Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today and speak at second reading of Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. This is an important bill with an important goal.
Many members in the House know, and most people in my riding of Cambridge know, that I was a chiropractor for 20 years. I prescribed natural health products to improve the health of my patients, to limit the time of their disablement or their disease, if I may call it that, or at least to ease some of their symptoms. I have not only prescribed these products or recommended many of them to my patients over many years, and still do to this day, but I have also recommended them to my children, my wife, my in-laws, and my mother. I take them myself.
I congratulate the Minister of Health and the government, whose goal, in the introduction of this bill to the House, is simply to better protect Canadians, to keep them safe, and to modernize the safety system within the existing act.
As a result of my background and my passion for these products, I would like to limit my comments today to the natural health products aspect of this bill.
In 2005, a Health Canada survey showed that 71% of Canadians regularly took vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic treatments, and naturopathic treatments. In fact, we have known for decades that a vast percentage of the Canadian population use non-traditional forms of medicine, whether they are chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, or reflexologists, all of these being outside the traditional allopathic course of action. In fact, if we were to lump it all together, there would be a compelling argument that more people actually see non-medical doctors than medical doctors.
These products can decrease the cost to the public purse significantly. In saying that, it is the government's intention to keep access to these products open. There will be no changes in accessing these products by Canadians than there was a few years ago. Nothing technically is going to change. I am appreciative of the opportunity to explain more clearly exactly what is going to happen with respect to natural health products as a result of this legislation.
As a member whose past history is that of a chiropractor, I want to support the demand that Canadians have for a broader choice but for safe and effective natural health products. It is important that natural health products be regulated to protect Canadians, and no one argues that. There are clear examples where tainted products have been found not just among natural health products but even among prescription medication.
Sometimes it happens that products have something in them that makes them unsafe. Everyone will remember the Tylenol incident of a decade ago where some of those products had to be removed from the market very quickly because they had been tampered with.
The other issue is that Canadians deserve to know what is in the bottle. They deserve to be protected from poor quality production or from malicious tampering with a product. Canadians need to know that if they are buying vitamin C that they are actually getting vitamin C. This makes simple sense and there are many examples.
One example that the House is fully aware of is a product called black cohosh, which was found to contain a species of the plant different from what was stated on the label. Some people, of course, think that natural health products are very safe and of low impact, and generally speaking they are, but the fact is that in this particular product the presence of this other plant actually caused liver toxicity. It was a major health problem for the people who were taking it.
These people were innocent. They read the label. They took their advice from their chiropractor, their medical practitioner or their naturopath. They went to the natural health store and purchased the product, but it was not the product that they were led to believe.
As well, we have had instances where folks come along and make unfounded claims. They actually might stand up and say that if we take this product, this pond algae from some obscure place around the world, making it sound attractive and exotic, it will cure cancer. There have been examples of such claims being made in regard to a cure for SARS.
Not only is this misleading to the public, but let me explain the danger in doing something like that. We do know that there are proven aids for these types of conditions. There are treatments available to Canadians that will help certain conditions, such as terminal cancer, for example, treatments to extend the life of the patient or make the patient feel more comfortable.
Of course, a patient with one form of cancer also can have other conditions, not just the single terminal cancer. A lot of patients with these types of diseases have other problems. Those other problems need to be treated as well, but when someone comes along and says that all a patient needs to do to cure his or her cancer is take a particular product, that patient sometimes delays appropriate care. Through delaying appropriate care, the condition worsens.
In some cases, not cancer cases in particular, but SARS, as was the case in Toronto, there were claims by some manufacturers or suppliers of certain products that if people took their product it would cure SARS. That kind of claim is extremely dangerous, because it prevents Canadians from getting appropriate care and, in some cases, can lead to the death of the patient. It often leads to a delay in proper care, making the disease itself more chronic, more difficult to treat and significantly more dangerous for the patient.
Despite our good intentions as a government to come along and revamp a very old, outdated regulatory system, despite our good intentions as a government to have the simple intention of making these products safer for Canadians but still keep alive access for Canadians to health practitioners, complementary treatment professionals and manufacturers, despite those good intentions, as my friend opposite mentioned, there has been a campaign on the Internet and elsewhere that has led to a lot of misinformation and a lot of concerns for Canadians. Unfounded as all of this may be, it is out there and I believe we need to address it.
I, too, have received these types of emails. Not only am I the member of Parliament for Cambridge-North Dumfries, but I was a chiropractor for 20 years, so a lot of my old patients have been writing to me. They have expressed some of these concerns.
For example, they are concerned that the way natural health products will be regulated will change and they will lose access to these products. That is absolutely not true.
There is a concern that natural health products will need a prescription. Again, that is not true.
We use the word prescription probably a bit too loosely when we speak of things. I myself say that I prescribe these products for patients, but not in the way that one needs a prescription, where one goes to a medical doctor, costing the provincial health care system some $35 to $50 and gets a prescription written out, which means then going to a pharmacist and paying another $9, $10 or $12 dispensing fee.
None of that is true. It is another myth that for some reason is being propagated on the Internet. I want to assure Canadians that it is not true.
As well, there is a false belief that inspectors would be able to enter private homes without permission or a warrant. No one in this House would ever allow such a thing to happen. That is absolutely not true. In fact, as with any law in Canada, no one can enter a private home without a warrant, which would require a judge to review the case. The case would have to be extremely compelling.
I will mention a little later on in my speech that there are times when private property has to be walked upon to get to a manufacturing facility, but these are rare cases and I am here to say that this belief is absolutely not true.
I want to make this clear to members of the House, particularly my friends in the NDP, who seem to prefer to send out misinformation. I heard one of the hon. members this morning again using phrases like lumping NHPs, natural health products, together with foods and drugs. As for the phrase “lumping together”, that member either has not done her research at all or is actually trying scare Canadians on purpose into somehow supporting her misguided approach to this bill.
I am sure the member knows that this is a very complex piece of proposed legislation. It has been around for years. It has been modified somewhat. Perhaps the member has not read the new legislation that we have introduced and is relying, much like the misinformation campaign on the Internet, on outdated information.
It is very important that we not use these tactics to create fear in Canadians. What is important in this place of honour is that we try our hardest to find the absolute truth with respect to every piece of legislation. The bottom line is that we need to alleviate Canadians' concerns, not make them fearful by misinformation on those kinds of things.
I want to step back for a second on the issue of Health Canada officials. In fact, the minister has met with Health Canada officials, who have had multiple stakeholder meetings over the last month or more to explain Bill C-51 and hear suggestions for change.
I should mention that I myself have received hundreds of emails, as many members have, but I have also sent out hundreds of letters and have made phone calls to many of the natural health product stores in my riding. I have sent letters to every single chiropractor, naturopath, dietician, herbalist, medical doctor, and physiotherapist, I believe, all of whom would have access to patients who may wish to have advice on products.
I congratulate all of the folks in my riding who have written back. It is indeed an honour to have a constructive, bilateral conversation with constituents and hear their concerns, but that is only the first half of it. There is then the ability to bring those concerns to Ottawa, to this place, and sit down with the Minister of Health and his team. I have to tell members that I have done so on no less than six occasions.
It has been an absolute honour to be able to bring forth the concerns from my riding of Cambridge and North Dumfries and have the minister listen to those concerns, knowing full well that the minister and his team have listened to the concerns of all members in the House who, in totality, have heard the concerns of the manufacturers, the people who use these products, Canadians, and professionals abroad.
On behalf of the Minister of Health and in response to this government's concern for the opinions of Canadians and manufacturers, I believe we should in fact refer Bill C-51 to committee. It is the government's intention as a result of all of these consultations to introduce amendments for the committee's consideration.
If I may, I would like to share some of the results of those conversations, some of the end points, so to speak, of a minister who has listened to stakeholders and has discussed with a number of members of the House some of the proposed amendments that we would make to Bill C-51.
First, we fully accept and agree with what we have heard from natural health products stakeholders. This very important amendment is to create legislatively a third category for natural health products. I want to say that existing now is a sort of regulatory third category, but the government wants to make it a legislative third category. This is a very important step in protecting natural health products from ever being lumped into foods or drugs, neither of which they are.
I think that takes into consideration all of the fears that Canadians have expressed, because it will protect natural health products. It will be impossible to silently change the way health products will be treated when they are in a third and separate category.
We understand that natural health products should be recognized in legislation as different from drugs. We recognize that they are unique within an overall umbrella of therapeutic products.
To do this, we propose to bring into Bill C-51 a definition of natural health products which is actually consistent with the current definition under the regulatory regime that now exists and has existed since 2004. The reason we want to do that is reasonably simple: we feel it would be appropriate given that this definition has already been subjected to extensive consultation.
Bill C-51 will thus support the existing NHP regulations, which reflect the unique nature of NHPs and recognize that these are generally lower risk products. In regard to this separate and legislated third category, this amendment would also make clear that regulations relating to drugs would not apply to natural health products.
We have also heard great concern that in defining NHPs care should be taken to avoid lumping them, as I am sure NDP members will continue to say, into the regulatory standards for foods. Foods are outlined in Codex Alimentarius.
We agree with that. Therefore, it is the government's view that our proposed approach to defining NHPs separate from drugs, but within an overall umbrella of therapeutic products, will prevent the application of Codex to NHPs.
Second, we have listened to many people and professionals who say the same level of scientific evidence that Health Canada requires for drugs should not apply to NHPs. This is a very good amendment by the government. It is our intention to propose an amendment which would make it clear that the type and amount of information required for NHPs shall include traditional knowledge, knowledge of first nations, knowledge of the 5,000 year history of the Chinese on their types of medicine, and history of use, with history of use being safe use, or as has been used for decades by chiropractors, naturopaths and so on.
In addition, given the wide range of therapeutic products, we proposed an amendment which would make it clear that the type and amount of information required to obtain a licence depends on the nature of the product and its intended use. In other words, a new product may require more information. Or if a product claims to cure cancer, versus the common cold, then certain things would be different. We will underline this in the preamble of the bill: that the use of history and traditional knowledge are valuable and important sources of information.
Third, we want to talk about compliance and enforcement provisions. The government's intention is that the powers of Health Canada should be exercised in a very reasonable way and only for good purpose. Amendments to the bill and as suggested at committee will be that an inspector must carry out his or her duties in a reasonable fashion, having regard to risk of injury. As well, if any product is seized, it has to be dealt with in a timely manner so as not to impact small businesses.
I see my time is up. Perhaps I will have the opportunity during questions and answer to get a couple of these other points out.