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.