Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Niagara West—Glanbrook.
This is an important issue and one on which the nation is becoming fast aware that trans fats are in our foods and are causing a significant amount of damage.
In the last Parliament, when I was the senior critic for health, we had the opportunity to look at this issue in committee. It was under the labelling review that we had initiated last spring. At that time we had an opportunity to hear witnesses. We had three days on this issue talking to a number of experts behind this and in the industry to discern for sure if trans fats were indeed a problem in our diet. I was alarmed at some of the testimony of the witnesses who came forward and the conclusive evidence, I would say without refute, that trans fats are not good.
We are here today discussing a motion brought forward by the NDP. It is not often that I agree with members of the NDP on the intent of a motion but on the intent of this one I give them good marks. I do challenge them not to play politics with this issue. It is a very important issue and it is more important that we actually do something constructive than to get headline news on the evening channels.
When I discern what had happened in committee, we were to examine all of the information with regard to this and bring forward a report to Parliament, lay it in the House so that all members from across the country would have the information that was given to us at the health committee and be able to truly discern, with many more facts, what was actually behind the issue of trans fats in our diet. The report was supposed to be done by September of this year but an election was called and nothing has taken place.
It is interesting to listen to hon. members from the NDP. They are so opposed to trans fats in the diet, which obviously are harmful to society, and yet as far as marijuana which is also very harmful to society, they want to legalize it. That is kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, but nonetheless, they will have to wrestle that through with their constituents as those issues come forward.
When it comes to this issue of trans fats in our diet, there are two issues: First, will we get rid of trans fats, which science and experience tells us is bad and harmful? Yes, I believe we should as a society and there is no argument there. Second, should we agree with the motion and does it actually achieve that goal in a way that is responsible? How will we achieve the goal that we want to eventually get to? That is where I have a considerable amount of concern.
We have to look back as to why trans fats are in our diet to begin with. It came forward in committee reports in the early 1970s that trans fats were not good for us and they should not allowed in our diets. They have only been around for the last 30 to 35 years and only in our diets for 30 to 35 years. Should we allow them in? The report at that time said that we should not, nonetheless, a decision was made to allow them because we were having a significant amount of problems with saturated fats. The saturated fats in our diet are increasing and are very harmful to us. We knew that and in those days the ParticipACTION program was in full flight. We remember those ads on television where the 35 year old Canadian was not as fit as the 70 year old Swede.
In our attempt to do something good and healthy for society, we decided to replace saturated fats with trans fats, which is pushing hydrogen through them so they solidify at room temperature, which others have described. We made a decision to replace them with something that was even worse than we had originally. This is not to say that saturated fats are good because they certainly are not. All of the science is very clear on that. We need to reduce saturated fats and trans fats.
Unfortunately, we have a population that does not know the difference between saturated fats, trans fats, polyunsaturated fats and semi-hydrogenated fats. All of those and more are on the labels but we have a population that really does not understand them. I would suggest that most people in the House do not understand the difference and the nuances of those different fats and yet they are on our labels. Some people would argue that we should have choice. Yes, choice is important but if we do not know what the choices really are and we do not know what it means when we say there are a certain amount of trans fats or saturated fats in our diet, then what good does it do?
The issue then becomes whether we should legislate trans fats. I think my colleague just finished saying that was a role that perhaps the government should play. Perhaps it is.
We spoke to the NDP with regard to some of the amendments and were able to get some of them in there. However we wanted to finish the work the health committee had started, which was to file a report and give all the information to the House so members could, with good knowledge and with the support of the health committee that examined this from all sides, make an informed decision on the impact it would have on international trade, on the domestic competitiveness of different industries and its affect on the different industries. All of that, and more, could have been examined and we could have brought that information to the House.
We asked the NDP to change the motion to read, “Let us have that report by committee in this House before March 31, 2005”, which is just a few months away. I believe that would have been a much more responsible way to have dealt with this motion, not to play politics looking for evening headlines but to actually move this agenda along in a much more progressive way so that we had all the facts before the House prior to making a decision on whether to bring forward regulation within a year and ban trans fats from our food shelves.
This issue could have repercussions in that we could make the same mistake today that we did back in the 1970s. We should lower saturated fats and trans fats in our diet but if we get rid of trans fats we could go back to perhaps palm oil, which is 50% saturated fat, which is industry's biggest fear. We would rather give our own industry, the canola industry, the opportunity to bring forward its new technology, which would allow 7% saturated fat, and replace it in a much more healthy way.
We have an opportunity to not only eliminate trans fats from our diet but to allow an industry in Canada to put its own hybrids of canola, which are much more healthy, on the shelves and solve the problem in a two win situation. We would win both by making it healthier and by producing an opportunity for industry within this country. Now, that is where we should be going.
One of the facts on trans fats and where we are at as a society is certainly the obesity problem. It is such a problem that it is estimated that it costs Canadians $6.3 billion annually because of poor diet, and $1.8 billion annually in indirect costs. Consumers, producers and the food chains are recognizing the need to change and the need to do something about this.
There is also trans fats in mothers' breast milk at average levels of 7.2% and high levels up to 17%. This is serious.
Just to get back to the canola industry, one of the new technologies, as I was saying, is this high oleic acid canola. I believe around a million acres of it was produced this last year. I am a canola grower myself, in my own riding, and I know quite a bit about the new technologies in canola. The industry is now putting out to contract at the present time for next year. This is a very low trans fat free canola. It is a tremendous opportunity for Canada and the Canadian industry.
The debate around this whole issue is twofold. The first is to get rid of it. I would agree with getting rid of trans fats from the Canadian diet. I think we should move as quickly as we can on that. However we should do it in the right way, with all the facts and knowing all the repercussions. We do not want to knee-jerk react like we did in the 1970s. We want to do something that would be productive and would allow industry to conform to the new legislation and to the new opportunities, I would say, for them. New York Fries is a perfect example. It has eliminated trans fats from its menu as a marketing opportunity.
More marketing opportunities are needed. I think we can do that, but we should follow the right process. I do not know which way I am going to vote on the motion; I will decide when the vote comes up. I agree with the concept but I am a little nervous about how we are going to get there.