moved 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.
Mr. Speaker, since 1989, I have been working to provide consumers with information from which they can make more informed food choices. Today I will go to bat again for Canadian consumers by proposing modest but sorely needed measures to ensure they have important health-related information about many of the processed and restaurant foods we eat every day in this country.
Diet-related disease is steadily straining our health care services and, if unchecked, will create staggering demands on our future capacity to fund public health care and become an unnecessary drag on our economic growth which also limits our capacity to finance health care.
The need to better address preventable chronic, non-communicable diseases has been acknowledged in three consecutive Liberal speeches from the throne. The Liberal, Conservative and NDP provincial governments all agreed with the federal government on the need to tackle diet-related and other chronic diseases in the communiqué of the September 2004 first ministers conference on health care and four recent communiqués of the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of health.
Diet-related disease is an urgent public health problem in this country. Heart disease, stroke, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and dental health all have links to diet that are well recognized by scientists. For instance, the diet-related cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer costs the Canadian economy $6.6 billion annually due to health care costs and lost productivity.
Diet-related risk factors for disease shorten the average Canadian's healthy life expectancy by nearly five years and prematurely ends the lives of tens of thousands of Canadians every year, to say nothing of the pain and suffering these preventable diseases inflict upon victims and their families.
These days, precious few Canadians grow, prepare or even cook their own food any more. It is unthinkable that we should be eating food without knowing its contents. When the Liberal Party formed government we promulgated mandatory nutrition labelling regulations for most prepackaged foods, which the media dubbed the gold standard, globally. However when it comes to ingredient information on processed food and nutrition information on labels of fresh cut meat and restaurant menus, Canadian law and industry practices are little better than any other country and much worse than many.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimates that those new labels that were passed will reap $5 billion in benefits to the economy as a whole from reduced health care costs and increased productivity over the next two decades. These benefits are 20 times the cost to the industry of modifying food labels. Canadians should not pass up an opportunity to save the health care system more than $2 billion over the next two decades.
Bill C-238 can be implemented even less expensively than the new nutrition labelling regulations because it only requires nutrition information for a small number of national chain restaurants that typically have standardized menus. Many chains have already done the analysis. Plus, my bill permits meat packers to use common, government-approved nutrition databases and it only requires readily available ingredient composition data on processed food labels.
Nearly 30 groups, collectively representing over two million Canadians, support the measures in the bill. In the past two years, support for one or more of the three components of Bill C-283 has been articulated in expert reports published by the Canadian population health initiative of the Canadian Institute for Health Information; two reports of the U.S. Institute of Medicine, an expert body upon which Health Canada often relies for scientific advice; the chief medical officer of health for Ontario; a call for action by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada; an editorial in the Canadian Journal of Public Health of the Canadian Public Health Association; an advocacy statement of the British Columbia Healthy Living Alliance; and a report commissioned by the British Columbia Cancer Agency and the Canadian Cancer Society of British Columbia and Yukon.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency initiated consultations on a proposal to establish a watered down form of my proposal requiring percentage ingredient disclosures on products that, for instance, promote blueberry pancakes which, in fact, contain little or no blueberries. The fact that the CFIA abruptly discontinued consultations on even that modest proposal illustrates the need for Parliament to step in.
By introducing Bill C-283 I am seeking to achieve three objectives: first, to close a loophole in the new nutrition labelling regulations for packers of fresh meat, poultry and seafood; second, to extend a simplified nutrition disclosure requirement to large chain restaurant menus and menu boards; and third, add a requirement that multi-ingredient processed foods disclose the amount of key ingredients, especially for ingredients that are the subject of marketing claims or for ingredients that are known by the scientific community to have protective or causative effects on major disease risks. In short, it facilitates informed purchasing decisions, not uninformed or increasingly ill-informed food purchases.
Statistics Canada says that Canadians spend about 30% of their food budgets on restaurant meals. McDonald's restaurants alone claim to serve an average of three million Canadians every day. Plainly, it is no longer an occasional treat to eat at restaurants but rather a central feature of daily life in Canada and yet we rarely see any nutrition information on restaurant menus or menu boards.
It became clear to me and some of my colleagues that the costs of even chemical analysis would be less than a penny on the price of enough food to feed a family of four in a typical faster food restaurants and cheaper by half to calculate such information from existing databases.
Some industry efforts, though encouraging, are not really effective, whether by accident or design. For instance, McDonald's restaurants now provide nutrition information on the back or the underside of tray liners. Imagine, on the back or the underside, for heaven's sake, instead of on the menu boards where the information could actually be used by consumers before they make their purchases, or even on the front of the liner so they could read about what they are eating to help them make more informed choices for their next meal.
Some restaurant owners made the outlandish argument that menus would have to be modified to accommodate every conceivable special order that a consumer could make, such as extra sauce, pickles on the side, with or without cheese, shared orders, et cetera. However, menus at Subway, White Spot and Extreme Pizza, companies that emphasize made to order foods, found a way to report at least some useful nutritional information to consumers, despite the alleged difficulties. Without such information, even trained nutritionists consistently err in estimating calorie counts from physical appearance only.
My bill also proposes to mandate that manufacturers of processed foods show on labels the percentage by weight of key ingredients. This information will help consumers choose more nutritious products, say, products with more fruits or less added sugars. Requiring this information will also help protect consumers against deceptive ingredient claims by unscrupulous manufacturers that tout the presence of appealing ingredients, like vegetables or whole grains, but actually put very little of those ingredients in the product.
Percentage ingredient labelling rules are in effect in Thailand, the European Union, New Zealand and Australia. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency acknowledged the need to establish percentage ingredient labelling requirements. However the CFIA's now dormant proposal leaves open many avenues for consumer deception about ingredient composition and fails to require disclosures that would effectively aid consumers in selecting more nutritious products. My bill does not suffer from the same defects.
Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have already done a thorough job of demonstrating the need for nutrition labelling on prepackaged foods, in the regulatory impact analysis that accompanied the amendments to the food and drug regulations promulgated in January 2003. An exemption for fresh meat, poultry and seafood appears to have been granted in response to claims by several industry associations in 2000 that it would take four to five years to generate nationally representative nutrition data tables for various cuts of meat and species of seafood.
For years, Health Canada and various Canadian industry associations have published such data. Six years have passed. Bill C-283 would provide all parties yet another two years to refine their data in any ways necessary. Without such nutrition information, how many Canadians would know that a three ounce serving of trimmed, broiled top round beef steak has only about one gram of saturated fat while a three ounce serving of trimmed, broiled shoulder blade pork steak has four grams of saturated fat, a full four ounce difference in saturated fat content between two cuts of meat the same size, a difference that is not evident from visual inspection or even taste?
The House may recall that in a previous Parliament, a Conservative member who is now a minister of the Crown, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, spoke very favourably about an earlier version of this bill. He said:
What the member is attempting to do would be very difficult to argue against...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.
I hope all members of the Conservative government will demonstrate the same good sense as that hon. member. I hope members will not prevent Canadians from getting the vital nutrition information they sorely need to make healthy food choices for their families and themselves.
The scientific basis for requiring that this information be provided to consumers is tried and true. The scientific consensus is that Canadians should consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, and less sodium, added sugar, saturated and trans fat and, for most of us, fewer calories.
By now, I think and hope, the food industry has seen the writing on the wall. I urge my friends on both sides of the House to ensure that this writing ends up where it should be and where it can do the most good: on the food labels and the menu boards. I urge them to support this bill by sending it to the health committee for in depth study with a view to improving the bill for the benefit of all Canadians.