Mr. Speaker, this is an exciting day with motions and amendments. There is a lot going on here. People are working together. I am so pleased to work with the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook and to speak to and support Motion No. 546 asking that the House find that anaphylaxis is a serious concern for an increasing number of Canadians and that the government should take appropriate measures to ensure that these Canadians are able to maintain a high quality of life.
I applaud the member for this motion, but I also very much applaud him for his speech. So often we come to the House of Commons and hear feel good motions that look great on paper and do not really do anything or take any action. However, I was very impressed by his speech laying out real actions the government could take to fully realize the intention of this motion and to make the lives of Canadians better. It is an honourable motion and, without a doubt, has been received very well by the anaphylaxis community. I have met with members of this community and they are definitely in support of this motion.
As we have heard, anaphylaxis is a serious and sometimes life threatening allergic reaction. It can affect respiration as well as gastrointestinal and cardiovascular functioning. It is caused most commonly by food, although, as we have heard, there are a number of other triggers like insect stings or medicine, latex, or exercise. The most common food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, egg, and milk products.
One may think that it would be easy to ascertain if a food contained nuts or a milk product by just reading the labels. However, labelling is not that simple. We have been pushing hard for changes to labelling and we have seen some changes recently, which have been a wonderful first step.
I was talking to a mom recently who has a child with an anaphylactic condition. She said that when she goes to the grocery store, she has a long legal size sheet of paper with all the possible wordings and names for all possible ingredients that could be in the foods, because the labels are not clear. We need really simple and clear labelling for people with anaphylactic conditions, and for everybody really. We need to know what is in our food.
According to Anaphylaxis Canada, approximately 1% to 2% of Canadians, or about 510,000 people, live with the risk of an anaphylactic reaction and more than 50% of Canadians know someone with a life-threatening allergy. I think everybody in this House knows someone like this, because the former member for Halifax, Alexa McDonough, had an anaphylactic condition, something that she always has to be careful of when she is out visiting with constituents and at dinners and community events, because it is a life-threatening allergy. It is clearly something that is of national concern.
It is worth noting that while anaphylaxis is usually diagnosed during childhood, it can also be something that develops later in life. There are so many challenges to living with anaphylaxis. Avoiding the allergen that causes a reaction is paramount, and people need to be constantly prepared for unexpected reactions.
What can we do? We did hear the member point out a list of things that we could do at the federal level to help people with anaphylactic conditions. I would like to add to that list because there are other ways that we can bring attention to this issue and make sure that Canadians are safe. First and foremost, I would say that we need better education and awareness for all Canadians whether they have an anaphylactic condition or not, including the parents of children living with anaphylaxis. We need better primary care and community care. I bring this up, knowing that 2014 is just around the corner, the year when we have to renegotiate the accord under the Canada Health Act. If we are to make sure that kids and adults with anaphylactic conditions can receive the immediate treatment they need, it is essential that we have good community and primary care across the country. With 2014 approaching, we really do need pan-Canadian consultations about the future of medicare in our country.
We need to consider food security and ensure that Canadians have access to nutritious, adequate, safe and appropriate food. Sometimes that means culturally appropriate food, and sometimes for people with anaphylactic conditions, “appropriate” means that they know what is in a food and whether or not allergens are in the food.
Of course, we need good inspection of food. We need label literacy for food and medication labels. We also need improved numeric skills to help people better understand food labels and dietary choices. This is not something that we automatically think of as an issue for new Canadians, but when we are doing settlement services, we need to ensure that there are those numeric and label skills and English literacy so that new Canadians can understand what labels are saying.
Finally, we need pharmacare. We absolutely need an affordable drug strategy. This is something that would help people with anaphylactic conditions, as well as Canadians around the country.
Without question, I think that over the last five years the Conservative government has not shown a lot of leadership on the health file. Some of the areas where we have not seen leadership relate directly to improving the lives of those living with anaphylaxis. Areas such as food inspection, particularly of imported foods, have not been sufficiently addressed. We heard about the total inaccuracy of the labelling of imported foods and the inadequacy of enforcement measures.
I have talked about poverty reduction, food security, primary care. These are all things that we need to look at and invest in.
Those with anaphylaxis, like all food-conscious consumers, rely on accurate labelling to make safe food choices. However, we know that reliance on labels can come with consequences when companies are not labelling properly.
Last year, it was reported that 6 out of 10 candies, baked goods and breads at the grocery store had labels that made inaccurate statements with respect to being sugar-free, low in fat, or 100% whole wheat. How can we rely on labels when we know that 6 out of 10 are inaccurate?
We have learned that the CFIA did target companies responsible for these labelling inaccuracies between 2006 and 2010 and suspected compliance issues, but it actually did not release the names of these companies for four years.
On top of publicly shaming the companies, which was a very good step, the CFIA could have removed products from store shelves or prosecuted a company, something that has not been made a priority, which has left customers and consumers without much protection from misleading information.
There has been change in this file in recent weeks. The federal government has begun to name food manufacturers that run into serious troubles with CFIA inspectors. This is a positive thing. The increase in labelling accountability is heartening, but we do wonder why there has been so much delay. We do absolutely welcome this kind of clarity in food labelling and the CFIA going after labellers to make sure labels are correct.
However, the government has done no favours to those with anaphylaxis and celiac disease because it has provided exemptions for brewers, something that one of my colleagues raised earlier. Breweries do not actually have to list the presence of glutens and glucosides in their products, nor the addition of other non-traditional ingredients in their specialized beers. That is something that consumers should have the right to know about.
We might think that beer is beer, that we can figure out that it probably has wheat in it or probably has something in it that we are allergic to. However, back home we have Garrison Brewing, and one of its ales is called Nut Brown Ale. It does not have nuts in it. However, we have seen beers from other microbreweries, in particular, that actually do have nuts or traces of nuts in them. For example, there is Chocolate Stout, where the chocolate may actually have been in contact with nuts. Therefore, we cannot say, “Well, it's called Chocolate Stout, and so there might be nuts in it”. What about the Nut Brown Ale? It does not have nuts in it.
Therefore, we just need clear labelling. We cannot rely on companies to put whatever they want on their labels and to call their products whatever they want.
I actually saw an interesting beer called something like Crustacean Crusty Ale or some such nonsense. It does not have shrimp in it. Don't worry, it has been tested and there is no shrimp in it.
I raised pharmacare, which is incredibly important. We need universal pharmacare. Too many times we hear of people going up to the counter at the pharmacy and seeing the cost of their prescription and just walking away, leaving it on the counter. This is something that is important to people across the country, whether they have anaphylactic conditions or not.
On that note, I am proud to support this motion. I am also proud to support the points that were raised in the speech that will help us actually fully realize better and safer conditions for people with anaphylactic conditions.