Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak to Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. I have had a lot of input from constituents. I want to discuss some of the aspects of the bill and to put on the record some of the input from constituents, mostly to identify concerns that need to be looked at during the detailed analysis of the bill at committee and the testimony of expert witnesses.
The bill would amend the Food and Drugs Act to modernize the regulatory system for foods and therapeutic products, such as contact lenses, breast implants or pharmaceuticals, for example, to improve the surveillance of benefits and risks of therapeutic products through their life cycle, to improve the compliance and enforcement measures by corporations to encourage them to report adverse reactions or potential health threats associated with market products and to give substantial regulatory powers to the minister.
The bill would also create new offences relating to food therapeutic products. It is a new term in the bill, which includes drugs and cosmetics. It would require licences for importing food, in interprovincial trade in food, make amendments to the therapeutic product listing, expand the powers of inspectors, add new administration enforcement measures, including mandatory recalls of therapeutic products and cosmetics, substantially increase the penalties related to offences and provide for the disclosure of confidential business information in certain circumstances.
I have had a lot of input on the bill. I will state some of the concerns at the outset before I go through them in some detail. I do not think anyone in Canada would be against making products safer. Many products have gone as far as to cause the deaths of Canadians. I do not imagine anyone would argue against aspects of the bill that would make products safer for Canadians. A number of elements in the bill are beneficial.
I have reviewed the Debates and have not seen one MP who spoke against the items in the bill, which would make products safer. However, people have many concerns about the bill. These concerns have to be looked at in great detail in committee stage to ensure they are addressed.
One of the biggest concerns is that natural health products would be targeted. At least one company has suggested there would be a huge reduction in health food products or naturopathic cures available to Canadians. Independent analysts at the Library of Parliament and other references have suggested that is not in the wording of the bill, that there is no targeting of natural products. All products would have the same types of controls.
I was quite relieved about that, but nevertheless, I want to find out why there is a problem with the license timing success rates for natural products. Apparently right now there is a backlog of 33,000 to 40,000 products, including food products, natural health products, consumer products and drugs. Many MPs agree that we need to put the resources in to get these approvals done. No matter what products, whether drugs or natural products, if they have proven to be safe for Canadians, why would we have this huge backlog of 30,000 products when they could help to improve the lives of Canadians?
You are doing a great job, Mr. Speaker. You have been in the House for a long time. I know you are retiring soon, so I congratulate you on your excellence work as interim Speaker.
For a particular constituent, I want to ensure the Empowerplus remains available to Canadians. If not, I want to know why. This is very important. She is a professional and suggests in her email, which if I get a chance I will read later, that it keeps her out of the health care system. It keeps her healthy and able to work as a valuable contributor to society.
If some result of this bill would prevent Empowerplus from being available to Canadians, I would certainly want to know why. I would want to investigate that in committee.
There is the relieving of a regulation that could allow big drug companies to advertise directly to consumers. I am a little worried about this. There are all sorts of funds available to do this type of product advertising. I am not sure this is a good step forward. People should be getting recommendations from their doctors or health practitioners, not basing their decisions on whichever company has the most money to advertise.
There are a number of changes in regulations. I mentioned this at the beginning. A number of things in regulating foods, drugs, health food products, natural products, everything covered in this bill are done by regulation. I want to ensure that the committee looks at that in great detail, that the items deferred to regulation are ones that should be done at an administrative level and not come back to Parliament. That is our system.
One of the natural food companies suggested that this bill would allow the bypassing of Parliament in making laws. Obviously that is not true. We can never bypass Parliament, but regulations do not come before Parliament. I would want to ensure there is a reasonable level of administrative items that are allowed to go through under regulations and that they are not at a level of law making but of Parliament. I hope the committee will review that in great detail because a number of people have raised that concern.
As I said earlier, some people suggest there is going to be a massive reduction in products available to them, natural products, health food products, other types of products, because the bill does not target specific types of products but targets everything equally. I want to ensure when the expert witnesses appear before the committee that committee members ask questions and get confirmation that would not be the case, especially in light of the evidence I mentioned earlier about the backlog in analyses of products for licensing. Hopefully, resources will be put forward by the government to make sure that backlog disappears.
One of the benefits of the bill are larger fines. There used to be tiny fines, which for big drug companies were no more than mosquito bites. Drug companies are very professional and do an excellent job, but every once in a while there is a rogue company. We have heard examples of cases where people died. We want to make sure that if this had been done knowingly, a judge would have access to imposing fines and penalties at a level that would be reasonable in those situations.
The government would have the ability to recall unsafe products when discovered. Right now it is up to the companies. Companies by and large have cooperated. It is in their best interests to cooperate, but it should not be left up to them. What if a company becomes insolvent? The government needs the power to recall products. I do not imagine anyone would disagree with that.
It is an offence to give the minister false information about products. I cannot imagine any Canadian objecting to that. Similarly, tampering with products or their labels to make them injurious to people's health would be an offence. I believe everyone would agree that is an improvement.
We do not want people telling consumers something that is not true and tampering with the label to suggest people are getting something they are not. There are provisions regarding false or reckless alarms and prohibiting the importation of food that is injurious to human health. Obviously, Canadians would not want products that were injurious to their health to be imported. Canadians want the controls on imported foods, drugs and other types of products that are dangerous to be as strong as the controls on locally produced foods, drugs or other types of products that are dangerous.
I am curious about why the regulations relating to crossing provincial borders are in the bill, considering the efforts to which the federal government has gone to leave interprovincial matters to the provinces and not create interprovincial border problems. I wonder why that is in the bill.
Bill C-51 would require hospitals and health care institutions to report adverse reactions. I cannot imagine anyone objecting to that. Canadians certainly want to know if some drug or other product is causing adverse reactions. If that provision was not in the bill, an institution might report the adverse reactions and no one would take notice of it. When there is mandatory reporting and officials see the same problem occurring in several places in Canada, they would know it is something that has to be looked into.
The legislation also allows for life cycle testing and monitoring of a product. Sometimes new products come out, are tested and approved and then their use is changed. People use them in different ways or as a remedy for something else. There is no testing down the road. Bill C-51 would allow testing and life cycle monitoring of a product to ensure that it and its uses continued to be safe for Canadians down the road.
During the debate previously on this bill, some members mentioned products that had been a problem in the past and why Canada needs such a bill. I am quoting from Hansard the names of drugs that were mentioned by other MPs. Heparin was mentioned. There was mention of a contaminated drug from China, Vioxx, which led to many deaths. Evra is a birth control drug which leads to clotting. Singulair is an asthma drug which causes suicidal ideation. Champix is an anti-smoking drug which causes suicidal ideation and depression. There are also some anti-psychotic drugs for children that apparently cause obesity. People are worried about the vast majority of drugs and products coming on the market.
The Minister of Health said when he introduced the bill that he issued warnings practically every week about this or that dangerous product, some of which are natural products which have an impact on cardiac arrest, strokes or liver damage. If drugs or whatever products happen to cause those problems and the minister is giving a lot of warnings, obviously Canadians want that type of danger to their health dealt with.
The minister also said that he wants to ensure that natural health products are available to Canadians. Indeed, the government wants more natural health products in the marketplace in order to provide more choice. It is good if that is true, but the minister has not necessarily convinced Canadians yet. From the many concerns that I have heard about, a number of people have not been convinced.
I want to go through some of the emails that I have received regarding concerns that have to be dealt with at second reading before the bill can proceed. The first email is very cogent to my riding:
My limited understanding to this Act may impose restrictions on the collection, preservation and use of, in our case, traditional medicines etc. I don't think anyone is sure at this point the impact on First Nations, Self-Governing or otherwise. What I do know is that there has to be meaningful consultation if legislation is developed that could potentially diminish or impact on our rights under our Self-Government and Final Agreements.
As you know, First Nations gather, preserve and use all kinds of traditional medicines and this activity is protected under our agreements.
Others including our Health & Social Director are also raising this as an issue, and it is certainly has potential to impact on our culture and lifestyle.
As a citizen of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, this concerns me greatly--
As she says, it is mandatory by law to have consultation. Certainly, I hope that such first nation witnesses are called and that there is an analysis and consultation to the effects on their products that they have used since time immemorial.
Someone named Carole states:
I am opposed to the Police State Powers in Bill C-51. I want my access to natural health products protected and there is something wrong with the State making Personal and health decisions...health decisions are fundamental to our personal Autonomy...
There has been more than one comment on the types of powers in the bill. The committee definitely has to review those to ensure they are not out of line with the standard types of enforcement. In particular, search and seizure powers have been raised by a number of people, and that certainly has to be cleared up by the committee.
A person by the name of Shawn states:
--I do not support bill C-51...I prefer to have access to natural products “free and clear”.
The next one is from Elizabeth. I will pass that one for now because this is the one I was talking about where the person has bipolar disorder and definitely needs this particular drug I was talking about, Empowerplus, a vitamin supplement, to keep her healthy and she does not want to be denied this important medicine.
The next one is from a person who distributes these types of natural products. It states:
Many Canadians rely upon natural health products for their health. These products are endangered and consumers need to act now to save them.
Since 2004, when the Natural Health Product Regulations were introduced, natural health products have been increasingly threatened. The new Regulations were Health Canada's response to consumer demands for the government to protect their access to natural health products. The Regulations have had the opposite effect. To “legally” sell a health product, the new Regulations impose a licensing requirement. The problem is that 60% of licence applications have failed. These have been the “easy” applications. Expectations are that 70-75% of applications will fail. For the [natural health product] Community this means 75% of [natural health products] we rely upon for our health will become illegal.
I certainly think this person has experience in the field. I certainly think those answers have to be given by the committee as to what is purported that this bill would do and the results on the ground, not only of this bill but the regulations of 2004 and the effects they are having.
I also have all sorts of concerns from a chap named Werner. I will not go into them now because they are so long. Also, as he is not one of my constituents, I am sure his MP will bring them up. However, he has a lot of concerns about, first, the minister's past history related to the drug companies. He has a whole bunch of detailed information that I am sure he sent to many MPs and they can bring out those concerns related to the bill.
Another one from my riding, though, is from Bryan. He states:
I'm afraid [this] will eliminate our choices. I find [the] assurances to the contrary empty promises. They say the bill doesn't target natural products, practitioners and consumers, but there is nothing in the wording of the bill that says that. Big Pharma can afford to do the testing, pay fines and market their products. This bill will help them consolidate control of the market by eliminating what little competition they have now - alternative medicines and suppliers.
He, too, talks about individuals who need to deal with diabetes, arthritis and bipolar depression with diet and supplements. We want to make sure that we do not lose those.
I have another practitioner of herbal medicine, named Andrew, who thinks that a huge number of the products, 75%, will be eliminated. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go over all of these because I can see my time is up, yet I wanted to present many more.
I commend people to read a Globe and Mail article of May 23, 2008, that goes into this in more detail. I urge the committee to deal with a number of the questions raised by my constituents, the final one being the fact that the inspectors who have the ability to do these inspections and recalls will hopefully not be forced to do a lot of them.