Mr. Speaker, I have to thank the member for Nanaimo--Alberni for bringing forward Bill C-420 and solving a television commercial mystery for me that I have wondered about for a very long time.
The House will be familiar with the commercial which appears in several forms showing a man coming out of a house one morning, leaping and jumping about, holding hands, jumping over mailboxes and showing great excitement and joie de vivre. We all know, when we see that commercial, that the man has taken a drug that has cured him, at least temporarily, of sexual impotence. He had a nice night before and that is why he is so joyously happy.
I have always wondered why the people who put that commercial together did not just simply say that this was an advertisement for a drug for sexual impotence. However it turns out there was a very good reason why not.
Schedule A in the Food and Drugs Act lists a number of maladies for which it is forbidden to advertise a cure for in the way of any kind of drug or any other prophylactic. Among those various maladies is sexual impotence. Obviously the people marketing this drug are unable to actually name the purpose of the drug.
Bill C-420 addresses this whole question of the list of maladies in schedule A for which it is forbidden to advertise a cure or a remedy. The bill proposed by the member for Nanaimo--Alberni would eliminate the schedule altogether. I have to say that the member has struck a real chord here.
This list was compiled in 1934, before antibiotics were discovered, Mr. Speaker. On that list we can find things like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, depression, gangrene, glaucoma, gout, and it goes on and on. We know there are a number of drugs on the market that address these particular sicknesses. It seems completely unreasonable that the list as it exits makes it impossible to advertise these drugs and their purposes relating to these particular forms of sickness should exist.
That having been said, I still have reservations about simply eliminating schedule A because there is the danger that people without good conscience, shall we say, might try to market cures, remedies and drugs, both prescription and especially non-prescription drugs, which might make claims that are unwarranted.
The bottom line is that schedule A should be scrapped. The member is perfectly right on that point. I realize the Minister of Health has indicated a willingness to overhaul schedule A, but I can see it is completely out of date and should be gone.
The other aspect of Bill C-420 is the member also wants to redefine the word food to include natural health products. I have a lot of problems with that because one thing food is, is food by definition is a natural health product. We all take food because it is good for us. We have this difficulty. If we add natural health products to the definition of food, basically we are defining a word by words that mean essentially the same thing. The difficulty is a semantic difficulty, but a very important difficulty if we actually take this into law.
Natural health products are thought by many not in terms of simply being good for us, but are actually thought in terms of having some curative properties or some properties that might address certain symptoms that one might possess.
In the field of natural remedies, the usage of the words “natural health product” is in this context of something having curative properties that might address a person's symptoms of some kind of malady. But in the strict sense, natural health product simply could mean, and the courts would of course argue this, any kind of food that we might want to take. So eating a tomato or a potato could have curative properties, and I do not think that this is the intention the member for Nanaimo—Alberni has when he wants to add natural health product to the list of foods.
I would suggest that what the member really wants to do and what he should be seeking to do is to add a new definition in the list of definitions in the Food and Drugs Act and have a middle category between drug and food, and that middle category would be medicine. Because what we are really talking about when we move into the field of natural health products and their effect on a person's physical well-being is that we see them as things that can be taken as medicine, and a medicine is not necessarily a drug. A medicine is not necessarily a pharmaceutical.
I have to tell the member opposite that I have great sympathy with where he is going on this, because I am not one who believes that pharmaceutical drugs are the answer to everything. I think one of the big problems, and I think one of the reasons that is driving the member, is that pharmaceutical drugs take a lot of clinical trials, so it takes a long time to get a drug on the marketplace. If a natural health product has to go through clinical trials, then it is delayed in reaching the market.
I point out to the House that a clinical trial is simply a collection of empirical information. Clinical trials are no better than the number of tests that are taken on a particular drug. As it happens, some natural health products are empirically tested over centuries. For an example, I refer to tea. Everyone drinks tea and we know that it has no deleterious side effects. Tea was originally a natural health product that was seen as a stimulant. That is how tea was brought into England in the 18th century when the tea trade developed. We now know that tea does have a stimulating effect and we know now from these very long trials that it has no side effects.
The difficulty with pharmaceuticals is that the public has been led to believe that simply because pharmaceuticals go through a clinical trial of several thousand tests, let us say, that there are no side effects. However, there can be very serious side effects of pharmaceuticals that pass into the open market.
I think we really do need to look in the area that is directed by the member for Nanaimo—Alberni, because I think there is a third category and that third category is medicine, where we do know from long experience there are no side effects to that medicine about which we should be concerned and we know from long experience that it appears to have a positive benefit to the people taking it. There is a middle ground there, which I think we should consider very seriously.
So I am somewhat divided on the bill; I would think that if the bill passed the House and went to the health committee that the committee could strike down schedule A and there would be no impact. As a matter of fact, it might galvanize Health Canada into coming up with a new schedule, which I do not think is possible, actually; I think schedule A just has to disappear because that is the end of it.
As for the question of actually changing the definition of food to include natural health products, I do not think that works. But I think the member has done the House a service in giving us an opportunity to assess the relative values of natural health products and pharmaceuticals. Perhaps there is a middle road, as was mentioned by the previous Bloc speaker, and that middle road is the defining of something called medicine.