I do not speak with my usual passion. I listened to Michael Fortier's recommendations and took my little Valium pill to calm my nerves. I am therefore a little less excited today than I usually am.

All joking aside, this bill is very important. It is so important that we made it a discussion point in our caucus meeting yesterday. This is a bill to amend the regulations and legislation in order to require restaurant owners and merchants to list on their menus or on their food items the amount of calories, trans fats, sodium, etc. This is an important matter that should not be taken lightly and should be reviewed very carefully, thoroughly and seriously. Such regulations have repercussions on the industry.

Even if we are talking about manufacturers or restaurant chains that do over $10 million in annual sales, these food chains are very important to the economy of the various provinces, to Quebec's economy in particular. In Quebec, the restaurant industry is quite developed. It provides many jobs to many people. These jobs are very appreciated since, for the most part, they can be filled by women and single mothers because of their very flexible hours. Men also choose this line of work because they find it quite agreeable, even though it is very physically demanding.

As far as Bill C-283 is concerned, we are aware that it addresses a problem and that is important for Quebeckers and Canadians to know what they are eating. We have talked about this a number of times: when we called on the government for the labelling of GMOs; when we called on the government to let Canadians know, through the food guide, what they are eating, what they should be eating and what is good for their diet.

But even Health Canada, in the person of Ms. Bush, who is working on Canada's Food Guide, is telling us that we should not encourage people to count calories. I do not know.

Is Health Canada going against the wishes of parliamentarians who want the public to be more aware of the number of calories they are consuming? In my opinion, this is important, because I myself have a weight problem and I often go to Tim Hortons. Recently, for breakfast, I ordered the healthiest items on the menu: a bran and carrot muffin and orange juice. I told myself that I was starting my day off right, that I had made a healthy choice, and that I was not eating fatty food, but healthy food. To my astonishment, when I went to the Tim Hortons website later, I realized I had consumed 512 calories by having a muffin and a glass of orange juice. Can you believe it? That is one third of the calories I should eat in a day. On top of that, I was hungry again at 10 a.m., because the muffin I had eaten at 8 a.m. was not very nutritious and I digested it quickly.

When someone tells me that putting calorie information on foods is not important, I am sorry, but I do not believe it. In my opinion, the number of calories should be indicated.

That said, we will have to be very careful not to hurt the industry with this bill. When we try to go too fast in passing a bill in order to please certain people, we can end up upsetting a large segment of the population.

In addition, because Bill C-283 targets major restaurant chains that make more than $10 million a year, it is easy for us to forget—and this is quite paradoxical—that the food sold in small restaurants is often loaded with trans fat. I am talking about fries, hamburgers, smoked meat sandwiches, and so on. These restaurants may not make $10 million a year, but they easily sell 10 million calories' worth of food a year. Bill C-283 will not affect these people.

As we consider this bill, we must ensure that we are not pleasing some by causing problems for others just because we want to legislate quickly.

In committee, it would be worth taking the time to examine all of the available options. I believe that restaurant owners are also prepared to make changes. Recently, I read that Kentucky Fried Chicken is planning to eliminate trans fats by changing the oil it uses. That is a good start. Yes, it is still a very fatty food, and it is still breaded, but this is an improvement.

The Saint-Hubert rotisserie chain, which is headquartered in my riding, has a healthy menu. They are making considerable efforts. They will soon be posting the nutritional content of their menu items, including calories, trans fats and sodium, on their web site. McDonald's and Harvey's are also making an effort, although I am a little less pleased with what McDonald's has done. All of their nutritional information is printed on the back of their trayliners. People are unlikely to read anything printed on the back of a liner under their hamburger, fries and Pepsi. When they finish eating, they do not bother removing everything, turning the trayliner over and reading what is printed on the back. People are not interested and, what is more, they do not want to feel guilty. Obviously, they will not look at it. I much prefer what Harvey's decided to do, although they too provide far too much information. It is very confusing for people to look at all the numbers on a Harvey's pamphlet.

There are definitely things to be done, changes to be made. However, these changes must meet with the approval of everyone involved and with the approval of the restaurant industry. That is no small feat. If we are not careful, restaurant chains throughout Canada could suffer greatly. We are asking them to follow rules that will be the same everywhere; however, menus are often not the same everywhere because ingredients are not the same everywhere. So, using the ingredients, how do you calculate how many calories there are in such or such a food? I do not know. Something has to be done, we have to look at this, that is certain.

I would vote for the principle of this bill. However, I am not saying that once it goes to committee I will agree with the rules to impose on the restaurant industry or the merchants. We must ensure that they can comply with the rules and continue to turn a decent profit. We know that the purpose of any company is to make a profit. Yesterday, we saw that even the government decided to axe the income trust program in order to recover the taxes it was losing.

Restaurant owners are just as smart as the next guy, and of course they want to make money. We will have to reach an agreement with them. I am sure that parliamentarians will find a way to do that thanks to all of the advice we will receive in committee when we hear the witnesses, if our colleagues let this bill get to that stage. I am sure we can find a solution that works for everyone; we will have much to gain by doing so.

I would like to know what I am eating, and I want to be careful about the calories I consume. That is not always possible here, but I want to make an effort, and I need help from the industry, Health Canada and my colleagues. Together we can find a solution, but we will not find that solution by legislating against the wishes of the restaurant industry.

The House resumed from September 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-283, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

October 26th, 2006 / 4:30 p.m.
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Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much to the witnesses for their very interesting presentations.

In particular, I found the recommendation on crime and the ability to feel safe in one's neighbourhood, which I think was in Dr. Oliver's presentation about neighbourhoods, or maybe it was one of the other gentlemen's, an interesting one. I believe that's on page 12 of your slides, and certainly there's a feeling that over the last decade or so that neighbourhoods are becoming less and less safe.

I think it's a good reminder for our friends over in Justice that perhaps some of the work they're doing in conditional sentencing, or trying to take that away, or raising the age of consent and ensuring that sexual predators don't enter our country, such as has happened in the situation that we find ourselves in, in Ontario.... But my question goes to things about.... You said subsidized transportation, and we do have a tax credit going toward transportation, mass transportation, that was also part of our platform commitments. I would be interested in the comments of the panel on that.

Also, there is a bill in front of the House right now, Bill C-283, that deals with the labelling of food products, asking companies and producers to show what is in the foods. There is some question about the practicality of that bill and if it would actually have an impact. I wonder if some members of the panel could comment on Bill C-283.

I found the comment about Singapore interesting. Singapore has a unique reputation. I think I wouldn't want to be caught chewing gum there.

However, I wonder if a comment could be made about how we could in Canada do things that are tangible. I think we're all sold on the need to deal with childhood obesity, but what, tangibly, can the federal government or provincial governments do that will make an impact on the lives of children, that will improve their health outcomes?

I'll throw those out on the table and look for your replies.

October 19th, 2006 / 10:30 a.m.
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Bill Jeffery National Coordinator, Centre for Science in the Public Interest

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate the invitation to appear before the committee.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest is a non-profit consumer health advocacy organization specializing in nutrition issues, with offices in Ottawa and Washington, D.C.

Our Ottawa health advocacy is funded by more than 100,000 subscribers to our monthly Nutrition Action Healthletter, which is read by more than 1,000 residents in most federal ridings. CSPI does not accept funding from industry or government, and Nutrition Action does not carry advertisements.

Diet-related disease is an urgent public health problem in this country. Every year, diet-related cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer prematurely end the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians. Health Canada estimates it robs the Canadian economy of $6.6 billion due to health care costs and lost productivity. These numbers describe real, avoidable deaths and financial losses, both on a grand scale.

Plainly, tackling diet-related disease needn't involve significant program expenditures in every case. For instance, we hope the government, members of this committee, and their caucus colleagues will support the expansion of existing nutrition labelling rules when Bill C-283 comes to a vote in the House of Commons on November 8.

The current regulations are predicted to reduce the burden of diet-related disease by approximately 4% by producing $5 billion in cumulative economic benefits in the coming two decades at a non-recurring cost of about one-fifth of 1% of food sales for a single year during the phase-in period--in other words, a minimum 2,000% return on investment.

Today I will focus mainly on food tax reform because it is probably the best studied, most promising economic incentive for healthy living.

Recommendations to reform food taxes have been advanced in expert reports published--and I won't give the entire list--in the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Institute of Medicine.

Notably, the federal-provincial-territorial integrated pan-Canadian healthy living strategy, which was supported by ministers of health of all political stripes, recommends that Canadian governments, “Undertake [a] feasibility study on fiscal measures to encourage healthy living (i.e. tax credits/penalties, subsidies, price supports, etc. )”.

October 5th, 2006 / 3:50 p.m.
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Bill Jeffery National Coordinator, Centre for Science in the Public Interest

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the invitation to appear before the committee.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest is a non-profit consumer health advocacy organization, specializing in nutrition issues, with offices in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. Our health advocacy is funded by over 100,000 subscribers to the Canadian edition of our monthly Nutrition Action Healthletter, which is read by more than 1,000 residents in most federal ridings. CSPI does not accept funding from industry or government, and Nutrition Action does not carry advertisement.

Diet-related disease is an urgent public health problem in this country. Most Canadians consume too many calories and too much saturated and trans fat, salt, refined flour, and added sugars, and not enough vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes. Every year, diet-related cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer prematurely end the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians and rob the Canadian economy of $6.6 billion, according to Health Canada, due to health care costs and lost productivity. These numbers describe real avoidable deaths and financial losses, both on a grand scale, yet the Government of Canada has done little to help reduce them.

Health Canada could use its nutrition expertise to help provincial education authorities develop school curricula for health, nutrition, and cooking courses, and nutrition criteria for school food service offerings. The federal government could also use its spending power to become the last OECD country to publicly subsidize a national school meal program, so that every child, regardless of means or region, is fed a nutritious meal suitable for optimal health and learning. By comparison, in 2005, the United States federal government spent the equivalent of $11 billion Canadian in subsidizing school meals.

Parliament should revisit advertising rules in the Food and Drugs Act and the Competition Act to ensure that they adequately protect children against a barrage of commercial advertisements promoting nutrient-poor foods and products that promote sedentary living, such as video games and television programs. Parliament's prompt intervention is preferable to years of test case litigation that might determine that all ads directed at children are inherently misleading and therefore illegal, because of children's unique susceptibility to manipulation.

Rather than resting on the laurels of mandatory nutrition labelling for most prepackaged foods, as have some of the government witnesses, we hope the government, members of this committee, and their caucus colleagues will support the expansion of existing nutritional labelling rules when Bill C-283 comes to a vote in the House on November 8.

Current regulations are predicted to reduce the burden of diet-related disease by approximately 4%, by producing $5 billion in cumulative economic benefits in the coming two decades at a non-recurring cost of about one-fifth of one percent of food sales for a single year, during the phase-in period—a minimum of 2,000% return on investment.

Children and adults generally eat the same foods manufactured by the same companies and restaurants, and live in the same physical and social environments. As population health experts says, they swim in the same stream. So restricting remedies for childhood obesity to settings such as schools, where children can be targeted exclusively, would produce only partial success.

Many of our recommendations are echoed in the World Health Organization and the pan-Canadian healthy living strategies. But the federal government has made little progress in implementing the policies or funding programs recommended in these two strategies, despite having endorsed both.

Health Canada's scientific clout could also be used to urge food companies to reduce the amount of salt added to processed and restaurant foods, which are the sources of three-quarters of the sodium in our diet—as the United Kingdom and France are now doing, and as the World Health Organization is actively encouraging at a technical meeting in Paris this week, which starts today.

Extrapolating from a U.S. study, a 50% drop in the sodium intake in Canada would cut heart attack and stroke deaths by more than 15,000 annually. Ridding the food supply of trans fat could avert hundreds and possibly thousands more premature deaths.

Recommendations to reform food taxes have been advanced by expert reports published by--and I won't list them all--the Canadian Institute for Health Information; the World Health Organization; the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario; and the U.S.'s Institute of Medicine, with two reports. Notably, the federal-provincial-territorial The Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy, which was supported by ministers of health of all political stripes, recommends that Canadian governments “undertake [a] feasibility study on fiscal measures to encourage healthy living (i.e., tax credits/penalties, subsidies, price supports, etc.)”.

Our recommendations involve both taxation and tax relief, depending on the nutrient profiles of food. The federal government now collects GST from about one-third of all food expenditures, drawing about $2 billion in tax revenue annually. At present, the Excise Tax Act appears to partly acknowledge the importance of nutrition by imposing taxes on soft drinks, candy, and snack food, but promotes unhealthy diets by taxing low-fat milk and vegetable dishes when sold in restaurants, as well as club soda, salads, vegetable fruit trays, and small bottles of water when sold in retail stores.

Meanwhile, many unhealthful foods sold in retail stores are tax-free, such as sugary breakfast cereals, trans-fat-laden shortening, high-saturated-fat cheese, chicken wings, coffee, cream, and even unhealthy luxury foods such as salty caviar.

The federal government should consider whether economic disincentives to choose healthy foods and tax relief on health-eroding foods comport with this or any government's commitment to reduce the burden of chronic disease. Quite frankly, tax incentives should be smart, not dumb. They should help prevent disease and promote efficiency, not prevent efficiency and promote disease.

A British epidemiologist estimated, in a study published in the British Medical Journal, that applying his country's 17.5% value-added tax to a few categories of food that are high in saturated fat would reduce saturated fat intake enough to prevent between 1,800 and 2,500 heart attack deaths per year in the United Kingdom. Researchers examining conditions in the United States, Denmark, Tanzania—coincidentally—China, and Norway have lent credence to the potential of tax price incentives as a means to help achieve population-level dietary change. Even researchers critical of food tax reform predicted similar effects on dietary fat intake, but failed to appreciate the huge numbers of lives that could be saved by such dietary changes.

Like the successful Canadian experience with tobacco taxes, sensibly designed food tax incentives could help internalize the cost of food choices and promote nutritious eating. Moreover, the effects of adding GST to nutrient-poor foods could be amplified by requiring manufacturers of taxable foods to indicate on the label that the product is subject to GST. This would send both information and price signals to consumers and create incentives for manufacturers to reformulate foods by, for instance, including less added sugar and salt, more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, or replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

The average Canadian now spends about $56 per year paying GST on food purchases. In 2006-07, the GST credit reimburses $354 to the average single individual earning $20,000 per year and $708 to a family of four with the same income. These rebates could be increased by a few dollars per person to offset further regressive effects, if any, of GST reform, or increased even more ambitiously to help reduce food insecurity.

In conclusion, plainly policy-makers can't turn the clocks back to a time before obesity rates began to rise. They must consider the causes of the causes of childhood obesity and other diet-related diseases and then focus on solutions that the best available evidence indicates will protect population health benefits.

Some food and media companies defend their behaviour by wagging fingers at poor parenting or overstating the capacity of children for sound judgment by embracing notions like “kid power”. These are efforts to shirk responsibility and excuses for doing nothing. In reality, dramatic national--indeed global--changes in sales tax policies, government dietary advice, food manufacturing and marketing practices, school curricula, and the unprecedented growth of sedentary media and computer technologies used for marketing, entertainment, and work have likely all contributed to eroding environments for children and adults. Governments should actively develop programs and policies to repair and prevent the adverse health and economic effects of these major societal transformations.

Thank you.

September 28th, 2006 / 4:50 p.m.
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The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Okay. We probably ran out of time on that subject. That's Bill C-283. We haven't seen it, and we may not see it, so we'll leave that debate for a little further on.

I will leave an opportunity for the other question, if the witnesses wish to address it.

Ms. Gillis.

September 28th, 2006 / 4:50 p.m.
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Senior Vice-President, Government Affairs, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Joyce Reynolds

To try to respond to your question, I think it's a good idea in theory, but in terms of reality and practicality I think it would be almost impossible.

I have to give you an example. For instance, if you have a situation where you've implemented Bill C-283, somebody could complain and say the calorie count for a date square in a coffee shop is not accurate or is missing. You'd then need to have CFIA officials check out that date square. They would then have to check out how many of those coffee shops actually have date squares on the menu. If they found that 60% of them have date squares on the menu, they'd have to figure out how many dollars that date square generated at all of those different coffee shops across the country. Let's say it is over the $50,000 threshold. Once they figured that out, they could find that the date squares are provided by regional suppliers throughout the country and every single date square is different.

This could be the case for a Caesar salad, a club sandwich, a hamburger, or an ice cream cone. It would become a ridiculous exercise to try to implement such legislation or to measure it or analyze it, when restaurant operators are saying they can't provide accurate and reliable information in that format.

September 28th, 2006 / 4:45 p.m.
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Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll start by making a comment on Canada's Food Guide. It may be helpful to the committee, after hearing what we've heard today, to hear from the people who are responsible for putting that together and ensure that there is integrity in the food guide.

Having said that, I have two questions. I'll simply ask the questions and let the answers come as they may. On Bill C-283, Ms. Reynolds, you made a lot of excellent points. However, we still have Bill C-283 being brought forward and there must be a reason why that is occurring--even though I tend to agree with you that it is completely unmanageable, and how would you do it? Nevertheless, we have it, and I think it's fair to say it has a considerable degree of support in the House of Commons. So I'd like to give you an opportunity to address the critics of your position.

In regard to Ms. Gillis' and Ms. Farn's position on liquids, it seemed to me that you were taking opposite points of view on liquids, particularly on flavoured drinks. Is that perception correct? Having heard each other's presentation, I wonder if you could each discuss why your position is correct and the other person's is wrong. A nice little debate would be fun.

That's it.

September 28th, 2006 / 3:45 p.m.
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Senior Vice-President, Government Affairs, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Joyce Reynolds

In the short time left, I would like to focus on two proposals that we would discourage the committee from pursuing.

The first is mandatory menu and menu board labelling. I'm sure committee members are familiar with Bill C-283. The stated purpose of this private member's bill is to address obesity. This is a very resource-heavy approach for both government and industry that we believe would ultimately be unworkable and ineffective. Governments have studied menu and menu board labelling many times and rejected it for practical and well-thought-out reasons, most notably in the context of allergens. Governments recognize that a manufacturing environment cannot be equated to a food service environment, and mandated labelling would only give allergy sufferers a false sense of security.

Similarly, it would be almost impossible, even for branded chains with a high degree of standardization, to provide menu board and menu labelling that would be complete, accurate, legible, reliable, and enforceable. This is because of the frequency of menu changes and supplier substitutions, the prevalence of customized meal choices, the range of flavour and size options for menu items, and the critical role of menus and menu boards in the ordering process and speed of service.

The following slides explain the realities of the restaurant environment and the challenges involved in providing accurate and complete nutrition information that meets the needs of customers. In the interest of time, I won't go through each one, but I would be pleased to address the factors in the Q and A session.

For now, let me jump to slide 39 and draw your attention to the dangers of taking an overly simplistic approach to nutrition information. The sponsor of this bill would say, “It's not that complicated. I just want you to give the customer an idea of the calorie count.” But is it really empowering consumers to make healthy choices if the calorie count is off by more than 50%, depending on the dressing or topping or beverage or side dish the consumer chooses?

A labelling requirement focused on calories over other nutritional considerations can be misleading and may not result in the most nutritious choices. For example, if a teenager were to buy a beverage based on calorie count, she would choose several types of soft drinks and an iced tea over a glass of 1% milk or a chocolate milk. Focusing on calories could also lead a consumer to choose a small doughnut over a multi-grain bagel.

The focus on calories could have other unintended negative effects on children, including conflicts between parents and children centring on food.

Most importantly, there is no evidence that calorie labels would have any effect on people's eating habits or on obesity levels. Dietitians of Canada reference a European heart network study to highlight some key gaps in using nutritional labelling as a population health strategy for improving the eating habits of Canadians.

The resources required to try to implement menu and menu board labelling would be huge and ongoing for both industry and government. The committee must think carefully about the cost and undetermined benefits when considering such a solution.

The other proposal that I will touch on briefly is the recommendation to remove sales tax from restaurant or retail foods that are deemed to be healthy, and perhaps add some taxes to foods that are less healthy. You might think that food service operators would jump at the chance of getting a tax break on the fastest growing component of their menus. As Jill mentioned earlier, developing and promoting healthy menu items is a growing trend, and CRFA has been complaining for years about the unfair application of sales tax to food in Canada.

Meals purchased in restaurants are subject to the GST as well as provincial sales tax in most jurisdictions, while food purchased in grocery stores is tax exempt. However, using the tax system as a tool to modify consumer behaviour on the basis of nutrition would be a logistical nightmare for restaurant operators. For example, an item high in fat may contribute essential fibres and nutrients, while an item low in fat may provide few nutritional benefits. What would a counter person charge a customer who ordered the whole wheat thin-crust vegetarian pizza and then asked for double cheese and bacon? Singling out any food item in a restaurant for special tax treatment ignores the human reality that foods are eaten in combination, and health and nutrition depends upon balance as well as moderation.

To conclude, Mr. Chairman, the food service industry recognizes the seriousness of the obesity problem and the need for multi-faceted solutions that include food service. The CRFA supports greater government intervention and involvement in nutrition and active lifestyle awareness and education programs. Restaurants provide a great distribution point for consumer information, and our members have a sincere desire to be part of such a program.

Please work with us to develop and test effective, workable approaches to encourage Canadians to adopt healthy, active lifestyles.

Thank you.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

September 18th, 2006 / 11:40 a.m.
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Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support Bill C-283 passing at second reading and moving to committee, and I have five points that I would like to make about it.

First, in today's environment many people are more concerned about what they put into their bodies. In many ways it is a more educated consumer group, although not in large numbers perhaps. However, a growing consumer group is concerned about the food it eats. More important, this group is concerned about what its children and families eat. For that reason we have to move in this direction. Although there has been some progress, the public is asking for more.

My second point is about health. As a result of the uncontrolled environment in which we live, we see more illnesses, some of which are triggered by food. In this case I think it truly can be a matter of life and death. We have seen the kinds of allergies that have developed. Everybody knows about peanuts. Does everybody think to ask whether foods are cooked in peanut oil? We are seeing food allergies that we would not have seen 10 years ago because our environment is changing.

As others have said, we spend about 30% of our food dollars on meals outside of our homes. We do not know what is in that food, but we need to have that opportunity. We need to be very conscious of it, as we are with the foods we bring into our homes. The bill may raise awareness about that.

For instance, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has spoken very articulately about the effect of trans fats on health. We see a little more voluntary disclosure of trans fats on packages. However, when people eat out, they want to know if there are trans fats in the food. For health reasons, for personal reasons or for preventative reasons, they may choose not to eat that particular food.

It is the same thing with sodium. I will not repeat all the diseases that my colleague from Scarborough Southwest raised. With the increasing number of young people with high blood pressure, they need to know the amount of sodium in the products they eat both at home and outside it.

The third point is we have a right to know what food we are putting in our bodies and what we are feeding our families. It is not a privilege; it is a right. While there may be parts of the bill we need to debate and while there may be things that need to be changed, I am more than happy to move it to committee in order to help us have an exchange of ideas. Those diseases, particularly diabetes and high blood pressure of which we see more and more in younger people, reflect the need to be very conscious of what we eat when we are out. We know that children and teenagers are eating out a lot. Just the other day a physician told me that a 12-year-old had been diagnosed a type 2 diabetes. We know the effect of some of those foods.

The fourth point is education. We need more consumer education about this. We need to find clear, easy ways to do that, bearing in mind that not everybody has the same literacy rate. We need to have good consumer education.

My last point is poverty. The legislation will not affect many people because they cannot afford to make the healthy choices of fruits and grains, choices that other people can make. These people will continue to go to fast food restaurants because the food is less expensive. These foods are high in carbohydrates and other ingredients, but that is all they can afford. This will not address that in the same way.

In review, the issues are the current environment, health, rights, education and poverty. I am happy to pass this on to the health committee. We can review the legislation from other countries and look at how it has been implemented. I agree that voluntary agreement on almost any issue does not always have a success rate as high as we might like it to be. All these concerns can be addressed by the panel.