Yes, as my colleague from Halifax has said so aptly, the government argued at the time that the drug companies could monitor the drugs themselves.
Even more ridiculous was the suggestion that the universities could do it, even though they were not given any resources to do the task. That was all just a charade. In the end, no one took up the job of the bureau that was closed down in 1997. Since that time, we have had a steady onslaught of other developments that have put us on a path of destruction of our health protection system.
Let us look at the developments around the food research laboratory and the treatment of some of the scientists who raised concerns in that area. Let us look at the veterinarian drug research bureau and the abuse scientists took when they raised concerns. At every step, whenever concerns were raised about the safety of any of these products, rather than accepting that advice and further investigating the problem, the government got rid of the scientists and shut them down.
I am sure members will remember Shiv Chopra and Margaret Hayden, two outspoken scientists. What happened to them? The government got rid of them because they were a thorn in its side. Whenever there are obstacles put in front of a government that is determined to off-load responsibility and move toward to a self-regulating model on the part of the industry, it gets rids of the obstacles, the problems and the barriers.
Scientists have been threatened and intimidated. Some have been fired and demoted. There has been a steadfast erosion of the essential ingredients of a good health protection system.
What we want to know today is why we are not hearing from the government and receiving legislation about its statutory obligations under the Food and Drugs Act to protect the health and well-being of Canadians beyond a reasonable doubt. Why are we not hearing about its statutory duty to protect health and not to protect the industry?
Why are we dealing with a bill that appears to give power to the minister, which he did not have previously, to give interim market authorizations for products that contain hazards that are believed not to be harmful to human health? What does that mean? Why does the minister need this kind of power? Why has that power been removed from the normal workings of the department's responsibility, which is to uphold the Food and Drugs Act?
Why are we moving this power from the bureaucratic level, the level of public service scrutiny, to the minister and political oversight? What does that mean? What is the real agenda here? Does it give the government more power to intervene when lobbied and pressured to approve a certain product? Does it take us a step away from objective, scientific surveillance of our food supply? Those are important questions that need to be addressed in the context of the bill.
It is certainly one of the reasons why we in the New Democratic Party are very cautious about giving our support to the bill. At this point we will refrain from supporting it and will be looking for some explanation and accountability over these issues when the bill goes to committee. However, at this point, it would be very foolish for us to support such a bill given the track record of the government and given some of the speculation about the real motives behind it.
If the minister, through the bill, has the power to exempt certain hazards in our food supply from regulation, who does that serve? What is the purpose? Will it help enhance the health of pregnant women? Will it be good for children? From my vantage point, it seems that this kind of move, along with all the others we have seen over the years, means it is something that is only good for agri-business, the chemical industry and the giant food industry. It does not seem to be a move that would help ensure Canadians are further protected from hazardous pesticides and other additives in our food supply and products.
When we opened the paper today, we saw news about another example of problems with our food supply. Surely that would give us all cause to pause and reflect upon the intentions behind Bill C-28 and the interest of the government to take a proactive stance on behalf of Canadians.
My colleague from Elmwood—Transcona raised a question about today's news. It is scary for Canadians, for pregnant woman or women who are breastfeeding their children to hear that basic products we consume every day, such as salmon, ground beef, cheese and butter, are laced with chemical flame-retardants. The fact these filter into the food supply that goes from mother to baby is surely something the government would want to address and act on decisively and immediately.
However, what did we hear from Minister of Health today? It is being studied. They are looking into it. They cannot comment. How many times have we heard that over the last 10 years when the government has been confronted with issue after issue of food toxicity and of hazardous ingredients in our food supply? The list is quite endless.
I can think about dozens of times I stood in the House to ask the health minister about a particular study showing further damaging ingredients in the food supply. I can remember raising the issue of lead in raisins, mercury in fish and honey, contaminated lettuce, recalled hot dogs, imported raspberries, pressure-treated wood, side effects of Propulsid, brain tissue transplants, Carbadox, the reuse of medical devices, adverse drug reactions, Dursban pesticide, phthalates in plastics and when chewed on by babies causes serious problems in development, chronic wasting disease, BSE, GMOs, et cetera. The list is endless.
Every time there has been evidence of serious adverse effects on human health because of one of these products being digested or ingested by human beings is showing a direct link to ill health and serious health problems, the government has said that it will study it. It never comes back and says that it has studied it and fixed the problem, or that it has banned the product, or that it has taken it off the market or has phased it out. It studies and studies but does not nothing about these kinds of issues. That is a symptom of what has happened with the government in terms of the Food and Drugs Act and specifically in terms of the health protection responsibilities of the department.
The government has a criminal responsibility under the Food and Drugs Act to ensure that the food we eat is safe beyond a reasonable doubt. It is legislation that falls under the Criminal Code. It is legislation that requires the government to take it seriously and to act judiciously.
We are very skeptical about the bill and are concerned about the real intentions of the government. We would like some explanation as to why the bill is necessary at this time. We would like to know the long term plans of the government. For many months the government has said that it plans to overhaul the Food and Drugs Act. It has said that we are dealing with antiquated legislation and that it needs to be updated and modernize. Every time we see draft legislation in that regard, we realize this is not about updating old legislation. It is about using that as the excuse to change the very nature of government regulations and government responsibilities in the area of human health and well-being.
Every step of the way the government has found a way and is intent upon finding a way to diminish its responsibilities, to offload them wherever it can and to ensure that it is not held responsible for any wrongdoing or serious problem in our society today pertaining to our food supply. Perhaps that comes from the hepatitis C fiasco. Perhaps the blood scandal and the Krever inquiry have made the government aware of its responsibilities. Perhaps it has chosen to go in the opposite direction of the recommendation of Krever, which is for government to recognize that there is a fundamental role for it. It has a major responsibility to ensure that the food we eat is safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
When there is evidence of an adverse reaction, or of toxicity, or of contaminants, or hurting the health of a baby, or certain foods being adjusted that affect pregnant women, it is the role of government to put on hold the sale of that product or to ban it if the evidence is conclusive. To do nothing is to be negligent, some would say criminally negligent given the Food and Drugs Act. I will use the words negligent and derogation of duty. The Food and Drugs Act is so specific and clear about government's responsibility and roles.
We could argue for weeks on end about what the appropriate role of government is in this modern age, this new era of globalization and rapid technological change. Some will argue that the least government is the best government. However, many of us in the House and across Canada still believe that there is a clear role for government in many areas, none more important than when it comes to human health. We on this side of the House cannot accept any legislation that contributes to an agenda where the role of government in this vital area is diminished and where the authority is passed along the line to industry and individuals to be aware, without much information about what they are eating, drinking and the dangers to their health and well-being.
That is our position today. We are very concerned about Bill C-28 and the overall intentions of the government to carry out its responsibilities for protecting the health of Canadians. We are anxiously awaiting some explanation for the government's actions in the days ahead as the bill proceeds to committee and beyond.