Mr. Speaker, I can say without any hesitation and without any fear of contradiction that banning trans fats will save lives. I do not come to this conclusion on my own. The scientific community is virtually unanimous in its view that hydrogenated vegetable oils of processed fats called trans fatty acids are in fact much more harmful than the saturated fats that they replaced over the years.
Trans fats are deadly manufactured fats that cause obesity, heart disease and diabetes, all of which are on the rise in Canada in very worrisome numbers. The real evil nature of trans fats is that they not only raise the levels of bad cholesterol in a person's system, they also interfere with the good cholesterol's natural role of cleansing one's circulatory system. As a result, these trans fats are actually a double whammy on a body's circulatory system.
The facts are really quite staggering. Just one gram of trans fats per day increases the risk of heart disease by 20%. These are not my figures. I am not asking anyone to believe me as a layperson. These are figures provided by the New England Journal of Medicine . The daily recommended intake of trans fats is zero, but Canadian adults eat between 8 and 10 grams per day and, staggeringly, youth between the ages of 15 and 25 eat an average of 38 grams per day. Surely, members will recognize this is a serious public health problem.
Most fast foods and processed foods are high in trans fats. Baby foods contain alarmingly high levels of trans fats. We have to ask ourselves, knowing these scientific facts and having had them verified and ratified by any number of scientific journals and experts in the field, why do we allow them in our food supply?
I compliment the federal government for recognizing that trans fats are in fact harmful and should be eliminated. Its policy to date in dealing with trans fats is to introduce mandatory labelling. The debate we need to have today is whether labelling is adequate or do we need to take stronger steps in order to truly eliminate trans fats, remove it out of our food supply and, therefore, out of our system altogether? I would ask the House to listen to what I believe is a case against labelling and for banning these harmful trans fatty acids.
We hear the argument sometimes that this type of issue has more to do with public education and personal freedom of choice. I do not accept that. Government has a legitimate role to play in making sure our food supply is safe. There are any number of precedents that we could point to.
In the matter of labelling, if we find that a drug is harmful and is killing up to 1,000 Canadians per year in a premature way as are trans fats, a label is not put on the drug simply saying it is a matter of personal choice not to use it. It is pulled off the market. This is a direct analogy that I think is absolutely fair.
The logic is that it is not okay to put poison in our food just because it is properly labelled. That is common sense. I do not use the word poison to invoke a reaction. Trans fats do in fact meet the scientific definition of toxic and poisonous because the body simply cannot tolerate them.
The argument about labelling is spurious. First of all, studies show that 70% of people do not read the labels for the food they eat. There are problems of literacy and problems of language. Kids, we know, certainly do not read labels when they go for a fast food snack. Restaurants would not be impacted by this at all. Restaurant food and french fries, and some of the popular food items are the ones that are highest in trans fats.
There is the added problem that even if a product does say it contains 3.6 grams of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, there are no editorial comments allowed on the label because the only really valuable label in terms of trans fats would be, “This product contains trans fats. Do not eat it because it will kill you”. We are not likely to see that type of labelling introduced.
We do not believe that labelling is an adequate way to significantly reduce the amount of trans fats eaten by Canadians. We believe the only logical thing to do is to take concrete steps to eliminate, to all but ban, trans fats in our food supply system.
The reason it cannot be an absolute ban is that there are some naturally occurring trans fats in ruminating animals. Cheese, milk and butter contain some naturally occurring trans fats, but at a level where if ingested sensibly are not a serious health risk. That is the argument why recommendations from our party will call for reducing trans fats to the lowest level possible and regulating trans fats to the point where any food product sold in Canada, not necessarily even manufactured in Canada, must meet strict guidelines which would limit the amount of trans fats to a range of 2% which we believe is an achievable goal.
One country in the world has done this. Denmark, as of 2003, introduced legislative steps to ban trans fats. We find that the experience has been that manufacturers reformulated their products to the allowable levels. We know that healthy and safe alternate products to trans fats are available. We should point out and recognize, and compliment those food manufacturers who have unilaterally and voluntarily taken those steps and made the changes to their products. One of them is Voortman Cookies Limited, a Canadian cookie manufacturer that has 120 product lines. Over a period of the last two or three years it reformulated every single one of its products without compromising quality or taste so that its products no longer contain trans fats. We can compliment Voortman Cookies for taking that step.
Another one, a fast food chain, is New York Fries. It has unilaterally and voluntarily changed the oil in which it produces its french fries so that they no longer contain trans fats. This is a wonderful move on its part and it should be rewarded.
However, we are concerned that if we leave the industry to voluntarily change the alternate oils they use, some manufacturers who do not fall in line will have an unfair competitive advantage because they will not have paid the extra cost of reformulating their products. That is our argument why, to create a level playing field and to protect the public health of Canadians, this is a matter for government intervention where it should in fact regulate.
The scientific case is really difficult to challenge. Experts the world over agree that we can and should stop using trans fats. Dr. Walter Willett is the dean of health sciences at Harvard University. He calls hydrogenation, or trans fatty acids, “the biggest food processing disaster in history”. The World Health Organization has directed nation states to take steps to take trans fats out of their food supplies.
We know there is an active lobby that believes this should be left up to industry without the intervention of the state. We argue that this is exactly the type of thing in which the Government of Canada should be directly involved.
The broad policy issue that I would like to point out in this debate is simply that this is what public health is all about and this is what our health strategy should be all about, creating a healthier population. So much of our time, energy and resources in the issue of health deals with managing illness. Here we have an opportunity to significantly impact the overall general health of millions of Canadians, including millions of Canadian children, in such a positive and proactive way. It really is hard to imagine that we would not go this route.
Just as an aside perhaps, many Canadian children are being impacted by this. I do not think we even realize that we have doctors telling us that they have 10 year old and 12 year old children coming to their offices with high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Surely, a child's circulatory system at that age should be completely clean and functioning perfectly.
However, children lose energy. Anyone with circulatory problems has less energy. They feel sluggish. They do not feel motivated. They find it hard to concentrate. Those are the symptoms of circulatory problems stemming from, to some degree at least, the use of trans fats.
I am hoping that we can count on broad support in the House of Commons. The NDP has very carefully worded this motion in such a way that it would be acceptable, we would hope, to all parties. On the general nature of the motion, we worked closely with the Heart and Stroke Foundation in the development of this language. We worked closely with other experts across the country who feel strongly about this issue.
The motion calls upon government, that within one year, which is a generous timeframe, to introduce regulations, or if necessary legislation, which would ultimately lead to the elimination of processed trans fats to the lowest level possible.
We are not talking about restrictive language. The regulations or legislation that government introduces may in fact have a phase-in period of three years. We do not know. We are going to leave that up to a task force of stakeholders which will have the expertise to make that ruling. That is not really up to the House of Commons or us as members of Parliament. We will leave that up to the experts in the field.
I also think that this is one case where there is justification for the government to play a role in helping industry to find alternate fats to use in terms of research and development grants. The National Research Council may want to undertake this project. If industry manufacturers are having difficulty in reformulating their products, certainly, the Government of Canada, Health Canada and Industry Canada could play a role in expediting this entire process.
I found that working on the trans fats project was very gratifying. I have been contacting people across the country and they in turn have been contacting me and our party with heartfelt passionate appeals to their legislators, to myself personally, and members of Parliament generally, to please do something about this pressing public health problem.
Perhaps throughout the day I can share with the House some of the comments of literally thousands of Canadians who have e-mailed, mailed, or contacted us personally saying that they are aware of the problem. There is an expectation that the House of Commons and members of Parliament should be aware of the problem and that we are willing to take concrete steps to change this issue.
There are some odd problems dealing with the elimination of trans fats. Canada must be the only country in the world that has margarine in its Constitution. We have two paragraphs in the Canadian Constitution dedicated specifically to margarine. I hope we are not going to let that stand in the way of common sense and reason. We can thank the Crosbie family and the Newfoundland Terms of Union for this oddity.
There is also the issue of international trade rules. We hope that is not why the federal government has, we believe, gone soft on this issue, but it is more than a coincident that the labelling rules that the government has introduced match word for word what the Americans have done, even up to the date of implementation. We are rather suspect that it may have been the motivation for not taking a stronger stance, given the overwhelming scientific evidence that this material is in fact harmful.
We are urging the government to exert our sovereignty in this matter, listen to the scientists, and listen to the Canadian public and do what is right. If there are any obstacles due to trade barriers, we can deal with those. However, that should not stop us from taking concrete steps at the earliest opportunity to find a way to reduce and ultimately eliminate these toxic substances.
I have tried to go through some of the broad arguments as to why we feel this is necessary and why it should happen sooner rather than later. I have tried not to dwell on the technical, scientific details. I think any of the members can easily access that information.
I should mention that I do not believe our taking steps to eliminate trans fats will have an impact on the local oilseed producers. It is not the oil that we are critical of. It is the process the oil is subjected to, the hydrogenation process. I point out that some margarines are manufactured with pure canola oil and are 100% trans fat free. We should buy Becel margarine, which is 100% trans fat free. It is manufactured with grown in Canada canola oil.
As people shift toward natural oils and fats, we believe it could be a boon to the dairy industry and to the oil seed growers and producers in western Canada who may have an increased market for their product, which is pure canola oil. As we know, partially hydrogenated canola oil changes the chemical structure of oil to something that people cannot digest and which clogs the arteries. It is a double whammy on the arteries. I point out again, we should be aware that trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, are four to ten times more harmful than other saturated fats.
This is not a panacea. This does not mean we can got out and eat as much junk food as we want. We should be careful about our intake of fats generally, but we should be aware that hydrogenated fats are more harmful than the saturated fats.
There is a rather interesting historical irony to the introduction of trans fats. They were heralded as some kind of miracle product to try to wean Canadians off palm and tropical oils, which were in widespread use in the late sixties and early 1970s. Cardiologists and doctors cautioned us of this. However, it was a tragic mistake, and it was a disaster, according to Dr. Willet of Harvard University.
I am heartened in our struggle to eliminate trans fats. We have the support of two prominent members of the Senate of Canada, both prominent medical doctors. Dr. Yves Morin has worked with me on the development of the bill. He is a former Dean of Medicine at Laval University. I would like to recognize and pay tribute to the hard work he has done, meeting with industry officials and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Dr. Wilbert Keon of the Heart Institute in Ottawa is a leading, world renowned cardiologist who is also meeting with us personally and in conference in developing the bill.
People a lot smarter than we in this room, and I mean that with all respect, are calling upon us to take concrete steps to eliminate trans fats from our food supply. Let us listen to Canadian scientists, let us listen to Canadians generally and take an important step toward true public health, not just managing illness, and eliminate trans fats.
I believe we can eliminate trans fats without compromising either quality or taste. I believe there are alternate fats in adequate quantities to replace the use of trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, in every aspect of processed food and restaurant food.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity today on behalf of the NDP caucus to do something that I believe will have a significant impact on the general public health of Canadians. I started by saying that I can honestly say banning trans fats will save lives. I end on that note, and I urge my colleagues in the House to please support the motion and get us on the first step to this important public health initiative.