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Evidence of meeting #51 for Health in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sodium.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Heather Chappell  Director, Cancer Control Policy, Canadian Cancer Society
Rob Cunningham  Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society
Eleanor White  President, Canadian Chiropractic Association
Garth Whyte  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association
Joyce Reynolds  Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association
Stéphanie Côté  Dietitian, Public nutrition and communication/media, Nutrition reference centre of Université de Montréal, NUTRIUM
Barbara Kaminsky  Chair, BC Healthy Living Alliance
Mary Collins  Director of the Secretariat, BC Healthy Living Alliance
John Tucker  Director, Government and Interprofessional Relations, Canadian Chiropractic Association

4:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Chiropractic Association

Eleanor White

Quite honestly, I'm unaware of a study that has done that. Indirectly, I would imagine that the proof would be in the pudding, so to speak. If the individuals adopted a healthier lifestyle, one would hope to see a drop in expense of health care. But how you would measure the outcome and police it, I'm not really sure.

Dr. Tucker, do you know anything about that?

4:05 p.m.

John Tucker Director, Government and Interprofessional Relations, Canadian Chiropractic Association

Such a program would obviously be an incentive program. It would probably be modelled after the child tax credit, which is a modest improvement in public policy, which allows a very small amount of money a family can claim if their child is involved in a healthy activity. It may take that form in its first stage, and as it evolves and establishes itself, it can be expanded.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Thank you.

To the restaurant association, I have a very brief question. This is not being asked in a partisan spirit, but I don't understand fully what the government has or hasn't done with respect to the salt issue by disbanding the group or bringing some other group in. Can you tell me, in a very constructive way, what you think the impact would be? It's voluntary now; it's not mandatory. First of all, do you support voluntary, or are you also open to mandatory? Because that is going to impact you as well.

Secondly, what is your constructive assessment of the current approach?

4:05 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Joyce Reynolds

Thank you.

CRFA was represented on the sodium working group. A lot of work went into the strategy report, which we support. The support includes three prongs: sodium reduction targets; an education awareness campaign; and research. All three prongs have to be integrated. I can assure you that there's a huge amount of work going on right now on identifying sodium in products and on reformulating products, not only in the food services industry but in the complete food supply.

I can also say that there is some angst that there is too much focus on that aspect and not on the other two prongs. There needs to be a huge education campaign so that consumers understand why the taste profile of their food is changing. I don't think government can ask industry to spend hundreds of millions of dollars reformulating their products and transforming the food supply fundamentally in this country and not participate in education and awareness. All three prongs of the strategy report must be implemented in tandem.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I want to go back to my compatriots from British Columbia.

Mary, I have a question for you. You obviously have an understanding of how the federal government works, or doesn't work, perhaps. You argued, I thought somewhat persuasively, with respect to regulations for non-nutritious foods, for taxing them. Taxing is unpopular, at best, as you know. And you know that there's going to be huge resistance from the various soft drink manufacturers and the like. Are you advocating that vociferously? How much support do you have in British Columbia for that?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Tim Uppal

Give a quick answer, please.

4:10 p.m.

Director of the Secretariat, BC Healthy Living Alliance

Mary Collins

Yes, it's certainly very much part of our policy work. We've been talking, obviously, with the provincial government about that, because there was a provincial jurisdiction issue there.

A lot of studies have been done on jurisdictions that have introduced such a tax. One of the things we know is that the tax has to be substantial to really make a difference, and ideally, it's included in the price. It's not added on at the cash register. It does appear to make a difference in the choices people make. It is controversial. We think there would be a big requirement to do a lot of education around it and to seek a time that might work. But we certainly think it is something that should be considered.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Tim Uppal

Thank you.

Before I go on to Mr. Malo for the next question, there was a question about a study on the child fitness tax credit. Analysts have found a study. They're getting it translated, and members will be provided with that study.

Go ahead, Monsieur Malo.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I hope you will be as generous with me as you were with Mr. Dosanjh.

My first question is for Ms. Côté. You talked about the level of confusion in terms of the nutrition labels, information and private logos that appear on various food products. Could you give us some real examples of false or confusing messages from the consumer's perspective?

4:10 p.m.

Dietitian, Public nutrition and communication/media, Nutrition reference centre of Université de Montréal, NUTRIUM

Stéphanie Côté

Absolutely. There are numerous claims and logos that companies put on their own products including “low in fat” and “reduced sugar”. Obviously, some claims are governed by the Food and Drug Regulations to attest to their truthfulness. But too many claims and logos cause people to lose sight of the product as a whole. As a result, they tend to focus on one specific feature, often disregarding the disadvantages of certain foods. Because of such claims, people often eat more than they would have had the product not carried the claim, or they may even make different choices because manufacturers emphasize the product's positive features. So from the consumer's standpoint, you have this environment where all these products are competing for your attention and the one with the most eye-catching logo or most convincing claim wins out. And that is where things can really get confusing.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Do you think the main purpose of these logos is to divert consumers' attention?

4:15 p.m.

Dietitian, Public nutrition and communication/media, Nutrition reference centre of Université de Montréal, NUTRIUM

Stéphanie Côté

Yes, you can call it a diversion tactic because it causes the consumer to lose sight of the product as a whole.

Take a sugarless soft drink, for example. Consumers might want products that do not contain sugar, but if they looked at this product as a whole, they would see that it had no nutritious value—no vitamins, no minerals. That is not necessarily a good food choice, but because it has no sugar, the consumer may see it as a healthy alternative.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

What should we do about food claims?

4:15 p.m.

Dietitian, Public nutrition and communication/media, Nutrition reference centre of Université de Montréal, NUTRIUM

Stéphanie Côté

There is a difference between claims and logos. One on hand, you have logos, which should be regulated, in my opinion. For example, the “Health Check” logo is currently overseen by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, an independent organization that authorizes companies to put the logo on their products. I think when you have a situation like this, with an independent body authorizing the use of the logo, that is the way to go. Where problems arise is when companies are the ones putting the logo on their products, because each of them can establish an arbitrary set of criteria for using that logo. We should do more to control the use of logos and favour those issued by independent companies and organizations.

On the other hand, you have claims, which should be made based on the composition of the product as a whole, as is the case when something is labelled as “trans fat free”, a declaration requiring manufacturers to take into account the saturated fat content, as well. So a number of factors related to the composition of the food product need to be taken into account before any claim can be made about the product.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Ms. Reynolds, your information kit included a number of guides, including one entitled “How to Reduce Sodium in Menu Items: A User's Guide for Foodservice Operators”.

How many of your members use that guide, and how do you determine whether operators are using it?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Joyce Reynolds

One of the things we do is we have that guide on our website, and we encourage our members through our e-news and our CRFN magazine to use our documents that we make available to them. We have over 30,000 members across the country.

We also know there's an awful lot of work going on among the chains in particular to reformulate their products. We're looking forward to seeing what the sodium reduction targets are for food service. They've been drafted for packaged goods, but we haven't seen those for food service. Everybody's waiting anxiously--

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

I will rephrase my question. Did you come up with that guide to look like you are doing something, to show that your association has developed a guide on the topic? Or were you really trying to create something that your members could use as a meaningful reference? How did you really determine that the guide was being used?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Joyce Reynolds

We provide a lot of educational information to our members. I don't know that we have a way of assessing how many read it and how many use it, but we know we get positive feedback from our members because they're calling us; they're asking us. We're developing these guidance documents in response to industry questions and industry demands.

I don't know what else to say.

Do you want to say something, Garth?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Garth Whyte

This is precisely the point I think all of us are making. It's a very complex issue, and we're just talking about sodium. If you look at this document, I think as you read it, and I hope you will take the time to read it, you'll see it's a very serious document. You'll see that there's a lot there. It's very difficult for an independent entrepreneur to figure all this out. It's very confusing. It's not just confusing for the customer; it's confusing for the person who's in that restaurant. It's very complex. Depending on the item you're serving, it will have different amounts in it.

Also, right now sodium is one of the top criminals, but sodium is also necessary for us, so what levels do we need?

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

But 1,500 mg a day is not the same as 3,400 mg a day.

4:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Garth Whyte

I realize that.

But this is the thing. It's very difficult. It's very difficult to measure. What we're doing is putting it out there as a document, which is, by the way, endorsed by government, to help educate people.

It leads to the fourth plank of what we're trying to do with sodium: evaluating and monitoring take-up and doing proper research on how much has been done to lower sodium levels.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Tim Uppal

Thank you.

We'll now have Ms. Hughes.

February 17th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you.

I'd like to pose questions to Ms. Chappell and Mr. Cunningham.

You mentioned tobacco. We know how important the education part of it is. We know how important it is to have the packaging actually changed. We had to fight with the government to change that packaging. I'm just wondering, for you, how important it was to change the packaging.

4:20 p.m.

Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society

Rob Cunningham

I think what's been announced by the minister is very significant. It's a public health gain, and it's going to reduce smoking. It will be the best, or among the best, overall package warning systems in the world. Increasing the size increases the impact. A picture says a thousand words. It's going to reduce smoking. We're very pleased with the announcement.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

We know you want the strategy itself to be continued. It's about to expire in March, right? You talked about the importance of a social media campaign and of continuing it. Maybe you could expand on your vision and whether what's there currently is working very well or whether it needs to be expanded.

You also touched on aboriginals and additional initiatives needed. I'm wondering if you could elaborate on the additional initiatives needed.

I can tell you that over a year ago I went to Nunavut, and I was extremely alarmed to see a basketball team outside smoking. Every one of those kids was smoking, and they didn't look like they were older than 13.