Madam Speaker, this is not the first time I have had an opportunity to speak to this bill. I spoke at second reading and when it was referred to the Standing Committee on Health. As far as I know, every party in the House supports this bill.
Non-corrective contact lenses, as they are now known following amendments to the bill in committee, are used to change the eyes' colour or appearance. Over the past few years, the market for these contact lenses has grown considerably. There is no real difference between corrective lenses and cosmetic lenses in terms of how they interact with the eye.
Even though they present the same health risks, non-corrective contact lenses are not yet classified as devices under the Food and Drugs Act, nor are they regulated by Health Canada. There is plenty of evidence about the risks associated with using non-corrective contact lenses without professional supervision.
Problems occur when the contacts are not adapted to the specific needs of the buyer, when they are the wrong size and do not fit the eye properly, when the contacts are of questionable quality, or when they come from a truly unknown supplier. Problems often occur when consumers are not given the appropriate information and instructions on how to use the contacts properly and safely, for example, how to put them in, how to take them out and how to clean them.
Health Canada has warned the public and the government of the potential risks associated with non-corrective contact lenses. According to a 2003 Health Canada report, the rate of serious injury among people using corrective contact lenses every day is approximately 1% and the overall rate of complication is about 10%.
It is estimated that the rate of injury and complication—for example, infection, inflammation or ulceration—is much higher among non-corrective contact lens users than among those who use corrective lenses. In 2007, vision loss accounted for the Canadian health care system's highest direct cost, as compared to any other illness.
What is more, 75% of the cases of vision loss can be prevented. Bill C-313 seeks to amend the Food and Drugs Act to deem a non-corrective contact lens to be a device. This amendment would require all non-corrective contact lenses sold in Canada to be licensed by Health Canada and would require the product distributors to have a medical instrument sales licence.
As I said at the previous reading, I am surprised and disappointed that we are still talking about such a bill in 2012. In 2000, Health Canada issued a warning about non-corrective contact lenses and recommended that they be used only under the supervision of an eye care professional.
In 2003, Health Canada recommended that the federal government regulate the use of non-corrective contact lenses, but, 12 years later, the matter is still not resolved. Nevertheless, I want to express my appreciation to the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for her bill and her perseverance.
I know that she has been working on this particular file since at least 2008, when she moved a motion that was adopted by the House of Commons. However, we are currently discussing the budget, and I hope it will be discussed for some time, even though it may not be in this House.
Budget cuts will affect Canadian families. They are talking about the cuts and will continue to do so. When I see measures such as these, which are essential, I wonder if they will have any real impact given the 2012 budget.
Regulatory measures such as this bill cannot be effective without some oversight. When I see the budget cuts made by this government, including those to Health Canada, I doubt that the department will be able to do the necessary follow-up with the manufacturers.
How can we protect public health and safety with minimal and limited monitoring?
I know that the government will say that Canadians' safety will not be compromised. However, I am not absolutely convinced of that. I do not have to look too far to realize why. I only have to read the Auditor General's report on the F-35 jets and compare his comments with the statements made by this government's members in this House.
Speaking of the Auditor General, I would like to point out that, yesterday, he blamed this government for the Canada Border Services Agency's performance. He said, and I quote:
In the small percentage of cases where goods that did not meet import requirements were allowed to enter the country, most were products for which there was no agreement in place between Health Canada and the CBSA. While the CBSA has formal arrangements with the three other organizations in our audit, as yet it has no formal agreement with Health Canada that documents respective roles, responsibilities, policies, and procedures for implementing controls on several products under Health Canada’s responsibility, such as medical devices [including the one we are talking about today] and pest control products. Until there is a formal agreement, border services officers do not have consistent instructions on procedures to follow for those products.
Non-corrective contact lenses are often ordered via the Internet. I hope that this government takes the Auditor General's recommendations in this regard seriously and gives the Canada Border Services Agency and Health Canada the means to protect the health and safety of Canadians. If not, this bill will serve no useful purpose.