moved that Bill C-420, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to reintroduce Bill C-420, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act.
As we know, the bill was originally introduced by the member for Nanaimo—Alberni in the 37th session of Parliament. In the last Parliament, the bill passed second reading by a vote of 124 to 85, with support from all sides of the House. It was sent to the Standing Committee on Health where the bill was enthusiastically debated. It ultimately died when the House recessed for the last election.
Bill C-420 was a response from Canadians to Health Canada's attempt to regulate natural health products under a drug directorate. Approximately one million Canadians voiced their displeasure toward having natural health products being regulated as drugs. Health Canada has a long history of bias against natural health products. The response to natural health products has been called “bureaucratic obstructionism” by some.
In the 36th Parliament, the minister of the day called on the health committee to look into this. The committee tabled its report, “Natural Health Products: A new vision”, in November 1998, now over six years ago. “A new vision” brought forth 53 recommendations, including:
Natural health products be allowed to make health claims, including structure-function claims, risk-reduction claims and treatment claims.
Health Canada immediately initiate a review of the diseases listed in Schedule A to ensure that only appropriate diseases are included and, where relevant, specific diseases be exempted by regulation from the broad terms found in Schedule A.
Health Canada, subsequently, conduct a study with the participation of representatives from consumer groups, the food, natural health products and pharmaceutical industries, and health practitioners to determine whether subsections 3(1) and (2) of the Food and Drugs Act or all of the diseases listed in Schedule A should be deleted.
In the opposition's minority report, drafted by Dr. Grant Hill, Reed Elley and the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, it was stated that the committee's overall report recommends a continuation of the existing situation of a paternal federal government that must protect Canadians from the unknown evils of natural health products. This is inconsistent with Canadians' experience that shows overwhelmingly an incredibly safe historical pattern of use of natural health products.
Canadians universally recognize natural health products as basically foods, certainly not drugs, especially when consumed in the dosage and form recommended. The existing overemphasis on government control, licensing and regulation of mostly benign consumer products could be greatly simplified.
By regulating natural health products under the purview of Health Canada's Food Directorate, the opposition believed we could ensure that these substances are viewed within the culture most familiar to them and thereby never again fall victim to the intimidating practices and procedures of the Drugs Directorate.
The opposition still believes Canadians deserve and will continue to demand much more freedom of choice over natural health products. The opposition, the Reform Party at the time, “believes an informed Canadian consumer will always be a better judge of what is best for them and their loved ones than some distant bureaucrat in Ottawa”.
The NDP minority report also expressed concerns about the reclassification of herbs as drugs, the inability of the Health Protection Branch to regulate in a fair and balanced way, and the need to respect the expressed wishes of Canadians for freedom of choice and access to natural health products.
Minister of health Allan Rock accepted the report's recommendations on March 26, 1999. The government then set up an office of natural health products transition team and accepted their clarification and expansion of the 53 recommendations of the health committee. In its final report, the transition team stated:
Sections 3(1) and 3(2) and Schedule A of the Food and Drugs Act are no longer relevant. They do not serve any purpose that cannot be accomplished adequately by other sections of the legislation or regulations.
More importantly, the schedule does not reflect contemporary scientific thought. The weight of modern scientific evidence confirms the mitigation and prevention of many diseases and disorders listed in Schedule A through the judicious use of natural health products. It is time that the legislation and regulations reflect the prevailing science.
Section 30(1)(m) of the Act grants the authority to add anything to, or delete anything from, the Schedule of Act.
The transition team recommended that subsection 30(1) of the Food and Drugs Act should be invoked to remove all diseases listed in schedule A, and that subsections 3(1) and 3(2) should be revoked through the legislative renewal initiative.
All Canadians are concerned with the safety of herbs, dietary supplements and other natural products, and all Canadians want to ensure that there is accountability in any health claims made by the sellers of natural health products. These safeguards already exist in the Food and Drugs Act:
- No person shall sell an article of food that
(a) has in or on it any poisonous or harmful substance;
(b) is unfit for human consumption;
(c) consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, disgusting, rotten, decomposed or diseased animal or vegetable substance;
(d) is adulterated; or
(e) was manufactured, prepared, preserved, packaged or stored under unsanitary conditions.
- (1) No person shall label, package, treat, process, sell or advertise any food in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety.
Similar clauses exist for both food and drugs and devices.
By bringing herbs, dietary supplements and other natural health products under the umbrella of food by definition, consumers are protected from false or misleading claims, and product safety is ensured.
While the Department of Health stated that “the regulatory regime for drugs under the food and drugs regulation is viewed as far too rigorous for these products, given the history of safe use that most of these products have enjoyed”, it still chose to regulate natural health products as a subset of drugs. This was contrary to the opposition's minority report and the wishes of many Canadians.
The bill is basically taken from the committee's recommendations and further work done subsequently. As I previously stated, the bill seeks to bring herbs, dietary supplements and other natural health products under the purview of Health Canada's Food Directorate by amending the definition of both food and drugs in the Food and Drugs Act and to implement the recommendations of the office of natural health products transition team by repealing subsections 3(1), 3(2) and schedule A of the Food and Drugs Act.
Section 3 and schedule A of the Food and Drugs Act were adopted in 1934 when there were no known treatments for many diseases. Things have changed a lot since 1934 and it is long overdue that these changes take place.
The diseases listed in schedule A include alcoholism, arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, diseases of the prostate, heart disease, liver disease, et cetera. This means that there is an outright ban on advertising, even if there is scientific evidence supporting the claim.
ASasThe act unintentionally restricts the dissemination of information to the public. Is it beneficial to the consumer and in the interest of good health?
It is generally agreed that natural health products have minimum to no risk associated with them. In the absence of scientific evidence to the contrary, a long history of human usage is generally sufficient evidence to suggest a product's safety.
For example, most people consider aspirin to be safe. When it was first introduced to the public in the late 1800s, little was known about it and there was no standardized testing for safety. Still today every year patients die from taking aspirin, often in the correct doses for the correct ailment. In 1998, 45 people died from reactions to aspirin.
Does the House know that aspirin was originally manufactured from white willow bark, a natural health product commonly used by the country's aboriginal peoples? White willow bark is still a popular natural health product used today. Does it make sense to restrict information on a natural health product but not on the drug made from it when the natural health product is cheaper and safer?
In the standing committee's report of 1998 it was stated:
Although we feel that the government has a responsibility to protect public health and safety, this should not be applied in a way that unreasonably denies consumers access to products that they perceive to be necessary for their well-being.
Health Canada has a history of enforcing and regulating these harmless products as if they were strong and often dangerous drugs. There are already too many enforcement officers barging into health food stores, raiding shelves, escorted by the RCMP. Why do we need to spend so much time and so many of our resources taking harmless products, such as melatonin and stevia, off the shelves? Does the Government of Canada not have better uses for Canadian taxpayer money?
Let us take, for example, a product developed in Alberta: Empower Plus. This product has been helping patients with bipolar disease and manic depression. People with these problems are at a high risk of suicide and are sometimes not very productive in their lives. There are over 3,000 Canadians finding a benefit from this product.
The Province of Alberta initiated a scientific response to this product and the Alberta Science and Research Authority approved and funded a $544,000 study. Preliminary results have already been published in at least four peer-reviewed psychiatric journals. Amazingly, Health Canada interpreted news of this success as a subsection 3(1) violation and shut down the study. Last July, Health Canada, while accompanied by the RCMP, raided the company's offices and began obstructing access to the product. This makes no sense at all.
Many of my colleagues here today are aware of Bill C-420, as it has had a great deal of discussion. I am specifically making reference to the 1998 report to the Standing Committee on Health.
Most Canadians recognize natural health products as low concentrations of foods and, recognizing this, Bill C-420 would regulate them as such. For example, garlic has been used for centuries not only to season foods but for its health properties. Garlic has a number of health promoting benefits, including being recognized for having well known antiviral properties. It would not be far off to say that most people would consider garlic a food.
Another example is the purple coneflower, more commonly known as echinacea. This readily available herb is vastly popular, especially during flu season. It is known to decrease the duration and severity of colds.
Last night I took a well known and researched sleep aid, melatonin. This product cannot be sold in Canada, but it is allowed into this country for personal use. It is ludicrous that this product can be imported for personal use but cannot be sold here.
Because of the way our present laws are written, we cannot advertise or label the effects of well known, researched products.
Bill C-420 is designed to rid us of antiquated laws that were made in the 1930s when little was known about natural health products. It is time that our laws reflect this new reality of the science we now have.
Bill C-420 was also designed to bring Canada into the 21st century. In my own career as a health care practitioner, I saw first-hand the benefit of natural health products.
John L., a patient who suffered from arthritis for years, relied on Aspirin to take away his pain. After years of taking Aspirin, his liver and kidneys were damaged and he developed an allergy to Aspirin. What could he take then? The answer for John was a common natural health product, glucosamine sulphate. This product worked well for John and helped him maintain a reasonable quality of life.
Another patient, Martin K., was told he would have to take cholesterol lowering drugs for the rest of his life. After reading about the serious side effects and the possibility of death, he decided to research an alternative. After several months on an exercise program and a vitamin and mineral regime, he was happy to report that he no longer required the commonly prescribed dangerous drug and his cholesterol levels were normal.
Patients like these deserve the right to have access to information and products to make educated decisions in regard to their own health. Canadians need to be able to make informed choices when it comes to their own health.
I encourage all members to support this bill because Canadians are demanding better access to natural health products in a number of ways. We want better access and more comprehensive information and labelling so that Canadians will know how these products can make them healthy and keep them healthy.