Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laval.
The NDP motion raises an extremely important and interesting issue. Personally, I would have preferred a slightly more limpid motion, not that it contains trans fats, but sometimes things that are well thought out merit being explained clearly. Then the words come easily.
I do not want to criticize to any extent—since we are totally in agreement with the motion—but I must point out that all motions include an educational component. While not wishing to give any lectures on writing or literature, it does seem to me that it might have been written in clearer and simpler terms.
Now, for the substance of the motion, it does raise an essential question about individual responsibility, the state's role in regularizing certain situations, and the right to information about what one eats.
To give my own situation as an example, I was recently surprised to learn at a routine doctor's appointment that I had become what my kids would call a tub of trans fat. I have a very high level of the bad cholesterol. I am not particularly chubby, however—I will let you be the judge of that, Madam Speaker—nor particularly unhealthy. I will soon turn 50, but it was a shock to learn that I will likely have to start taking pills, getting more exercise and eating responsibly.
That said, I do not eat chips or other junk food, as they call it. Like everyone else, I am responsible for what I eat and I do not deny that. Nobody should. But we have faith in the system. We have always had the impression, in the provinces of Canada and in Quebec, that there was a whole bunch of inspectors, specialists and doctors protecting us by carrying out studies before a new food was allowed on the market.
I believe, however, that some complacency has developed in this country as far as this is concerned. We saw that when certain Health Canada employees were not really able to get anywhere when they tried to act as whistleblowers about certain practices, about being pushed by lobbyists to allow certain harmful products and so on.
Is the system working to protect consumers? Consumers are faced with choices. In the case at hand, trans fats are mostly produced by an industrial process, hydrogenation, which turns oils to solids or semi-solids.
Take peanut butter for example. I think it has become a basic food for most students. I have overindulged in it myself, in my youth, but now I have to eat it in secret because my daughter is allergic. We can see that it is less attractive when the oil separates from the peanut solids. We are used to seeing foods that are presented in a more readily saleable version. Marketing has trumped public health and the health of our people, and we have not been informed of these effects.
There were no studies done before these foods were introduced into our diet in massive quantities 50 years ago.
We also realize that, according to the Heart Foundation's studies, our organisms were not designed to digest this kind of trans fats and are not able to eliminate them. There is some confusion in the ratings, depending on the study, but they appear to be more dangerous than saturated fats—which are bad for our health because we use too much of them.
In the case of trans fats, these products were imposed on us. I come from a large family that was not very rich. I remember that we used shortening or margarine instead of butter for our cooking, because they cost less than butter. We did not know we were damaging our health by doing so. We did it blithely, with no one telling us anything and with no safety system to protect us.
Avant-garde countries like Denmark, Sweden and all the Scandinavians have long been concerned with the composition of foods.
In this country, antibiotics are systematically added to finisher feed for pork. Collectively, these antibiotics do us harm when we really do need them to fight infections. The bacteria have grown stronger and, as a result, we are unable to fight off these infections because our base level of antibiotics is too high and our systems have gotten used to the antibiotics. Again, we have a false sense of security.
We have also gotten a false sense of security from the system. For instance, because Canada is a major producer of GMOs, more effort has been put into listening to the industry than into protecting human health, to the point of not being able to read the labels.
As regards trans fats, one has to know that if they are listed at the top, there is more, and one has to really do the math, which is not easy, to figure out how much there is. If one has that kind of time while doing the groceries, one can subtract the saturated fats from the total amount of fats to know how much trans fats a product contains.
The motion the NDP has put forward is an extremely interesting and innovative one. It raises the question of whether we, in Canada and Quebec, can change and start paying closer attention, as some already do. We can no longer afford to assume that food is automatically safe because there are people looking after it, that water is automatically safe because there is lots of it, and that there is no need to protect either food nor water or to ensure they are safe for the public. At the end of the day, we realize that policies are largely determined by industry, and not by concern for public health.
What Denmark and Scandinavia are doing, and a growing number of countries will have to do, is look into applying the precautionary principle and prohibiting processed fats used for reasons of aesthetics, quick processing or preservation, which seems to be to a large extent what trans fats are used for.
There are alternative products. I know that the Leclerc cookie company and other companies have product lines without trans fat, although they are generally a little more expensive. If you do not have a lot of money then you get heart disease. However, if you have a little more money you can afford trans fat free cookies. There is a responsibility in there somewhere. There is certainly a concern about the cost of food, which the Conservative member has raised. We cannot ignore such things. However, the price of junk food is always too high.
Awareness needs to be raised and often good legislation helps to do that.
For example, when there were no laws governing blood alcohol levels, people drove—I did as well sometimes—after having had a little bit to drink. It is odd, but people became good citizens because they had to. If we have a law banning trans fats, which are not produced naturally in food processing, this will send a clear message that they are bad and that we have to change what we eat. This will sound an alarm and work out for the best.
We also have to change our behaviour and make it clear to this government, which is sometimes more sensitive to lobbies than to public health, that the presence of GMOs in products has to be indicated so that people can make informed choices. Nor should bovine hormones be put on the market just because a Canadian industry has developed them. The government needs to develop a sense of responsibility that it is currently lacking. Hopefully, the NDP's call to ban trans fats will be a signal to put public health first and the economy second. Although it is important to have a healthy economy, it should not come at the expense of public health.