House of Commons Hansard #27 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was food.


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4:10 p.m.


Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I also applaud the NDP for bringing forward the motion. It is important to educate people, and this does educate people on just how serious trans fats are.

I am concerned about trying to impose this upon our people so quickly. It is noted that one of Canada's largest business associations, with 17,500 members, representing restaurants, bars, caterers, hotels and other food service establishments has said that it could cost Canada's $46 billion food service industry which employs more than one million people. How will we square that with the people who will have to deal with these regulations imposed on them very quickly?

Education would be very important first and the money should be put into that. The member, as well as the member who introduced the bill, have said that there have been all sorts of voluntary measures already. There have been some good things happening, everything from New York Fries to Oreo cookies.

If that does not educate the people, nothing will. When kids go to the shelf, they see it. If the mother says that it is there in colour, that the Oreo cookie is healthier for them than that one, then that is a form of education. I think the industry responds to that much more quickly than it does to being regulated.

If we spend a lot of money and effort trying to regulate, I think we might run into some difficulties, and it may not happen as quickly then.

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4:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think there are two issues here. First, the motion before us talks about a consultation process that is underway with scientists and the industry. Therefore, industry is being consulted and that is extremely important. In the Danish example I cited earlier there were consultations with the industry.

The second element, again citing the Danish example, there was a period of adaptation. That is something obviously we would have to take into consideration. In the Danish case there was a six month of adaptation to the new legislation. Obviously, in Denmark there was broad education. People understood the issues. Industry moved in that direction as well. There were consultations with industry.

Within the realm of the motion that is before us today and given the notable example that Denmark has achieved a phenomenal reduction in the level of trans fats in its food, the member's concerns will be addressed.

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4:15 p.m.

West Nova Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments were very indepth. What I did not understand was the link he made between budget surplus and trans fatty acids. It left me a little confused.

However, I thank him for pointing out once again the great fiscal management by the government that led us to another $9 billion again, the seventh consecutive surplus. We reduced the debt by some $60 billion, leaving some $4 billion available each and every year for services for Canadians, such as the health care accord of $41 billion over 10 years. We increased equalization with the provinces that have less ability to have programs to aid the less fortunate. We have the child tax credit which gives money to the families who are more in need, reducing their necessity for food banks. We have the early childhood intervention, with a great deal of money to work with the provinces for education on nutrition for example. We have child care programs such as day care. There has been a reduction in the use of drugs. We are working with Canadians in those areas. Also, the number of jobs have increased. Never have we had such growth rates in employment, which assist people in having less need for food banks.

The member has pointed out that all of those elements are good. We have to now look at how we remove these trans fatty acids in a reasonable way.

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4:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about trans fatty acids and the contribution that their elimination can make on the quality of life of Canadians. My point around the budget surplus was the fact that as this $9 billion is being hoarded, the quality of life of Canadians across this country has been dramatically affected, for example, the closure of St. Mary's Hospital in my community due to federal budget cutbacks.

Homelessness has tripled in the communities in the lower mainland. There are now thousands of people without homes in the area of the lower mainland while there is this $9 billion hoarded budgetary surplus. There are over 1,000 individuals this week that will be supported by the food bank locally in my community despite the fact that this money is being hoarded by the Liberal government.

We are seeing a dramatic fall in the quality of life of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That is why 19 members of the New Democratic Party were elected to come to this Parliament and fight with other members in the four corners of this House to ensure that quality of life no longer deteriorates and that we finally address long-standing issues for a quality of life of--

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4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

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November 18th, 2004 / 4:20 p.m.


Denise Poirier-Rivard Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to address the issue we are dealing with today as the official agri-food critic for the Bloc Québécois and as a farmer who has worked for many years on ensuring that what Quebeckers consume is of the highest quality in terms of enjoyment and their health.

The agri-food industry is very important in Quebec. Society has been very demanding of farmers over the past few years. They are asked to produce food that is the best quality, the most diverse, sold at the best price, and to protect the environment and service Quebec's land for all of society.

Quebec farmers have met the challenge. The quality and diversity of their food production have increased and the price has remained low.

This is where I want to make a link between the Quebec model in agriculture and the NDP bill, since there are areas where Quebec and the rest of Canada can easily stand united.

Our farmers ensure that their products are of a very high quality, but the quality is ruined when the product is processed by the processing industry. How can we assure our consumers that the food they buy is of the same quality as the food from our processing sector producers?

Today, on this NDP opposition day, we are debating a proposal by this party to urge the government to enact legislation limiting the content of trans fats to the lowest possible level in all food products sold in Quebec and Canada. The motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the federal government should acknowledge processed transfatty acids are harmful fats, which are significantly more likely to cause heart disease than saturated fats;

And that this House hasten the development of replacements to processed trans fats by urging the government to enact regulation, or if necessary legislation within one year, guided by the findings of a multi-stakeholder Task Force, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and following the consultation process with scientists and the industry currently underway;

Therefore, this House calls on the government to enact regulation, or if necessary present legislation that effectively eliminates processed trans fats, by limiting the processed transfat content of any food product sold in Canada to the lowest level possible.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of this motion.

It is estimated that every Canadian consumes 10 grams of trans fats daily, one of the highest levels in the entire world. The World Health Organization recommends we follow Denmark's example, as the Danes did away with trans fats in 2003, all the more important because 1 gram of such fat is apparently 10 times more dangerous for the cardiovascular system than one gram of saturated fat. The New England Journal of Medicine tells us that consuming 1 gram daily increases the risk of heart disease by 20%.

Getting back to the Danish legislation. It was passed in March 2003 and came into effect on December 31 that same year. It bans trans fats in food. This was the first country to enact such a law and this was not without impact. The European Commission mandated the European Food Safety Authority Scientific Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies to give an opinion on the presence of trans fats in foods for human consumption.

This panel was mandated because some member states of the European Union differed with the Danish authorities on this issue. The Government of Denmark used the public health argument to justify passage of this legislation. In fact, it is claimed that the links between the consumption of trans fats and cardiovascular disease, certain kinds of cancer, type 2 diabetes and strokes are clear enough to justify creating such legislation. Our friends in the New Democratic Party are relying on much the same argument to justify Bill C-220.

Let us now look at the effects on health. Consumption of trans fatty acids increases blood cholesterol levels. The disadvantage of trans fats, compared to saturated fats, is that in addition to increasing levels of bad cholesterol, they also lower the levels of HDL, the good cholesterol. The more trans fats and hydrogenated fats we consume, the higher our blood cholesterol goes. Epidemiological studies have also shown that people who consumed diets high in trans fats were two to three times more at risk of heart attack or other heart disease five to ten years later.

Saturated fatty acids raise the level of bad cholesterol by interfering with the elimination of cholesterol from the blood, due to their inhibiting action on the receptors for bad cholesterol. Trans fatty acids can also cause an increase in bad cholesterol levels in blood, but usually not in the same proportions as saturated fatty acids.

Medical science has not yet discovered the mechanism whereby trans fats raise the level of cholesterol in the blood.

We will recall that, in the last few centuries, our farmers produced food of excellent quality, as they do today, and that this food reached the consumer without undergoing major processing, and with fewer health risks. The consumer enjoyed healthy food, and the risks of disease associated with the new processing practices were much lower. But in the last 50 years, trans fats have become a part of our diet.

It is therefore still difficult today to assess all the consequences of increased or long term consumption. In addition, the Food and Drugs Act requires merchants to list the quantity of saturated fats, but not the quantity of trans fats, on labels, making it even more difficult for consumers to control their intake. It might interest people to know that there are 4,000 processed products on the market containing trans fats.

But more important still, according to certain experts, including those with the Fédération belge contre le cancer, because this type of fat was introduced into our diet barely 50 years ago, the human organism lacks the capacity to process large amounts of these fatty structures. It may therefore well cause more damage than other types of fat. Saturated fats have always been part of our diet, in products of animal origin, while trans fats are not present in large quantities in nature.

Here are the recommendations of the Heart and Stroke Foundation concerning the consumption of trans fatty acids. For starters, the foundation recognizes that reducing trans and saturated fats in our diet would help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Its recommendations are therefore along these lines: provide the public with accurate information about the nutritional value of foods and the health effects of lowering trans fats in order to help consumers make informed and healthy choices; replace as soon as possible and where feasible the trans fats in processed foods by healthy alternatives, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, rather than with equal amounts of saturated fat; get Canadians to adopt a balanced diet that includes items from the four food groups in Canada's Food Guide ; of 20% to 35% of daily calories as fat, that is 45 to 75 grams for women and 60 to 105 grams for men; increased consumption of polyunsaturates and monounsaturates and decreased consumption of trans and saturated fats.

As for the Health Canada recommendations, the following is given on its web site:

Intakes of saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids and dietary cholesterol have each been independently and positively associated with recognized blood lipid biomarkers of heart disease risk. Any increase in the intake of these types of fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease in a linear fashion. However, it is neither possible nor advisable to achieve zero percent of energy from either saturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids in typical whole-food diets. The extraordinary dietary adjustments required to achieve zero per cent of energy from these types of fat may introduce undesirable effects, such as inadequate intakes of micronutrients, and unknown and unquantifiable health risks. Nonetheless, by making judicious dietary choices it is possible to have a nutritionally adequate diet that is low in saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids and dietary cholesterol.

So Health Canada is therefore recommending reducing the consumption of these types of fats to a minimum, while ensuring that one does not end up with an inadequate intake of micronutrients.

The Bloc Québécois supports this motion. The Bloc Québécois pledges to work together with the other political parties represented in Ottawa to ensure that Canada takes resolute action by limiting the trans fat content of foods. Industrially produced trans fatty acids must be eliminated. In that respect, Denmark is a positive example to follow. Recent studies on the subject show that industrially produced trans fatty acids adversely affect health. The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of heart disease, among other things. That is why the Bloc Québécois believes that action to protect consumers ought to be taken as soon as possible.

Members of this House have mentioned the principle of freedom of choice, raising the issue of individual rights as opposed to collective rights and duties and suggesting that society as a whole should financially support, through our health system, the bad habits of individuals.

We are not opposed to individual rights, but we believe that the government has an important role to play in improving the health of individuals, in proactive ways that emphasize prevention.

The government has a mandate to protect the public, and the current legislation is inadequate. Obviously the Food and Drugs Act sets standards for labelling and advertising, but nothing currently requires merchants to reveal the quantity of trans fatty acids in the food they sell.

There will, however, be new Nutrition Facts tables on food labels in Canada by December 2005 for large food companies, and by December 2007 for smaller food companies. These tables will help everyone identify and limit their intake of products high in trans fat.

The government has an increased responsibility in this matter because the law has been inadequate for a long time. Labelling of trans fats will not be obligatory before December 2005. The public really will not have the knowledge it needs to choose its food well until that date arrives. Thus, the public is unable to protect itself and to choose foods without trans fats.

In view of studies that demonstrate increasingly that the consumption of trans fatty acids has a serious impact on heart health, the Bloc Québécois supports the New Democratic Party in its action to improve the health of Canadians and Quebeckers. Need we remind the House that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Canada and Quebec?

Nevertheless, this initiative should not compromise the government's prevention policies so that people to take charge of their own health and choose a healthy lifestyle. And it must not be imagined that such state intervention removes the individual citizen's responsibility with respect to food and lifestyle choices.

In conclusion, if the products that are added to our food were as good as the produce from Quebec's farms, the health of all our citizens would be much better.

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4:30 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House, as it is always an honour for me to rise here and speak. It is a particularly great honour to speak on a motion such as this one brought forward by my colleague, because I really do feel that as legislators we are called upon to be forward thinking and to look for policies that benefit Canadian citizens not just here but in the long run.

I would like to begin by telling the story of my fledgling career as a chicken farmer. My dear wife was always very strong on the fact that we should eat better foods, more natural foods, and she had the idea that we would raise meat birds and feed our children better quality foods.

It fell to me to be the one to develop a relationship with these creatures and I have to say I never did form any kind of deep affection for chickens. I found them rather loathsome. I had to go out and clean up after them. I honestly tried to develop dialogue with chickens, but I found it quite impossible. In fact, a farmer once told me he deeply objected to even raising chickens because he felt it was an affront to spend energy on an animal that had an IQ lower than a rutabaga.

But one thing I noticed about chickens was that they seem to eat anything. They will eat egg cartons. They will eat the styrofoam off the walls. They will eat the leftover mashed potatoes. The one thing they would not eat was white bread. They would leave it. At first I wondered if maybe there was something wrong with the chickens, if maybe they were not feeling well, but I noticed on a number of occasions that they did not eat white bread. That struck me. What was so terrible in this bread that even chickens would not eat it?

Mr. Speaker, I should have said that I am splitting my time with the hon. member for Ottawa Centre.

Returning to this gripping tale of the chickens and trying to understand what was wrong with white bread, I noticed at my daughter's school that all the children were eating white bread lunches and I thought that if chickens would rather eat styrofoam than white bread, there must be something wrong with it.

Not to belabour the point about white bread, I will tell members a great thing they can use white bread for. I had a job as a plumber for a very short period of time and we carried white bread in our toolboxes, because no matter how long we kept it in a toolbox it would never harden, which is a strange thing for bread. One would think bread would harden and form a crust, but it never crusted over. In fact, we would carry it in our toolboxes because when we had to solder joints and we had a real hard problem, we would stuff the pipe with white bread, it would absorb all the water and we could finish our soldering. I think it has an industrial use; I just think it is very scary to be feeding it to children.

That being said, I would like to keep my comments to four areas today and break this down. As agriculture critic, one of my issues is that when we bring forward legislation that changes how things are done it affects people. We know there are concerns in the canola industry. Back home in my region we have a number of canola farmers. I have been speaking with the canola groups. I have talked to a number of agricultural groups about what these impending changes would bring. One thing that I feel very confident about is the wording of this motion. What we are trying to do is open a dialogue and move forward. I have a great confidence in the producers across Canada and the food industry in Canada that we can move forward on this.

One of the things I have really noticed in the agricultural district I am from is that farmers are very much aware of the changes in a 21st century food economy. Throughout our region we have producers who are now moving into niche markets. They are starting to create what some call organic foods, or specialty foods, and the consumer is looking for that. We can now buy organic peanut butter at the local grocery store. That shocked me when I returned home this past weekend.

What I am seeing across the region among farmers and food producers is the sense of new opportunities, of responding to changing consumer patterns, so when we talk about the fear of losing jobs--and that is a real fear--we need to also be looking at the possibilities that are coming forward.

I share a region with my colleagues from Abitibi--Témiscamingue and Nipissing--Timiskaming. We share a common agricultural region and the producers are coming together. They have a wonderful event in Ville-Marie called la Foire gourmande, where food producers from across northern Quebec and northern Ontario come together. The marketing of these products is a real sign of the sense of where we are going in the 21st century economy.

Now in our region we are seeing the return to small bakeries and small butcher shops. People want products with quality. They want to know what is in their food. I think this motion is really speaking to a yearning that does exist in Canadians, a yearning for better quality foods.

That said, I will go to the second point in my speech tonight, which is that there is a growing disparity in terms of food choices in Canada and across North America. It is a growing chasm, I would say, between people who are perhaps economically and socially able to make these choices and a growing deskilling that we are seeing throughout what used to be perhaps a working class and even in the middle class and throughout the lower class.

I see it in my own community with young mothers who have never learned to cook, with families who have never had meals together. To me it is a shocking thing, because when I look back on growing up I would say that in my town of Timmins perhaps every single family ate dinner together every night. The central theme of our week was Sunday dinner in the Moneta district with my grandparents.

When we see this change into a culture that no longer knows how to feed itself, a culture where people no longer have the skills to eat--

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4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Their fathers don't know how to cook?

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4:35 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

The hon. member has obviously never had the cooking of my father, otherwise she would refrain from making such comments. In fact, if the hon. member talked to my daughters she could hear the disparaging things they say about me bringing home food in a bag on Fridays, food that has already been cooked. But I digress, and I wish I had not been not thrown off my topic.

What I would like to say, though, is that we are seeing a deskilling throughout our communities. It is a terrible deskilling because children going to school are bringing processed foods with them every day. They are drinking Coke for breakfast. We see it even in rural communities where one would think that the old traditions of the daily meals would stand. Instead what we are seeing is a continual reliance on these kinds of manufactured foods and it is having a devastating health impact. It is affecting our children.

I think it speaks to a major cultural shift, because we think of food as a central part of our culture. It is not just health. It is who we are. It is the history of where we are as a people.

If we look through the Bible we see that meals are the central focus of so many of the important events, from the Passover to the feeding of the 5,000. Where we would be in the western world if the apostles had the last supper in a drive-through at Tim Hortons because they were late trying to get to Jerusalem? We would be left without.

I am saying this in dead seriousness, because on top of the deskilling we are seeing in our culture, we are seeing an increasing speed in our culture, so there is the inability to get home and cook because people are working longer hours or people are away. I know myself, because I pretty much live in my car these days, that when it is my turn to cook I am more inclined to buy something that has been precooked, which is not necessarily a good thing.

What we are seeing is that families do not eat properly. Especially we are seeing that children do not eat properly. I think when we talk about food choice we have to think about children because they are the ones who are being affected. I would like to talk a little about these health effects.

Are you signalling that I am down to one minute? Oh, Mr. Speaker, I was just getting started. I will skip over most of what I had to say here.

I think that the issue of where we are going is very important. I share the concerns of our members across the floor about choice, about how if we bring in this rule does it mean we are going to bring in that rule? I do personally share that concern, because I have a problem wearing a helmet when I ride a bicycle. That is probably why I do not ride bicycles.

But what I do see is that we have had major changes. When we had the discussions about getting rid of lead in gasoline, people said all kinds of jobs would be lost, but we got rid of it. We got rid of CFCs and aerosol sprays and we were better for it. We got rid of red dye number two. There are certain times when as legislators we are called to move forward and say, “Yes, this is in the interests of the general health and this in the interests of our children”.

I think that together we will be able to bring this forward without unduly impacting the industry and agriculture of our districts.

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4:40 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the NDP bringing this motion forward. From my standpoint, I am not sure yet how I am going to vote on this issue. Our party is the only party allowing a free vote on this issue I believe.

I understand there are health risks because of trans fatty acids. I absolutely believe they are harmful to one's health, but my concern is that this might be the start of a slippery slope. If we start banning everything that the government deems harmful to one's health, where does it end?

I completely understand what is being said. I hope the marketplace adjusts so that it reduces or eliminates trans fatty acids in foods. Education and labelling is absolutely paramount and necessary in this case. I am not sure if I can make the full leap, as the member opposite has, to actually ban something that is in the marketplace because it is deemed to be harmful. I agree it is harmful, but I really think this is the start of a slippery slope.

If consumers are aware of the health risks and the dangers, the marketplace will adjust. Product manufacturers who are currently using trans fatty acids in their food products will adjust quicker than any legislation because they will understand, through the decrease in their product's sales, that there is a need to adjust. What are my colleague's thoughts on that?

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4:45 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's comments spoke to where we are going with this motion. It was not the NDP that deemed trans fatty acids dangerous to health. It was the scientific community of North America, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the World Health Organization.

As legislators, we recognize that this is a serious issue. The job of lawmakers is to decide at what point to intervene and at what point not to. Surely we all agree about intervening when it comes to increasing laws against drunk driving or speeding. I like to drive fast, but I drive at the speed limit. It is important to have seat belt laws, but some people say that it is an infringement on choice. Many times I have left my driveway only to stop, put my seat belt on, and start again because legislators have said it is important.

There are many isolated reserves in the area I come from that do not have grocery stores or fresh food. Children are being raised on trans fatty foods. They have a high rate of diabetes. This is having a big effect right throughout our health system. It is incumbent upon us as legislators to take this forward and discuss it, which is what we are doing today, and take it to a legislative review so that we can see how to bring this forward in the best way possible.

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4:45 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for his presentation. It was very entertaining.

As an agriculture producer, I can see two sides of this story. There is no doubt that trans fat is a terrible food item that we must eliminate and hopefully eliminate it by market driven pressures, and by voluntary changes in the industry. There is also the other side of the story. Canola can replace a lot of the trans fats that are in food products right now. There is a great opportunity in the agriculture industry to benefit from it here in Canada.

Unfortunately, we have made the argument that trans fats are bad. We all know they are bad and we have to do something about it, but at the same time there are also saturated fats. A comment was made earlier today that saturated fats are just about as dangerous as trans fats in some ways and that we need to reduce them from our diet as well.

How does the member want to deal with that since it is a natural occurring fat that is found in almost all food products?

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4:45 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, those are very good points, although I am not sure who made the comment about saturated fats being the same as trans fats in terms of impact. There is a 4 to 10 times greater impact from trans fats.

In terms of the agriculture industry, I share the hon. member's concern. I am very concerned about where we are going to go with canola because it is a Canadian success story. A lot of our agriculture producers are seeing great opportunities not just in Canada but internationally. That is why I feel that the motion we have on the floor is a good one because we are discussing this issue with the canola producers now and they are seeing ways of moving forward with this.

That is how we have to do this. We cannot just say that we are not going to look at that and jump without looking. We have to work with our agriculture producers.

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4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake, Agriculture; the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul, Revenue Canada; the hon. member for Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, Fisheries.

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4:45 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make my contribution to this very important debate that profoundly affects the health of Canadians. I have a text which I have labelled “Ten facts and a conclusion”. I will go through the facts. I am claiming they are facts, not arguments. It is evidence in each case beyond which I think there is no dispute.

First, trans fats are technically speaking and scientifically defined as poison. They have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other diseases.

Second, they are found in all processed foods, baby food, cookies, cereals, most hamburgers, and hot dogs. In fact, they are found in most of the food that people eat every day. In total, 40% of the products in supermarkets have trans fats in them.

Third, Canadians, regrettably, eat more trans fats than anyone else in the world, averaging over 10 grams a day. What is the reason for that? I do not know. That we should be dealing with it is another question.

Fourth, one in three Canadian children is overweight. A good part of the reason for this is the trans fats in our diet which children disproportionately consume.

Fifth, poor families eat more trans fats than others. This means we have a higher incidence of bad health in poor families, poor kids, and as has been mentioned many times, not only by my colleagues in this debate but by members of other parties on both sides of the House, many families, particularly low income families, have no choice in their neighbourhoods except to buy food with trans fats in them.

Sixth, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the World Health Organization, and leading doctors and scientists all over the world have all condemned trans fats. They have all said we have to get trans fats out of our diets.

Seventh, there are substitutes available for trans fats, so those producers that already are including trans fats in their products have alternatives available to them. In terms of the timing of this motion, there would be a phase in period in which the transition could be made.

Eighth, a number of responsible companies have acted and recognized the problem with trans fats. They have taken the correct decision. Oreo cookies, Becel margarine, New York Fries, and there have been a number of others that have been mentioned in this debate.

We do not normally wait for volunteerism to deal with other important social responsibility issues. We do not wait for people to voluntarily drive on the right side of the road. It would be a rather bizarre incident in society if we did. We pass laws to ensure that all of us, most of the time at least, drive on the right side of the road.

Ninth, Canadians want healthy food and they want regulations to ensure that we have healthy food. They do not want to have to read the small print, and often for lay people to make impossible calculations as to whether or not the food that they are eating is healthy or not. They expect governments and legislators to protect the food supply, whether it is right at the farm gate or whether it is food that they buy at the supermarket. That is a political obligation to ensure Canadians that they get healthy food.

Finally, fact number ten, we as parliamentarians in the House of Commons today can do something about it. Most Canadians in most parts of this country cannot do anything about it immediately, but we can. We can make a decision here today that will profoundly affect the lives of all Canadians.

My conclusion as has been put forward by other members of my party today in supporting this important motion is that we should act. This is no time for specious debate or specious forms of volunteerism. We as parliamentarians have the responsibility to take the health of all Canadians seriously. We should recognize that this is a practical matter. It is a necessary matter and let us get on with it and do it now.

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4:50 p.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I used this example earlier today, but I see there are different players on the stage now, so I would like to use the same example again.

The member has reiterated the stand of his party in putting this motion today that we ought to legislate against those things which are harmful to our citizens. That is the basic premise.

I would like to point out to him and to others present that it just so happens that we lose between 35,000 and 40,000 people every year due to illnesses and lung diseases that come from cigarette smoking. That is about 100 people a day. If there was a certain model of airplane that went down and killed 100 people and if that happened three days in a row, we would shut that thing down. Yet we are totally ignoring cigarettes. They are still legal and the government still taxes them and collects the revenue and there is no outrage about that at all.

Meanwhile we are going after this one. I think it is very inconsistent. Perhaps what the government is doing is starting at one of the lower items of danger to us. If we are to get into this whole thing of legislating against all of these things which are dangerous, where will it ever end? I am really concerned about that. I would like the hon. member's comments in response to that.

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4:55 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would say that we do have laws now that protect children from tobacco. Tobacco products cannot be sold directly to children. That is one point. The kids, by the way, have to eat and in many circumstances they have to buy food from stores that have nothing available except foods containing trans fats. That is a rather important distinction between cigarettes and food, it seems to me.

Second, I take quite seriously the kinds of concerns that have been raised about tobacco. It is the case that many thousands of Canadians die from the poison that comes from tobacco every year. However, one of the things we have to do when we talk about legislating is to be practical. In this case we are obviously taking into account a society, not just Canada, but virtually every country around the world. The fact is that people have become addicted to cigarettes and that is a serious problem. In fact, it is one of the most serious addictions, compared to other substances, as has been widely recognized by experts and lay people alike.

We cannot just abolish tobacco products overnight. We can have education programs. We can stop advertising. We could stop tobacco products from being sold directly to kids, but it would be a serious social mistake to ban cigarettes outright. It is a practical decision and I think so far our society has made the right one on that by not banning them.

Here we have something that we can get rid of and there is a ready substitute for it. It can be put in the marketplace. By acting we protect not only children, but we protect adults. There is virtually no downside to taking the course of action that the motion puts in place.

I want to emphasize that in terms of its application it is a phased in action over a few years. There will be time for markets to adjust, for companies to adjust, for parts of the agriculture community to adjust. Incidentally, there will be positive benefits, as my colleagues have pointed out, to the agricultural sector as well.

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4:55 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the premise that is being put forth here is where it will end.

The hon. member has many more years of experience as a legislator than I do. If we look at the concept of voluntarily removing urea formaldehyde, of allowing people the choice whether or not they want to use CFCs and aerosol spray cans and perhaps the idea that people should be able to choose whether or not they will continue to use leaded gasoline, we made decisions as legislators throughout the past. I would ask the hon. member, did he see some terrifying decrease in personal freedoms as a result of those decisions?

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4:55 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me take what I think is a parallel. Market forces are something to be taken seriously. There are pressures on companies. One of the effects of this is that they do not readily respond on a voluntary basis if profits are to be more readily made in another way or markets dictate other tastes.

The perfect example is in my hometown of Oshawa. The automotive industry in recent years did not act on a single major reform, whether it was on auto safety or pollution control, without being legislated into such action. Notably the state of California years ago took such steps and as a consequence we have much safer automobiles and cars that produce less pollution.

The final point I would make, Mr. Speaker, before you get up is that the good companies that have already made the decision to get rid of trans fats are being punished because the other ones do not have to. We should make it a uniform--

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5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Burlington.

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5 p.m.

Burlington Ontario


Paddy Torsney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

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.

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5:15 p.m.


Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made a fine contribution to this debate. I have learned more about Voortman's in 20 minutes than I ever thought I would. I benefit from that. I am pleased she mentioned the company, even if it is in her own constituency, quite appropriate, that has done the right thing by getting rid of trans fats.

I want to ask the member to respond to the point that some people on the other side of the House have made about letting market forces resolve this entirely for us. It seems to me that the market forces are good for resolving a number of things but when it comes to health and safety, we as legislators have an obligation to intervene at some point.

I do not want this to be simply a rhetorical question but to be a serious question. By relying simply on competitive forces, does this not put at a disadvantage, in a number of instances, companies that are doing the right thing, in terms of their production costs, if they get rid of trans fats, notwithstanding that there may be a market niche for that, for that minority of people who consciously go out and look for it, but picking up on the point the member herself made, that trans fats were put in there for good market reasons of making higher profits by having the foods last longer?

If we rely on market forces does this not mean that the good guys, so to speak, will be paying higher costs and have a disadvantage compared to the companies that do not do the right thing?

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5:15 p.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will agree and disagree with the member for Ottawa Centre.

I am not sure that the only reason trans fats were used to prolong shelf life and to make products last longer was to improve profitability. The cookies on the shelf in my home last a long time and I want to know that they will last and still be safe to eat when I get to them. It is not just about profitability for the company. It is also in my interest that the product last longer.

It is our right to legislate what goes into foods. We have an obligation to make sure that food is safe in Canada. We have a whole series of regulations around product labelling. The former minister of health went a long way to making sure Canadians will be getting much more information to make informed choices. Sometimes our choices are not perfect. All of us have been on planes where we grab whatever snack food is offered. We have the ability to compare two snack foods on a flight and, while neither one of them is great, at least we can decide which one has fewer calories or less fat. We can make choices appropriate to our diets. That is one benefit alone of the information that we will get.

If members were to read the nutrition action letter, they would see that it has a lot of information about food and is helping to educate people. People are saying that Canada's labeling, vis-à-vis the United States, is much better. It took us longer maybe to get those little information boxes with the percentages of our vitamins, fat and protein quotients, but we are in fact getting better information than the U.S.

We have an obligation and a right to demand and legislate the information, and we have an opportunity as well to encourage. In terms of the regulation on packaging, a lot of companies are unhappy at having to change their packaging but they have to do that. It is our obligation and right to tell them what to do. I do not think everything is about leaving it up to market forces. I think market forces can push and get people a lot further along, but we need people to not just say they want these products but to actually purchase the products. There does have to be a level playing field to make sure that we are all working with the same information and that all the companies are working. We do that in a whole series of products that we regulate as a country, and so it makes perfect sense.

The question of course is the timing and the right levels. The whole issue of 2% per 100, maybe that is not the right measurement, so let us work with the science, advance the science, invest in the science, encourage it and make sure we are getting the right information. Maybe it is zero, in which case we have to get rid of it completely.

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5:20 p.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech and I would like to commend the member.

I note that on cigarettes it is now required that a warning label be attached to it. There are all sorts of different things. Some of them include pictures and some of them are pretty graphic. Basically it says that we can buy this product but if we actually use it for the purpose for which it is intended, it will probably kill us. They are required to put that label on the product.

I wonder whether the member would favour doing that with products that contain trans fats. Maybe we should just put the label on it stating that it contains trans fats and that if used over a long period of time it will greatly increase the probability of having heart problems, clogged arteries and things like that. Maybe that would be a solution.

My second question to the member is a little tongue-in-cheek. In as much as she did quite a bit of advertising for Voortman's, and in our new environment here of ethical cleansing that we are undergoing within this Parliament, I wonder whether she would like to declare whether she actually owns shares in Voortman's.

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5:20 p.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought the first question was tongue-in-cheek as well, just showing the spirit of this good House. No, I do not own shares in Voortman's. I believe it is a private company. I have a lot of constituents who work there, and it is a fine company. Speculaas are my favourite cookies. Only in Canada would the child of Irish immigrants love the favourite Dutch cookie. I occasionally buy a box of cookies for our public consultation meetings. If members are having a community events, they might considering buying them.

The more important issue is, does the shock factor work? As somebody who graduated from business school, in marketing particularly, I am convinced that this is the way to communicate with people. There are a lot of challenges as to whether shock works. We can get good strong information. We can encourage people to understand the information that we give them. There are a lot of steps before we get to “This will kill you”. I am not sure that has a diminished value over time. Everything will kill us with too much of it. Even too much good healthy Canadian water could be bad for a person.

I am not sure that kind of labelling would be the first step at this point in time, but I am open to seeing the research.