House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.


Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

6 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the amendment lost.

The House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North, MB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should seek to ensure that all manufacturers of foods and beverages be required to print "best before" and expiration dates clearly and legibly on the outside of the product packaging in a non-encoded format.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to encourage each member to support Motion No. 217.

Simply put, this motion is about the integrity of Canadian food in terms of freshness information, quality and health safety, as well as the interests of food manufacturers.

Where safety is the primary concern, an expiration date is critical. Products which pass their expiration date must be removed from the shelves. This applies primarily to vitamin products and single source foods which supply basic nutrition such as infant formula. The problem in the latter case may be one of loss of vital nutritional quality which could seriously affect the health of infants.

I would like to focus, however, the remainder of my debate on the issue of best-before dates. But whether we speak of best-before or expiration dates, it is in the best interests of all that they meet the standards of quality and legibility. It is also important that these dates not appear in a coded format. They must be easy for consumers to interpret.

The motion represents in this sense a win-win situation for all parties concerned. It is an opportunity for the House to assume a leadership role on behalf of both the welfare of Canadian consumers and the competitive interests of Canadian industry.

At stake here is nothing less than the consumer confidence of a solid majority of Canadians. They would like to be assured that the foods and beverages they consume are safe, nutritious and wholesome. They would like to be assured that subtle and unseen defects in food quality are made known to them before more obvious, visible changes occur. They would like to be reassured that securing the integrity of Canadian food is given top priority by government.

The printing of best-before and expiry dates clearly and legibly on all products in a format easily understood by all is something Canadians should be able to claim as a right.

Currently food and beverage manufacturers are required to place best-before dates only on products with a shelf life or so-called durable life of 90 days or less, that is on most perishable goods. Yet as far back as 1987 consumers had expressed their wish to see date marking extended to canned and frozen foods which currently are often exempt from such requirements.

This consumer interest has not abated. A survey conducted in 1993 by the Grocery Products Manufacturers' Association of Canada showed that 97 per cent of consumers looked at best-before dates when buying a food product for the first time. Recent statistics therefore make the case for the motion before us more compelling and timely.

Many consumers groups including the Consumers' Association of Canada actively support the extension of date marking to all foods. The association has even gone one step further, supporting the view that prepackaged foods with a shelf life of less than 90 days should also bear a packaging date indicating when the product was first placed in its container and offered for sale.

Given the clear desire expressed by the consumers group for better, more comprehensive freshness information, and given that business thrives best when consumers wishes are met, one would expect the food industry's response to be one of voluntary compliance. This regrettably has not happened yet.

The Canadian industry's stance has to be revisited, particularly in light of the globalization of markets. It is known that European industries offer precisely what consumers want and expect where date marking is concerned.

The government, in the nation's interest should ask how would Canadian food products without the desired changes in date markings as alluded to earlier eventually compete with imported products? Industry representatives have cited cost, wastage of products and the need for consumer education as reasons for their opposition to a new date marking system.

These are valid arguments, but I would ask these business people to consider the possibility that if consumers are able to access imported foods bearing more detailed dating information they may simply purchase these imported items rather than those made in Canada.

In other words, these food industry representatives may ultimately do themselves a disservice by allowing cost associated with implementing a new dating system to prevent them from honouring consumers' wishes. A new date marking system would best ensure competitiveness that in the end would allow for recovery of attendant costs.

I am encouraged that industry officials who participated in a recent Food and Drugs Act regulatory review stated their commitment to respond to consumers' preferences. This is a positive sign. At the same time I am discouraged that manufacturers are not yet providing on a voluntary basis the information consumers want.

Since current Food and Drugs Act regulations are not meeting consumer demands this House should indicate its support for regulatory change. That quite simply is the purpose of this motion.

I would like to call to the attention of the House the three recent documents relevant to this motion that have been produced. This is a three volume document titled A Strategic Direction for Change-A Review of the Regulations under the Food and Drugs Act. I have here two of the volumes. These were recently completed by the health protection branch of Health and Welfare Canada in consultation with the former Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs whose food labelling function has since been transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The first two volumes of this thorough one-year review of the regulations under the Food and Drugs Act were released last November and December respectively. The proposed implementation plan, volume three, was released just last month. I am encouraged that the proposed implementation plan addresses some of the desired ends of the motion. However, I believe more can be done and soon.

The implementation plan is disappointing on several counts. It states that the government will only "support the use of best-before dating on other products with a durable life of more than 90 days on a voluntary basis".

The revocation of durable life date exemptions for commissary foods and prepackaged doughnuts are the only concrete

steps taken to extend the best-before requirements. This is not enough. These requirements must be extended to all products.

In fact other parts of the plan state that in the course of drafting new regulations, the health protection branch will merely review current practices and consider requiring, dates on low acid or previously frozen foods. The words supporting, reviewing and considering, though well-intentioned, do not spell action to the consumer. Consumers want action, and now. To wait until October 1995 for prepublication of the new Food and Drugs Act regulations, as the proposed implementation plan calls for, will not give timely justice to the issue.

Admittedly there are some who would argue that they would not like to see yet another regulatory burden placed on Canadian businesses. This motion makes the case that this so-called regulatory burden would in fact be a regulatory blessing not only to consumers but to businesses as well. We have a responsibility as a nation to champion the causes of both private and corporate citizens.

Fellow members, recognize that limiting manufacturers' obligations to print best-before expiry dates shifts the burden of making informed purchases to the consumers. Recognize that Canada has an obligation to ensure its consumers are able to access superior products, preferably those manufactured in Canada, in their markets. Recognize as well that we, elected representatives, have an obligation to institute regulations which protect private and corporate interests. Recognize further that we have a duty to regulate in the national interest.

Permit me therefore to cite a specific example of an instance in which a better date marking system could benefit Canadian consumers. A man goes to a grocery store and purchases a jar of tomato sauce. The jar does not display a best-before date as it has a shelf life longer than 90 days if unopened.

One night the man opens the jar, pours out half of its contents and returns the remainder to his refrigerator. Several days later he re-opens the jar and notices that its contents have a foul odour. He examines the jar thoroughly to see whether its label contains any shelf life information. He finds none. What he does find is a cryptic string of numbers and letters on a remote corner of the label. The code reads: STD 10 305 N3 E500.

He calls a phone number on the label to determine what it means and is told by the operator that the code indicates the jar was processed on the 305th day of 1993. Who would know that, Mr. Speaker? I did not. Its contents if unopen are good from one to one and a half years. However, once opened the sauce has a durable life of just five to seven days but only if the product is kept refrigerated.

The man is angry that he has wasted half a jar of the product. He is angry that he had no way of knowing how long it would retain its freshness without making a phone call. He wonders if other products in his cabinet may be subject to similar spoilage. In essence, he wants to know why manufacturers do not provide more detailed date information about their products in a format consumers can both recognize easily and understand fully. This example is a true to life story as brought to my attention by one of my constituents in Winnipeg North.

It is important to note that there are many other products such as carbonated soft drinks whose durable life is deemed to be longer than 90 days but is shorter than many consumers suspect, just a few months in many cases. As if to acknowledge that fact, Pepsi corporation recently instituted a voluntary date marking system for its diet canned and bottled soft drinks in the United States.

In the absence of such markings, what is to prevent consumers from stocking up on these products only to find they have spoiled in just a few weeks? It is common practice after all for supermarkets to sell particular items at a discount when their stock on those items begins to gather dust.

Again, this underscores the need to extend the practice of best before dating to all foods and beverages regardless of their shelf lives. What I and many consumers would like to see is a standardized label. Consumer groups informed the health protection branch that labels should be consumer friendly, that is clear, understandable and difficult to overlook.

At this time manufacturers of foods with durable lives of less than 90 days are only required to express best before dates as a stream of letters and numbers. The code begins with the last two digits of the year followed by the month expressed as an abbreviation and then the date. The words "best before" must precede the information given.

Presently a container of milk with a best before date of April 12, 1994 would bear the legend "best before 94Al12". The fact is this code may not be comprehensible to other Canadians. What does Al mean? Does 12 mean the twelfth day of the month or the twelfth day of the year? A standard letter, one of a particular colour, shape and size which consumers could immediately locate on all foods and read rather than decipher would provide an anchor for the eyes.

In my own experience I have found containers of milk or juice whose best before dates are smeared, printed in faint or small type or hidden away on a remote part of the product packaging.

It is laudable when government departments undertake an extensive process of consultation with an eye toward improving the regulatory framework of a particular piece of legislation, but

the proposed implementation plan for regulatory reform under the Food and Drugs Act in my opinion could go even further with date marking requirements.

Knowledge, it is often said, is power. We should move to make certain that food manufacturers give consumers the power to make good choices, informed decisions about the foods they buy, bring home and serve to their families.

I urge all members of this House to register their support for motion M-217. Let us demonstrate to the food industry and in effect to all Canadian industries that we in government expect our businesses to remain accountable to the public at large, particularly when discharge of accountability means a return on investments many times over.

At stake here is consumer confidence in the integrity of Canadian food products and the competitiveness of Canadian food producers. We need to make it clear that meeting consumer demands is good business for Canadian business.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I wish to commend my colleague from Winnipeg North for this motion which, in my opinion, will greatly benefit consumers in Quebec and Canada without forcing manufacturers to spend outrageous amounts to apply the new practices.

The introduction of this kind of motion is a clear indication of the member's interest, which I share, in the health of consumers and of the regard he has for them.

One must recognize that it is often difficult in this day and age to see and to interpret the labelling on products for sale. So, the House must absolutely ensure that manufacturers of food and beverages be required to print "best before" and expiration dates clearly and legibly in a non-encoded format. The Bloc Quebecois will support the motion. We will do so, Mr. Speaker, for various reasons which I will outline.

All of us in the House are consumers who, when shopping, do not always look for the expiration date, so we can sometimes buy products which are past their prime. This motion will ensure that the expiration date is clearly marked, so consumers will avoid mistakes. Thanks to the improved labelling of food products, from now on consumers will be able to buy only fresh products. Clearly printing a product's expiration date will show consumers that the manufacturer respects his customers and cares about their welfare.

Such a measure would be in line with the management philosophy related to the implementation of "total quality" in our businesses, a philosophy focused on identifying and adequately meeting customers' needs.

Another aspect of the proposed measure is the health of Canadians and Quebeckers. Using products after their expiration dates may be hazardous to one's health and it is our duty to protect the health and welfare of our people. Our children must be able to rely on healthy products that will allow them to develop normally.

A society as advanced as ours must have the means to recognize the freshness of its food products: it is a sign of an advanced society.

But this debate seems paradoxical to me in some respects, given the unacceptable situation faced by hundreds of thousands of Canadians and Quebeckers who live at or below the poverty line, as one would expect in an underdeveloped society. Mr. Speaker, consumers need money to buy-that is of paramount importance.

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that the Liberal Party of Canada made a list of election promises in the famous red book. Indeed, the Liberal government promised Canadians in the election last October to create jobs, real jobs. Where are these real jobs? In the infrastructure program that creates only temporary jobs? What has the government really done? It wants to close the military college in St-Jean, which will cost at least 1,000 jobs. In manpower training, the government refuses to transfer any jurisdiction, funds or staff to the provinces. In income security reform, it will cut $7.5 billion over the next two years from the income of the poorest people in our society and thus cause poverty to increase, while tax shelters that benefit the wealthy are maintained.

The government must keep its promises to the people. It must now take concrete action instead of making pious wishes! Such action would involve not only the clear legible labeling of the freshness of products by manufacturers but also job creation, industrial restructuring, the conversion of military to civilian industry, help for small and medium-sized businesses and the creation of real jobs that will give Quebeckers and Canadians the money they need to buy fresh, clearly labeled products.

We talk about products available on the market, but if people have no money, how can they buy them? The mother who goes shopping for her family every week knows that well. How many mothers must choose what food to buy because they lack money? Parents no longer choose between shoes for the children and a summer vacation, but which child will have a new pair of shoes this year.

In the same vein, what can we say about the dozens of food banks all over Canada that are needed more and more so that thousands of Canadians and Quebeckers can eat regularly? Even worse, the almost permanent nature of these food banks is striking proof of the deep malaise affecting the Canadian economy.

As recently as yesterday, I met the managers of Moisson-Mauricie, a food bank located in my riding of Trois-Rivières. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them and congratulate all of the volunteers who work there and thank them, on behalf of the people, for the remarkable job they are doing.

Moisson-Mauricie provides food products to about ten organizations which then redistribute the food to the needy. I was told yesterday that sometimes the food bank did not have any food to hand out. To me, it is sheer nonsense, it is an alarming and unacceptable situation which shows how serious this issue is.

Given these concerns, on behalf of the Official Opposition, I reiterate our support of Motion No. 217.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the motion presented to the House by the member of Parliament for Winnipeg North.

My hon. seat mate has asked us to support Motion M-217. It is worth conserving the words of this very thoughtful motion: "The government should seek to ensure that manufacturers of food and beverages be required to print best before and expiration dates clearly and legibly on the outside of product packaging in a non-encoded format".

What my hon. friend is saying here is that when we go shopping for food products we should easily be able to understand what we are buying and how long that product will be good.

What he is saying is that easy to understand packaging labels should be a right. Canadians are proud that we produce the highest quality food products in the world. We should have labelling standards of an equally high standard.

Today food and beverage manufacturers are only required to place best before dates on products with a shelf life of up to90 days. In fact, no shelf life standards exist and it is the manufacturer's decision to determine the appropriate shelf life period for its products and label them accordingly. That is just not good enough.

It shifts an unreasonable burden on to consumers to make the purchasing decisions with no fair basis for making these decisions.

It puts manufacturers with rigorous standards at a disadvantage. It does not meet the highest possible standards that Canadians expect of our food products.

It is really quite extraordinary that we require all kinds of nutritional information to be printed on food packages but we fail to say when the food was produced and how long it retains its quality.

According to the Grocer Products Manufacturers of Canada's own survey 97 per cent of Canadians are interested in knowing the shelf life of products. The current lack of standards is not meeting consumer demands and quite frankly I think most Canadians would be astounded to learn how lax our formal standards really are.

The Consumer Association of Canada supports the extension of date marking to all food.

What we need, as my hon. colleague pointed out, is basic information presented in a straightforward manner. We need easy to read, easy to locate labels on all foods to give consumers the facts they need to make informed decisions.

There are complicated encoded messages on products so that manufacturers can determine their sales figures and inventory information. Why should information not be provided to consumers so they can know vital information about the same food products? If it is good enough for manufacturers to know the information why is it not good enough for consumers?

As we move to produce environmentally friendly products surely we can move to produce consumer friendly labelling on the most essential of all our products, our food.

Knowledge is power and consumers do not have all the knowledge they need. We all know that more and more people are stocking up on many foodstuffs through bulk purchases. Indeed all major supermarkets are encouraging consumers to do so through advertising and marketing strategies. Consumers have a right to know how long those products are good for before they stock up these bulk purchases.

Another major trend in modern society is the move to foods purchased without packaging. We have all seen and used the bulk bins in our local groceries to scoop out bulk amounts of literally anything from soup to nuts.

Should there not be labels on these bins to tell consumers when the items were prepared and how long they retain their maximum quality? Should those foods not have some kind of durability date? Should products produced on totally different dates be mixed in the same bin? Surely what we need are some basic labels to give real meaning to the phrase health food.

This issue is not a philosophical debate; this is a completely practical matter. To see how modern our standards are, just last evening I walked through a local supermarket and examined the most primary foods to see which products had packaging dates and best-before labels. I do not want to name names or blame anyone. The problem is the lack of any uniform standards. While I was walking around last night I looked at the chicken and the hamburger packaging. They had labels which had both date packaged on the top and best-before written on the other corner. Somewhere between these two expressions was a date, but I had no idea what date it was: the date it was packaged or the best-before date. Not only that, the date that was on there was

yesterday's date. Were those goods packaged yesterday, or was this the date when they were no longer any good?

Since all the meat packaged in that area had yesterday's date on it, I had to assume that was the day they were packaged but maybe I assumed wrongly. Maybe if I had bought those things today they would be past their best date.

On the major canned food goods in the store that I walked around which families stock up on for emergencies, there was almost no best-before dates. There was one major exception: sardines packaged in New Brunswick had very clear labelling and I salute the manufacturers for that. Some jars of peanut butter had best-before labelling and some did not. Some jams said to refrigerate after opening and some did not. Frozen foods had no best-before labelling at all.

I might have made some errors and I might have omitted some products, but this was when I was casually walking through the store and arbitrarily picking products up and checking. I also had somebody check each one if I could not find it on the label. We both may have missed it, but we both tried to find the best-before dates. In fact walking around the store last night I noticed that no packaged foods had any information about how long the product retained its quality once the seal was broken.

I am not claiming that the standards I found are typical of all products or all grocery stores. I am saying that there is no way of knowing what to expect precisely, because we lack something as simple and as important as a expiry date and a best-before date on many foods and beverages. They should be marked clearly and legibly on the outside of product packaging.

I have heard the argument that if people do not like the labelling standards on food at their local supermarket they should just shop somewhere else. I am afraid that many senior citizens in my riding of Hamilton Mountain would find it extremely difficult travelling from supermarket to supermarket to find easy-to-understand packaging. We are not talking about standards for luxury items. We are talking about standards for food, the most essential of all the goods we package.

Canadians should be entitled to know when the food they eat was prepared and how long the food they purchase maintains its freshness. We need such basic information about the food we consume.

I commend the member of Parliament from Winnipeg North for presenting this important motion to the House of Commons and I support him fully.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North has put forward a motion which I believe all of us here can support at least in principle. I acknowledge each of you being here at this late hour tonight talking about food and I am very pleased to be speaking to this motion.

The motion recognizes that there are changes coming in consumer preference regarding the packaging of food and beverage products. These changes address the changing mindset in the marketplace. Combined with food safety concerns, Canadians are now more health conscious and selective. Canadians scrutinize the appearance, the quality as well as the labels of food and beverage products. As people tighten their belts they are increasingly paying attention to food prices. Ultimately this is the single most important factor to consider before purchase.

The Grocery Products Manufacturers of Canada have been polling grocery buying since 1987. They approached people buying groceries with the following question: "When you are buying a product for the first time from the supermarket or grocery store, what kind of information would you be sure to look for on the label of a new food product that you were buying for the first time?"

For every year that the study has been conducted from 1987 through to 1993 consumers have answered with unswerving consistency. They most want to see the list price. The second most desired information is the printing of best-before dates. The polling showed that cooking instructions and ingredients came in third and fourth place respectively.

This polling is only a snapshot of what consumers want on a more global basis, but it does show a consistent interest over six years for the appearance of best-before dates on packaged product. This demonstrates there is consumer support for and interest in this information.

The marketplace is where the consumer has economic influence to bring about change. However for companies to provide this information costs would have to be incurred. Special encoding machines have to be bought or slight modifications will have to be made to the existing machinery. Traditionally companies are loathe to increase their cost of production if they do not believe that there is going to be any basic positive economic spin-off.

In this case it has not been made clear to the companies that the printing of this information would increase the saleability of a product and that is something we need to consider in our debate on this topic. In supporting this motion we can help consumers get their message across to the processors and manufacturers if we give consideration to that element.

It is interesting to note that some companies are voluntarily putting this information on their products. One of these companies is Pepsi-Cola. What I am about to say is definitely not an endorsement of Pepsi-Cola. However Pepsi has recognized the need for better, more accurate labelling on their products. They realize that Pepsi drinkers want to know how long their Pepsis will keep the fizz fresh. To meet this consumer demand Pepsi announced last week that it is going to be printing on all its products what it calls a freshness date, so watch that fizz. The date will be clearly and legibly stamped on the product and it will include the day, the month and the year.

This motion is an adequate response to one of the recommendations made by the health protection branch in 1993. It published a review of the regulations under the Food and Drugs Act entitled "A Strategic Direction for Change". This review was comprehensive and as such the recommendation that it be put forward came as a result of thoughtful review. We always need to consider that those particular reports contain nuggets of information that will lead us in the right direction. However we always have to look at that end user which is the consumer.

It stated that consumers expect the food label to provide basic information about the contents of the food, who made it and its shelf life in clear, understandable language that is easy to read, and we heard this from my hon. colleagues prior to my presentation tonight. This report also confirmed the need for best-before dates when it stated the main issues for consumers emerging from the consultation was a lack of ingredient information for many foods, the content and understandability of the ingredient list, the understandability of claims, and the need for best-before dating on more foods.

This report goes on in greater detail about best-before dates. There was extensive interest from consumers regarding the extension of date marking to all foods both for packed on dates and best-before dates.

The Consumers Association of Canada advocated a date of manufacture. This organization also supported a durable life date for products with a shelf life of greater than 90 days in the case of low acid foods and hermetically sealed containers and refrigerated foods.

I wonder how many of us have purchased bags of hermetically sealed foods only to find they are really quite questionable in terms of freshness when they are opened.

Over all, although legibility was very important, the location of the information on the label was not a priority. In some cases providing information elsewhere on the label was acceptable.

Even the food industry representatives conceded the importance of consumer information and generally support such current requirements as the ingredient listing on prepackaged foods and best-before dating.

Having said that, the food industry does have some concerns and legitimately so. First, it is not clear which products will be included under this motion and I would ask the hon. member to give some consideration to that as he goes forward in this debate on the next reading.

The report by the health protection branch stated that the extension of requirements for a durable life date to all foods was not generally supported by industry. They would prefer a voluntary approach rather than a legislated one. Interestingly the requirement for a durable life date given to food is a routine measure in European countries.

The industry cite cost, wasted product, and the need for consumer education as reasons to oppose mandatory best-before dates. This motion would apply it seems most easily to retail dry packaged goods. However as we all know these are not the only ones that are in the marketplace.

Like the speaker before me I too did some consultation but I spoke to some of my industry colleagues in Alberta who do not necessarily deal with dried packaged goods to determine what they might think of this motion because they are in the processing and manufacturing side of things.

The concern of industry members from the Alberta potato industry is with the application of the best-before date. They are concerned about the extent to which this motion would apply to fresh produce.

Presently they too are investigating the use of packed on dates as an attempt to satisfy the consumer demand for information on freshness. When you look at bags of potatoes and sometimes they are a bit soft or there is mushy stuff inside the bag it would be really helpful to see a packed on date on those bags.

Further when it comes to meat products, regulation becomes quite tricky. It is important that if we improve measures that they apply equally to all areas and that regulatory compliance is not overly complex. We see ourselves caught up so often in the food industry with regulations that are built on other regulations and they interact and overlap with other departments and it becomes really quite self-defeating.

As I have stated, I support this motion. It is clear that consumers want best-before and expiration dates to be printed clearly and legibly on the outside of product packaging in a non-encoded fashion. This is driven by a well-founded need for better information to be provided to consumers. This reflects the fact that consumers are better educated about health related issues and as a result of this more people are paying attention to what they eat and from where they are getting their food.

I have also mentioned some concerns that the industry has put forward. We have to pay attention to the consumers' interest but we must also try to accommodate the concerns of the processors and manufacturer. When we construct regulations we should ensure that the printing of this information is based on a sound business decision, giving consideration to the marketplace and the consumer. We have to give consideration to the cost of the machinery needed for encoding, which is an additional cost of production.

If the cost of production does not increase then the cost that is passed on to the consumer will be kept to a minimum and ultimately this is what we want.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Lambton—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate.

I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Winnipeg North for introducing this motion. The question of best-before dating is an important component of the labelling of food and beverages. This is an issue that affects all of us as consumers and it is certainly worthy of consideration by this House.

Under the food and drug regulations the labels of most perishable and semi-perishable prepackaged food with a shelf life of 90 days or less are required to carry a consumer friendly best-before date. The requirement is somewhat different for products that are packaged at the retail premises. These products must show the date they were packaged as well as the best-before date.

These regulations have been in place for almost 20 years and they are there so that consumers can easily determine how fresh a product is and how long it is likely to stay fresh. It is obvious that this is a very popular measure. The Grocery Products Manufacturers of Canada regularly conduct surveys of grocery attitudes of Canadian consumers. When they ask what kind of information consumers look for on a label, food products they are buying for the first time, best-before dates consistently rank at the top along with the price.

At the same time it seems there are some misconceptions about these dates. A best-before date is not an expiry date. Products do not go bad as soon as they pass the best-before date. This date is only a guide. If your milk is best-before April 12 you can still drink it on the 13th or the 14th or even later if it has been stored properly.

It is important to emphasize as well that this is not a question of food safety. There are regulations that enforce the use of expiry dates where there is a safety concern, such as infant formulas or formulated liquid diets.

This motion, however, would extend the regulations to require best-before dates on foods and beverages with a shelf life longer than 90 days. While this is a popular idea and it might help consumers rotate products on their own shelves there are questions about how useful this information would be. It would entail additional costs for industry, costs that would have to be passed on to the consumer.

At present these products are not required to carry such information, although many manufacturers provide it on a voluntary basis for products like peanut butter and salad dressings.

One of the largest soft drink bottlers announced at the end of March that it would start putting freshness dates on its soft drinks. This subject was recently reviewed by the government in consultation with all interested parties during phase I of the review of the food and drug regulations. During this review all interested parties had a chance to be heard. It was an very open and up-front process.

We found strong support for retaining the present requirements for perishable and semi-perishable foods having a shelf life of 90 days or less. We also found support for the voluntary use of best-before dates of foods with a shelf life of more than 90 days.

During phase II of the review we will further study to ensure that the regulatory requirements adequately reflect current needs. Some changes are being proposed and we are continuing to review the regulations.

This whole question is a part of a larger area of food regulations. Since last summer food regulatory issues including food and beverage packaging and labelling which used to be dealt with by the food division of the former Consumer and Corporate Affairs of Canada have become a part of the mandate of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

I would like to take some time today to talk about the expanded role of that department. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is one of the oldest government departments. It actually predates Confederation. Originally the department was responsible for immigration as well as agriculture. But times and the mandate of the department have changed.

Immigration has not been part of the mandate for a long time but recently the department acquired not only the agri-food packaging and labelling functions of the former CCAC but also the food products branch of the former Industry, Science and Technology Canada.

These additions ensure that all federal services relating to the agri-food industry are housed under one roof, making it easier to do business with the federal government. Now the department's responsibilities extend all along the food chain, from the family farm to the food processor to the wholesale, retail and food service sector to the consumer's table.

The department is now responsible for the inspection of a wide range of manufactured goods in 4,500 non-registered establishments as well as imports to ensure label compliances and consumer protection from economic fraud.

By providing a single access point for the administration of federal agri-food labelling regulations and policies, these organizational changes will benefit both consumers and the competitiveness of the Canadian food industry.

A single federal access point will provide more convenient and efficient service and greater national consistency and uniformity in the administration of its regulations and policies. It will also reduce the frequency in cost of after-the-fact label corrections.

Since the reorganization, the department has opened 12 offices across the country to provide single window access for people with concerns about labelling. The food division is now a part of the food production and inspection branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The overall objective of this branch is to enhance marketability of agriculture and food products by eliminating or controlling plant and animal diseases and by facilitating compliances with food and safety quality standards.

Our present system of food inspection has served us well. Food safety has always been a priority for this department. Our track record is excellent and surveys consistently show that Canadians have more confidence in the safety of their food than do consumers in the United States.

Nowhere is the old expression "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" more appropriate. We are working with the provinces to develop a national inspection program that harmonizes standards across the country and streamlines the delivery of services. We are moving to a more market driven system in which the beneficiary of the inspection system is given the choice to pay for services deemed to be of value.

We are building new assurances of food safety into the system through the introduction of inspection methods like the hazard analysis and critical control points, internationally recognized as a most effective means of identifying and correcting problems during processing rather than at the end of production.

Although the focus of this motion is the best-before date on packaging, I would like to add another dimension. As a member who represents a large rural riding of Lambton-Middlesex in southwestern Ontario, I am very interested in food quality. I am a strong believer that foods produced and processed with chemicals that are banned in Canada should not be allowed into Canada. Our inspection methods are second to none.

We in Canada know that when we sit down to a chicken dinner which has been raised and processed in Canada meeting the most stringent standards that we are eating wholesome chicken. This may not be true with U.S. chicken which can be dipped in trisodium phosphate or zapped with gamma rays to pass inspection.

As consumers, we must continue to have programs in place to protect the high quality of food Canadians have enjoyed. Our platform committed us to ensuring that only safe, wholesome food enters the Canadian market. This is exactly what we are doing and we are working hard to do it efficiently.

To conclude, whatever we do to improve industry competitiveness, consumer safety will not be compromised.

I strongly support the member in his motion.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak in this debate today.

First I would like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg North for raising this important issue. I believe that Canadian consumers are very discriminating when it comes to freshness and quality of food products. I also believe that it is in the best interests of the Canadian food industry and this government to ensure a healthy and safe food supply.

The issue that the hon. member is raising is one that certainly is deserving of our attention today.

I want to take the focus off of this particular motion for a moment and perhaps put a different focus on this. As a primary producer I want to tell my colleagues in this House that having been at the root source of the products that we sometimes take so for granted it is important to recognize that there has been a lot of effort put into the manufacturing or the producing agencies. The farmers have done so very much to ensure that we have safe products. As we walk through our aisles in our food stores we recognize and take for granted the food that we see there. There is so much of it, particularly those of us who have travelled in areas of the world where they do not have the abundance that we enjoy.

We also take for granted that all the food we have on our shelves is safe and that should be encouraged and I would hope that the policies that we enforce in this country will continue to ensure we have that safe supply of food.

Some time recently I read an article which indicated the calamities that befall those people who short-change the health inspection system. Our American neighbours in the process of trying to expedite things formed a system called the streamline inspection system. This system was brought into being so that they could accommodate the inspection of chicken products as they were going through the assembly line much more quickly.

There were consequences. An article appeared in a paper which indicated one child had died, another 300 people had fallen ill to salmonella. They have since turned from that policy in other directions concerning inspection.

In 1991 another article that was posted in a paper coming from south of the border indicated that meat safety labels were going to cost $500 million a year more because they were implementing new safe handling label requirements. These were announced by the USDA that particular day.

We see that we cannot short-change the system without consequences. Our food supplies in this country, while not only having been safe, have also been reasonably priced. I think that is another thing we need to recognize. Thirty-seven per cent of the food that we buy today is consumed in other than our homes, particularly in restaurants and other eating establishments; 63 per cent of the food that we buy is consumed in our homes. This came to light in a recent discussion we had in a public forum on GST debate.

We have to recognize that in this country we have been blessed. We have a great food source. We have reasonably priced food and it is also a safe source.

It is important to note that this is something we have perhaps taken for granted. We have all gone to our refrigerators and found that there was food there which we thought was quite edible and yet found that it was not. As my hon. friend has already indicated, there are codes which most of us do not read and perhaps all of us do not understand.

At this point I would like to discuss the packaging and the labelling regulations in Canada and some of the issues that revolve around them. Under the food and drug regulations which are administered by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the labels on most perishable and semi-perishable prepackaged foods with a shelf life of 90 days or less are required to show a durable life date, commonly referred to as best before date, in a clear non-encoded manner.

The product should also display storage instructions if it needs to be stored at other than room temperature. This is only applicable when the food is packaged at the non-retail level. When the product is packaged on retail premises the regulations require the label to show the packaging date instead of the best before date. For prepackaged foods with a longer shelf life, such as canned or frozen foods, manufacturers currently use a coded dating system for their own inventory control purposes. In many instances the manufacturers will voluntarily display a best before date for customers to use.

For example, peanut butter and salad dressing commonly have best before dates, though they do not have to.

The purpose of these regulations, which were introduced in 1974 and became effective in 1976, is to provide consumers with useful information regarding the relative freshness and potential shelf life of food.

It is important to remember that foods which have exceeded the best before date before being sold may still be acceptable for consumption but they may not be as fresh. However, this is not a health issue. When safety is an issue, such as with infant formulas or formulated liquid diets, products must carry expiry dates.

Consumer surveys show the importance consumers attach to best before dating. Many surveys done in Canada reveal that after cost freshness, as has already been mentioned tonight, is the most important food quality consumers look for, followed by nutrition and composition. The freshness of a product tends to be equated with health and safety.

A survey done for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 1992 showed that 94 per cent of consumers usually or always look for the best before date when they shop for groceries.

The requirements for durable life dating information on food labels have strong support and acceptance by consumers and industry groups alike which see these as effective ways to produce useful product freshness information to consumers.

There is no doubt that best before dating is an important issue for consumers. The current system is working well in Canada and I think it should continue to be voluntary for products with longer shelf lives.

Canada boasts one of the safest and healthiest food supplies in the world. We are recognized internationally for the quality of our food and our safety standards. This is the result of co-operation between government and industry. I encourage everyone to keep up the good work.

I commend my colleague from Winnipeg North for this timely and important motion.

Product PackagingPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the item is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Hon. members, I must inform you that we will change the order of proceedings. I will first give the floor to the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, last March 18, I asked the Minister of Justice what I felt was an extremely important question which was also very much in the news following the release of the annual report of the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Mr. Yalden. The question had to do with sexual orientation and more specifically with the recognition of same-sex couples.

At that time, there was a controversy and the issue made the news. Since 1979 Commissioner Yalden and his team have reminded us that it is a basis of discrimination and that, although various common law courts across the country have rendered decisions on the issue-and later we can go back to specific cases which set precedents-the Canadian Human Rights Act and, more fundamentally, even the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, do not specify that sexual orientation should be a prohibited ground of discrimination.

This creates a rather absurd situation in that no appropriate safeguards exists because the legislature has not, at least in any substantial way, updated the Canadian legislation since it was first passed in 1977. By contrast, most provinces, including Quebec which has always been a leader in that field, recognize in their charter that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a prohibited ground of discrimination.

I was very surprised to see that the minister, who was said to be courteous as well as one of the more liberal members of Cabinet, pussyfoot around the issue and seemingly unable to give clear indications of his government's intention to make very specific changes to correct this injustice.

By rising in the House this evening, I hope to get some additional information and some genuine assurances that, as we are hearing from departmental circles, a bill will in fact be tabled in the fall, as many groups are demanding. The Human Rights Committee has heard representations on the subject from a number of witnesses and groups.

I see that you are signalling to me that my time is nearly up so I will conclude my remarks. It is important to remember that this kind of discrimination takes many forms. Consider, for example, one case that was before the courts involving a homosexual couple that had lived together for nearly 15 years. When the father of one of the partners died, the other was unable to get leave to attend his father-in-law's funeral. A major effort is needed in this area and I hope that we can count on the minister to act speedily and with an open mind to bring about the necessary changes.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:05 p.m.

Cape Breton—The Sydneys Nova Scotia


Russell MacLellan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve asked a question of the Minister of Justice about amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act in this House on March 18, 1994, as he mentioned.

In the throne speech the Prime Minister committed the government to amending the Canadian Human Rights Act. These amendments will add the ground of sexual orientation to the 10 grounds on which discrimination is prohibited in the federal public and private sectors under the act as it currently stands in the statute books.

In fact, on August 6, 1992 a case brought under the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Haig and Birch v. Canada, the Court of Appeal of Ontario ordered that the Canadian Human Rights Act must be read to include that ground as of that date. The Attorney General of Canada at the time did not appeal the order to the Supreme Court of Canada. The government views this as the current and correct state of the law.

Therefore the amendment to which this government is committed to making would give Parliament the opportunity of bringing the act up to date.

I want to add that this government views this amendment as a matter of fundamental justice and not as a matter of conferring special rights to a particular group in Canada. The amendment would ensure gays and lesbians and moreover heterosexuals protection against discrimination in the areas of services and employment and against hate propaganda which are covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Such an amendment would not be a departure from what has been going on in other jurisdictions of our country. Eight provinces and territories, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Yukon, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have already amended their human rights legislation to add the ground of sexual orientation.

The level of protection is now the norm in Canada. This government wants to add the federal laws against discrimination to this list and thereby assure Canadians-

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:05 p.m.


Gaston Péloquin Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party's position on old age security is so complex and unclear that we cannot make any sense of it. Contrary to what the Minister of Human Resources Development suggested when I asked him questions on that matter, the Official Opposition is not alone in its concern over this confusion.

This confusion is not a figment of our imagination. It is the result of contradictory statements by the Minister of Human Resources Development and the Prime Minister. Senior citizens associations also reacted strongly against the government's hidden agenda. Our senior citizens demand clear answers on the future of their social programs.

Last month, when I asked the minister about that, I asked him to apologize to seniors he had upset. Indeed, after the minister indicated that Canadians could have to choose between old age pensions and youth training programs, he was rebuffed by the Prime Minister who said that his government had no intention of touching old age pensions.

The federal government is brutally attacking the seniors' meagre income by taking $490 million out of their pockets. Not only is the minister refusing to apologize for having upset these people, he is now increasing their tax burden when they cannot do anything to increase their income. This measure will affect more than 800,000 seniors, 600,000 of whom earn between $25,000 and $50,000.

Besides, statistics show that the vast majority of these 600,000 seniors have income of about $25,000. The government should stop saying that only the well-to-do seniors will be affected by these drastic and unfair fiscal measures.

How could seniors regain the $200, $300 or $400 they lose every year and that they need to survive? Will we force them to go back on the job market? Will they have to cut back on their outings, their housing or their food? Can the minister give us a clear answer as to the future of the income security programs for the people who built this country?

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:10 p.m.

York North Ontario


Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Human Resources Development stated clearly in this House that it is not the government's intention to touch old age security benefits and I would refer members to page 56 of the budget papers which sets out increases in OAS which will take place over the next few years.

The government is not looking at reducing the pensions of Canada's seniors. There is a responsibility by the government to ensure that the next generation of Canadians can have the same security as this generation.

Our society is aging and we need to prepare for a doubling of the senior population over the next several decades. We must begin now to be ready for these changes. The aging of society brings with it opportunities as well as challenges and the issue is one of readiness, not cost cutting.

The government's paper will not focus only on pensions but will look at aging more broadly. While we must of course be fiscally responsible and ensure sustainable programs we know that planning for an aging society cannot be done overnight.

Governments, employers, individuals and families cannot engage in short term thinking. Canadians know that the sooner you begin planning for retirement the more likely you will be to have the kind of retirement you want. That is as true for this nation as it is for individuals. Now is the time to start looking at the kind of programs today's working age Canadians will need and want for their retirements in the next century.

The paper we are preparing will be about people, their values, needs and responsibility. We will look at trends in our society, the fact that people are living longer and healthier lives, the fact they are retiring younger and living longer, the fact that family structures have changed, especially with regard to the role of women and that of a number of older seniors, those over age 85-

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the member but the time is up.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:10 p.m.


Louis Plamondon Bloc Richelieu, QC

Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister a question and thought that his answer was clear, which was surprising coming from this minister. But the fact of the matter is that francophone and Acadian communities in Canada are still facing the same problems resulting from cuts.

I had put the following question to the minister: in view of some discrepancies between his own statements and those of his senior officials, can the minister confirm that funding for the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada will not be cut by 5 per cent?

And the minister's answer was: "I am pleased to say that we have managed to spare communities such as the one he just mentioned from existing cuts in my department." That sounded clear to me, but these communities keep getting conflicting information. I did not get to ask a supplementary question at the time. Had I had the opportunity, perhaps I could have got the minister to be more specific as to what cuts were made in funds allocated to the Francophonie.

Since I have four minutes to discuss the issue, I would like to take this opportunity to ask the parliamentary secretary whether the Court Challenges Program, a program abolished by the Conservatives that the Liberals were talking about restoring,

will be restored? Will this equity program for minorities in Canada be restored and what kind of funding will it have?

I would also like to get more specific information on the cuts made in the Francophonie budget because, as much as the minister claims that overall operations are not affected, there are other programs of paramount importance to the Francophonie. Take for example the operating budget of certain small associations, not that of the large Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne, important as it may be. There is also the community radio assistance program. Is that program affected by this 5 per cent cut on top of the 10 per cent cut already made by the Conservatives? Is the postal subsidy cut? Will the aid to French-language publications be cut? What about the $112 million school governance program that Lise Bissonnette, the editor of Le Devoir , called a way of subsidizing illegality? Will it be eliminated?

Francophone and Acadian communities want an unequivocal answer. Unfortunately, the Bloc Quebecois members are the ones fighting for Francophone communities outside Quebec, while their own elected representatives in Ontario, New Brunswick and western Canada, themselves francophones, do not take the trouble to defend the interests of their own people and press the minister to give them a clear answer. I have no use for one of the minister's typical grey answers. It is either black or white. Are there cuts, yes or no?

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:15 p.m.

Winnipeg North Centre Manitoba


David Walker LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the educational rights of francophones outside Quebec are clearly recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These rights were clarified by two Supreme Court decisions: the Mahé case in 1990 and the Manitoba reference in 1993.

Most provinces and territories have school legislation consistent with Section 23 of the Charter. School governance has been granted or soon will be.

Education is under provincial jurisdiction. The role of the federal government is to assist the provinces to meet their constitutional obligations.

For almost 25 years the federal government has helped the provincial and territorial governments to provide members of the French minority community with the opportunity to be educated in their own language.

Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect in 1982, statistics show that more and more young francophones are educated in their own language.

The federal government recognizes that francophone minority groups still face difficulties, but it is working to address these deficiencies.

French minority language education remains a high priority for the federal government and for the Department of Canadian Heritage. That is why the special initiatives on school governance and post-secondary education in French have been exempted from the latest budgetary restrictions. It is expected that federal-provincial agreements negotiated under these initiatives will result in significant improvements for the francophone communities in these provinces.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:15 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, on March 18, 1994, I put a question to the Deputy Prime Minister concerning her sensitivity to the plight of the unemployed.

I realized how powerless the Deputy Prime Minister was in the face of the unemployment problem. Since then, I have also come to realize how powerless the Minister of Finance is and how he has failed to take any action to address the situation. In the words of Mr. Laurent Laplante, a respected journalist, "by focusing all of their efforts on wrestling the inflation monster to the ground, the Conservatives ended up dragging the country into the first ever made-in-Canada recession. Mr. Martin has decided to go one step further and make the recession permanent."

As a complement to the question I am going to ask, and to which the minister did not really answer, I would like to echo the voice of that young engineer who stunned everyone at the seminar on employment, a few days ago, when he said that he had a master's degree in a very specialized field and nobody was able to find him a job. This sort of broke the empty rhetoric usually heard at such gatherings.

I would like to know whether or not the government has a job creation strategy based on some government action, and really established as a primary objective of the government. At the present time, we only see some sprinkling here and there. The infrastructure program will create almost no jobs for women and, anyway, it is just a drop in the unemployment bucket. There are no programs for specific groups either.

Was anything announced for unskilled workers? What do we have for graduates in various trades, technologists or university graduates? Is there anything specific to ensure the recovery of entrepreurship in Quebec and Canada?

I would like the government to finally give us some answers on this and really get to work instead of riding the wave as far as job creation is concerned.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:15 p.m.

York North Ontario


Maurizio Bevilacqua LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member is referring to a comprehensive strategy on job creation, I would like for him to be mindful of the fact that the government has really begun a process of modernizing and restructuring Canada's social security system, creating job opportunities through the infrastructure program, the Canada youth corps and the national apprenticeship training system.

I am sure the hon. member would have to agree that since we have taken office in October over 100,000 jobs have been created.

We want to not only create jobs but they should be long term, high paying jobs. What is important to note about the jobs that we have created thus far, particularly the latest statistic released recently, is the fact that these are full time jobs. They are not the part time jobs that we saw during the Conservative years. These are full time jobs that will once again provide to Canadians, particularly young Canadians, the type of confidence that is required to bring about economic renewal in our country.

There is no question about the fact, and I remember his question clearly about the Group of Seven and the industrialized countries, that to them unemployment is an important challenge to face. That is why we are looking at ways to upgrade our training programs. We are looking at the entire social security system and ways to modernize and make it relevant to the lives of Canadians in the 1990s and beyond.

Product PackagingProceedings On Adjournment Motion

7:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 7.23 p.m. this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.23 p.m.)