House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was food.


Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Speaker

When the House resumes consideration of this debate, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel will have seven minutes remaining in the question and comment period.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceeds to the consideration of private members business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

February 6th, 2004 / 1:30 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

moved that Bill C-398, an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to have my bill come up this quickly after the House has resumed. What I would like to do today is break my comments down into three categories. First, a little bit of history; second, what my bill would do; and third, address some of the criticisms that some portions of the industry have levelled against the bill.

Before I do that I want to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Bill Jeffery from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest for his hard work in helping me to prepare the bill and some of the arguments that I have put forward in support of the bill. I would also like to thank the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and all the people across Canada who have taken an interest in the bill and have expressed their support for it.

I will now give a little bit of history. In 1993 I began my interest in this subject matter. I introduced a private member's bill to provide for mandatory nutritional labelling on prepackaged foods. That was about 11 years ago. We are still talking about that issue as frequently as question period today about what should or should not be in prepackaged foods and various other aspects.

The point I want to make is that back in 1993, when I brought in the original bill on prepacked foods, the respective industries were against mandatory nutritional labelling, as indeed was Health Canada. They were of the view that voluntary nutritional labelling was the way to go and that the industry would voluntarily provide all the nutritional information necessary for consumers to make an intelligent choice on what they are eating.

As it turns out, of course, it is obvious that in business one emphasizes that which is beneficial to or touting one's product. Businesses do not say some of the things that are not that good about the product which might affect their sales.

Sloughed away with a lot of other people and out of nowhere, in approximately October 2000 the then minister of health reversed the longstanding position of the Department of Health and announced that there would in fact be mandatory nutritional labelling of prepackaged foods in Canada. I am glad to say that will be coming into force over the next year or so, allowing of course a period of time for industry to adjust.

Of course the very same kinds of arguments that were used for seven years about why we should not have mandatory nutritional labelling on prepackaged foods will be used against Bill C-398, and they have just about as must efficacy. In any event, that was a little history.

What is the bill all about? It is an act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling). It contains all of three pages, half English and half French. We might as well say it is a page and a half. And it has three main sections. In my view what it is about is the empowerment of consumers. How do we empower consumers?

We have all heard the phrase “knowledge is power”, and that is absolutely true. The more knowledge we provide to consumers the more opportunity consumers have to make more informed and free choices about what they wish to do. In this case it is what foods they wish to eat.

As far as I know, no one who I have spoken to about this issue argues that consumers should not have more and better information about the foods they are eating. If that is the case, if it is not a bad idea to empower consumers, then it must be a good idea or at least a neutral idea. If it is either a good idea or a neutral idea then what is wrong with providing consumers with the information they need to make healthful food choices?

What is this bill not about? In my view the bill is not about harassing the restaurant industry. I love eating in restaurants. I do not want to harass the restaurant industry.

I also do not want to over-regulate any industry. I am a long-time member of the scrutiny of regulations committee, Mr. Speaker, as you know since you were a member of that committee, and we know that over-regulation is the bane of many a government. The issue is the balancing of requiring reluctant organizations to provide information with trying to keep that from being over-regulated. I hope I have struck a reasonable balance in my bill to that effect.

Let me describe the sections of the bill so people listening today understand what it is that I am trying to accomplish. Since we already have mandatory nutritional labelling of most prepackaged foods, what is this bill about? I can divide it into three sections.

Section number one is that some prepackaged foods do not yet have mandatory labelling requirements. One of them is prepackaged meats. The bill contains a section requiring prepacked meats to have a reference amount of serving of the food. For example, it does not matter how much of the prepackaged meat we buy, the label would say “one serving (400 grams equals whatever)”. The consumer would be required to think about how many servings there are in a package, although with prepackaged foods now, quite often the manufacturer will put the number of servings that are in the container or the package. That is up to them.

It would also require the number of calories in that serving and the amount of total fat, saturated fat and trans fat, and I emphasize trans fat only because again that subject came up today in question period, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fibre, sugars, proteins, iron, calcium and vitamin A and vitamin C per reference amounts expressed as a percentage of recommended daily intake. For example, on a package of medium ground hamburger meat it would say that one serving contains X grams of fat which equals approximately 35% of the recommended daily intake and that it contains two grams of trans fat which is two grams more than we should have, or however they want to phrase it. That is what we would see on prepackaged meat.

It does not affect packagers, for example, whose annual revenues are less than $500,000 from the sale of those types of meats. Why would we do that? Because we do not want to over-regulate. We do not want to affect the mom and pop operations, or the small business operation, or the local Chinese restaurant run by two or three generations of Canadians or the small pizza store. What we want to do is spread out the cost of requiring this information over the largest number of consumers, and I will get to the figures shortly. We would not be talking about the smaller packagers of meats.

What about this information? Is it hard to come by or is it impossible to come by? I suggest everyone takes a look at the websites of some of the beef producers or their associations. We find virtually every cut of meat is described and most of the information I have just set out is already described on the website. Why is it there? Because it is clear that consumers want that information and it is becoming clearer every day. More and more information is being provided by more and more associations and businesses, and I will get to that in a moment as well.

These are not fanciful things that I have simply thought up out of the air and am writing into law to annoy packagers of meats. The information is already available. It is a question of putting it on the package so people do not need a computer, or access to a computer or take the time to go to a computer, especially when they are in a market and they want to make a decision about which cut of meat to buy or how much of it.

The second portion of the bill deals with restaurants, not all restaurants, but I will get to that in a moment.

What does it want restaurants to do with respect to providing consumers with information? If the restaurant has a menu, then the bill asks that on the menu beside the item that it state the number of calories in a serving of that item offered for sale. In addition, it would state the amount of sodium, the sum of the saturated fats, including the trans fat, expressed as a percentage of the recommended daily input. What do we have? We have calories per serving, sodium and fat on a menu, and that is it.

If they are menu boards, as they have in fast food places where they do not actually have a menu and people look on a board and order what they want, the only thing the bill requires in that case is the number of calories per serving. If we are ordering a plain hamburger from a menu board, it would say “One hamburger”. If we looked over, halfway between the name of the item and the price, presumably, it would say “460 calories” and then the price. There is lots of space right now between the name of the item and the price of the food. There is plenty of room to put in that information.

Even though it is just the calories per serving, the sodium and fat at this point, the bill does not apply to restaurants or places that serve food that have less than $10 million in annual revenues per year. Again, we want to provide this information to the largest number of people. Studies have shown us already that many Canadians are eating outside the home much more frequently than they used to. Studies will also show that most of them eat in what we ultimately would call chain restaurants. It would not affect the local small restaurant, but it would provide consumers with the information they need.

Let us take a simple scenario. We go to a restaurant with the family. I do not want to single out any particular restaurant chain so I will just call it Tom's. We go to Tom's, which has 450 branches across Canada, and we want to have hamburger, fries and a soft drink. We drive up to the window. There is a beautiful picture of that grouping of food, hamburger, fries and a soft drink. Right below the picture of the hamburger it would say “450 calories$, under the fries, “300 calories” and under the drink, “110” or “150 calories”. It would also say things like “If you supersize the fries, it is an additional 350 calories”. There is lots of room on these little advertisements as we drive up to a fast food order window to provide that information. That is an example.

In a restaurant we would look at a menu. It would say “Grilled cheese sandwich” and as we are looking over to see that the price is $3.50, halfway across we would see the sandwich has 250 calories, 10 milligrams of salt and 30 grams of fat, or something along those lines.

The final item that the bill covers would be pictures in particular of foods that tend to mislead. I was going to give an exaggerated example of that but since I only have a minute left I will be unable to do that.

However, I want to at least have the opportunity to say that there are some criticisms of the bill. That is fine, but it is not a fair criticism to say that the bill should be killed now. I say it should go to committee and we should have witnesses come to express their pleasure or displeasure. Let us investigate. Let us cross-examine. Let us find out what is or is not hyperbole. Let us see what we can do to educate consumers to the best of our ability.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not doubt for a moment the good intentions of the member bringing forward Bill C-398. He has raised an important issue about health and its relation to restaurant produced food.

Why is it that the member does not trust consumers to inform themselves? Why does he not believe that if there is sufficient demand for nutritional information, that restauranteurs, as good business people, will provide that information without being dictated to by the Government of Canada? Why does he not allow consumers and people who run these businesses and employ more than one million Canadians to solve the problem in a natural and organic market based way?

Would these boards be required to be posted in both official languages? Is he going to require that they be posted in Braille for the visually impaired in both official languages? Has he made a cost estimate of how much this will be? Has he considered that when a restaurant reaches close to $10 million in sales, the perverse incentive that Bill C-398 would create for people to split the restaurant or to play legal games to avoid the coverage of the bill? Has he really thought through the implications of this?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, to the extent that an individual can do so, my answer is yes, I have thought it through.

The member has raised very good questions, questions that should be put at committee where there is ample opportunity to examine the facts, where there is ample opportunity to talk to the experts, to talk to the people from Health Canada, to talk to the restaurant association, to talk to actuaries and ask the very questions he has asked.

Of course he is using some humour to make his points, perhaps not the funniest humour, but nonetheless he is using it. Why would I suggest that we have bilingual menu boards? The menu boards are already up in his very riding whether it is Edmonton or Calgary, although I know it is Calgary. If he goes into a fast food outlet, the menu board is already there. It already tells him what he can order and the price. I do not know if any of his menu boards have prices in Braille, but I would think not because people would not have the ability to reach above and check the menu board. What is he talking about?

The reality is that cost estimates have been done and I will give him an example. Even if the smallest full service restaurant chain subject to Bill C-398 had to do a full chemical analysis for every menu item at $350 each for a particularly large 100 item menu, and that is a gross exaggeration of most businesses, the total would involve a maximum one time cost of $35,000 or about one-sixth of 1% of sales revenues during the two year grace period for compliance with the bill. That amounts to less than 2¢ for a $10 meal, which is barely noticeable to the consumer.

In the spirit of laissez-faire he asked why we would not leave this up to businesses and let them do what they think is right. We already know government has to lead in many instances. That is why we had to introduce the mandatory nutritional labelling regulations because after years of consumers demanding it, manufacturers did not want to give it. That is why we have to put warning labels on tobacco. That is why we want to get warning labels about what happens to unborn babies when people drink alcohol. The industry does not want those labels. Why? Because that is a false statement? No, because it will affect their sales.

Sometimes government has to take responsibility to help people get the information that they require in order to make a choice. Once they have the information, it is up to them to make the choice as to what they wish to do.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am worried about the unintended consequences. As the saying goes, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”.

Has the member given any thought as to how much government it will take to enforce this thing, to monitor and check businesses to ensure that all ingredients are correct? Are we talking about 150,000, or 100,000, or 10,000 or 50 new civil servants? How much will that cost?

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, again that is a reasonable question to ask at committee. As I have very little time left, how can I answer questions like that?

I will answer the question by asking a question. How many inspectors does it take to inspect the gas at every gas pump? It is done. How many inspectors does it take to inspect meat? It is done. How many inspectors does it take to make sure prepackaged foods are mandatorily labelled? It is done. If it is a good idea, it will get done.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that I begin by answering a bit of the last little rant with regard to this piece of legislation going directly to committee.

I am speaking on behalf of the people of Yellowhead but also as the senior health critic. The committee that would be dealing with this piece of legislation would be the health committee. I have seen how dysfunctional the health committee can become. In fact, the last one was. It is something in which I would not have great confidence, having those questions come before that committee because of the partisan nature of that committee.

I want to talk a little about this piece of legislation. First, it has noble intent. There is no question about that. More people in Canada are overweight and the problem is very serious. I had a number of different lobby groups in my office over the last number of years all saying--the Heart and Stroke Foundation is one of them that comes to mind--that we have a serious problem.

There are individuals in our schools right now who are obese. Over 30% are going to be hitting the health care system about the same time as the baby boomer generation. We are going to have a serious problem. They are going to be having heart and stroke problems at a much earlier age, in their thirties and forties instead of their fifties and sixties.

There is no question that this piece of legislation has the right idea in the sense that we should limit the amount of calories and be conscious of what we eat. It is very true that never before in the history of mankind has so much food been produced by so few people. Farmers produce almost over 80% of what we eat and, by the way, for so little. They are starving to death, especially with what we have seen with the BSE problem.

There is more awareness in society. People are asking what they are eating and what they should be eating. In fact, it is interesting when I look back on this last year. We had the Minister of Health just arbitrarily pull out of a hat $15 million and then threw it at CIHR to do some research on why people are obese in this country.

I come from a farming background and I know a little bit about nutrition from the work I have had with animals. My discerning nature tells me that it probably has a lot to do with what we eat and how we exercise.

This same government decided to wave the participaction program that mandated physical education in our educational system in the early nineties. When the government came into power, it decided to scrap that program. It was perhaps not the best program, but it was a good program that dealt with exercise of our youth in our school system.

The government said that it got rid of that program because it was a clerical error. It did not actually have the red tape done and the applications submitted in time when it did up the budget, and so it just got waved. I do not believe that for a minute. Nonetheless, that was the excuse that I was given.

Here we have another Liberal member coming up with a private member's bill that is trying to address the problem and missing completely the seriousness of what is actually happening in our school system across the nation.

It is a twofold thing. Not only should we look after what we eat but also start to exercise more. If we were true to what we should be doing, we would start with our youth and ensure that they have the exercise needed and then teach them how to eat properly.

In teaching them how to eat properly, I wonder how many of them go into a McDonald's and say--even if the calories were written on the McDonald's billboard--“Golly, I had better not eat that burger or those super size fries”. I honestly believe that they are not there thinking of calories. They are there thinking, “Boy, this is good to eat”.

There was more talk today about the amount of trans fats in our foods. I think we should look at trans fats in our foods. Is it an appropriate amount or not and is there something there to curb them? All of those discussions should take place; however, this piece of legislation attacks the restaurant industry, and the fast food industry in particular, because they are the ones that would qualify for the $10 million.

The legislation is saying that the number of calories for each product should be indicated so that individuals putting orders in would understand what those calories are so that they could discern a little better what they are eating. One would think that is a noble thought, but the mechanics of it have not been worked out.

I found it interesting when I spoke with the restaurant association and other people who are in the industry. They were telling me that this is totally unworkable. I wonder whether the member, with his well intentioned bill, really did sit down and speak with the industry to see how it would impact it and see if there was any kind of a buy-in so that the intent, which is noble, would actually come to fruition, and we would actually see something happen.

For example, 15 different ingredients in a submarine sandwich have 40,777 different combinations. That becomes a very unworkable situation when one realizes that it takes somewhere between $150 and $350 to do the testing to find out what the calorie, salt and carbohydrate content of the different combinations actually are. If we were to bring this into fruition and actually make it law, we would have to do that but it would be false advertising because it would be misleading the population by not giving the accurate amounts.

Most of the restaurant industry is served by individuals who are on a minimum salary. Maybe the professionalism is good because they are thinking of it in exact calories, but one would dish up a different sized portion than another, which is sort of normal and natural. One can see that even if the combinations were posted, they would be virtually unworkable when we really look at what it is trying to do.

What we need to do in this society is to understand and discern exactly how we eat and what it does to us in proportion to the amount of physical exercise that we are doing. As a nation we have fallen short of that. There is no question that North America is killing itself with too much food. We are killing ourselves with kindness in some people's eyes, which is what they say. We must really look at some solutions to this.

This legislation is not a workable solution. It is not one that is actually going to do anything to push us in that direction. We need to raise awareness in what we are actually doing to our bodies.

I know the amount of calories we eat. I have always used the philosophy that people gain weight because their input is over their output.

I come from an agricultural background where we work very hard. Most members in the House, I would say, have come from forefathers who had an agricultural background where physical labour was something that was a normal part of ordinary life. Today, we are in a situation where our children are parked in front of television sets and computers far too long. As a result, they eat the wrong foods because of perhaps the fast pace of their parents' lives and the ease of being able to order in and so on. Knowing or not knowing the number of calories is certainly not the answer to the problem that is before our society.

Actually changing the habits of individuals, making them understand the importance of physical exercise and forcing our youth to do that is where the government has fallen down in the last decade, particularly with the one program. We had better start reinstating that because the impact on our health care system is absolutely phenomenal.

In fact, that impact alone in our health system is estimated at $6.3 billion a year. The direct cost to health care would be $1.8 billion a year. It is not small numbers that we are talking about. The problem is very significant. It is very important that we realize that and that we do what we can to address it.

To put this thing forward right now and move it directly into committee would not be the answer. We have a piece of legislation that would come into force in 2006 and would work toward that end in the sense of indicating some of the calories, trans fats, sodium, carbohydrates, et cetera, on packaged foods. That may be well and good, but a lot of people have said that they need a magnifying glass to read it to begin with, so I would question, how much good is that actually doing?

I want to close by saying that this piece of legislation is identical to what has been introduced in at least 19 states in the United States. Most of them have been defeated very quickly as they came up for debate, and I think that is exactly what should happen to this one as well.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-398, introduced by my colleague from Scarborough Southwest. I am speaking for my colleague for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve who, unfortunately, could not be here today. It is a pleasure because I am personally very concerned about foods. I have a family and children, and I closely monitor what they eat.

That said, the Standing Orders were changed to make all private members' bills votable. They can then be referred to committee.

We must give bills the best possible chance to shine and be considered in committee, so they can be amended and improved, or the conclusion simply reached that they are no good. In which case, the bill is sent back to the House and defeated.

Consequently, we must give each bill a chance. It is quite difficult to learn all the details before a bill is scrutinized in committee, before witnesses are asked to make suggestions to improve it and before a final decision is made.

The Bloc Quebecois agrees with the principle of the bill. However, it is clear that if it goes to committee, we will move quite significant amendments. I cannot, perhaps, provide full details, but if I understand correctly, labelling is not a simple matter. We will have to see how to proceed.

We must have this discussion on foods. When this House decided to ask cigarette companies to change their packaging, the industry was in an uproar. These kinds of things always cause uproars.

Obviously, the restaurant and foodservices association will be opposed because its members do not want to spend any money. We will also need to calculate what kind of savings this will mean to health.

Consequently, we need experts to tell the committee how much it will all cost. Then, we will be able to make a final decision. However, if the bill does not have the opportunity to get to that stage, obviously, it will die because a broader discussion will not have taken place.

As regards the labelling of cigarette packages, hon. members may remember the substantive debates and the discussions that took place here in the House. We finally got the message across. Now, the labelling on cigarette packages is much more detailed, and I am convinced that many people stopped smoking for that reason.

Of course, the tobacco industry did not want such labelling, because it is losing money. However, as parliamentarians, we had a responsible decision to make about health and we made that decision.

I think it is pretty well the same thing with the bill before us. We have a duty to act responsibly and to discuss this measure, because this is where we are headed.

I am told that it will be very difficult because, for example, there are all kinds of ways to make a submarine. We must take a very serious look at this issue. I do not think that we want absolutely each and every product to be labelled. There are specific things for which we want labelling, and these will be discussed in committee when we look at the feasibility of this measure.

There are chains of restaurants, such as Subway, that already indicate the fat content of certain ingredients. There are two or three meals on the menu that are really low in calories and fat content. So, this is already being done in some restaurant chains.

Here, we are primarily targeting such chains, because we are talking about businesses that have sales of $10 million. The local food outlet is not affected by this legislation, which is really aimed at large chains such as St-Hubert, Subway, McDonald's and others.

In my opinion, it is very important that we have this debate. We all know how colourful Americans can be, and I say this in all friendship. Not too long ago, I heard about someone in the United States who did a test. He ate at McDonald's for breakfast, lunch and supper for a month. He became seriously ill, so much so that he even developed a psychiatric disease. It is easy to see that we should have a better idea of what we eat.

I personally do not go to McDonald's very often, it not being my favourite meal choice. It is true, however, that from time to time we all go out for a treat like that because we have children, but we do need to know what we are eating, and I think that there has not been enough progress made in this area so far.

We need to have the possibility of progressing further. This bill stirs up debate, although it may not be the ideal bill. Many people will come up with this or that amendment, will want to see indication of fat content, sugar content and so on. We will see how it progresses, however. There will be a discussion in committee, and then decisions will be reached on what we really want to see included in a label.

There is reference to the GMOs. In talking with the public, we come to realize this is a very popular subject. People do want to know. They want to know if they are eating something that has been genetically modified. In my opinion, they are absolutely entitled to know, since they are the ones paying for it.

It is absolutely normal for questions to be raised about this. I would like very much to see this bill examined in committee, the standing health committee in particular. What I want most of all is to see it accorded the necessary importance to be debated.

Even if this bill is not the one that eventually gets passed, we must at least be able to continue addressing the issue so that one day people will really know how many calories are in their food, and whether they are eating genetically modified food. We need to make progress in that direction.

Maybe then the food industry will also be forced to sell us much healthier products. Indeed, food vendors will have no other choice because people will no longer eat just any kind of food; they will want to eat quality products.

That being said, when the time comes to vote, the Bloc Quebecois will support the principle of the bill. I should add that the Association des consommateurs du Québec is also in favour of this bill.

Finally, I want to mention an article that I read in Le Devoir . It was entitled “Junk food just as harmful as nicotine”.

The article says that malnutrition and bad food habits are just as dangerous as cigarettes and nicotine.

We know that cardiovascular diseases are now affecting people at an increasingly younger age. More and more children suffer from obesity. That must change. We must pay more attention to our health. We must see to it that obesity stops being a problem in our children. A lot of children are obese because young people these days are less active and also because they are not careful about what they eat.

We must create a whole new culture. I believe that looking at this bill and its possibilities will help us go forward.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe that Canadians deserve to know what is in the food they eat. While I agree that a healthy diet is more a matter of education and individual choice than it is the heavy hand of state regulation and control, the government does have a role to play in ensuring that the food we eat is safe.

For instance, we now know that trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils, are really bad for us, yet they are nearly everywhere in the processed foods that we eat. The New England Journal of Medicine states that just one gram a day of trans fats increases the risk of heart disease by 20%. The average Canadian eats over ten grams per day. The recommended daily intake, by the way, is zero.

But when I asked this Minister of Health and the previous minister what steps were being taken to eliminate trans fats from our diet, their replies suggested that the government is not willing to do anything to eliminate this toxic garbage from our food, and “toxic” is the terminology used by the food scientists with regard to trans fats. The government is not willing to do anything to remove these toxins from our food as long as the food is properly labelled.

In other words, our Minister of Health is leaving it up to Canadians as to whether or not to feed poison to their children. Furthermore, our Minister of Health is giving the food companies up to five years to rewrite their labels and, amazingly--get this--baby food is exempt. I am sure the House will be shocked to learn that baby food will not in fact be labelled at all even though there are high contents of trans fats in baby food.

My problem with labelling as it pertains to the context of this particular private member's bill is that most people do not read the labels on the processed food that they eat. In fact, studies have shown that 70% of people pay no attention to the labels on the processed food they buy. Of the remaining 30%, many would not or could not comprehend the technical data that they read in the fine print. In other words, labels have no editorial content. Labels simply say that this product contains x amount of trans fats. They do not say, “And that's too much, so don't eat it”.

It is ludicrous, by the way, to think that we should mandate labelling on food to advise people not to eat it because it is poisonous, or in other words, allow the manufacturers to put toxins in our food and then mandate labelling to educate Canadians to not eat this food. It is simply ludicrous, really, when we think about it.

I raise this issue partly because I believe there is a class issue here. I believe that low income people are more vulnerable to this trans fats hazard to our health than anyone else. Frankly, in my opinion, and I represent a low income riding, it takes a fair amount of economic stability and economic security to eat properly and to eat well. Many of the people in my riding do not have a car to use to drive out to a supermarket where they can buy large amounts of whole foods and unprocessed foods. They end up spending their low incomes in corner stores and 7-Elevens and buying more pre-packaged and processed foods because their economic instability leads to an unstable household where a balanced diet and regular meals are not the norm.

I believe for all these reasons that high-flown arguments about informed choice are irrelevant in the context of labelling foods. Yes, people should be aware of the nutritional value of the foods they eat, but not everyone is able to make an informed choice no matter what kind of labelling is on the side of packages.

Other countries have effectively banned trans fats from their food supply. There are healthy alternate choices that do not compromise either quality or taste. I believe it is the role of government to tell the industry to stop using trans fats. In fact, I will go further. It is the role of government to help the industry stop using trans fats. I would fully support the government using research and development grants to assist the food processing industry to find other healthy choices. I would welcome that. There would be no criticism from this sector of the House if some of the technology partnership loans money were used, or research and development grants were used, or if the National Research Council were asked to assist industry in a special project to develop alternative sources of fats and oils for food manufacturers to use.

In fact, that would have been a sensible answer to the question I asked in question period today. I was stonewalled by the current Minister of Health. He simply said that mandatory labelling would be enough and that we should not be concerned. I do not accept that. I think that we now know enough about trans fatty acids: they should not be labelled, they should be eliminated.

Denmark has taken steps to do just that. We cannot ban trans fats outright. I will be the first to admit that. There is some naturally occurring trans fat, especially in dairy products. What Denmark did, and what I recommend Canada do, is regulate the amount of allowable trans fats in foods to no more than 2% of the total amount of fat in that food product. The scientists agree that this would represent a trace level of trans fats that would likely simply pass through the body and would not represent a real health risk.

We know that these trans fatty acids are extremely bad for us, especially for our children. They are forcing up Canada's rate of obesity, which is virtually epidemic in the current generation. We have record levels of diabetes, traced directly to trans fats, and as I said, heart disease is up exponentially. The New England Journal of Medicine says it believes that trans fats are even a contributing factor in Alzheimer's disease as well.

So get rid of them, right? That is the logical thing to do, but again, the frustrating thing in my mind is that when I have approached the government, two successive ministers of health have refused to even contemplate regulating and getting rid of them. The only thing that my staff and I can think of as a reason why the government would be reluctant to ban them is that it is worried about a NAFTA challenge. It is worried about chapter 11 of NAFTA. The Government of Canada could be sued by a corporation for lost opportunity if we pass regulations that may affect doing business. I would hate to think that would be the determining factor.

The other factor, of course, is our Constitution. Not many people realize that margarine is a constitutional issue, but if they look at the British North America Act, they will see that Canada must be the only country in the world that has two paragraphs dedicated to oleo margarine in our Constitution, due to John Crosbie and his family and the terms of union for Newfoundland joining Confederation, but that is another story.

Walter Willett, the chairman of the Department of Nutrition of Harvard University and the author of some of the most damning studies about trans fats, has said that hydrogenated vegetable oil, the process by which trans fats are created, is the biggest food processing disaster in history. Harvard University estimates that 33,000 deaths per year can be directly attributed to trans fats.

Trans fats are the biggest single public health issue since the war on tobacco, yet we are not taking it seriously and it can be solved with the snap of a finger at no cost. At no cost, the government could protect the well-being of a whole future generation of Canadians by eliminating trans fats.

We do have Voortman cookies. I want to take a minute to compliment the industry on the efforts it is making too, because no one argues the fact these trans fats are silent killers. Not a single food scientist in North America or in the world, in fact, argues that. Even the industry is not denying that these are silent killers.

Voortman Cookies produces 120 product lines. As of March 2004 every one of the Voortman Cookies product lines will be trans fat free. Mr. Voortman's daughter is a food scientist and, to her great credit and his great credit, she lobbied him and he agreed that he would eliminate trans fats. It took him three years to find an alternative that does not affect quality or taste, but he found it and he is implementing it in his product line.

We want all products manufactured in Canada to be trans fat free. We also want all products imported to Canada for sale to consumers to be trans fat free. We also want restaurant foods to be trans fat free. The only way to do that is to regulate it so that no one can sell any product to any consumer that contains more than 2% of total volume of fats as trans fats. That is the subject here.

While I acknowledge that the original intent here is that Canadians deserve to know what is in the food they eat, my view is that labelling is inadequate when we are dealing with a known toxin. It is not okay to put poison in our food as long it is properly labelled. That is crazy, frankly.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege today to speak to Bill C-398. Before I address the bill directly, I would like to commend the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest who has introduced a bill in every Parliament, as he said in his speech, since 1989 that requires the nutritional value of food to be clearly stated on packaged foods. His efforts, by the way, did contribute to new regulations that were published on January 1, 2003. I congratulate him on that.

The member is now asking Parliament to take the next step: consider mandatory labelling of nutritional information for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood; require anyone selling food for immediate consumption to provide information on nutrients and/or calories; require percentage declarations of ingredients highlighted in words or pictures on the front panel of the label; and finally, require that the first three ingredients in the ingredients list be accompanied by a percentage declaration of the amount of the food.

As a mother also, as other hon. members said, yes, I do worry about what my kids are eating at McDonald's. However, I think we all have to go further and beyond that and look at some of the problems with the bill, not that it is not a good bill.

At the outset, I want the House to know that the government shares the hon. member's concern about fair and informative labelling of foods. In fact, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recently conducted public consultations on a proposal to clarify the labelling and advertising of products with highlighted or emphasized ingredients, flavours or sensory characteristics.

To begin, I would like to acknowledge the significant amount of work that has already been done in the area of labelling food and the impact of the legislation on current policy.

On December 12, 2000, nutritional labelling became mandatory in Canada. The new regulations now require a nutrition facts table to appear on most prepackaged food sold in Canada.

The new regulations are the result of four years of work during which we did consumer research, heard from experts, and held broad consultations in the consumer, health, and food industry sectors. An external advisory committee was created to guide Health Canada throughout the process. It was a big undertaking.

The nutrition facts table gives information on calories and 13 key nutrients contained in every serving of food. The comprehensiveness of the information, and the presentation required, makes Canada a leader in nutritional labelling.

The nutrition facts table is an excellent way to inform Canadians about the food they eat. As well as being an effective source of information, the nutritional label helps improve the health and well-being of Canadians.

The food industry had the opportunity to take part in the process, but only saw the final version of the regulations on January 1, 2003. The industry has three years to meet the nutritional labelling requirements, and five years if sales are under a million dollars.

The new regulations represent an enormous challenge for many sectors of the food industry, because certain foods must be tested and new labels must be produced.These sectors need time to adjust. While some can spring into action very quickly to add the nutrition labelling format on their labels, others will need all the time provided under the regulations.

During the consultation process one the new regulations, consumers and dietitians both told Health Canada that the amounts of nutrients on the labels have to be correct. Ensuring that a nutrition label contains valid information requires the testing of many samples of each food over time to take into account factors related to variability, like the time of year, climatic conditions, soils and the feed given to animals.

The data do not exist for all products at this time. Because of the lack of information on nutritional composition, an exemption has been granted in the bill with respect to some food: raw, single ingredient meats that are not ground, meat by products, poultry meats, poultry meat by-products, and raw, single ingredient marine or freshwater animal products.

The industry is willing to produce precise data for nutritional labelling of poultry and seafood, but it must have the time to carry out the necessary analyses. There are many kinds of cuts of meat, and their fat content varies considerably depending on the grade of beef or the fishing season.

If the number of samples is not realistic, it must be examined to obtain uniform and accurate data.

Moreover, Bill C-398 introduces an economic perspective that is absent from the legislation and the criminal law on which the legislation is based. It provides for an exemption from certain requirements, as a function of sales. Such a change clearly establishes a precedent and its impact has not been evaluated.

Bill C-398 also requires the provision of information on the nutritional value of food served in restaurants and other outlets. The restaurant chains and franchises with standard menus, such as McDonald's, can easily provide nutritional information about the food they serve, something they already often provide on request, as does Subway, as other hon. members have already mentioned.

Other restaurants, however, do not have such strict requirements for food preparation. These restaurants often find it difficult, if not impossible, to give precise information about the nutritional value and calorie content of their meals. In such cases, feasibility studies would be required.

Moreover, the bill raises questions of jurisdiction. Restaurants and other service establishments are generally considered to be under provincial jurisdiction. Inspection is a provincial matter and is usually carried out by municipal inspectors. It is impossible to require the disclosure of nutritional information by such establishments without consulting the provinces and territories.

If this bill is passed, it would create new inspection requirements for the provinces—if they agree to do this work—and for federal inspectors if they do not.

My father owned a restaurant in my riding of Ahuntsic for 35 years. I know for a fact that it was the municipal authorities who did the food inspection in the case of my father's restaurant.

I also would like to say, as hon. members on the other side have said, that the restaurant association, with which I have had the opportunity to discuss this bill, and other colleagues have raised certain concerns. I am sure, as the hon. member has said, that maybe those concerns can be discussed in committee, but they are very serious concerns. I encourage the hon. member to perhaps sit one more time with the restaurant association and have another discussion on his bill.

As I stated, the CFIA has recently conducted public consultations on a proposal that would clarify the labelling and advertising of products with highlighted or emphasized ingredients, flavours or sensory characteristics. The object is fair labelling that provides clear and relevant product information for consumers and is not deceptive or misleading.

The government's labelling proposal would be made as regulations in the food and drug regulations, with an interim policy in the guide to food labelling and advertising.

The discussion paper includes a requirement for a percentage declaration for ingredients that have been highlighted on a label, like Bill C-398. However it does not include the requirement for the percentage declaration of the first three ingredients nor other ingredients. As it stands already, prepackaged foods in Canada are required to list ingredients in descending order by weight.

The CFIA's proposal follows the provisions for quantitative labelling of ingredients in the current general standard for the labelling of prepackaged foods established by Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is the international body responsible for establishing food standards. The proposal is similar to the standards established in the regulations of our trading partners, including the U.S.A., the E.U., Australia and New Zealand.

However there are reasons that Codex does not require the percentage of the first three and some other specific ingredients to be listed. One of the reasons is that the formula for these foods is proprietary information. Companies do not want to provide too much proprietary information on product formulas to the public and to competitors.

Because we are running out of time I will end by saying, as one other hon. member said, Canada has to look at the trade barriers that exist in order to qualify because we may have an unjustified trade barrier.

Even though I have quite a few reservations about Bill C-398, I applaud the intentions of the member for Scarborough Southwest to give consumers the information so they can made informed choices. His efforts to have Parliament debate this issue have already been applauded by all members of the House.

Food and Drugs ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.

The Speaker

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

I have received notice from the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore that he is unable to move his motion during private members' hour on Monday, February 9, 2004. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business will therefore be suspended, and Government Orders will begin at 11 a.m. on Monday.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)