Mr. Speaker, World Salt Awareness Week falls between March 11 and 17. However, unlike last year, there does not appear to be a record on Health Canada's website of the Minister of Health issuing a statement on the importance of reducing salt in the diet of Canadians. That is perhaps because of the fear of potential blowback for the Conservative government's killing of this important bill, which would implement the recommendations of the previous Conservative health minister's sodium working group.
The minister's reason for killing the bill is, wait for it, not a $21-billion tax but a $48-billion tax. Perhaps the government would be good enough to table, for all members of this House, who did the calculations for the tax, the method that was used and the results obtained. Perhaps, at the same time, the government would also table the health costs of chronic diseases that are linked to consuming too much salt.
In her statement on salt last year, the Minister of Health said:
On average we eat more than double the amount we need for good health.... It is important for Canadians to remember that consuming too much sodium is a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke and is also linked to other diseases such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.
As Minister of Health, I want to help Canadians avoid these health risks by promoting the adoption of a healthy diet that is low in sodium.
Therefore, it is clear that the minister understands the problem, yet thinks it is funny to say the bill is “...tough on potato chips”. It is not funny to a family struggling to control blood pressure, and not funny to a family battling heart disease or stroke. More distasteful still is the fact that once again she is prepared to put industry before the health of Canadians. Specifically, the minister is refusing to reduce the average sodium intake from about 3,400 milligrams per person per day to 2,300 milligrams by 2016. Health Canada's own recommended daily intake level for sodium is just 1,500 milligrams. The minister's own sodium working group estimated that a decrease in the average sodium intake to about 1,800 milligrams per day, still above Health Canada's recommendation, would prevent 23,500 cardiovascular disease events every year, and would save $1.4 billion per year in health care costs.
The Minister of Health is also refusing a consumer education campaign, a monitoring plan and public database to track if individual food products meet specific reduction targets, and new regulations to force companies to use uniform serving sizes and the nutritional facts on food. Why did this health minister disband the sodium working group at the end of 2010? Why did the minister fail to endorse a federal-provincial sodium reduction plan at the health ministers' meeting in Halifax in November 2011? Why is this minister ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence?
The reality is that this private member's bill is supported by the Canadian Medical Association and 40 other groups and experts, including: the Canadian Institute of Child Health; Canadian Nurses Association; Canadian Pharmacists Association; Canadian Public Health Association; Canadian Society of Internal Medicine; Canadian Women's Health Network; Dieticians of Canada; Food Secure Canada; Hypertension Canada; Kidney Foundation of Canada; and Public Health Physicians of Canada.
The Canadian Medical Association stated:
The Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act is an important piece of legislation that can lead to healthier lives for all Canadia2 Parliament support it.
The Canadian Medical Association also very clearly stated:
Canadians consume on average 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily, well above recommended levels. High sodium levels in food are responsible for almost one-third of hypertension cases in Canada. Hypertension is a major cause of heart disease (heart attack and heart failure), stroke and kidney failure, and is an important contributor to premature death, disability and health care costs in Canada. It is estimated that 7.5 million Canadians have been diagnosed with this chronic condition, with an estimated 1,100 new patients being added every day.
Dr. Norm Campbell, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research chair in hypertension prevention and control, said:
The bill provides concrete measures for reducing the amount of salt food processors add to food. The measures proposed in the Bill include close government monitoring and oversight and mandatory labelling of foods that fail to comply with sodium targets. If passed, Bill C-460 will for the first time provide Canadians an opportunity to even know if they are even making a healthy or unhealthy food choice.
Canadians should be asking broader questions. Why did the minister quash trans fats recommendations in 2009 and again in 2012? Why did she ignore the advice regarding caffeinated energy drinks? Why did the minister immediately shoot down the idea of the Institute of Medicine's report, sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling for a fundamental shift in the way companies were allowed to present certain nutritional information on the front of food packages? Where is the leadership?
It is outrageous that the government would resort to invoking fear in Canadians to kill this bill. We heard from a government member who said:
—the bill would pose many challenges. While unintentional, implementing the bill may potentially have negative impacts on food safety and health; I repeat, negative impacts on food safety and health.
The member suggested that reducing salt and sodium-containing food additives to levels still higher than Health Canada's own recommended limits might affect preservation.
The member did not stop there, saying, “The bill simply does not anticipate the food safety consequences that this could create”.
Equally ludicrous is the government's argument that a warning label for sodium could be very misleading to Canadians, even though the government's own approach has been to encourage healthy eating through positive messaging, awareness and education activities.
I would like to finish by bringing some reality to the government's position and arguments.
On average, adult Canadians consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day. This is significantly above recommended levels. Health Canada and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have determined that the tolerable upper intake level for adults is 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Of most of the sodium Canadians consume, 77% comes from processed foods sold in grocery stores and in food service outlets. Only about 11% is added during preparation at the table, with the remainder occurring naturally in foods, hence, showing the fundamental flaw in the parliamentary secretary's comments regarding a salt shaker.
In some people, too much sodium causes blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure increases risks for heart disease and stroke. About six million adult Canadians have high blood pressure or hypertension, the leading risk for death in the world, the number one risk factor for stroke and a major risk factor for heart disease.
It has been estimated that excess sodium intake is responsible for one million hypertension cases in Canada today. Dietary sodium reduction could eliminate hypertension for over a million Canadians, with a resulting savings of at least $430 million annually in direct high blood pressure management costs alone.
A recent study in the United States shows reducing salt intake by three grams per day would save the country up to $24 billion in health care costs a year. Even a modest reduction of one gram per day between 2010 and 2019 would be more cost-effective than using medications to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
Is it not time that Canada's Minister of Health acted, not ignored experts and stonewalled?