Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-283.
I want to congratulate my colleague from Scarborough Southwest. He and I are working together on another committee right now and we are doing that very well. He will not be surprised, though, when I speak against his bill because I have done so before when the bill was in a different parliament, in different numbers and in different forms.
He has the objective right. Canadians need to understand better what it is they are eating, and if there was a way to do that which was economically feasible, I certainly would support it. I do not think the bill as it now stands does that.
We have heard from others about the importance of diet, about the problems with obesity, and if there is a way to educate Canadians better on these facts, we should be doing so. The food service industry has been doing a lot of that through their voluntary measures and some of the measures introduced by our government to comply with nutritional labelling. However, the bill goes a little bit too far.
My riding of Etobicoke North is out by the airport. There are a lot of restaurants and also a lot of light to medium sized industry, food processing companies, and yes, I have heard from them. If I thought the bill was for the benefit of all Canadians and it was workable, I would support it, but I do not think it is workable, economically feasible or technically feasible to accomplish what the member so rightly wants to accomplish.
I would like to talk about a few of those factors. First, just to recapture, the bill would require companies with over $10 million in annual food service sales to list calories, salt and the sum of the saturated fatty acids and trans fats per serving for each menu item on their printed menu and to list calories per serving for each menu item on their menu board.
I see a number of problems with that. As I say, I think the objective is a good one, but I see a number of practical problems. Right now, if we go into a fast food restaurant, we will see menus displayed throughout the restaurant. To add another layer of information would cause some difficulties in terms of fitting it all on one menu board, or else the lettering would have to be reduced to a point that it would be illegible.
The other problem I see is that there are many trends now for customized meals. Let us face it, these fast food restaurants are here to stay and they are very popular, particularly with our pace of life, and people use them. That is the reality. When we get into these combos that fast food restaurants have, which are very popular, people will say, “I want a big Mac, but I do not want the fries; I want the salad, and by the way on that salad, I would like this dressing. Actually, you can supersize the fries, double up on the cheese, hold the bacon and give me the onions”, et cetera. It sounds mundane, but this is what is happening. In fact, fast food restaurants are marketing in this way. They want to give consumers more choice.
What would we do then? I think we could do it technologically on a computer and on a website, and I think that many of the businesses are doing that now, so if we want to know exactly, we could go to various portions. It will do all the arithmetic. It will add it all up and it will tell us what we are eating in terms of calories, salt and these various elements. If we do that, what that information does for us is another thing, but for those people who want that information, there might be ways of getting it from some of the bigger chains.
However, for some of the smaller restaurants, I know that there is an exemption here of $10 million in sales, but that actually creates another issue. I know what the member is trying to achieve, but it creates a level field that is not quite fair or even. We could have a Harvey's that is required under the bill to comply with all these nutritional elements and put this on its menu board for all the various combinations, and then we have Joe's hamburger shop next door, just a one off little independent, and it will not be required to do that. There is a cost to doing this. We have to have access to a nutritionist.
How could a regular manager of a Harvey's do this work? How could the owner of Joe's hamburger stall? He would not have the information to do that and would have to hire a nutritionist. That is why, quite rightly, the member would exempt small businesses, but then it would create a problem of an uneven playing field.
I read an interesting book not too long ago called Freakonomics and in it there is an interesting part where it talks about Starbucks, the coffee people. Actually, every day on the way to work I pick up a Starbucks. I am a Starbucks fan. That is the way it is.
The author says, and I think he can probably demonstrate it, but I did not do an audit on his numbers, that in a Starbucks coffee shop there are something like 3,000 different permutations and combinations of what people can ask for. I must say this is borne out by my experience when I go into Starbucks and listen to people as they place their orders. I am not that conversant with all the products. They will say they want a double latte, topped up by this, warmed up, doubled up by this and that. They will want Halloween or pumpkin sauce and they want this and that. Apparently, there are about 3,000 different permutations and combinations.
I am asking this question. How would Starbucks do that? I could see how it could do that on a computer or a website. If someone wanted to go in and say they wanted to do this combination, permutation number 1,876, boom, plug it in and it would give all the nutritional content of it. How could that conceivably be put on a menu board? I have no idea how that would work.
The other problem is that there are many restaurant chains that have operations right across Canada. There is an issue, I believe, with supplier variability. I think that some are discounting the argument. I am not going to argue that it is an insurmountable issue but it is an issue.
We have, for example, Tim Hortons chains. I know they backward integrate. They standardize in a very holistic and very professional way, but if they are buying their flour and all the ingredients, let us say in Nova Scotia, and they are making their muffins there, and they are buying their ingredients in British Columbia from a different source, notwithstanding that they are going to have very tight standards and requirements, there is going to be some difference, I think.
Perhaps I used a bad example because Tim Hortons chains would probably have the most standardized and most integrated supply chain management system around, but I can think of other examples where they might not have that consistency. What do they do then? Do they make an assumption that the flour that is bought in Halifax is the same as the flour that is bought in Trail? I do not know. I think it is an issue.
Do not forget that we would be asking the restaurants to comply with these laws and rules if the act is passed. It is not to be taken lightly. They would have to comply.
I have many food processors in my riding and they are also concerned about section 5.3 of the bill which basically requires manufacturers, people making biscuits or bread or what have you to comply.
It says that manufacturers are to prescribe in the ingredient list the percentage by weight of the three most prevalent ingredients and all those that are of vegetable, fruit, whole grain, legume or added sugar. Additionally, manufacturers would be required to list the percentage by weight for ingredients emphasized on a food label using words or pictures.
First of all, to comply with the requirements that our previous and this government is requiring has cost the industry, in terms of mandatory nutritional labelling, about $300 million. This would cost a lot of money and the industry argues, and I think with some merit, that it would create not necessarily more knowledge or information, but it could add in fact more confusion.
I will tell my colleague that I never like speaking against a private member's bill. I brought in a private member's bill a couple of years ago on user fees, Bill C-212. It took me two years, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, so I congratulate the member for taking this initiative, but I will not be supporting it.