Mr. Speaker, there are a number of young people in the audience today and I am hoping that some of them are learning to make better choices and better meals.
It is true, in terms of my colleague from Timmins—James Bay, that there seems to be a diminishing skills capacity among a number of people in Canada and it is certainly a challenge. It is very difficult to make meals for families at the best of times, because of our busy lives. It is certainly more difficult if a person has never had the skills passed down through the generations or has never had a chance to take a home economics course.
I want to caution that the member for Timmins—James Bay had said inadvertently that mothers do not know how to make meals. That is why I had suggested to him that maybe we could go with the term parents. Some of the teenagers with us today are probably preparing meals for their families.
We need to ensure that there is a greater interest in what we consume. I think young people today are certainly getting the message about making choices about healthy lifestyles. They are learning not to smoke and to make better consumer choices.
People have very busy lifestyles and they need packaged food items. I am sure most members in the House consume more packaged food than they ever anticipated. Stability and ensuring products are safe is absolutely imperative.
I am actually pulling out my BlackBerry, which I think is within the rules. I had a chance to visit the Voortman cookies website. That company is in my riding. It is the first company to adapt, to use information and make the transition to ensure that their fresh, great tasting cookies and wafers are made with only quality ingredients, all at an affordable price. It has made sure that its products have zero trans fats. Mr. Voortman's daughter said there was an opportunity and a market advantage in getting ahead of this.
The attention placed on this issue by the House, the present Minister of Health and the previous minister of health is pushing companies to do more. As well the companies themselves are realizing there is a market advantage.
Last Christmas I was staying with some very good friends. They had spent an extra hour at the grocery store looking at all the labels to figure out what cookies they could buy for their children out of concern that their kids were getting the best products. For the few times I am in the grocery store, I actually do look at the different products and try to make better selections.
The debate today is an opportunity for people to think about that. For the people who are watching this debate on TV or who are in the gallery today, it is a chance to learn more.
I read the member's motion and it is hard to disagree with any of it. It is worded in a way that suggests if people do not get with the program, of course they are going to be legislated in a timely fashion. The minister has already identified regulations in terms of packaging to make sure that we are giving people better choices.
I think it was the member for Timmins—James Bay who, in an exchange with the member for Ottawa Centre, equated these products with changes we made regarding CFCs in aerosol cans and urea formaldehyde. Again there was a process of transition for those products. People were regulated and legislated and that is what we are doing here. The packaged goods companies are getting ahead of the game, certainly the smart ones are.
Obviously there is the opportunity to legislate, but we also have to think about why this is happening in a country like Canada. Canada has a great food supply and farmers who work really hard to make sure that Canadians have the best and safest products.
It was interesting to read on the Voortman website that the Supermarket News on December 22 ranked trans fats as the third highest food safety concern in North America, right behind E. coli and salmonella and that a Harvard doctor has called trans fats the biggest food processing disaster in history.
We have to recognize that trans fats are there for a reason. Fats obviously are in products. There were some stability issues and also to make sure that foods had longer shelf lives. I believe that was part of the reason they were introduced in the first place.
We are all working to make sure that the latest health information is implemented. We have colleagues in the other place from two different political parties, Senator Morin and Senator Keon, who have been working with the heart and stroke institute and with the scientists to get the best information available, to drive this issue forward and that is creating some of the change that is being discussed today.
Perhaps as we are aging in this chamber we may have much more knowledge of incidents of heart health issues in Canada. Certainly heart health in Canada is much better than it has been. We are making progress. People are making better lifestyle choices, although around this place it is hard to get the exercise and proper nutrition that I think people should be getting.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are important to the food industry but we are working to get some viable alternatives. Companies like Voortman deserve a lot of credit. Colleagues have mentioned New York Fries and other places that are moving forward. I have been in that food court and have wondered about those french fries, as has the member for Calgary Southeast, I am sure.
Scientists have developed a number of canola and soybean varieties that could be used to produce oils with no or low levels of trans fatty acids. These varietals are being made available to growers. Our scientists and health professionals are continuing to do research to find healthy alternatives. We have to keep in mind that it is a process, that it is affecting the farmers across the country and that we need to make sure that there is a process of transition because Lord knows those farmers have suffered enough right across the country.
The canola and soybean varieties are at various stages of development in terms of bringing them to market which will reduce the levels of trans fats. As I mentioned, Canadian food companies have been able to use the oils from these new varietals to lower or eliminate the use of trans fats in food products.
It is not an easy task. We are making some big changes. We got into this situation a number of years ago. We are going to have to deal with the arising costs, changes in production and perhaps the distribution of some of these foods to make sure they are produced closer to their client market.
We have to make sure that whatever is created as a replacement is healthier as well. The alternative oils do not resolve all of the stability, processing and product quality issues. There are limited quantities of the alternative oils. To expect food processors to turn to those exclusively would create significant challenges in the processing industry. I am not saying they cannot get over it, but they do need a bit of time.
I think in the way the motion is worded that there is great support for making that change. At the end of the day we always have the legislative power to drive it further if there is any suggestion that they are reluctant to make the changes.
A lot of good work is being done and needs to continue to be done. I certainly hope that my colleagues from the party that proposed the motion have their householders going out to their constituents to make sure that they have the information to make better food choices. I for one as an MP have tried to see if there are ways that we can set up more opportunities for people. There is the issue of lower income Canadians, and people who either do not possess the skill set, do not have the time, or are not able to purchase the core ingredients. It is nice to say that we will stop buying processed pizza or packaged goods and that we will go home to make all these items. That is great if one has the skill set and the money to purchase all the core ingredients.
We could do more in terms of setting up community kitchens or opportunities for people to share meals. Those kinds of opportunities are being created in various communities, particularly in urban communities. We need to find ways to share food and to make sure that people are getting access to good quality food.
Trans fats labelling will become mandatory in Canada on December 12, 2005 and a couple of weeks later in the United States. Canadian consumers are getting more information. Again we have talked about the market forces. Look at what members of the public can do when they get together, write letters or make calls.
I think almost every packaged good in Canada now has a 1-800 number that consumers can call if they need action, but they need to support that action once the companies make the change. It is a bit of a two-way street there. I am sure everyone will be buying Voortman cookies. Politics is local and we need to ensure that people realize that Voortman cookies are distributed right across the country. Voortman, which makes very good cookies, was a leader in this.
The situation in North America in comparison to the EU is also important because food and food production is an international issue now. Labelling of trans fats is not mandatory in the EU unless a specific claim is made. Canada is moving much further with colleagues in the other place to work with the various scientists and researchers in making changes to get alternative oils.
The Danish example was mentioned earlier in the House where it has established that less than 2 grams of trans fats per 100 grams of fat is an appropriate level. Let us determine if that is the safe level for Canadians and, if so, proceed, but if it is not, then we must find out the safe level.
We need to have the appropriate timeframe to implement the regulations. I know packaged goods companies are always updating their labels and making sure they are appealing from a marketing perspective. Therefore I encourage them to get that new shipment of labels as soon as possible so people do have the information.
We also have to deal with the enforcement issues. Food inspection and food safety are very important to all Canadians. We must ensure consumer awareness. They need to know what to look for and what choices they can make, and that they support the progress that the companies are making with those purchases so that there is the incentive to the industry to reduce the levels.
Meetings between government, non-government and industry organizations are ongoing and they will continue throughout the early part of next year to work on the action plan and to ensure we are gathering the research in these areas.
Reducing trans fats from processed foods is, I think, a universal goal of the House. I cannot imagine anyone who is in favour of increasing it and certainly even maintaining it. We know it is not necessarily healthy for people and that we need to find alternatives.
This is an example of people working together, government and business, and saying that we need to get there. The motion today is perhaps about getting there a little faster and in different ways, but I think everyone understands the need to get there and to make sure Canadians are making healthy choices.
The House can perform the important function of ensuring consumers have the information they need to make the best choices. However we need to do more in terms of investing. People need to understand their lifestyle choices and, in terms of heart health, to do more cardiovascular activities. People need more opportunities for exercise, which we are supporting through our school systems, serious exercise among young people and giving them the opportunity to make better choices.
The food for thought program in my constituency ensures that kids start off the day with breakfast. It is funny talking to some constituents in my area. As people in the House know, Burlington is a very successful part of Canada. We are very fortunate. They are surprised sometimes with how many kids in our community are showing up without breakfast, either because they cannot afford it or because of other challenges within their families.
By setting up a program that distributes food to all the kids and all the kids have an opportunity to purchase healthy snacks, it makes it easier for moms and dads. The kids all share in the food, which, as someone mentioned, is part of the basis of our culture. Food is the centrepiece of most of our holidays, religious and otherwise. Food is a very important part of Canadians' lives and as a major world food producer we should be providing people with the best possible information so they can make more healthy choices in the foods they eat.
When I was first elected to the House, for the new members who may not realize, we actually had the incredibly wonderful Ottawa Heart Institute come and test members of Parliament on various things, such as cholesterol, lifestyle and food habits. Sadly, many of our colleagues were one step away from a heart attack and it was quite shocking. They produced a four part graph and everyone was passing around where they were on the charts and too many of the people in this chamber were banging up against the wall of being at risk.
Ironically, of course, the meal for those of us who were on duty that day had been produced. It was french fries and pizza, so the heart institution started at the very core of the organization, which was the kitchens. I am happy to say that the whips have worked hard to make sure that those of us who are eating here are making better choices. Our very own dining room has made sure that there are healthier alternatives. I am still trying to get them to make sandwiches with real chicken and real turkey. I would ask members to join me in that.
However people do need the opportunity to make healthy choices. Our lifestyles mean that we do incorporate, perhaps more than we would like to, packaged foods, but with a little more education and perhaps a little more time in our busy days that could change.
I am glad members of the NDP have put this motion forward for debate. I hope the attention this debate has garnered will ensure that more people are going to the grocery store and making better choices, that companies are paying attention and are pushing the research a little faster within their organizations and are going to respond to what I hope is a growing consumer demand as well.
We hope our colleagues who work at the Department of Health and the many wonderful civil servants who work for the ministry of health will continue to push to make sure that we get there. Ultimately, we always have that tool of regulation at the end of the day. It is our obligation and it is our opportunity to make a difference.