moved that Bill C-309, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (ingredients of food sold in restaurants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, restaurants are important places in our communities. Whether for pleasure, business or while travelling, most Canadians eat out from time to time.
Families with food allergy sufferers know how confusing and dangerous this situation can be. So I am pleased today to rise in support of my private member's bill, Bill C-309, which proposes to amend the Canadian Food and Drugs Act to provide greater protection for those Canadians who suffer from serious food allergies.
When implemented, Bill C-309 would require restaurant owners to ensure that reliable information is available regarding the ingredients in their menu items. It would not seek mandatory labelling.
Before beginning my formal comments on the bill, I would like to acknowledge Mrs. Betty Lou Taylor of Burlington, Christian Taylor's mother. Christian died at the age of 17 after eating an apple turnover secretly flavoured with ground hazelnuts.
It is due in part to Mrs. Taylor's perseverance that the bill has made it this far. Mrs. Taylor has worked hard to ensure that Canadians who suffer from food allergies are protected. Through her efforts to raise awareness of the severity of food related allergies, more Canadians are informed and respectful of possible allergic reactions to certain types of food.
At 17 Christian Taylor was very aware of the effects that hazelnuts would have on him. He was careful to avoid hazelnuts. But Christian had eaten apple turnovers in other fast food restaurants and in the absence of labelling on the package or in the restaurant, Christian assumed he was safe. His assumption and the absence of labelling cost Christian his life. Yet Christian was doing what most of us do on a regular basis, enjoying a meal in a restaurant. Unfortunately for Christian on this particular occasion eating out would have a very tragic ending.
As we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this bill, I encourage all Canadians, whether or not they personally suffer from food allergies, to remember that we have an opportunity to ensure that we support the type of legislation that reflects our concern for the health and safety of Canadians as well as our appreciation for good common sense.
Bill C-309 meets both of those criteria. It does not mean mandatory labelling. It is a simple bill. It asks restaurant owners and their staff to take responsibility for the foods they serve and to recognize that some of their patrons suffer from something that cannot be controlled with medication but something that can be prevented with education and access to information.
The bill addresses a medical condition known as anaphylactic shock. At least 50 Canadians die in anaphylactic reactions each year. These types of reactions can be triggered by minute amounts of allergen. For example, in 1994 a student on a field trip to Algonquin Park in Ontario died from trace amounts of peanut butter which had been transferred to a jam jar. Essentially anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can lead to rapid death if untreated. Like less severe allergic reactions, anaphylaxis occurs when the body's immune system reacts to harmless substances as though they were harmful invaders.
However, instead of developing the familiar runny nose or rash, suffers of anaphylaxis respond with extreme body reactions. The reaction may start with itching, vomiting or swelling of the lips and face. Within moments the throat may begin to close, choking off breathing and leading to unconsciousness and death.
At least 25,000 Canadians are presently at risk of food related anaphylaxis. As I mentioned, an average of two Canadians die per month due to anaphylactic reaction from food allergy.
One in 15 children suffers from a food allergy. Not all anaphylaxis related deaths are reported as such because they are usually
recorded in the provincial records as death by natural causes. One in 50 adults suffers from a food allergy. Some 35 per cent to 60 per cent of Canadians are avoiding specific ingredients each and every day for a medical reason. The bottom line is that issue affects a lot of Canadians, it does not discriminate, it occurs for the young and the old. And yet what is the current legislation?
At the present time the Canadian Food and Drugs Act has provisions regarding ingredient disclosure in the food industry, but it applies only to prepackaged foods sold in grocery stores. Individuals with adverse food reactions are totally dependent on ingredient information. There are no medications or injections available to prevent these adverse food reactions, but once the reaction is under way adrenalin is needed immediately. For those who suffer and for those who know somebody who does, epipens and anakits are the two products available for those with an allergy. An epipen is a tool to self-administer adrenalin and an anakit contains benedril capsules and a double dose injection of adrenalin.
How do you prevent anaphylaxis shock? Avoidance is the only way to prevent anaphylaxis and this is where Bill C-309 can make the difference between life and death. How many people here realize that walnuts are commonly ground into salad dressings or added to dishes such as chicken or Cornish hen? How many know that peanut oil is frequently used to fry foods? It adds a nice flavour to fried chicken. Some restaurant chains have in fact built their success on its flavour, but it can kill some of our fellow citizens. How many people know that ground almond is commonly added to pastries and that ground hazelnut is commonly added because it adds terrific flavour to chocolate?
If one takes an item out of a food store there is a label and one can avoid an anaphylaxis reaction. In a restaurant one is playing Russian roulette. Bill C-309 attempts to reconcile the public safety concerns of consumers with the legitimate concerns of the restaurant industry regarding the prohibitive costs involved in the mandatory labelling of all restaurant foods.
As I have said many times, Bill C-309 does not seek mandatory labelling. It seeks to protect food allergy sufferers by giving them something as simple but crucial as access to reliable information regarding ingredients.
There are two scenarios for how it would work. One relates to the individual restaurant and the other relates to a chain restaurant. In an individual restaurant customers with food allergies or other ingredient related concerns would approach an employee in a restaurant. That employee would recommend that the person speak to the designated individual, usually the cook, to find out what ingredients are about to be used in the food that is being served them. It does not demand that they have long list. It can be as simple as saying: "I am going to cook with this oil, with this can of tuna and with this box of pasta. You read the ingredients and you make a decision". It is not hard to administer.
In a chain restaurant the customer would approach an employee and that person would either again refer to the designated employee or check in a binder of information. In some restaurants we have seen people list their ingredients on a board that people can refer to. Most McDonald's restaurants have a binder and in other kinds of chain restaurants one could rip off the end of the box that contained the buns that arrived at the restaurant for the hamburgers and if there is a change in supplier that is put in the back of the binder and people can make their own decisions.
There has been a lot of support for this bill since I have started to talk about it. There have been many days where there have been whole page articles in the Toronto Star or in the Ottawa Citizen and the Hamilton Spectator . There have been at least 36 municipalities, 15 boards of education and numerous national and provincial groups and associations that have specifically passed resolutions asking the federal government to act on this issue. Many Canadian schools have developed policies to protect anaphylactic children. Some have taken more drastic steps than others, banning certain types of foods altogether.
The federal government, in co-operation with the school board association, recently launched a booklet to help schools organize themselves around this issue. It is a terrific handbook and something that was desperately needed for schools.
The Canadian Food and Restaurant Association launched "Allergy Aware" in 1991. It is a voluntary program that requires participating restaurants to give patrons accurate ingredient information on request. Because it is voluntary, it is difficult to enforce, not well supervised and there is a very low participation rate. Not all restaurants in Canada are members of the Canadian Food and Restaurant Association.
The risks are that its campaign is not fully understood by employees. To test it out one evening, I asked someone who was proudly displaying the "Allergy Aware" sign at a convention type venue what that person could tell me about it. I was told that it was an "Allergy Aware" program. I then asked what I would hear if I said I was allergic to nuts, in reference to the food being served. Instead, the person told me not to eat nuts. Critical information was needed about the food that individual was serving me and yet that individual had no clue how the program worked.
I spoke to the Canadian Medical Association. Dr. Peter Noel in Newfoundland has been a great source of assistance, information and encouragement.
I did a survey of all members of the House of Commons and had a terrific response. Eighty-seven per cent of the MPs surveyed were supportive of this bill. Finally, and most importantly, Burlington
residents support this bill. We received over 100,000 signatures on a petition asking the federal government to take action in this area.
What do the opponents of Bill C-309 say? They argue that some restaurants will be driven out of business because of the costs. They suggest that it is too hard to administer. To these people I suggest they consider the following. Bill C-309 does not seek mandatory labelling. Surely it is not unreasonable to expect that something you are about to be served and consumed that you should be able to get some information about what you are about to eat. It is not unreasonable to think that the chef or the cook would know what the ingredients are in the food you are about to eat. This is life or death for a number of individuals. It does not impose unreasonable costs on restaurant owners. Providing a manual is a low cost solution to a life and death problem.
This is really not about cost. This is about health and safety. Food allergy is not a trivial disease. It is not easy to manage and can be fatal. More and more people are suffering from adverse reactions to food.
This bill suggests an easy way to implement a prevention program. Emphasis on prevention allows consumers to make informed choices instead of playing Russian roulette.
We have the responsibility to ensure that where possible we are protecting the health and well-being of Canadians and those around us. Bill C-309 is about accepting that responsibility. This bill is about ensuring that no other mom has to lose a child as precious as Christian Taylor.
I hope I have the support of all members on this bill. I ask that unanimous consent be given for Bill C-309 to become votable.