Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about an important issue for Canadians.
Food allergies affect approximately 1.2 million Canadians. Most of those currently affected are children. Sensitivity to sulphites affects approximately 200,000 Canadians, the majority of whom have asthma. Taken together, these conditions affect the health of approximately 1.4 million Canadians. For these people, it is crucial that they or their caregivers have the information they need to make the right choices about the food they eat. The consequences of eating the wrong food could mean potential life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis. That is why I support Motion No. 546.
The member for Niagara West—Glanbrook who moved the motion accepted the amendment this morning, which shows his commitment to get the motion through Parliament, supported unanimously by all four parties in the House of Commons. It speaks volumes to the work he has done on the issue and the importance it has to Canadians and members in the House.
The motion calls on the government to address anaphylaxis as a serious concern for an increasing number of Canadians and to take the measures necessary to ensure that Canadians are protected and able to maintain a high quality of life. Right now, the only way that Canadians suffering from food allergies can protect themselves is to avoid the ingredients they know will make them ill. This continues to be an important challenge. That is why our government has placed a high priority on helping allergenic Canadians make informed food choices to avoid life-threatening anaphylaxis.
We rely on food labels to provide us with information about what we eat or should not eat. Strengthening ingredient labels on food, we have introduced new measures that require the use of clear language on food labels and the declaration of otherwise hidden allergens. The new measures, which were announced in February in Ottawa by the Minister of Health, ensure that labels of most prepackaged foods declare any food allergen, gluten source or sulphite in the list of food ingredients. They will also require that labels use plain and simple language that Canadians with food allergies, their families and caregivers will be able to understand.
These measures will also create more predictability for food processors and reduce the number of food recalls. Most important, they will help reduce life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis, that may result from the consumption of the undeclared ingredients in packaged food.
The amended regulations will come into force 18 months from now and all prepackaged foods offered for sale from that time forward must comply. In the meantime, and a couple of members have mentioned this, we are certainly encouraging the industry to start making changes to improve food labels as quickly as possible. To the industry's credit, a number of companies have begun that process as we speak and will be completed much in advance of the 18-month timeframe.
It is anticipated that the enhanced labelling requirements will result in improved quality of life for individuals and families and reduce costs to the health care system. In addition to changes in how we label food allergens, work has been undertaken to evaluate the health risks posed by certain foods and to support the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's compliance activities by providing experts to conduct human health risk assessments of undeclared allergens. We are also new allergen-detection methods and generating various educational materials on allergens.
Health Canada maintains a world-leading food allergen method development program to address the lack of methodologies for the detection of low-level and undeclared allergens that are present in foods. This further supports the compliance and enforcement activities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Anaphylaxis prevention is about raising awareness. To do this properly, there needs to be a better understanding of what anaphylaxis is, who it affects, how it affects them and how the impact of these reactions can be lessened. By acknowledging the seriousness of this issue, we are supporting the work of the Government of Canada and, more important, its partners. We have made and continue to make advancements in our understanding of the relevance and prevalence of severe food allergies and the attitudes and behaviours of those living with severe allergies.
A full picture of the health, social and economic burden of illness that food allergies represent in Canada is essential in being able to determine their scope and impact on Canadians.
In terms of anaphylaxis specifically, it is important that we are able to advance our knowledge of these types of reactions. If we can characterize these reactions, identify what triggers them and follow up with patients after they have suffered from such a reaction, we can begin the development of improved diagnostic approaches and therapeutic strategies that will contribute to reducing the incidents along with the morbidity and mortality of anaphylaxis.
Again, by supporting the motion, the Government of Canada and the House will reaffirm its commitment to this important area of work and demonstrate how we can work within the health portfolio and among our stakeholders in advancing our knowledge and understanding of key health issues.
Adoption of the motion will also provide an opportunity for the government and all in this place to reiterate that allergies are a serious public health issue that continues to challenge the health care sector, the food industry and the Canadian public.
I would like to take a couple of minutes to congratulate the Minister of Health who has worked on this issue and has ensured that this has not been left in the background, while other issues have come to the fore.
We attended an announcement at an Ottawa grocery store in early February on the whole aspect of food labelling, how it was going to work and the process that was going to be undertaken was announced. A retired individual who used to work in the ministry of health in Ottawa also attended.
The first thing she did at the conclusion of the announcement was speak to the member for Niagara West—Glanbrook. She thanked him and the minister for the efforts they had put forward in this regard. She also thanked the government for taking action on food labelling. She worked on this issue for the past 18 years, not only when she was with the ministry of health, but also after she had retired. Hearing her speak to the issue showed how time had gone by, but her efforts were not in vain.
Over the next 18 months, with this motion, the passing of the food labelling regulations and the advancement the industry has made in regard to food labelling, we will be on the right track.
If we look at the five issues brought forward by our partners and fellow Canadians who are concerned about this issue, the federal coordination of programs and services which, as we see the motion today, is the beginning.
With respect to an awareness campaign, there is no reason why, as members of Parliament and as a Canadian government, we cannot assist in that effort. In speaking to the motion today, all four parties have delivered speeches on it, which means a point of awareness needs to happen. All the members who spoke today referred to that.
With respect a commitment to research, as indicated in my speech, it important to continue to better understand anaphylaxis and its impact. The more we research, the more diligent we become, we will have better opportunities to find a way to beat this disease at a very early age, rather than individuals having to be concerned their whole lives about what they are eating.
We have improved allergy labelling, which is a huge concern within allergy circles and organizations in the country. The input they have had, whether it be, as the mover of the motion said, the assistance of individuals and groups locally or across this country, speaks to the issue. They all speak with one voice.
The fact that we have moved forward on labelling speaks volumes to where the government wants to move with respect to this issue.
Finally, with respect to the issue of transportation safeguards, there is no question that Canada is geographically large. We need to be concerned and we need to continue to work on those issues relating to transportation and food allergies.