House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ukrainian.


Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

November 24th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

moved that Bill C-206, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,I wonder if members know that beverage alcohol is directly or indirectly responsible for: over 19,000 deaths a year; 45% of motor vehicle collisions; 30% of fires; 30% of suicides; 60% of homicides; 50% of family violence; 65% of snowmobile collisions; one in six family breakdowns; 30% of drownings; 65% of child abuse; 40% of falls causing injury; 50% of hospital emergencies; and over $15 billion of additional costs to Canadians.

That should get Canadians' attention.

Bill C-206 seeks to respond to the need to alert Canadians to the risks associated with the misuse of beverage alcohol. Specifically, it calls for health warning labels on the containers of alcoholic beverages to caution expectant mothers and others of those risks. It should be noted that beverage alcohol is the only consumer product that can harm individuals if misused but does not warn them of that fact.

The intended purpose of warning labels is to act as a consumer lighthouse, sending a signal of impending danger.

When I became a member of Parliament in 1993, I became a member of the health committee. In preparation for my work, I examined the work of the committee in the prior Parliament. To my great interest, I found a 1992 report called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”, which recommended health warning labels. The report concluded:

--there is no question that maternal alcohol consumption can have devastating impacts on the fetus. The basic fact is that when a pregnant woman drinks, her unborn child drinks also; that is, the alcohol in the mother's bloodstream circulates through the placenta into the bloodstream of the fetus. It is possible that the blood-alcohol level in the fetus will remain at an elevated level for a longer period than that of the mother because the immature fetal liver metabolizes the alcohol more slowly.

The report affected me significantly because, despite the widespread and devastating impact of alcohol misuse, I had never heard the term fetal alcohol syndrome. As an active member in my community who had spent nine years as a director of our hospital, I was concerned that I was not aware, but more important, I was concerned that it might be the same with many other Canadians.

Let me now turn to some facts. In one week, as many as 10,000 babies are born in Canada. Of these, 3 are born with muscular dystrophy; 4 are born with HIV infection; 8 are born with spina bifida and 10 are born with Down's syndrome, but 20 are born with fetal alcohol syndrome and 100 are born with other alcohol related birth defects. This should give members an idea of the nature and the severity of this problem.

Fetal alcohol syndrome, commonly known as FAS, is now called the fetal alcohol spectrum of disorders, FASD. Whatever the name, it refers to a group of physical and mental birth defects. Its primary symptoms include: growth deficiency before and after birth; central nervous system dysfunction, resulting in learning disabilities; and physical malformities in facial and cranial areas. The other alcohol related birth defects I referred to involve central nervous system damage like FAS, but without those physical abnormalities.

Since FAS is incurable, most victims will require special care throughout their lives. Depending on the severity, the estimated lifetime cost for the care of an FAS victim ranges from $3 million to $6 million.

The secondary symptoms are also very important: 90% of FAS victims have mental health problems; 60% will be expelled or suspended from school or drop out; 60% will get into trouble with the law; 50% will go to jail or be confined in an institution; 50% will exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour; 30% will abuse drugs or alcohol; 80% will not be capable of living independently in adulthood; and 80% will have employment problems.

As well, what is very significant is that both the federal and provincial authorities have confirmed their estimates that 50% of the inmates in Canada's jails suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol related birth defects. One-half of the people in our jails are not getting the care and the treatment they require and we have to do something about that as well.

Tragically, these severe problems could have been prevented if the mothers had abstained from alcohol consumption throughout their pregnancies. In September of this year, the Harvard Mental Health Letter reported that 30% to 40% of women drink during pregnancy. As well, today the Canadian Addiction Survey reports that 17% of past-year drinkers are considered high risk drinkers and calls for increased awareness in prevention programs like health warning labels.

I also want to stress that harm to the fetus can also occur at any time during the pregnancy, even during the first month when most women do not even know they are pregnant.

Let me quote the mother of an FAS victim, who said:

My son has fetal alcohol syndrome. He was diagnosed at age eight. I got pregnant between high school and college. I was a social drinker and I have never had any problems with alcohol. I did not know I was pregnant until I was three and a half months along. I stopped drinking then, but it was too late. The damage was done. Though I did not set out to harm my child, I did, and now I need to do whatever I can to make things easier for him.

That tells us a lot about this situation we are dealing with.

Research findings suggest that days 15 to 22 during pregnancy are critical for facial and cranial deformities. That is why women should not wait until they find out they are pregnant before they stop drinking. Over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Therefore, if a woman is sexually active and pregnancy is possible, she should abstain from consuming alcohol.

To choose not to abstain is the same as playing Russian roulette with the lifelong health and well-being of the child. There is no recommended safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and therefore the prudent choice for women is to abstain. Everyone in Canada should know that fact and they should have ready access to the information they need.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is often described as the leading known cause of mental retardation in Canada and the United States, and while it is true that it is as prevalent as both Down's syndrome and spina bifida, FAS is not the cause. The simple fact is that the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is the one and only cause.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a societal issue and we all have a vested interest and a role to play in reducing its incidence. It must become our cultural norm that drinking during pregnancy is inappropriate.

Therefore, when we are in the company of a family member, friend, or acquaintance who is drinking and becoming at risk of harming themselves or others, we should intervene in an appropriate fashion to ensure that they do not become just another tragic statistic.

In 1996, health warning labels on the containers of alcohol beverages, as required in the United States since 1989, were unanimously supported by the 10 provincial ministers of health, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Addiction Research Foundation and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, among others.

I should also point out that Canadian companies which export alcoholic beverages to the United States are required to put on health warning labels, because that is the law in the U.S. These warning labels, however, are not included on the same products that are sold domestically. Why is that?

Fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol related birth defects are a reality in our society and the victims suffer a lifetime of tragic symptoms which rob them of any reasonable quality of life. Their needs place enormous demands not only on the parents but on society as a whole. As such, we all have a vested interest to reduce, as much as possible, the incidence of these incurable but preventable disorders.

In December 1999, the Minister of Justice announced that the government was suing the tobacco industry. In her press conference, she stated that “the defendant's goal of making money is inconsistent with the government's goal of protecting children's health”.

The same can be said about the alcohol industry. It is selling a legal product, but since the product can also cause harm, our health objectives should not and must not be compromised.

In December 1995, my private member's bill to require health warning labels for alcohol passed unanimously in the House at second reading and had full committee hearings, but died due to an election call.

In April 2001, the House considered a motion calling for health warning labels and it passed 220 to 11, a 95% support level from the hon. members of the House of Commons. I am pleased that so many hon. members have shown their knowledge of, interest in and support for this bill, which seeks to reduce the incidence of FAS and other risks associated with the misuse of alcohol.

If we could prevent a small percentage of alcohol related birth defects, the savings in health, social programs and educational and criminal justice costs would be many times more than the cost of our national prevention strategy. More important, we could eliminate so much human misery and suffering, and that is the essence of a caring society.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I know that this member has done a lot of good work in this area. He had written a book. I distributed it throughout my riding. It showed that he has a really good handle on the issue. I wonder if he is having any problems in advancing this issue. Does he have any, perhaps, opponents to it? If so, what would they be? What are some of the arguments against this issue?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, back in 1995, the bill did in fact pass at second reading, went to committee and had full committee hearings. There was support from virtually every non-alcoholic beverage company and stakeholder that appeared.

The alcoholic beverage industry is concerned that health warning labels may not work. In fact, it went so far as to say that warning labels on a bottle of beer or something like that might cause a spontaneous abortion. I think that its reasoning was somewhat based on its corporate objectives and not on the objectives of the health and well-being of the unborn child.

I fully expect that there would be the same kind of reaction. There have been many countries since who have undertaken mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages. The time has come for Canada to join those countries now.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Mississauga South for his bill. It certainly fills a need.

Above and beyond labelling, and that may only be one specific way to help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, are we moving forward on further education? As the hon. member said, an awful lot of fetal alcohol syndrome happens before the woman even knows she is pregnant. There certainly is a need to talk about drinking during pregnancy. Are there educational programs also being brought forward to help with the labelling program?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, there have been some very good attempts. Unfortunately, they have not been sustained. Health Canada has contributed the last round in the amount of $11 million in terms of producing educational material.

The most important thing that has happened since the last time I had this bill before the House is that a special research study was done for the government on consumer awareness. Although everybody would think one would know what fetal alcohol syndrome might be, even if they were told the name, it was very clear that was not the case. In fact, most people thought that fetal alcohol syndrome meant that the child would be born having an addiction to alcohol.

I think the myths about it are coming out. As I recall, the principal recommendation of the research study that was done by Environics was that the public education material should appear in doctors' offices where women generally would go for advice.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would in fact have a question on the last part of the reply. I have listened attentively to the debate on this bill, and had already heard about it. I feel that fetal alcohol syndrome is a sufficiently important problem to warrant more awareness.

I know that the hon. member has written a book on this, but does he feel people are sufficiently informed? Would this bill, for instance, make it possible to raise public awareness simply by informing them of the dangers of drinking on alcohol labels? Is that enough?

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we consider that the motion of the member for Winnipeg North passed in this place 220 to 11, that is a consequence of the work and the public education we gave in Parliament to ensure that members of Parliament were aware. I am very confident that the campaign to launch shelf warning labels would have similar impacts for the entire Canadian population.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this important debate. The hon. member has done a remarkable job on this issue. So did the former NDP critic on health, who also tabled a bill on fetal alcohol syndrome.

I think I am speaking on behalf of all my colleagues in saying that, of course, we support this bill, which seeks to promote information and education.

If I may, I would like to make a comparison which, like any comparison, is not perfect. I am inclined to make a comparison with an experience that we had a few years ago in the Standing Committee on Health. The committee was reviewing regulations, as required under the Tobacco Act, on the whole issue of the mandatory warnings to tobacco consumers.

At the time, the goal was quite ambitious. Indeed, 18 different messages had to be presented to consumers. They covered half of a cigarette pack. This was such an important issue that major cigarette companies went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge what they called commercial expropriation. They partly won their case, but I will not get into the details.

This is to say that, as parliamentarians, we must recognize that we have a responsibility regarding the information provided to our fellow citizens. Of course, we cannot force people to stop smoking. We cannot decide, in a bill, that people will live a successful life, that they will eat properly, or that they will reduce their alcohol consumption. What we can do is help people develop an awareness, so that they will change their habits over the short, medium and long terms.

This is interesting, because it is the challenge for the coming years. We know that, even if we were to increase health budgets exponentially, the main variables in the costs of our health care system are the determinants of health.

These determinants are linked to healthy behaviour, that is, whether we eat well, have a healthy diet and sleep well at night and what we put into our bodies. It is obvious there is a link between life expectancy and tobacco use, life expectancy and alcohol, life expectancy and physical activity.

More and more, our governments, in Quebec City and in Ottawa, are campaigning to reduce obesity. There is something very striking about the generation of youngsters who are facing worrying problems of obesity. When I was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old, it was a phenomenon that did not exist. Our parents did push us outside to play a lot more than people do today.

Today there are new technologies and video games and the Internet. All these games mean that young people have more information. They are much brighter, with a larger vocabulary, and more aware of their environment, but the trade-off is that they are more sedentary, with all that means for health determinants, and obesity, of course.

Thus, the hon. member for Mississauga South, who has been working on this issue for a considerable time, is right to ask us to adopt his bill. It will oblige the manufacturers of alcoholic products to add standard labels the content of which, I understand, will be determined later by regulation. Of course, we do not claim it will be the magic bullet, nor will it, in itself, change behaviour. But we are entitled to think that, in combination with other factors, it could reduce the problem of fetal alcohol syndrome.

It is interesting to recall that the hon. member for Mississauga South talked about one child out of twenty in Canada. Fetal alcohol syndrome is not like cerebral palsy or other degenerative diseases which are often accidents of nature and are not due to behaviours per se. Fetal alcohol syndrome is due to excessive alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy, exposing the child to an abnormally high amount of alcohol. It is not always so, but this can cause all sorts of problems. I know that the link between fetal alcohol and learning disabilities is very well documented, as is its link with certain nervous system disorders.

Once again, the hon. member for Mississauga South has done an outstanding job. For me, the place given to private members' bills is important. I have known this since my early days as a parliamentarian and I have always been consistent on this issue. I may not have been consistent on other issues but it must be recognized that I have always been very consistent on the freedom members should be given. This is a fine example of the fact that, sometimes, even without the support of civil servants and the various machines such as party machines, it is important that the commitment of members, combined of course with strong convictions, be able to bring about changes.

Last week, we adopted a motion on trans fats put forward by the NDP. I wonder if our colleagues from the NDP had a chance to read the half-page article on trans fats published in La Presse today. If Canada made the regulations the NDP is vigorously calling for, it would be the second country, after Denmark, to ban the use of trans fats, with all the savings this would entail for the health care system.

I do not want to get off track so I will get back to the issue before us, which is fetal alcohol syndrome. I know that the hon. member is quite pleased to have the support of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which is a not-for-profit agency supported by the Government of Canada. As parliamentarians, we have been able to work with this agency, particularly those of us who sat on the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs, which considered the whole issue of the use of so-called soft drugs, although we know this term could be tendentious. It is a bit unrealistic to make a distinction between soft drugs and hard drugs.

The fact remains that the hon. member should be pleased with the support from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. He also has support from nurses, whose contribution in primary care we are well aware of. The hon. member also has support from the Canadian Medical Association, which is a credible association. It sometimes has corporative leanings, but it is credible nonetheless. We have met with representatives of this association many times in our work as parliamentarians.

This bill was already passed at second reading. I would not hesitate to recommend that all my colleagues support it. It has the credit of working for information and awareness purposes.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill brought forward by the hon. member for Mississauga South. Bill C-206 asks the government to enact legislation or regulations requiring mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages with appropriate warnings, such as, “alcoholic can impair judgment” and “alcohol can be harmful to an unborn child”.

I agree with the intent of what the hon. member is trying to accomplish but I have a few reservations about the method. I believe the intent of the bill is to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol consumption. Although alcohol is widely accepted in most societies around the world, over-consumption for both brief and extended periods of time is recognized as harmful to one's health.

Consumption of alcohol is also harmful to expectant mothers and their babies. The effects of alcohol ingestion during pregnancy are generally manifested in a disorder called fetal alcohol syndrome. The effects of FAS are tragic. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a series of mental and physical birth defects that include cognitive disabilities, growth deficiencies, central nervous system dysfunction, cranio-facial abnormalities and behavioural maladjustments.

FAS has had, and continues to have, a major impact on our society. According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS is the leading known preventable cause of cognitive disabilities and birth defects.

FAS affects one to three children in 1,000 live births. As a matter of fact, it is suspected that at least one child in Canada is born with FAS, with rates potentially higher than that with our first nations people. In 2003 fetal alcohol syndrome cost the United States $5.4 billion in direct costs and about $3.9 billion in indirect costs.

As members can see from my previous remarks, FAS has far-reaching implications for Canadians, whether it be their personal health or the resources that FAS takes in our health care system. I think we can all agree in the House that FAS is preventable and that we should work harder toward preventing it.

In relation to Bill C-206, I believe that one of the intentions of the bill is to educate and warn pregnant women who are considering consuming alcohol. That is a very important aspect.

Another very important issue surrounding alcohol consumption is driving while under the influence. In 2001 it was estimated that 3,021 individuals were killed in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. MADD Canada estimates that at a minimum, 1,213 of these fatalities involved impaired driving. Moreover, the 1,213 person figure is a conservative estimate due to the underreporting that results from the inability to test surviving impaired drivers and the reliance on police reports.

Given the limits on the 1,213 fatalities figure and adding in water related deaths, it is estimated that there are somewhere between 1,400 and 1,600 impaired crash fatalities in Canada each year. That is about four or five a day. This is tragically astounding. There is no reason for people to die when there is a simple solution: stop driving while impaired.

FAS and impaired driving are the two most compelling reasons to support the bill put forward by the hon. member for Mississauga South. However, as I said at the outset, I have some reservations on the methods in the bill.

While labelling is a compelling course of action, we also have to consider the consequences any action Parliament takes on the industries which will have to follow our lead. I have not seen any research or compelling arguments saying that warning labels on alcohol bottles are an effective tool to cut down on the amount of alcohol people consume. If that information exists, perhaps the hon. member for Mississauga South could provide it for me.

However, it is crucial in considering the bill that those statistics be examined closely.

I do not think the member is looking for Canadians to stop drinking alcohol. I do not believe that is part of what he is trying to accomplish. What he is trying to accomplish is to raise awareness to the problems around alcohol consumption in Canada. For that I commend the member.

However I am still concerned about the labelling of alcoholic beverage containers. If we are going to devote resources to raise awareness, I think it would be best to work in conjunction with industry to develop a plan of action of how the government and the various companies and the citizens of Canada can better solve the issue the hon. member has raised in this bill.

If we need to raise awareness of FAS, let us invite the stakeholders to the table and talk about what needs to be done, groups like the Canadian Medical Association and the Association for Community Living and the impaired driving associations. We need to invite groups and people who have a stake in the decisions made by government, such as MADD and SADD.

We also have to be willing to listen to industry because I am sure it is not averse to taking measures to curb FAS or impaired driving. I do not feel that Canadians would be best served by the government unilaterally imposing regulations necessarily on an industry that we could potentially harm if it is forced to use labels.

I wish to reiterate my earlier point. I do not believe the hon. member wants to stop Canadians from drinking alcohol or to run breweries out of business. However we need to have an approach where we consider everyone, all the stakeholders.

With that, I am hesitant to support the bill. However I am open to receiving more information that could support the labelling of alcoholic beverages. I want the record to show that I support the intent of what the member is trying to address and I look forward to discussing this matter further with him.

On a personal note, I do not drink. I have never drank. I do not even know what alcohol tastes like. That is a personal choice and I am pleased to have made that decision. I know that a lot of people who have tragic events in their lives turn to alcohol abuse and other substance abuse. I think that is tragic. Labelling could help address those issues as well. However I do not at any time want to be perceived to be imposing my personal moral beliefs on to Canadian society, particularly in this instance.

I would also like to note that we need to enforce the laws that are currently on the books. Unlike trans fats which we talked about recently, alcohol is supposed to be restricted to those over 18 years in most provinces. There is a higher age limit in other jurisdictions. We need to enforce those laws and make alcohol less accessible to those who are underage. Those laws exist. We need to do a better job in enforcing them. Society needs to do a better job in encouraging our young people and really everyone to reduce their alcohol consumption, particularly when it is used in an abusive manner.

With that, I would like to say that I support the intent of what the hon. member is trying to do. I am open to receiving more information, but at present I do not know that labelling will meet the goal.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to speak in this debate.

However, I have to say that this is a sad day in many ways. We are debating an idea that has already been approved by the House. May I remind members that the essence of Bill C-206 was exactly the intent of the motion passed by the House on April 23, 2001.

The motion I am referring to was introduced by myself, but was the result of previous work done by the member for Mississauga South and reflected a whole history of effort being put into the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome. The motion said that we believe that warning labels are an essential part of a comprehensive strategy for increased public awareness. The motion called on the government to implement the idea of labels on alcohol beverage containers, warning that drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects.

That motion was overwhelmingly supported by members in this place. The vote was 217 to 11. That was three and a half years ago. Three and a half years ago the government could have acted on the will of this place and the wishes of the Canadian people. It chose not to act. Why?

I appreciate the comments of the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, but I have to take issue with part of his comments. The government did not act because of pressure by the industry. The beer lobby is so great in this country. It does not want anything to mar its perfect product. It has resisted every step of the way any intelligent approach to a very serious problem in our society today.

May I remind members that three and a half years ago when the motion was passed by the House of Commons, the then minister of health, Allan Rock, said, “I want to assure the committee and particularly my friend, the member for Winnipeg North, that we shall follow through with a sense of urgency on this issue”.

That followed on the work done by my colleague, the member for Mississauga South, who has championed this issue for many years, which led to a previous bill or two being placed before the House and before the Standing Committee on Health, only to see the Liberal government refuse to take concerted action to implement the will of this place.

I am upset today. I am sad today because in fact we are talking about a breach of parliamentary privilege. We are talking about a denial of democratic rights. We are talking about a snub of the democratic process. It is high time we said to the government: Respect the will of this place. Do not be influenced by the big corporate interests just because it hurts their pocketbook. Do something that makes sense.

In this case, although we do not have reams of data and it is hard to collect empirical research to show the direct link between labels on bottles and the fact that there is less of an incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome, we know that labels work. Even if we do not have reams of data to prove it, we know that even if one person in our society today reads that label and decides not to drink while pregnant and avoids giving birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome, we will have done this nation a great service. We will have ensured that that child is able to live in dignity and without costing millions of dollars to the rest of society because of the supports that would have been needed.

Let us get this straight. This is a complementary policy to a broad range of tools that must be used to combat fetal alcohol syndrome. It is one way as part of a broader strategy to reach out and prevent this tragic incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome in our society today.

Let me remind parliamentarians that roughly 3,000 Canadians are born each year with fetal alcohol syndrome. Surely that is enough for us to act. Simply put a label on a bottle so some people will take note and avoid the foolishness of drinking while pregnant.

It has been done in the United States for 10 years. Look at the ludicrous situation here in Canada. We produce liquor, wine and beer and if we want to export those products to the United States, we have to put a label on them. However, here in this country we say that we cannot do it, that it is impossible, that we are going to put our efforts into other things that might make more of a difference.

We are not saying do not do other things. We are saying do this as part of a package. Do it because it makes sense. Do it because it is good public policy. Do it because it is a humanitarian and compassionate thing to do.

I want to commend the member for Mississauga South for his decade or more of work on this issue. I appreciated his support when I introduced my motion back in 2001. He helped me ensure that we had a majority win in this place. Today he is forced to bring in a bill because his own party did not choose to act on the will of Parliament. I commend him for that courageous stance. I hope that this time we can convince the government to act.

Since that day in April of 2001, when this motion was passed, some new developments have happened. Internationally, other countries have taken action. I want to report on the fact that in France, the government has made it a requirement for alcohol manufacturers to put labels on their products warning of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. Brewers in Britain have begun a campaign of voluntary health labelling. They have taken it upon themselves because they recognize the importance of this issue. In New Zealand, a parliamentary committee has recommended mandatory labels on alcoholic beverages.

We are not talking about some out of date, quirky idea that just does not have any bearing in reality. We are talking about a very specific, concrete initiative that does make a difference, that must be part of a total package if we are going to look at cracking down on the incidents of fetal alcohol syndrome in our society today.

Since my motion in 2001, the Canadian Medical Association has been very vocal about supporting this idea. On September 9, it said:

Canada's doctors once again called for action to help eliminate the “preventable tragedy” of fetal damage caused by alcohol use...“Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the most frustrating conditions we face,” says CMA President Albert Schumacher...“It carries a huge economic burden for society and has a major impact on the quality of life of our patients...” Unfortunately, the tragedy is played out in Canada more than 3,000 times a year...CMA policy calls for: the federal government to require warning labels on all alcoholic beverages sold in Canada; [and] a ban on advertising of alcoholic beverages on radio and television and in print.

It goes on to condemn the government for refusing to act on the will of this place and to put in place an important public health policy.

I am sorry we are here having this debate again. We could be debating another issue, but I am grateful to the member for Mississauga South for using his valuable time and limited access to private members' initiatives for bringing this forward again. Maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference. Maybe this time we will not hear just rhetoric from the Minister of Health.

Last night in the House, the Minister of Health said:

When I got here I felt I should take a look at it. I have been very interested in it. I am very supportive of the approach taken by the hon. member. In fact, I support the efforts of our own member for Mississauga South--

He says he is looking at it and that he is serious about it. Maybe this time we will see this important initiative acted upon and implemented before the end of this Parliament.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia


Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to discuss this important bill and to congratulate the member for Mississauga South who literally wrote the book on this subject. We thank him for bringing this to the House's attention once again.

Today, on the occasion of the second reading of Bill C-206, legislation that proposes warning labels on alcoholic beverages, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share my thoughts about this important initiative.

Our government recognizes that when it comes to alcohol consumption, the majority of adult Canadians drink responsibly and in a manner that is not harmful to their health. These citizens are mindful of the facts about alcohol and of the hazards of drinking excessively. They know, for example, that chronic alcohol abuse is linked to a host of chronic neurological disorders and diseases affecting the heart, liver and other organs.

They also know that alcohol can seriously harm a child born to a woman who consumes alcohol during pregnancy. An expectant mother who drinks during her pregnancy risks exposing her baby to fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. This is a medical term that is used to describe an array of disabilities and diagnoses associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol.

The Government of Canada has been engaged in a number of initiatives and strategies aimed at raising public awareness about the harms related to alcohol consumption so that consumers can make informed choices. With this in mind, I would like to outline for the House the efforts to date of Health Canada in addressing the potential hazards of alcohol consumption.

I should point out that, since 1999, Speeches from the Throne have included significant commitments to raising public awareness about the harm of alcohol consumption.

During that period, the Government of Canada has made firm commitments to fight FAS in aboriginal communities and has promised to significantly reduce, by the end of the decade, the incidence of the syndrome in affected communities.

I will get back to this in a moment and explain the initiatives undertaken by our government to fulfill its promise to fight FAS.

First, the government's actions regarding alcohol consumption and public health should be put in their proper context.

There are four areas within the federal health portfolio and each one plays a vital role in protecting our citizens: Health Canada's Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, the Health Products and Food Branch, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Within HECSB resides the drug strategy and controlled substances program. This is the focal point within the federal government for harm reduction, prevention, and treatment and rehabilitation initiatives concerning alcohol, drug use and abuse.

The program works collaboratively with other federal departments, and provincial and territorial governments. It provides national leadership research and coordination on substance use and abuse issues.

The program is responsible for enhancing prevention, education, health promotion and treatment activities. Its efforts seek to reduce the demand for drugs and to address the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption. This program also manages the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations, and plays the lead federal role in the coordination and implementation of Canada's drug strategy.

Health Canada's approach to addressing alcohol abuse has focused on three core areas. First, there have been community-based initiatives undertaken to address prevention, health promotion, treatment and harmful reduction issues.

Second, Health Canada has launched public awareness campaigns targeting young people, in particular, on substance use and abuse, to inform Canadians and help them make educated decisions on health and lifestyle.

A round table for young people will be held in February 2005, under the drug strategy and controlled substances program. The purpose of this event is to engage young Canadians in a serious and ongoing dialogue on substance abuse, including issues relating to alcohol consumption and other relevant matters.

The third area of activity for the department has been to engage in best practices for front line health and social services providers concerning substance abuse treatment as well as rehabilitation. In addition, the department's alcohol drug treatment and rehabilitation program provides funding to provinces and territories to facilitate access to treatment for vulnerable populations such as women and youth. The department continues to engage in activities to reach out to Canada's young people to discuss this social and public health matter.

Let me now turn to what Health Canada is doing to combat fetal alcohol syndrome disorder. We have taken significant strides to improve the outcomes for individuals, families and communities affected by pre-natal alcohol exposure. In January 2000 the Government of Canada announced a sustained investment, a three year, $11 million national initiative. The initiative continues at an annual budgetary allocation that is shared between the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.

There has also been an increase in funding for FASD initiatives. In 2002 the Government of Canada provided an additional $15 million annually, as part of the five year, $320 million federal strategy on early childhood development. This investment was further bolstered in 2004 by a $2 million investment over two years. The funding will help accelerate the implementation of national activities such as screening and diagnostic work on FASD, as well as education and training for health care providers.

These investments to date are making it possible to engage in ongoing public education, increase professional awareness, training and capacity development, as well as develop early identification and diagnostic tools to combat FASD.

If I may, I would like to point out some of the special initiatives designed to fight FAS.

We have undertaken activities to coordinate, cooperate, consult and liaise with our provincial and territorial partners and with non-governmental organizations, aboriginal organizations and other stakeholders.

Canada is also actively involved in the detection, diagnosis, follow up and monitoring of FAS. We are working to improve the diagnostic tools that will help us detect those who may suffer from FAS.

We are also working to develop resources that will help us communicate effectively the lessons learned.

Canada is also investing in national leadership and policy development on FASD. We want to ensure that our country continues to be recognized for its world leading FASD researchers.

In addition, we are finding ways to build community capacity and develop direct program delivery. Health Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting Canada's most vulnerable citizens from the harmful effects of alcohol. It remains just as committed to ensuring that all Canadians have the facts they need to make responsible choices when it comes to alcohol consumption.

Before I conclude my remarks, I would like to take a moment to share with the House some thoughts from an international perspective on the matter of warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers.

Measures to implement some form of warning labels on alcohol have been implemented in nine countries including, Australia, New Zealand, some jurisdictions in the United States, and Canada. The results from these initiatives have not been encouraging. The available data suggests that women at high risk of consuming alcohol during pregnancy do not appear to be influenced by warning labels on alcoholic beverages.

Moreover, while there is still a modest increase in the level of awareness of the labels and their message, they have no impact on either risk perception or on behaviour patterns related to drinking.

That alcohol can be potentially harmful, especially to a child born to a mother who consumes alcohol when pregnant, is not a matter of debate. What remains a matter of much discussion is whether warning labels, be they voluntary or mandatory, are effective in producing measurable and lasting results. That is why the work that awaits the standing committee is so vitally important.

When they review Bill C-206, committee members will have to weigh the benefits of implementing the mandatory or voluntary labelling of warnings about the risks relating to alcohol consumption and they will have to consider initiatives that were taken by other countries, which indicate the measure failed to achieve the expected results.

In any case, I am looking forward to the animated debates that will surely take place in committee on this bill.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, it is good to be here this afternoon to speak to the bill. It is important that we continue to discuss it. I hope some of my colleagues will follow up as well when I am done. It has been interesting to listen to the debate, and I hope we see this through to other stages.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, I have listened to the debate this afternoon, and I would like to compliment the member opposite. As an old police chief and someone who has seen all the issues he has brought forward here today to the House firsthand, whether they be deaths from traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers or the result of fetal alcohol syndrome with young children through into adulthood, I have great sympathy and support for the intent of the bill, which is to bring forward labelling.

All these things are incremental. It is a little here and a little there. My friend on this side has his concerns about whether it is enough. At the end of the day, we will question whether is it enough, but at some point we have to take that first step, which this is. It gives us the opportunity to make people more aware of the danger. It is not that we are without awareness of the dangers of alcohol and all the inherent dangers that come with it.

Whether we can put an end to fetal alcohol syndrome with labelling, I rather doubt it. At the same time, if we do not begin that process, if we do not make some effort, we will not get to the final analysis and put it to rest. It does us no harm to label. It may give some in the industry some difficulty, but I suspect, at the end of the day, equally it will do them no harm to have the mandatory labelling, which will occur if the bill is passed.

At this point in time, I would like to compliment the member for bringing the legislation forward. There is absolutely no doubt he has done a tremendous amount of work in this whole field, and he deserves a lot accolades for that. When this comes to a vote at some time in the future, I am sure many on this side of the House will support the legislation, and perhaps all will support it.

I think it will be talked out. We will go through different stages in this process. At the end of the day, I think we will all agree that it was a good bill to bring forward.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Andrew Scheer Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to briefly make a few comments.

In my riding, in particular, we have seen some of the effects of fetal alcohol firsthand. We know that it affects many of our communities in Regina--Qu'Appelle, both urban and rural parts.

I am very encouraged to hear the constructive comments about addressing the serious issue in terms of education and in terms of getting the message out to our young people: that drinking during pregnancy can cause such horrible effects.

Food and Drugs Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.