House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was products.


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his fine speech and his good efforts over the years for ethical and social causes. I want to carry on with the same train of questioning of my other hon. colleague.

Many times over the past few years, we on this side of the House have asked the Liberals to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age. During question period at one point in time, one of the members opposite explained it could not be increased to 16 for cultural reasons.

There is another inconsistency with regard to the way the Liberals have been approaching the question and it has to do with the long proclaimed United Nations rights of the child. The government agreed to article 1 in the United Nations rights of the child which defines a child as being a person under the age of 18.

With all of these inconsistencies and international standards, perhaps my colleague could explain to me, what is the definition of a child? Why does he think the Liberals are hesitating on raising the age from 14 to 16, which would apparently be appropriate and consistent with most other world bodies as well? Could my colleague please enlighten us?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I also find it a tremendous irony when international bodies like the United Kingdom, and most states in the U.S. as well as other modern democracies, have a higher age of 16 and in some cases 17.

It is a cruel irony that we do not raise that age of consent. It is hypocritical. We need to do better. I am not sure why Canada needs to lead the parade downhill by keeping that age lower when we see other nations leading the charge against this violent, offensive, and hateful stuff that hurts the most vulnerable among us.

I thank the member for Edmonton Centre-East for a good question which draws attention to the hypocrisy of the Liberal government. We should be doing something. Sadly and tragically, the Liberal government simply has no will to do it.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate this issue. Many others have spoken on some of the specific issues. I will do a little bit of that too, but I would like to talk about this issue in a general fashion first.

I would like to raise the question, why, after 10 years that I have been here, are we still just talking about this issue? I was first elected in 1993 and very soon after I came down here we raised many of the issues we are still talking about today. We have asked questions of the government, in committee and in the House of Commons, as to why it is not acting more quickly on something as urgent and so critical as protecting our children from sexual predators. What question could be more fundamental for government to deal with than that?

It has been 10 years that I have been here. I have been asking questions and my colleagues have been asking questions. We stated our position on protecting children from sexual predators and nothing has happened. The legislation that we are debating today, Bill C-12, in practical terms when applied, will not change things. My question to the government is, why has it taken 10 years and why after 10 years has nothing been done on such a critical issue?

I do not expect that I will get an answer to my question today, but Canadians certainly deserve an answer to this question. It is a question that Canadians are still asking. Next to some of the hot button issues, it is one of the issues most often brought to my attention, especially the issue of raising the age of sexual consent. However, there are other aspects as well that deal with protecting our children from sexual predators.

If this issue is so important to my constituents, I would have a hard time not believing that it is also important to the constituents of all members opposite. In fact, they are hearing the same things that I am hearing because in various ways I have heard them say so. They are concerned about the age of consent. They are concerned about some of these other things like artistic merit that my colleagues and everyone in the House has been debating.

Therefore, if that concern is so widespread, including on the government side, why has appropriate action not been taken after 10 years? We will hear the government use the excuse that was used by the public works minister yesterday in question period when he said that it was not his government. He said that his government only started on December 12.

Really, that is what he said in response to a question. We were talking about how the government's reputation has been tarnished due to all the scandals, like the ad scam, the sponsorship program, and the military issue that my colleague from Prince George has brought up recently regarding how $160 million was somehow misspent. It is probably the worst type of corruption, yet the government did not pick up on it for years. These things come up, and we have been bringing them up on a regular basis.

What did the public works minister say yesterday? He said that his government has only been in place since December 12, trying to distance himself and the responsibility of the Prime Minister, the cabinet and all the members of Parliament on the government side. The Liberal members are trying to distance themselves from their responsibility; however, they were a part of the government over the past 10 years. I would be trying to distance myself from that too, quite frankly, if I were there.

However, corruption is one thing and we are not talking about corruption in this debate today. We are not talking about the sponsorship scandal or any of the other areas of corruption.

We are talking about something every bit as important though, and that is the protection of our children from sexual predators. If so many of these members of Parliament feel, as I know they do, that this is something they want to do, that they want their government to do, why have they been so ineffective in doing it? After all, they are part of the government, or at least they are supposed to influence the government in caucus and in other ways.

I do not think it is because they are not good people. I know that most members of Parliament, no matter which party they are from, do the best job they can to represent their constituents. They do that; we all do that. We work very hard at that. I believe Liberal members of Parliament are no different. I have talked with them enough to know that they want to represent their constituents.

Why then, on critical issues such as this, can they not do that? Why are they not allowed to do so? Why have they been so unsuccessful in dealing with this most urgent of issues, such as protecting our children?

The answer comes down to a lack of democratic process in the House of Commons, in the government, and in our political system. That is something that I have talked about an awful lot in the last 16 years since the Reform Party of Canada was founded.

One of the main issues that the Reform Party was founded on back in 1987 was the issue of democratic reform. It would put in place various democratic reforms so that each and every member of Parliament from every political party would have a real impact in this place. Members would be able to actually represent their constituents in this place.

Why after 16 years and why after more than 10 years of the government being in power has so little been done on that issue? It is because of Bill C-12, that we are dealing with today, and what happens with every other piece of legislation we deal with in the House that will depend on whether we have a democratic system or not?

Have we had a democratic system in place, one that was really working? The government has had 10 years to do that and it has actually made things worse rather than better. I honestly believe that things are less democratic in the House now than they were 10 years ago when I came here.

Had democratic changes been made, I believe the Liberal members of Parliament, who understand the importance of this issue, along with my colleagues and colleagues from other political parties, would have forced the government to pass legislation which would deal with these issues that we are talking about in Bill C-12.

It comes down to having a process in place that allows people from right across this country to appear to be represented and to in fact be represented by their member of Parliament. After all, their member of Parliament should answer to them and not to this cabinet and not to the Prime Minister. That is not the way our system should work.

Unfortunately, it is the way that it does work. That is a sad commentary on 10 years of Liberal government. We can go back farther than that. I am only looking at the 10 years that I have been here because I am very much familiar with those 10 years.

I know the fight that my colleagues and I, and some in other political parties too, including the governing party, have put up to bring democratic change. It would ensure that issues like the protection of children would be dealt with in the way that the general public wants it to be dealt with.

Every one of us is elected by the people in our constituency to work on their behalf, to represent their views. We learn about issues from polling and surveys, and many of us do that in our householders. We will take an issue such as the protection of children or the age of consent, and I have done that myself and many of my colleagues have done that. We have given information looking at both sides of the issue.

Sometimes we will invite someone who takes a contrary position to our own position to put information in our householders to our constituents. We will put our position in because part of being a representative is to be a local leader. Part of leadership is to try to persuade people to our point of view. We put our persuasive position in there. Then we allow our constituents to decide. We allow our constituents to make it clear, by actually voting, how they feel on these important issues.

Any survey that has been done backs up widespread public support to raise the sexual age of consent for children from 14. They should not be making decisions on whether to have sex with an adult. That is not something they should not have to think of at that age. Let them be children for awhile.

Every one of the official polls done on the issue shows an 80% support rate or higher for raising the age of sexual consent to at least 16.

It comes down to unfortunately the fact that we have, as the Prime Minister calls it, this democratic deficit. What has he done to fix it? Nothing. What has he done to deal with this issue when he must know about it, because I am sure many of his members of Parliament have made the point to him that they want these issues dealt with by the government. What has he done? He has done nothing about it.

This legislation, should it pass, quite frankly will not help solve the problem. I will quickly go through some of the specific issues in the legislation that have not been dealt with by the government. I will talk about issues that are conspicuous by their absence.

The first is the issue of artistic merit, and some of my colleagues have talked about it. The controversy on artistic merit has been going on for some time. It certainly came from the John Robin Sharpe case from British Columbia. I think we are all very much aware of that. He is a notorious child pornographer.

In the Supreme Court case, R. v Sharpe, it was determined that artistic merit should be interpreted as widely as possible. In the legislation the government has said that it will deal with it by taking away the artistic merit defence and put in place the public good defence. This was after a former justice minister, who was attempting to sell the bill to committee, admitted that the broader public good defence in fact would allow the artistic merit defence to be there. I want to read the quote from the former justice minister. He said:

Artistic merit still exists in the sense that a piece of art will have to essentially go through the new defence of public good and through the two stages. Of course, the first question is always this. Does it serve the public good?

He went on to say that artistic merit was a part of what was considered under whether it served the public good.

That issue has not been dealt with in the legislation in any kind of effective way. In practice, when it goes before the courts, it probably will not change a thing. It will probably be dealt with in exactly the same way and the artistic merit of what I call child pornography will still be a consideration and probably the results will be no different. The government has failed entirely in that regard.

The Conservative Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. We are clear on that. Why is the government so unclear on that? What it is clear on is that it is not willing to take this issue and deal with it head on to ensure that our children are protected.

The second issue which has not been dealt with at all in the legislation is age of consent. I have already referred to that because it is an issue that so obviously should have been dealt with years ago. We all know that having 14 year olds decide whether they want to have sex with an adult is simply not acceptable, yet that is not in the legislation. In the general polling 80% of Canadians have said that they want it to be in there.

Canadians are clear on this and, as I said, many MPs have done their own surveys on this through their householders they send out to constituents. We have received results that in many cases are much higher than the 80%. Why has it not been dealt with?

Another former justice minister, although I cannot name her, said this on raising the age of consent. She indicated very clearly that it was something the government looked forward to doing. This was years ago. She said:

With regard to age of consent--from 14 to 16--we have our child as victim consultation paper. We discussed that at our federal-provincial justice ministers' meeting in September in Nova Scotia. Those consultations will be concluded and reported on by December 31 of this year, and I think we will see that a consensus is emerging that with certain safeguards we should probably be moving on the age of consent from 14 to 16.

This was in October 2001. What that former justice minister is saying is that she believes all provinces, and that is what we found too, want to go ahead with raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. She acknowledged that was what Canadians wanted and it was certainly what the premiers wanted. Therefore, the federal government would not be improperly interfering in the areas of provincial jurisdiction, something that is so important to our Bloc colleagues as well as to us. We are very conscious of the federal government respecting provincial jurisdiction. That has been done. The provinces want to go with this and the federal government is ignoring that wish.

Again, Bill C-12 fails to raise the age of consent of sexual contact between children and adults. That is clear. The government claims that it has somehow effectively dealt with this issue of the age of consent. It has not. Though, as I have said before, probably a majority of its members of Parliament support that. Why do a majority of its members of Parliament support that, even in the governing party? Because their constituents have told them that.

The third issue, which I will refer to very briefly, is the issue of minimum sentences. In the bill the government raises the maximum sentence allowed under these various offences, but it puts in place no mandatory minimum sentence. Raising the maximum sentence probably will do nothing to help judges take these issues more seriously under the law. Putting in place mandatory minimum sentences for these offences on the other hand will mean judges will have no choice. Parliament will have dictated and minimum sentences will be put in place. It will give offenders at least the minimum sentence as required by law, but the government has refused to do that.

I want to close by saying that it is hard for me to understand why after 10 years this has not been changed and why the bill will not change it. It is a sad commentary. Let us move ahead. I can assure the House the next government will change that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

moved that Bill C-340, an act respecting the use of dairy terms, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased in this final hour of the day to address my private member's bill, a bill that promotes accuracy and honesty in the use of dairy labels and marketing of food products.

Bill C-340, entitled the dairy terms act, would ensure the correct use of dairy terms to protect consumers from being misled and to ensure fair practices in the food trade. The act would establish rules for using dairy terms on food labels and, with some exceptions, would prohibit dairy terms from being used when a food contains no dairy ingredients at all.

That is the concern because we have more sophisticated kinds of processing, substitutes for this, that and the other, vitamins and minerals are added in and a whole plethora of possibilities, and the consuming public is being misled by some of the labelling. Sometimes we have products that have no dairy in them at all and yet they make the pretense of being good dairy products. We take objection to that. This is the very nature of the bill before us now.

I am glad the bill is votable because I know there is cross-party support for this initiative. I have had members from Liberal governing side approach me today, and in recent days, in respect of what they say is their support. We will see at the time of the vote. I assume that will materialize when they stand to vote for this. Then at least it will go to committee for some good discussion and adjusting and tweaking for the good of the consuming public and dairy farmers across the country.

I am optimistic that we have that sense of goodwill across party lines to have this at least move into committee and possibly through the House entirely, for which we would be appreciative.

The bill reflects an important trend today. It is a consumer oriented trend. We are talking about honesty and accuracy in the labelling of food products. We see concerns about accurate labelling of food everywhere today in the matter of genetically modified foods. We have had debate on that and on mandatory labelling of irradiated foods. Some people want labels to accurately distinguish organic foods from non-organic alternatives. Those are all legitimate debates that need to take place. However, this one is much more simple in that we want truth and accuracy in food labelling.

Just last month my colleague, the member for Scarborough Southwest, led off debate on the first hour of a food labelling bill that he introduced, Bill C-398. The bill would expand requirements for nutritional information on food labels.

The bill before us today really concerns the use of dairy terms in the labelling of food items. Specifically, it aims to ban the false or inaccurate labelling of non-diary products with terms traditionally associated with dairy foods. We are talking about the use, and the alleged misuse, of words such as milk, butter, cream and yogurt, when there are none of the constituent ingredients in the product, and people are misled by that.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada, the national association that represents Canada's dairy industry, has been seeking such provisions for several years now. They have tried to prosecute companies that they believe have crossed the line in this area, using what is called Canada's guide to food labelling and advertising. Maybe that is the problem. It is a guide and does not have any real force of law by way of real teeth. They have also tried to use provisions in law to challenge trademark applications. Rarely do they meet with success, and current guidelines seem to be unenforceable.

That is why we need a new law. There is an absence, a vacuum, so we need this law, the dairy terms act, which would be enforceable and would protect consumers and producers alike.

One case that the Dairy Farmers of Canada challenged at the trademark application level was a brand of popcorn called “Gout de Beurre”. Not only was the term butter in the name, but the imaging on the package was of a piece of popcorn slamming down into a slab of what appeared to be butter. The name and the image gave a rather different impression than the reality and the actual facts of the case. Another case involved a product called “Molly McButter”. They attempted to take those cases forward under the registration of trademarks, but they lost in these and other cases.

Interestingly, Canada has backed provisions, such as those found in the bill, on the international stage. The bill is actually intended to bring Canada's domestic policy in line with the commitments that we have made overseas. Canada participates in the process for developing and amending the Codex Alimentarius, the international food code produced by an international body set up through the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

The codex was amended in 1999 to strengthen provisions on dairy labelling, and far from opposing that international move, Canada endorsed the codex general standard for the use of dairy terms. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has not been willing to implement these pro-consumer measures in Canada. It is a question that we are engaged in today and we hope to have the support of the government in respect to this so it can follow through in terms of that particular international commitment and its agreement to these particular measures.

Dairy term regulations do exist at the provincial level, but in the year 2000 a government established working group did recommend deregulation at the provincial level. The working group was set up in September 1999 at the request of the federal/provincial/territorial agri-food inspection committee, which is responsible under the agreement on internal trade. It is supposed to deal with interprovincial technical barriers to trade. The purpose of the working group was to examine the regulatory options available to balance producer protection in the development of new products and the need to protect consumers with accurate labelling and the prevention of practices that could mislead consumers.

This position was based on the idea that sufficient federal controls exist through the Food and Drugs Act, other relevant legislation and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising to prevent fraud and consumer misunderstanding. The Dairy Farmers of Canada's experience trying to combat some questionable labels, however, suggests that stronger federal measures need to be implemented. That is why I have introduced this dairy terms bill. This recommendation to deregulate at the provincial level adds impetus to the need to pass the dairy terms bill as soon as possible.

With that background I now want to discuss some of the specific concerns related to the misuse of dairy terms in the labelling of non-dairy food products.

In many cases consumers looking for a dairy product know it contains good, nutritional dairy calcium and many other minerals and vitamins. However they could unintentionally buy a non-dairy alternative due to the misuse of dairy terms on the label.

On the other hand, there are consumers out there who are lactose intolerant or maybe they cannot have a big amount of dairy products. They might be looking for a non-dairy alternative and they may mistakenly overlook some substitute products when those products are labelled in such a way that suggest at first glance that they contain dairy ingredients.

The greatest concern, of course, is consumers who purchase a non-dairy product thinking that it has dairy ingredients. Young moms going into a shopping centre, assuming that they are buying a healthful dairy product, could be buying a product that has little or no dairy ingredient. Since quality and nutritional value are believed to be leading reasons for the popularity of dairy products, accurate labelling is essential. Misleading labels can have negative health implications for consumers.

Canada's dairy producers spend over $75 million each year on advertising dairy products and promoting the nutritional benefits of dairy foods.

It is kind of hard, Mr. Speaker, to be talking over the noise here. I wonder if my colleagues across the way could kind of shut it down temporarily. I know the member across the way on the Liberal side supports the bill so he will want to give me his rapt attention.

I do not think anybody in the House believes that it is right for the producers of non-dairy products to tale advantage of the marketing of dairy foods with labels that misrepresent the presence of dairy ingredients in their alternative products. Not only does this impact the health of consumers, but it illegitimately takes market share from the dairy industry, taking money out of the pockets of Canada's hard-working dairy producers. It is not right, not honest and not accurate, and there is a moral underlying theme.

When manufacturers of dairy alternatives use dairy images, such as cows or slabs of butter, in the labelling of dairy products, it is quite obvious to me that there was clear intent in likening their products to the original dairy items. Such actions reinforce the claim of dairy products that dairy terms are an important selling feature for foods because of the quality and nutrition that consumers associate with these food products.

It is the evidence of intentional misrepresentation in the use of dairy terms that demonstrates the need for this dairy terms bill. It would protect consumers and it would protect dairy producers from false labelling and marketing. Consumers are entitled to that. I am convinced of that. We need truth in sentencing and we need truth in labelling. Consumers should have the right of a properly informed choice in the matter of dairy products and non-dairy alternatives.

In 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which does not have a vested interest, performed a consumer survey which demonstrated the importance that consumers place on product labels in terms of their expectation of what important ingredients are in the food item. Despite acknowledging these results and offering verbal support for concerns about the reliability of dairy terms in product labels, the government has failed to act, unfortunately.

This proposed dairy terms act, I need to make plain, would not ban all uses of dairy terms. Exceptions are recognized. The main category of exceptions is non-dairy foods that people are sufficiently familiar with due to their historic usage. Let us be clear that the bill would not require the renaming of apple butter. We all know what that is. It is not purporting to be a dairy product. Peanut butter, maple butter, cocoa butter, coconut milk or milk of magnesia are things that do not fool or mislead the public. That is not at all affected or changed by the bill or the effects of the bill.

When people walk into a pharmacy and grab a bottle of milk of magnesia, they are obviously not walking in there for the purpose of pouring it on their children's cereal the next day as they head off to school. There is not a need to make adjustments in respect of these terms where people are long familiar with them through their historic usage.

I hope the proposed dairy terms act, if passed, will be used in a very positive, useful way in the country. It is not intended to be a heavy-handed instrument indiscriminately and blindly used. The intent of the bill is to deter intentional deception in the use of dairy terms for non-dairy products.

The dairy terms bill also provides room for some flexibility with terms such as creamy that could refer to the dairy content of a product or it could be just a reference to the texture. That is well and fine. Also, with many of the names listed as acceptable due to their historical usage, we know that the use of butter in the name refers to the texture of the product and the way that it spreads like butter. These would not be things that are banned. We are not going after that. When it is describing texture, it would be very permissible.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada have noted how some producers seem to design their labels in a way that seems to highlight the dairy term, while making the reference to texture much more obscure. One is hard pressed to think up a reason, other than intentional misrepresentation, for why a label would be designed in such a fashion.

I can speak from personal experience on this. I drink a soy beverage. I enjoy dairy products such as cheese and milk, but I have to be careful not to consume too much of it. I know about this on a personal basis. People use soy products. We call it soy loaf if it is a cheese like product, but it is not cheese. Let us not deceive the public about that. If it is a drink, it is called a soy beverage. This does not have any effect on those as long as there is accuracy in the labelling that way.

As I see my time has run out I will cede the floor to others and perhaps respond to questions in order to shed a little more light on the subject.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Larry McCormick Liberal Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox And Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague on the other side of the House for bringing forward Bill C-340.

At the beginning of his speech, the member asked members on all sides of the House to support his bill. I will support the bill but my first support goes to the industry and the producers. Dairy producers in Canada give us the finest and the best product possible in the world, and it costs the government nothing. Supply management is the backbone of rural and small town Canada.

I had the opportunity to meet with the Dairy Farmers of Canada, dairy farmers in Ontario and people in my own riding of Hastings--Frontenac--Lennox and Addington. In the next couple of weeks the national Holstein convention for Canada will be held in Kingston.

I know the bill's intent is good and I personally will recommend that we adopt the bill and send it to committee. However I think some changes need to be made in terms of the language. I want the people at Agriculture Canada to look at the bill. We need to learn from this and move with it. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has done a lot of studies. It has talked with people and partners in the industry. It is looking at applying this to all types of food, and that is fine.

My colleague has done a good job with the bill. He has met with the past president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada who I believe is from the Prince Albert area of his riding.

I would like to know if l my colleague will work with us because I would like to work with the industry. I would like to see the legislation go to the all party Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food so it can be fine-tuned. We need to support our producers and we have seen that with the meat industry and BSE where the industries are still thriving but our producers deserve our attention.

Will my colleague work with us and the industry to see if we can improve on the legislation?

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for providing me with his assurance that he will work within his party to encourage others to support the bill. I appreciate that. I think there is some evidence of support from all parties on this legislation.

I definitely concede the fact that we need to have discussions and debate in committee in terms of adjusting and tweaking the bill because it would affect all Canadians. Yes, some areas of the country have more dairy industries than others. Leo Bertoia, from Langham in my riding of Saskatoon--Wanuskewin, and other good folks have related their concerns and frustrations with regard to why we need a bill of this nature.

With the expression of goodwill from the member across the way, I would ask for unanimous consent to send the bill directly to committee so we can have those very worthwhile discussions and get the bill adjusted and tweaked.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member have the consent of the House?

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

March 12th, 2004 / 1:45 p.m.

Sydney—Victoria Nova Scotia


Mark Eyking LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Agri-Food)

Mr. Speaker, it is good to see many people in the House concerned about the dairy industry.

I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-340, the dairy terms act, as proposed by my colleague, the hon. member for Saskatoon--Wanuskewin. The issue, a very important one today, is food labelling.

The hon. member has raised some very important points about labelling of dairy and dairy food products, valid points that are shared by dairy industry producers and by me. I would like to tell members that I have many dairy farms in my riding and I also have a very large dairy processing plant, so this is very important to me too.

A number of questions can be asked about dairy terms on labels of foods that may contain little or no dairy products. What about a product that claims to taste buttery but has no butter? What if it has a butter flavour?

I understand that dairy producers feel that the current federal labelling regulations are not adequate for protecting dairy products. Many dairy farmers in my riding have brought this up to me. They are concerned about the ability of existing federal legislation to protect their interests with respect to the use of dairy terminology on non-dairy foods. Their concerns are legitimate and our government is working toward a solution that will help address this issue.

I will explain more on that in a moment, but this issue is larger than just dairy products. Yes, the Government of Canada wants a solution for dairy, but we need a solution for all natural products.

There are three points that we must keep in mind during this debate.

First, there are many stakeholders who have an interest in how ingredients are represented on labels. Among these stakeholders are the food processors, importers, retailers and industry associates, to name just a few. There are other issues that stakeholders want to consider when it comes to product labelling. These issues include constraints of innovation, significant additional costs and administrative burden on our industry.

Second, the labelling of food products has repercussions on international trade. Any changes to the labelling of products must be consistent with our obligations under NAFTA and also the WTO, for example.

Third, there are other food producers that are also concerned that labels on food may refer to ingredients and flavours that have little or no connection to the actual product. What about maple flavoured products that have no maple, or honey flavoured without honey, or even chocolate flavoured without chocolate? We cannot regard the issues raised by the dairy terms act in isolation from similar concerns about other kinds of food products.

As members can see, this is a very complex issue and the government is taking it very seriously. In fact, the CFIA is seeking a solution to address labelling for all food products. It seeks to give consumers products that are labelled in such a way that consumers can make informed decisions. The CFIA has been consulting on proposals for highlighted ingredients and flavours, which would be applied to all types of ingredients and foods.

Consultations took place between January and April of last year and again between July and September. There were also two more workshops held on labelling issues, last November in Toronto and again in January in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. In addition, CFIA has conducted bilateral meetings with stakeholders and has commissioned a consumer survey, because at the end of the day we have to sell our products to the consumer.

In other words, the government is already proceeding in a very thorough and methodical fashion to address the clarification of food labelling in the broader context of labelling of all food products, not just dairy products.

To launch this first consultation, the CFIA released a discussion paper addressing the broad spectrum of food labelling issues. The discussion paper contained three proposals that address the same types of issues raised by the proposed bill from the hon. member.

First, when ingredients or components are highlighted, whether a high or low amounts, a percentage of the ingredient as added into the food must be declared either on the front panel or ingredients list.

Second, when the highlighted ingredient is a flavour or an artificial flavour, the words “flavour” or “artificial flavour” must appear adjacent to the named flavour. Let me give an example: “butter flavour” or “artificial butter flavour”.

Third, when an ingredient or a component name is used to describe the sensory characteristic of a food, that special characteristic must be stated adjacent to the description, for example, “creamy texture”.

In an analysis of this discussion paper and subsequent consultations, the CFIA heard many different points of view. It received input and advice from food processors and from the producers, of course, and from importers, distributors, industry associations, provincial governments, health professional associations, and also consumer associations and the consumers themselves.

In other words, the solutions that will emerge from this process will be built upon a wide consensus among different stakeholders involved. These consultations may result in changes to labelling policies through regulatory amendment, but these changes have not yet been finalized. It is a work in progress.

The challenge is to clarify food labelling rules without creating a proliferation of acts and regulations each designed to address a different food. Today it is the dairy terms act. What will it be tomorrow? The maple terms act? Or the honey terms act or the meat terms act?

CFIA's approach is in keeping with the Government of Canada's policy on smart regulation. What we should create is a regulatory process that results in the greatest net benefit to farmers and Canadian society while weighing the benefits of alternatives to regulation.

The process is now in place to improve product labelling systematically. It is open to the public for input. It puts forward proposals that would be in keeping with the current standards of labelling of prepackaged foods. The hon. member mentioned the international tests. We always have to keep that in mind.

The hon. member has put forward this bill with the support of dairy producers. I think it is a very good gesture in itself. Despite their active involvement in the consultation process on this issue with CFIA, it would appear that the dairy producers want to push for a stronger mechanism for additional protection for dairy terms according to their own priorities.

We cannot have it both ways. We cannot push for a balanced, thorough approach of labelling food as represented by the consultation process and at the same time pass the bill before us today.

I thank the member very much for bringing this up and for speaking on behalf of dairy farmers and bringing this forward in the House. For my part, I stand by the process that we have in place and the solutions that are going to be passed through CFIA, a process that has dairy producer associations very much as participants.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the current CFIA approach to address food labelling, which means they should join with me in voting against the bill.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-340 after the speech the parliamentary secretary just delivered.

I can appreciate that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wants to label all food across Canada, I have no problem with that, but this bill is seeking to legislate one of the oldest products around. We have all consumed milk in our lives; I think milk is one of the sources of life. We are not talking about just any product.

I would say to the parliamentary secretary that there are so many stakeholders in the entire food chain, so many producers and ways of doing things that these days, butter is no longer butter, milk is no longer milk and cheese is no longer cheese. That is the reality. The only thing the dairy industry wants is to say that milk is milk, cream is cream and cheese is cheese. It is easy to understand. Let us get this in writing and require all producers in Canada, all those who want to sell products, to comply with the regulations. The bill is straightforward.

I support the parliamentary secretary and the government in their desire to see all foods labelled in Canada. But there is one obvious instance. The dairy industry spends $75 million annually in order to get milk back to being milk, butter back to butter, and cheese to cheese. These efforts are all being undone by the industries that make use of substitutes, often chemical in nature, to give the same taste. It is as simple as that.

The bill is straightforward. Its purpose is set out in clause 3:

  1. The purpose of this Act is to ensure that food is described or presented in such a manner as to ensure the correct use of dairy terms intended for milk and milk products, to protect consumers from being confused or misled and to ensure fair practices in the food trade.

Quite simply, it is a matter of keeping milk as milk, cream as cream, butter as butter.

As for the application:

  1. This Act applies to all food marketed for human consumption in Canada.

In other words, anyone wishing to use dairy terms must have dairy products. It is as simple as that.

Then there is the prohibition, because obviously the purpose of the act is to prohibit something:

  1. No person shall manufacture, offer for sale, sell, market or advertise for sale any food to which this Act applies, if it is described in amanner contrary to this Act.

People may make statements here in the House, but if someone claims to have buttered popcorn and there is no butter on it, I have a problem with that, as most other people would.

A survey was carried out in Quebec by the Union des producteurs agricoles which showed that the majority of Quebeckers expect to find dairy products in something using the words “milk”, “cream” or “butter”. That is something everyone expects.

Nevertheless, companies decide to save money by trying to achieve the same taste with derivatives and chemical products. That is a reality. Why does the government not want to get involved in this regulation today? To protect the segment of the food industry that is using improper terms to make money. It is as simple as that.

Clearly, the Bloc Quebecois is completely opposed to this. There are farmers who are currently fighting for survival, given all the problems they face. All this bill is asking the government to do is set restrictions on these things. In other words, restrict industry from using dairy terms for products that are not dairy products.

There is no cost to anyone. It is solely a bill that we, as legislators, can vote on in the House.

Part of what members do is make laws. It is hard to understand that today the Liberal government, through the parliamentary secretary, has just stated that we would have to wait until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency passes legislation on labelling for all products in Canada. I have a problem with this. This means that this issue will never be resolved because it will take years.

A Liberal colleague made a suggestion earlier. This bill, which targets a specific type of product, dairy products, needs to go to committee for consideration and consultation with the industry stakeholders. They can come tell us why we should not do this.

I want to give an example, because we know that one of the major problems is that producers and often processors will use a term, such as “ice cream”, when no cream is used. Often, milk is used. So, it is ice milk, not ice cream.

Furthermore, chemicals are frequently used to make ice cream, so it really is not ice cream at all. Many people listening think that when they eat ice cream they are eating cream. But they are not.

All we want is to ensure that the product label and advertising reflect the ingredients used to produce that product. It is as simple as that. That is the aim of this bill.

To this end, there are even some exceptions allowed. For the benefit of everyone listening, I am referring to clause 6(8). Exceptions include all generally recognized products, such as peanut butter.

Why do we call it “butter? It is because it has the texture of butter. No one in the House wants to prevent peanut butter manufacturers from using the term “peanut butter”.

However, what we do not want is for terms to be used for items that are not found in the composition of the products. I will give some examples: chocolate cream pie without cream; butter cream glaze without butter; buttered popcorn without butter; ice cream without cream. These are things we want to avoid. It is as simple as that. It is easy to understand.

I have a problem with the government telling us that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is looking at a global labelling method for all products. I would not mind, but in the meantime, our dairy farmers are spending $75 million a year on advertising their products only to be outdone by manufacturers who do not hesitate to use dairy terms.

I would like to reiterate that milk is a raw commodity. We have all consumed milk in our lives. We are not about to start comparing this product with all other products. We are inundated with products. Hon. members know that all sorts of things come on the market.

That is why labelling is very important. There are GMOs and all sorts of other things. One day we will have to be able—and I agree with the government on this—to label all the products that turn up in our stores and on our shelves.

However, no one can tell me that milk is not a product that we know. We all have drunk milk at least once in our life. Think about it. Perhaps the hon. members do not remember, but it is clear that we have all drunk milk.

Obviously the bill before us today sets some things straight, because, in fact, too many middlemen and industrialists use these terms to make money. These terms do not reflect reality.

In this respect, if only for the sake of mothers and children, we must at least try to raise the next generation by telling them,“No one has the right anymore to tell you things that are unrealistic or untrue”. When the word “dairy” is used, it will be because there is truly a milk component present in the product.

I hope that I will be one of those who has a chance to vote in favour of this bill and will be able to say to his children and grandchildren, “For several generations, we were pushed around by industry, which tried to use by-products to make its incredible profits”.

Therefore, we can set this right again. It would be one good thing we could do for the dairy industry, children and mothers, so that everyone listening to us and everyone who comes after us, will understand that the members of this House decided that, in the dairy industry, when a product is sold as a milk product is must truly be a milk-based product.

Therefore I am pleased to state that the Bloc Quebecois will vote in favour of this bill.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say a few words about this bill.

First, I want to dissociate myself from the remarks we just heard, which I do not find very kind—in fact I find them rather harsh—toward Canada's food processing industry.

This is a very important industry, in the dairy sector and in other sectors. We know the companies located in our region, be it the Saint-Albert Cheese Factory, in my riding, or others such as Ault Foods, elsewhere. These are important industries in our country, and I think they have a very good reputation as regards food safety, ethics and so on. I do not feel that they deserve to hear such criticism.

Second, it must be recognized that several shareholders in the agri-food industry are farmers themselves. There are a number of cooperatives. Take for example one of the largest ones in the country. We know it well, because it is located in Quebec. Earlier, I mentioned cooperatives in my riding, such as the Saint-Albert Cheese Factory, or others elsewhere in the country.

So, one should avoid making such gratuitous accusations about the food processing industry.

This whole food labelling issue is not a simple one. Like others here, I grew up in the days when we used Beehive syrup, with a beehive on the bottle. Yet, as far as I know, Beehive syrup does not have any honey in it. It is made with corn extract, not honey extract. If there is honey in it, there is not much. In fact, there is probably none at all.

This is just an example.

I was raised in a household where there always was a brown can of maple spread in front of us. I do not even know whether that spread contains any maple syrup at all. I suspect it probably does not or not very much. It is maple flavoured or something like that. Maybe it has a little bit of maple syrup but probably not much. It is a form of caramel with seasoning. I think I have eaten enough of it to remember the taste, although it has been a long time since I ate that stuff.

The hon. member is telling us that the industry got me to eat a product using misrepresentation. When I was 7, 8 or 10 years old and I ate a product called “maple spread”, I did not eat it because it contained maple syrup. I ate it, as one might guess, because I thought it was good. That was why we ate that product.

That said, the hon. member opposite has made some good points about a certain number of issues. For example, when one goes to the grocery store, I think it is abnormal, and the dairy producers in my riding are always asking me this question, that in all the big supermarkets there is a big refrigerator with a sign saying “Dairy products” and that the margarine is always in there. But we know that margarine is not a dairy product. And in the flyers and the newspaper ads, as well as in the supermarket counters, this product is found in the dairy section.

It is arranged so that those who might usually buy a dairy product will perhaps be tempted to take the other product right next to it. In such a case, there is at least an attempt to get consumers to buy a product that is not the one they wanted.

On the other hand, we often find eggs in the dairy counter. I do not know anyone who could confuse eggs with butter. In that case, it is obvious that there is no attempt to confuse the consumer. Sometimes there is such an intention and sometimes not.

A little earlier I was pondering with some colleagues as to whether or not butterball turkeys contained butter. There are a number of other such questions that create confusion with the consumer. If it does, well all the better, but it is not always obvious that it does. To that extent I give credit to the MP for raising the issue and bringing it to our attention.

I am told that some of the bill's clauses, as they are currently worded, can produce the opposite effect to that intended by the hon. member across the way.

The department's experts have advised me, for example, that the terms “artificial butter flavour” and “imitation cheese” will not be allowed. I agree. However, from what I am told, the use of terms such as “butter flavoured” would also be restricted. It may be going too far to restrict the use of “butter flavoured” to describe a product containing natural butter extract. Perhaps that was not the intention when the bill was drafted; nevertheless, experts conclude that this is the effect of the bill.

The parliamentary secretary has taken a positive approach in his suggestion today. This is not a dilatory approach, as the member opposite said.

The government is not promising to undertake a study on packaging and labelling at a later date. It will not happen at a later date; consultations are underway as we speak. During the consultations, 2,000 adults were surveyed. According to the experts in this field, the accuracy rate is 95%.

We hold these consultations on the content of various food products. It would be important, in all of our undertakings, not to do anything to harm the food processing industry, and even less so the dairy farmers of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, and Stormont—Dundas—Charlottenburgh, soon to become Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, or anywhere else. Our primary interest must be to protect farmers, as well as consumers, and we also need the consumer's support for what we are doing.

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has said that the dairy industry spends a great deal of money on promoting its products. He claimed that the main reason for doing so was to counteract the bad guys in the food processing industry.

I do not feel that is their main objective. As far as I know, their campaign is to make the consumer realize that what we were told in past years was incorrect, for instance that eating a lot of cheese or other dairy products was somehow bad for the health. Now we know that was far from correct. We know that some of the fats people have been eating in substitutes for butter or other dairy products are very bad for us, and that in fact dairy products hove some very beneficial effects.

All this to say that the campaign run by dairy producers seeks to inform the public and increase the consumption of their products which, in my opinion, are excellent. To claim that if we eat cheese we will all end up weighing 150 kilograms is not necessarily true. If this were the case, I would be very heavy, because I probably eat more cheese than most hon. members do. My colleagues are always teasing me about my dairy product consumption, particularly cheese, which I eat in very large quantities.

The things that we were told in the past are not necessarily true and the dairy industry knows that. It has quite rightly decided to inform consumers about the very high quality of its products, and I support this initiative.

Also, the dairy industry just went through some very difficult times. I mentioned this this morning in the House. During oral question period, I raised the issue that prices for culled cows or even heifers are terrible. We must support the agricultural community in this regard.

If the bill is reviewed in committee, some major amendments will be necessary. We must protect our producers, but we must also preserve consumers' confidence, because we want them to buy the excellent food items made by dairy producers from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and elsewhere.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate today and to listen to the comments made by members.

It is a very interesting topic to think about such things as milk and dairy products. These are products that are the stuff of life that we have all grown up with, and to realize that there is a discrepancy and confusion sometimes about what terms are being used and what the foods really are that we are seeing in the grocery stores.

I just read a book called Fast Food Nation . It is an interesting look at fast foods, but also the whole flavouring industry, and the chemical creation of taste, flavours and scents that are overtaking our food industry. Therefore, it is not at all unreasonable for us to be asking, what is it that we are eating? I think that is the question that the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin is trying to get at and I support his efforts in that respect.

My colleagues and I in the NDP believe that fair labelling practices are important for today's Canadian families who have a bewildering array of products facing them during every trip to the supermarket. The average supermarket today has over 35,000 products, which is an incredible number.

Whether we actually benefit from that enormous choice and whether the quality of our lives has been improved by the kind of choice is another debate and we are not going to talk about it here. However, it does lead families and shoppers to want to have accurate labelling on products so that they can make decisions about what foods they are buying. With so many products, the average shopper cannot hope to scan each and every one of them before making their purchasing decisions.

This bill would provide consumers with accurate information on the ingredients of the products they choose. Consumers depend on the name of a product to decide if it is something they want since most lists of ingredients are small and written in common terms using words like hydrogenated and disodium phosphate. These are confusing technical terms that people do not understand. They want to have faith in the labelling and do not want to be misled.

New Democrats are also concerned about the impact that labelling can have on Canadians with low literacy skills. Misleading product names can prove especially confusing for people who are not able to get through the language as easily. They depend on words they know to make purchasing decisions. Also, seniors and other Canadians with low vision depend on the larger fonts of product names instead of the smaller fonts of ingredient listings to make their decisions.

Therefore, when they see the word dairy, milk or cheese, they get a comfort level from that and that helps them make a decision. In fact, we must ensure that they are not being bamboozled and that, in fact, it is a true representation of what they are buying.

My colleague from Winnipeg North Centre has a private member's bill before the House on food labelling. That bill's intent is to ensure that consumers will know whether a product has genetically modified ingredients before they make purchasing decisions. It is another fair practice that Canadians want so that they can trust in the product that they are buying.

As the member who brought forward the bill has mentioned, at the present time federal legislation does not have adequate protection for the use of dairy terms and that is just not acceptable. For example, the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act prohibit false and misleading labels, but what constitutes false and misleading labels in the dairy context is not fleshed out.

The dairy products regulations made under the Canada Agricultural Products Act do contain labelling requirements, but these only apply to standardized dairy products, for example what has to be on the label of cheddar cheese once it has met the standard. Federal legislation does not deal with the issue of the improper use of dairy terms and images on imitations or on substitutes.

Each year, Canada's dairy producers spend over $75 million advertising dairy products and promoting the nutritional benefits of dairy products. The good reputation and nutritional value of dairy products is being usurped by products which claim to have the same qualities as dairy products but which do not.

As I understand from my colleague from Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, the dairy terms act embodies the principles that were adopted at the international level by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1999 in the general standard for the use of dairy terms. Canada supported this standard at the international level. Canada should provide that same level of protection for dairy terms at the domestic level. It seems very straightforward to me.

Most important, the bill prohibits a dairy term from being used when a food or an ingredient in a food is intended to replace a dairy product or a dairy ingredient. It prohibits using a dairy term in conjunction with the words “flavour” or “taste” when the food is not milk, a milk product or a composite milk product.

The dairy terms act deals with the correct use of dairy terms in the marketing of food. It does not prohibit food from being made.

I support this bill. I support efforts always to clarify language and clarify the meaning of language. I support any efforts to make it easier, not more difficult, for citizens to understand the nutritional value of the foods and beverages that they are buying in the supermarket. I will be supporting this bill when it comes to a vote.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, although I know it is against all the rules, I have to note the absence of the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who could not wait to leave the House because there is cheese in the lobby, and cheese does not last long when the member is around. I have the same fondness for milk and I have absolutely no interest in drinking something that pretends it is milk or is like milk.

I think all of us are much more aware of what we eat and how it affects our health, not only immediately but over the long term. A good part of that is wanting to know what is in the food we are eating, what really is behind what it may appear to be, what it may be coloured to look like or what it may be described as.

There is certainly a very strong interest in the public in knowing what is in the food we are buying, as there is for me. Labelling is a very important component of that. I recognize how extremely important the dairy industry is to the country. It is an industry that produces $4.1 billion worth of farm cash receipts in a year. It accounts for nearly 14% of all processing sales in the food and beverage industry. It employs 38,000 people on farms and another 26,000 workers at the primary processing level, and it imposes strict quality standards at both the farm and processing levels so that we are assured of quality food when we buy dairy products.

However, the bill would affect more than the dairy industry. It would affect other areas of the agrifood industry. It relates to how the industry develops new products. It may in fact limit some of the potential for innovation in the agrifood industry as a whole. Because it is not only the dairy industry that would be affected by the results of the bill, I would suggest that the approach taken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, that is, to look at labelling more broadly and to consult with processors, consumers and other segments of the food and agrifood industry, is perhaps the more responsible one to take.

In fact, that approach would take into consideration a number of different points of view and different interests that would be affected by the content and the intent of the bill. It would indeed move toward responsible and honest labelling of food, but in a way that does not favour one segment of the industry over the other, that does not go so far in protecting one industry that it may harm others and may in fact go beyond what is needed for the kind of accurate and fair information that consumers are looking for in their packaging.

I do applaud the intent of the bill. However, I do think it is important that we look more broadly at the issue of labelling food and not have a number of bills coming forward to deal with this sector of the agrifood industry and another bill dealing with another so that we would have a mishmash of labelling requirements that may in fact run contrary to one another.

I do believe in the approach the agency is taking in trying to bring all these requirements together in order to bring forward something that is comprehensive and integrated and also respects the kind of information consumers want as to nutritional value, fatty content and all the other things we have started taking an interest in, both for our own personal health and for the health of the generations to come.

I believe that a broader approach is needed here. It may take a little more time but I think the end product will be much more to the benefit of the dairy industry, of consumers and of the agrifood industry in Canada as a whole.

Dairy Terms ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Deputy 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 of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday March 22 at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28 and 24.

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