Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby--New Westminster.
I am pleased to participate in the debate this afternoon on trans fatty acids on behalf of my constituents of Burnaby--Douglas.
I also want to pay tribute to the work of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre on this important issue. The member for Winnipeg Centre has led the charge on issues of trans fats in this Parliament and in the last Parliament. His work has raised the awareness of Canadians and members of the House to the dangers of these substances and has contributed significantly to our understanding of healthy eating, a healthy lifestyle and preventive health care.
Families in my riding and across the country are concerned about trans fats. This was clearly demonstrated to me in the last Parliament when, in light of the work done by the member for Winnipeg Centre, my predecessor sought the feedback of local residents on trans fats. Literally hundreds of folks from Burnaby--Douglas responded, supporting our efforts to see trans fats banned. I know this is an important issue in my riding and today I want to speak for those people.
I believe the House can work together to respond to the concerns of people in my riding and across the country by committing to ban and eliminate trans fats by November 2005, as the motion before us states.
Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation. This is done to increase the shelf life and maintain the flavour of the foods to which they are added. Trans fats can be found in a wide variety of foods Canadians consume every day, such as vegetable shortenings, crackers, cookies, snack foods and many more can be made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.
We know that trans fats are harmful to people and yet these hydrogenated oils are present in many of the processed foods that we eat. Trans fats cause significant and serious lowering of good cholesterol and a serious increase in bad cholesterol. They are added to food to increase the food's shelf life but consumption of them directly affects our lives and the lives of our children. The decrease in good cholesterol and the increase in bad cholesterol is often the double whammy effect.
I am concerned about the impact this unhealthy standard has on our children. Those children who start eating a steady diet of fast foods are at a higher risk for heart disease. It is even an issue in utero. Children as young as 8, 9 and 10 years of age are now having to be tested for their cholesterol levels.
How can we justify that? How can we justify having children as young as 8, 9 or 10 years old with high cholesterol? Are we putting children at risk of heart disease for the sake of convenience and for the corporate bottom line?
Lots of young people in Canada are showing real leadership on the issue of healthy eating. Last weekend, I and my other NDP colleagues from British Columbia, including the member for Burnaby--New Westminster, made a tour of the West Kootenay area of British Columbia where we met with many people in the communities of Castlegar, Rossland, Trail and Nelson.
One of the issues that I discussed with some activists from the community of Rossland was the whole issue of healthy eating. I met with some folks who were working on what is called the Waddell project, which is a preventive health project that has an anti-cancer and a very community-based focus. The specific project that they came to discuss with me was the healthy eating project in the local high school.
The high school in Rossland recently lost its cafeteria service due to budget cutbacks. The cafeteria was replaced with vending machines. Unfortunately, the kinds of foods that we normally get from vending machines are the ones that are most often associated with trans fats and with an unhealthy lifestyle.
In order to address that problem, the community, along with the teachers, the students, the parents and the people involved with the Waddell project, organized a food store where healthy food was sold during lunch hours as an alternative to what was available in the vending machine. It showed a real awareness of the issues of healthy eating and healthy food. It also showed the importance of those issues to the community in that they were willing to volunteer and put the hours in to organize something like that. We did not discuss specifically the issue of trans fats but the whole idea of the project was to make sure that students at the high school had access to healthy food. I want to pay tribute to some of the people I met with that afternoon last weekend.
The corporate bottom line should not be determining the health of our nation. Consumers must be able to have confidence in the food they have purchased and must be able to easily make good choices in that regard.
I do think the issue has a relationship to the overall well-being of our health care system. If our government thought ahead, planned and responded to emerging issues and adequately funded our health care institutions and professionals, we would not be battling the current health care crisis and the rapid increase in many acute care health issues and diseases.
A preventive health care approach is vital to the health of Canadians and to the ongoing viability of our health care system. I believe our government must do what it can to prevent disease before we treat it. Let us keep our people healthy by changing unhealthy lifestyles and ensuring healthy choices can be made.
The potential to produce better health by banning trans fats could offer a tremendous health care saving. It is a key part of a preventive health care strategy. This significant shift in focus requires strong leadership and the NDP is prepared to continue to show the way on this issue. We are responding to the needs of Canadian families.
As we are increasingly aware of the effects of the foods that we consume on our health, we must eliminate trans fats from our diets. There is no recommended daily intake of trans fatty acids. In fact, the daily recommended intake is zero. Just one gram a day increases the risk of heart disease by 20%. The Canadian average is 10 grams a day. Ten grams is the highest rate of intake in the world.
That is why we are calling for an outright ban on trans fats. Canadians deserve a chance at a healthy life.
We are on the verge of an epidemic in our country. In fact, in some ways we already are in the middle of a cancer epidemic. We have astounding levels of obesity and diabetes and these diseases can be directly related to trans fats.
Our government has an obligation to the people of Canada to ensure that the foods available to them are safe. Trans fatty acids are not safe.
Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health says that the amount of trans fats we are consuming is “a recipe for a health disaster”. Eliminating trans fats could prevent 2,000 heart attacks a year and save 1,000 lives per year in Canada.
Studies have shown too that people with lower incomes tend to eat more processed foods, as these foods are often cheap and easily accessible. The ability to prepare fresh foods is often more limited for low income folks. When income is an issue, people often eat more fast food as well. Making healthy choices should not be something limited to people who have higher incomes. We must do all we can to ensure that healthy food does not continue to be a class issue in Canada.
Healthy eating prevents health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. We should be doing whatever we can to deal with these silent killers.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation and the World Health Organization support a ban on trans fats and so does the NDP. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is working hard and doing excellent work on this issue because of the great danger these fats pose to the health of our hearts.
We must make every effort to prevent heart attacks and to save lives. This effort would take some pressure off our already overburdened health care system. We must do whatever possible to ensure that trans fat free becomes the standard. We simply cannot afford to put the lives of our families in jeopardy. We should not just label the toxins in our food. We should get rid of the toxins altogether.
I also have heard discussion this afternoon about requiring a labelling standard. That does not make much sense to me. Why label something when we know it should not be there in the first place? It makes sense just to get rid of it so that we know all the food that we consume is free of this terrible material.
I believe we are called in that regard to a higher standard. We need to make sure that when it comes to our food the bottom line is public health and public safety.
We have seen the horrible results of sacrificing standards when it comes to our drinking water in Canada. Few Canadians find it acceptable to put off any action that would ensure safe drinking water. Surely the situation is the same when it comes to our food supply.
The people of Burnaby—Douglas sent me here because they want government to work for them. They want government to look out for their best interests and to act when their interests are proven to be compromised. I and many of my constituents believe this is exactly one of those situations.
Trans fats clearly pose a danger to the health of Canadians. In that light, the responsible course is for us as parliamentarians to take action to ensure that trans fat is not consumed. That is why I am supporting a ban on trans fat in our food and that is why I will be voting in favour of the motion.