Mr. Speaker, I can say without any hesitation and without any fear of contradiction that banning trans fats will save lives. I do not come to this conclusion on my own. The scientific community is virtually unanimous in its view that hydrogenated vegetable oils of processed fats called trans fatty acids are in fact much more harmful than the saturated fats that they replaced over the years.
Trans fats are deadly manufactured fats that cause obesity, heart disease and diabetes, all of which are on the rise in Canada in very worrisome numbers. The real evil nature of trans fats is that they not only raise the levels of bad cholesterol in a person's system, they also interfere with the good cholesterol's natural role of cleansing one's circulatory system. As a result, these trans fats are actually a double whammy on a body's circulatory system.
The facts are really quite staggering. Just one gram of trans fats per day increases the risk of heart disease by 20%. These are not my figures. I am not asking anyone to believe me as a layperson. These are figures provided by the New England Journal of Medicine. The daily recommended intake of trans fats is zero, but Canadian adults eat between 8 and 10 grams per day and, staggeringly, youth between the ages of 15 and 25 eat an average of 38 grams per day. Surely, members will recognize this is a serious public health problem.
Most fast foods and processed foods are high in trans fats. Baby foods contain alarmingly high levels of trans fats. We have to ask ourselves, knowing these scientific facts and having had them verified and ratified by any number of scientific journals and experts in the field, why do we allow them in our food supply?
I compliment the federal government for recognizing that trans fats are in fact harmful and should be eliminated. Its policy to date in dealing with trans fats is to introduce mandatory labelling. The debate we need to have today is whether labelling is adequate or do we need to take stronger steps in order to truly eliminate trans fats, remove it out of our food supply and, therefore, out of our system altogether? I would ask the House to listen to what I believe is a case against labelling and for banning these harmful trans fatty acids.
We hear the argument sometimes that this type of issue has more to do with public education and personal freedom of choice. I do not accept that. Government has a legitimate role to play in making sure our food supply is safe. There are any number of precedents that we could point to.
In the matter of labelling, if we find that a drug is harmful and is killing up to 1,000 Canadians per year in a premature way as are trans fats, a label is not put on the drug simply saying it is a matter of personal choice not to use it. It is pulled off the market. This is a direct analogy that I think is absolutely fair.
The logic is that it is not okay to put poison in our food just because it is properly labelled. That is common sense. I do not use the word poison to invoke a reaction. Trans fats do in fact meet the scientific definition of toxic and poisonous because the body simply cannot tolerate them.
The argument about labelling is spurious. First of all, studies show that 70% of people do not read the labels for the food they eat. There are problems of literacy and problems of language. Kids, we know, certainly do not read labels when they go for a fast food snack. Restaurants would not be impacted by this at all. Restaurant food and french fries, and some of the popular food items are the ones that are highest in trans fats.
There is the added problem that even if a product does say it contains 3.6 grams of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, there are no editorial comments allowed on the label because the only really valuable label in terms of trans fats would be, “This product contains trans fats. Do not eat it because it will kill you”. We are not likely to see that type of labelling introduced.
We do not believe that labelling is an adequate way to significantly reduce the amount of trans fats eaten by Canadians. We believe the only logical thing to do is to take concrete steps to eliminate, to all but ban, trans fats in our food supply system.
The reason it cannot be an absolute ban is that there are some naturally occurring trans fats in ruminating animals. Cheese, milk and butter contain some naturally occurring trans fats, but at a level where if ingested sensibly are not a serious health risk. That is the argument why recommendations from our party will call for reducing trans fats to the lowest level possible and regulating trans fats to the point where any food product sold in Canada, not necessarily even manufactured in Canada, must meet strict guidelines which would limit the amount of trans fats to a range of 2% which we believe is an achievable goal.
One country in the world has done this. Denmark, as of 2003, introduced legislative steps to ban trans fats. We find that the experience has been that manufacturers reformulated their products to the allowable levels. We know that healthy and safe alternate products to trans fats are available. We should point out and recognize, and compliment those food manufacturers who have unilaterally and voluntarily taken those steps and made the changes to their products. One of them is Voortman Cookies Limited, a Canadian cookie manufacturer that has 120 product lines. Over a period of the last two or three years it reformulated every single one of its products without compromising quality or taste so that its products no longer contain trans fats. We can compliment Voortman Cookies for taking that step.
Another one, a fast food chain, is New York Fries. It has unilaterally and voluntarily changed the oil in which it produces its french fries so that they no longer contain trans fats. This is a wonderful move on its part and it should be rewarded.
However, we are concerned that if we leave the industry to voluntarily change the alternate oils they use, some manufacturers who do not fall in line will have an unfair competitive advantage because they will not have paid the extra cost of reformulating their products. That is our argument why, to create a level playing field and to protect the public health of Canadians, this is a matter for government intervention where it should in fact regulate.
The scientific case is really difficult to challenge. Experts the world over agree that we can and should stop using trans fats. Dr. Walter Willett is the dean of health sciences at Harvard University. He calls hydrogenation, or trans fatty acids, “the biggest food processing disaster in history”. The World Health Organization has directed nation states to take steps to take trans fats out of their food supplies.
We know there is an active lobby that believes this should be left up to industry without the intervention of the state. We argue that this is exactly the type of thing in which the Government of Canada should be directly involved.
The broad policy issue that I would like to point out in this debate is simply that this is what public health is all about and this is what our health strategy should be all about, creating a healthier population. So much of our time, energy and resources in the issue of health deals with managing illness. Here we have an opportunity to significantly impact the overall general health of millions of Canadians, including millions of Canadian children, in such a positive and proactive way. It really is hard to imagine that we would not go this route.
Just as an aside perhaps, many Canadian children are being impacted by this. I do not think we even realize that we have doctors telling us that they have 10 year old and 12 year old children coming to their offices with high cholesterol and clogged arteries. Surely, a child's circulatory system at that age should be completely clean and functioning perfectly.
However, children lose energy. Anyone with circulatory problems has less energy. They feel sluggish. They do not feel motivated. They find it hard to concentrate. Those are the symptoms of circulatory problems stemming from, to some degree at least, the use of trans fats.
I am hoping that we can count on broad support in the House of Commons. The NDP has very carefully worded this motion in such a way that it would be acceptable, we would hope, to all parties. On the general nature of the motion, we worked closely with the Heart and Stroke Foundation in the development of this language. We worked closely with other experts across the country who feel strongly about this issue.
The motion calls upon government, that within one year, which is a generous timeframe, to introduce regulations, or if necessary legislation, which would ultimately lead to the elimination of processed trans fats to the lowest level possible.
We are not talking about restrictive language. The regulations or legislation that government introduces may in fact have a phase-in period of three years. We do not know. We are going to leave that up to a task force of stakeholders which will have the expertise to make that ruling. That is not really up to the House of Commons or us as members of Parliament. We will leave that up to the experts in the field.
I also think that this is one case where there is justification for the government to play a role in helping industry to find alternate fats to use in terms of research and development grants. The National Research Council may want to undertake this project. If industry manufacturers are having difficulty in reformulating their products, certainly, the Government of Canada, Health Canada and Industry Canada could play a role in expediting this entire process.
I found that working on the trans fats project was very gratifying. I have been contacting people across the country and they in turn have been contacting me and our party with heartfelt passionate appeals to their legislators, to myself personally, and members of Parliament generally, to please do something about this pressing public health problem.
Perhaps throughout the day I can share with the House some of the comments of literally thousands of Canadians who have e-mailed, mailed, or contacted us personally saying that they are aware of the problem. There is an expectation that the House of Commons and members of Parliament should be aware of the problem and that we are willing to take concrete steps to change this issue.
There are some odd problems dealing with the elimination of trans fats. Canada must be the only country in the world that has margarine in its Constitution. We have two paragraphs in the Canadian Constitution dedicated specifically to margarine. I hope we are not going to let that stand in the way of common sense and reason. We can thank the Crosbie family and the Newfoundland Terms of Union for this oddity.
There is also the issue of international trade rules. We hope that is not why the federal government has, we believe, gone soft on this issue, but it is more than a coincident that the labelling rules that the government has introduced match word for word what the Americans have done, even up to the date of implementation. We are rather suspect that it may have been the motivation for not taking a stronger stance, given the overwhelming scientific evidence that this material is in fact harmful.
We are urging the government to exert our sovereignty in this matter, listen to the scientists, and listen to the Canadian public and do what is right. If there are any obstacles due to trade barriers, we can deal with those. However, that should not stop us from taking concrete steps at the earliest opportunity to find a way to reduce and ultimately eliminate these toxic substances.
I have tried to go through some of the broad arguments as to why we feel this is necessary and why it should happen sooner rather than later. I have tried not to dwell on the technical, scientific details. I think any of the members can easily access that information.
I should mention that I do not believe our taking steps to eliminate trans fats will have an impact on the local oilseed producers. It is not the oil that we are critical of. It is the process the oil is subjected to, the hydrogenation process. I point out that some margarines are manufactured with pure canola oil and are 100% trans fat free. We should buy Becel margarine, which is 100% trans fat free. It is manufactured with grown in Canada canola oil.
As people shift toward natural oils and fats, we believe it could be a boon to the dairy industry and to the oil seed growers and producers in western Canada who may have an increased market for their product, which is pure canola oil. As we know, partially hydrogenated canola oil changes the chemical structure of oil to something that people cannot digest and which clogs the arteries. It is a double whammy on the arteries. I point out again, we should be aware that trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, are four to ten times more harmful than other saturated fats.
This is not a panacea. This does not mean we can got out and eat as much junk food as we want. We should be careful about our intake of fats generally, but we should be aware that hydrogenated fats are more harmful than the saturated fats.
There is a rather interesting historical irony to the introduction of trans fats. They were heralded as some kind of miracle product to try to wean Canadians off palm and tropical oils, which were in widespread use in the late sixties and early 1970s. Cardiologists and doctors cautioned us of this. However, it was a tragic mistake, and it was a disaster, according to Dr. Willet of Harvard University.
I am heartened in our struggle to eliminate trans fats. We have the support of two prominent members of the Senate of Canada, both prominent medical doctors. Dr. Yves Morin has worked with me on the development of the bill. He is a former Dean of Medicine at Laval University. I would like to recognize and pay tribute to the hard work he has done, meeting with industry officials and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Dr. Wilbert Keon of the Heart Institute in Ottawa is a leading, world renowned cardiologist who is also meeting with us personally and in conference in developing the bill.
People a lot smarter than we in this room, and I mean that with all respect, are calling upon us to take concrete steps to eliminate trans fats from our food supply. Let us listen to Canadian scientists, let us listen to Canadians generally and take an important step toward true public health, not just managing illness, and eliminate trans fats.
I believe we can eliminate trans fats without compromising either quality or taste. I believe there are alternate fats in adequate quantities to replace the use of trans fats, or hydrogenated oils, in every aspect of processed food and restaurant food.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity today on behalf of the NDP caucus to do something that I believe will have a significant impact on the general public health of Canadians. I started by saying that I can honestly say banning trans fats will save lives. I end on that note, and I urge my colleagues in the House to please support the motion and get us on the first step to this important public health initiative.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased for a number of reasons to have this opportunity to speak to the hon. members on the troublesome issue of trans fats.
First of all, this debate is one more means of raising Canadians' awareness of the ill effects of trans fats, since consciousness raising and education are an integral part of our mission to promote healthy eating.
Second, this offers me an opportunity to explain what the government is doing to reduce trans fat content in the food we eat and to confirm that there are already some encouraging results.
Finally, this subject goes far beyond diet alone. It is part of a far broader issue that is at the heart of my mandate as Minister of State for Public Health; the vital need to promote all aspects of health and healthy living.
I thank the NDP for initiating this extremely important debate because I know that all members share the goal of taking positive action to encourage Canadians to make healthier choices, including healthier food choices. I also know the member for Winnipeg Centre has taken a great interest in this matter.
I am happy to support the motion calling for the establishment of a multi-stakeholder task force to develop strategies for significantly reducing the level of trans fat in Canadian foods.
Accordingly, I would like to propose that the Standing Committee on Health should be consulted to the best possible composition of such a task force and its mandate. I will make myself available, as will officials of the department, so we can exchange ideas. I also suggest that the task force report to the Standing Committee on Health. This can become another example of how Canada's parliamentarians are an effective force for positive change when we work cooperatively.
I know there will a lot of views to be heard. Many people believe the simple answer would be to just ban trans fats but we know that effective long term solutions are complex. As Mencken said, “For every complex problem there's a neat, simple solution, and it is always wrong”.
We must deal with the trans fat issue in a complex and thoughtful way so we do not end up actually worsening the health of Canadians through our decisions, which is a real possibility if we rush headlong into a ban.
As the Minister of Health and many other members have correctly stated, dietary trans fat is an important public health matter because we now have scientific evidence that consuming trans fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease. The evidence indicates that trans fat increases the blood levels of LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol. It also decreases the levels of HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol.
It is because of those effects that the organization that establishes dietary reference intakes for the U.S. and Canada, for example, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, recommended in 2002, “that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet”. Essentially the same recommendation was made for saturated fats, although saturated fats increase both LDL and HDL cholesterol levels and therefore have a lesser impact on the risk of heart disease.
The Institute of Medicine noted, however, that the trans fatty acids are unavoidable in non-vegan diets and that to attempt to reduce the levels to zero would mean the elimination of dairy products and meats and this could result in an inadequate intake of protein and certain micro nutrients.
I doubt that we will hear contrary views to that finding today. I am sure we will find that there is a consensus which will emerge fairly quickly in this debate that we need to reduce the consumption of dietary fat as part of achieving the best possible health for all Canadians. Where we will differ is in how best to respond.
On a gram for gram basis, trans fats have a more negative effect on heart health than saturated fats. It has been estimated that Canadians consume on average about eight grams of trans fats per day. However they also consume an average of 27 grams of saturated fat. The Canadian consumption of saturated fat is almost four times higher than our consumption of trans fat and is way higher than recommended. It is just as important from a health standpoint not to significantly increase saturated fat intake in our desire to reduce the consumption of trans fat.
As the member for Winnipeg Centre noted, Denmark did make the move of setting a maximum limit of 2% of trans fats in all fats and oils in food sold in that country. The Danish diet differs from the Canadian diet which contains greater amounts of animal fat and tropical oils. Since Denmark is a much smaller country and food production less centralized, products do not need as long a shelf life as they do in Canada. There is, therefore, the need for a stability provided occasionally by partially hydrogenated fats in some foods. Since these partially hydrogenated fats are the main source of trans fat, Denmark is in a position to restrict them without altering their diet.
The message here is that it would be wise and prudent to compare the circumstances and potential impacts in both countries before importing a measure that may work for one country but not for another. This will be an important job for the task force.
When reducing or eliminating trans fats in foods, it is extraordinarily important that we understand that we want the trans fats to be replaced by healthier alternatives. Setting this arbitrary limit on trans fats in foods without taking the time to identify appropriate alternatives runs the risk of substituting these highly saturated fats. It is important to ensure that the essential fatty acids, the omega 3 fatty acids, are there.
It is interesting to know that here in Canada canola oil is routine in many diets and is at a 3% level, which is 1% higher than the Danish level.
I think it will be extremely important for the task force to hear from all voices, including industry, to understand what would be the best practices and the best strategy to get to a healthy diet for all Canadians.
As a family physician, I helped my sick patients to get the best possible treatment, but I knew that my role was much greater than that. I also had the responsibility to counsel my patients on the choices that could promote and prevent diseases down the road.
Now, as the Minister of State for Public Health, I have a larger call to action. My goal is simply to keep as many Canadians healthy for as long as possible. My goal is to prevent injury and illness and to promote good health choices for the benefit of Canadians and for the sustainability of our health care system.
It was very gratifying, I think, for all Canadians to hear at the first minister's meeting in September the important plea by all the first ministers in terms of what it is going to take on health promotion, disease prevention.
It was impressive to hear them talk about trans fats, about the importance of immunization and about ways to prevent fractures in seniors. It is clear that they get it in terms of equating and keeping Canadians well as an imperative in terms of the sustainability of our health care system. We all know now that we must put the health back into health care.
Clearly, heart disease is a major chronic disease in Canada, therefore we must address its causes and tackle all the relevant determinants, including nutrition. Our thoughtful action on the trans fat issue is part of a much broader, complex strategy to foster health through healthy living.
I want to share with members some of the information about this strategy before reinforcing why I believe that a ban is not the best public approach to the dietary trans fat issue and why we think that the idea of a task force is extraordinarily important.
As is the case across our health agenda, the Government of Canada is committed to working with the provinces and territories and other stakeholders to improve the health of Canadians through attention to healthy living issues. The current basis for much of this work is in the integrated pan-Canadian healthy living strategy framework that the federal, provincial and territorial health ministers agreed to in 2002.
As part of this, the ministers agreed to work together on short, medium and long term pan-Canadian healthy living strategies that emphasize nutrition, physical activity and healthy weights. Our aim is to promote good health by reducing the risk factors and the underlying societal conditions associated with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes and some cancers.
Within that, we have developed what we are calling Canada's healthy living strategy. That strategy identifies children and youth as a priority target population. It also identifies schools as one of the key settings for addressing health concerns. The agreement at the first minister's meeting toward a school health initiative I think was hugely important in that aim.
One way we will proceed in promoting healthy living and eating is by building on the already existing best practices. There is no shortage of great work going on through healthy living and healthy eating initiatives across the country. For example, in building the public health agency through my cross-country consultations I visited Prince George where I learned that Health Canada's $300,000 in funding was pooled into a fabulous healthy eating, active living alliance. Through that, it has community gardens, community kitchens and activation programs. It has actually parlayed the $300,000 into over $1 million along with rotary clubs and local businesses. It only makes sense that we follow the lead of initiatives like this to help Canadians to become more active, make better food choices and enhance their health.
We are promoting healthy living through collaboration among governments and other stakeholders and through action at the community level.
Solutions have to be multi-pronged and designed to achieve their intended results, which is what we have done on the trans fat issue.
In January 2003, Canada became the first country in the world to require the mandatory declaration of the trans fatty acid content of foods on the labels of prepackaged foods. I think that has gone a long way to helping the health literacy of Canadians on the whole issue of trans fats and what some have said, that Canadians are way ahead of us.
Most foods will be required to have this declaration by December 2005. These labels help consumers make healthy food choices and limit their intake of trans fat. Already this move is leading to many food companies in Canada lowering the trans fat content of their foods.
Why did we not impose a regulatory limit or a ban on trans fats? Because through our broader public health lens, we realized that forcing industry to eliminate trans fat content in the absence of widespread healthy alternatives could have health implications that are equal to or worse than those of trans fats. In short, a ban could result in the worsening of the risk of cardiovascular disease if the alternatives were not well articulated. Many of the current alternatives would reduce the amount of trans fatty acids but at the same time would increase the amount of saturated fatty acids, which are also a risk in coronary artery disease. I have to say that I cannot ban butter, eggs, and cream.
It is extraordinarily important, too, that the education, the health literacy and the civic literacy around these issues continue. Appropriate healthy alternatives to fats and oils high in trans fats are not yet readily available, so we are taking a smart and measured approach. Health Canada will monitor the trans fatty acid content of the major sources of trans fats in the diet to gauge the effectiveness of the nutrition labelling program and we will continue to help the industry find healthy alternatives. We will obviously await the work of the task force as well.
The department is also working with the food service industry to encourage reduction of trans fats in the food served by restaurants and other food service establishments. Of course, the department is continuing with many public education awareness initiatives to inform Canadians about the importance of reducing their intake of trans fats and we also know that today's debate is extraordinarily important to that as well.
Informed consumers demanding healthier food choices will provide much further impetus for food companies to reduce or eliminate their trans fats. We assume that the companies do not want to manufacture what Canadians do not want to buy. We are just beginning, but we are confident that our approach will pay off with healthier foods and healthier Canadians.
In the words of Elizabeth Blackwell:
We are not tinkers who merely patch and mend what is broken...We must be watchmen, guardians of the life and health of our generation, so that stronger and more able generations may come after.
This is our mission as guardians of public health: to make thoughtful and wise decisions today that will help Canadians enhance their health and their lives in the future. We cannot act in shortsighted ways that may produce ill health or disease tomorrow by unintended consequences. A ban on trans fat foods could produce these unintended negative results and we owe it to ourselves and future generations to make wise decisions that will enhance public health over the long term.
I eagerly await the work of the Standing Committee on Health and of the task force, and then the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Health after that.
As the guardians of public health, we need to make wise decisions today in order to help Canadians to improve their health and quality of life. We cannot allow ourselves to take a shortsighted approach, which is liable to be harmful in the long run.
Banning trans fats could have negative consequences. It is in our interest and that of coming generations to make informed decisions that will improve people's health in the years to come.
Madam Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin.
As some members may be aware, I am the senior health critic for the Conservative Party. Obviously the health care of Canadians is number one on my priority list, as it is for the Conservative Party of Canada.
I congratulate the member for Winnipeg Centre for bringing this motion before Parliament. He has helped increase public awareness about the harm that trans fats do to Canadians. Certainly I have learned a lot since this was brought to the fore.
It has been proven that trans fats are detrimental to human health. It is indisputable. With all the scientists I have come across it is not debated. Even much of the food industry does not debate the negative health effects that trans fats have on people. Many premature deaths could be averted by decreasing trans fats in the food system.
Therefore, I endorse the spirit of the motion. Although I may not agree with the proceedings afterward in the legislation, I think the intent of bringing together the stakeholders, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, is important. We need to work as a government and as a people to reduce heart disease that trans fats cause. However, there are other diseases that trans fats lead to.
In other countries, such as Denmark, trans fats have essentially been banned. The United States of America has taken regulatory action against trans fats by limiting the upper and lower levels allowed in food products. People who consume products need to take some additional responsibility in how and what they consume.
Certainly the Conservative Party of Canada supports Canadians taking responsibility for their own health. We also recognize that sometimes the government has a role in providing a safe and healthy environment for the public.
Industry must also play a major role in developing new alternatives to the consumption of trans fats. It is very important that we include industry in the multi-stakeholder task force. After all, there could be some economic and practical implications if we are not responsible in the process by which we eliminate trans fats.
Some companies have been successful in this area. New York Fries has eliminated trans fats. Voortman cookies, Pepperidge Farm, High Liner Foods, Dare Foods and Kraft Foods have all endeavoured either to have trans fat free food or have declared their intention to become trans fat free in a reasonable amount of time.
There are products being developed or which apparently exist that can help eliminate trans fats. In the future we will have very minimal trans fats in the food supply. The question is how fast will this happen and how much of a role should government play?
Some people will argue that people have a choice and if they want to have trans fats, they should be able to have trans fats. This is similar to alcohol and tobacco. There are obviously major health effects with those products. I would like to point out to members that those products are restricted to people over the age of 18. Trans fats are very easily accessible by our children. They are found everywhere. The onus is on parents and the government to ensure that children are protected, which is another reason I support the intention of this motion.
At the end of the day if we need to make a choice between the health of people or the shelf life of people versus the shelf life of doughnuts, the Conservative Party of Canada will always support the shelf life of people. That also goes to long term strategy.
The health minister talks about the sustainability of our health care system. It is only sustainable if we make proper decisions right now for the long term health of Canadians. Certainly by reducing trans fats I think there would be significant cost savings to the health care system in the future, combined with other preventive and proactive measures that we could undertake to make sure that the health care system will deal with things that are not preventable. Certainly trans fats cause a lot of existing diseases, and they could cause more diseases in the future.
The Conservative Party is supportive of the health of Canadians. Provided that the implementation of something of this nature is done with the consent of industry, members will be supportive of at least the intent. There is some ambiguity about what the legislation may hold and therefore there would be some reservations on that. Again it has to be done responsibly.
In conclusion, again I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre. He and I worked quite closely on the wording of the motion. I am very thankful for the opportunity for members of parties who do not often see eye to eye to work together for the betterment of all Canadians.
I look forward to a day when I can eat my favourite foods without worrying about the trans fats in them. I should tell the House that I am guilty of eating a lot of trans fats, knowingly and unknowingly. The problem is that all too often we eat these things without knowing it. Proper labelling can help that but it does not exist in every case.
There are going to be diverse points of view in the House. We all want the same end but how do we get there? Should government play a role or should it not? The spirit of the motion is something which I can support. As long as the stakeholders include industry and Health Canada, and that their recommendations are taken seriously, we can all look forward to a healthier Canada as we move forward into the future.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to debate something that is very crucial and very valuable for us as a society today. I appreciate the lead that our health critic has taken with regard to this matter, which is a very sensible and reasoned position.
As has already been stated, the Conservative Party of Canada, with reference to the member across the way who asked a question with respect to this, certainly supports Canadians taking responsibility for their own health but we recognize the role that government has in providing a safe and healthy environment for the public. It is getting those two things in appropriate balance in these kinds of matters before us today.
As has amply been pointed out by my colleague and others, trans fats have no known health benefits. It is as clear as that. Perhaps because of shelf life and those kinds of things, but in terms of health benefits there are none. No one has even argued or attempted to argue that kind of a case.
It is a fact as well that the consumption of trans fats in Canada surpasses anywhere else in the world. The consumption of trans fats in our country is among the highest in the world. That should be of concern. Why more so in our particular country?
People in science have made the argument that while saturated fats are a problem, we must be fair, honest and accurate about the facts. When compared on an equal intake basis dietary trans fatty acids are an even greater dietary risk for coronary heart disease than saturated fats.
To put this in its true perspective, each 5% energy intake in saturates increases the risk by 17%, whereas a 2% increase in energy from trans fatty acids increases the risk by 93%. Even small amounts of trans fats can be significantly harmful and hurtful in terms of the damage they do in terms of clogging our arteries and the damage it does to our hearts as well.
What really annoys me, upsets me and gets me angry at points is when we have deception in terms of advertising. Some would say that it is unintentional, but at points I think it is very intentional. On some of the labelling and marketing today they talk in terms of cholesterol free and low in saturated fats, which is allowed by regulatory agencies. Therefore to the public this implies that these products have been deemed to be of benefit with respect to the prevention of heart disease, clogging our arteries and so on. When we read “cholesterol free, low in saturated fats” on a product label in the supermarket, people right away, at least through education at this point in the country, think that is better for them, when in fact what is not so clear is that there are trans fatty acids in that product, which is the stinger. Many of these products so marketed contain substantial levels of trans fatty acids which could potentially promote rather than prevent the development of heart disease and so on because of the very deleterious effects of the LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and lipoprotein.
I object to that kind of advertising. I get rather upset when I see the kind of deception that goes on in terms of the labelling of products. People actually think they are doing something better for their health by consuming a product that is cholesterol free and low in saturated fat when in fact that product contains substantial amounts of trans fatty acids.
I think it is true that we must look at this very critical area. In an attempt to correct the health of consumers in all categories, but in particular our younger generation, those developing their tastes and appetites and training their taste buds, education is required.
A big part of this process actually is by way of the debate today and to engage in extensive debate in a committee study and so on. Even if the motion does not pass, at least we would know we had launched thorough discussion, that it has gone out to the public venue and that it is on the radar screen for the public.
However that is not the case presently. People know they should not consume too much saturated fat and so on, but on the matter of trans fatty acids it is not so well known and I think we would do well by the public if we were to get that debate and information going.
At present, Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration are planning on instituting TFA labelling in the near future, as was heard in the remarks this morning. However the time for that is really long overdue. Such labelling is needed and I think it should be mandatory. I support in other realms, in justice and so on, truth in sentencing. I support in this area truth in labelling. It is dishonest not to give people the information they need.
We often talk about consent or choice, which is used often in debate, and possibly today by libertarian minded people, but choice and consent need to be based on information. It needs to be informed consent, which small children are not able to do. It is the parental responsibility but it can have an ill effect on children who are not fully informed. When they are alone at birthday parties or other places, they cannot make informed choices on their own.
When I served as an elected board member on the Saskatoon district health board in my fair province of Saskatchewan, we had a certain liability as board members. We were often concerned that when individuals were to go through some kind of procedure there should be a proper video, proper printed material and proper information verbally relayed to them. That was very important because we would be legally responsible, liable or sued if we did not make that information available to someone who was undergoing some sort of procedure.
Just as a caveat, I have also been an advocate on the sanctity of life side of things and the abortion question where people need information to make informed choices. Information is needed not only in the area of food but also in the justice area.
When we talk truth in sentencing and truth in labeling, it is so people will have adequate information. If we had not allowed trans fatty acids into the food chain 30 years ago we would not be having this debate today. It is somewhat regrettable that we did not reject it at that point in time but maybe there was not as much evidence and scientific study done.
I find it interesting that groups, like the Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada, have made the concession or the admission that trans fat, on a gram for gram basis, may have a greater effect on heart health. They go on to say that saturated fat consumption should be kept as low as possible. This is true but people can avoid that. Saturated fats are literally there on the surface. This is something that is hidden. It is not as obvious.
I note that, in respect to saturated fat and the argument that we should be going after saturated fat, there has been a fair bit of information. Saturated fat in terms of food and food preparation is easier to avoid than trans fats in processed foods.
The Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada actually does say that it supports the eventual elimination of trans fats from the diet but that it wants to buy time. That is a fair comment. It says that it is producing new oil variants low in saturated fat, applications that do not result in the formation of trans fatty acids, but that it will take some time. I think it is making a somewhat reasonable plea for more time. It has also asked that the federal government might want to assist the industry in increasing the speed at which these oils will be available on the market at competitive prices. Buying additional time on the matter seems to be the company's major concern.
The Canola Council of Canada makes the point of an inference of agreement and it makes the comment in respect of highly saturated fats. It talks about growing a higher value type of canola called high oleic canola, developed specifically for the purpose of replacing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. It is doing its work but it may want to speed it up. This may prompt them to speed it up and get moving on it quicker. Farmers are being paid a premium right now for that high oleic canola. They want a more cooperative approach.
In conclusion, I would simply make the point that the science against trans fat consumption is without doubt about processed trans fats. The party opposite might want to be aware that there may be a difficulty in terms of the one year deadline.
I will be supporting the motion tonight as I expect a number of my colleagues will be doing. The Conservative Party recognizes the fact that trans fats are detrimental to the health of Canadians and that government does have a role to play in helping Canadians live healthy and productive lives.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Laval.
The NDP motion raises an extremely important and interesting issue. Personally, I would have preferred a slightly more limpid motion, not that it contains trans fats, but sometimes things that are well thought out merit being explained clearly. Then the words come easily.
I do not want to criticize to any extent—since we are totally in agreement with the motion—but I must point out that all motions include an educational component. While not wishing to give any lectures on writing or literature, it does seem to me that it might have been written in clearer and simpler terms.
Now, for the substance of the motion, it does raise an essential question about individual responsibility, the state's role in regularizing certain situations, and the right to information about what one eats.
To give my own situation as an example, I was recently surprised to learn at a routine doctor's appointment that I had become what my kids would call a tub of trans fat. I have a very high level of the bad cholesterol. I am not particularly chubby, however—I will let you be the judge of that, Madam Speaker—nor particularly unhealthy. I will soon turn 50, but it was a shock to learn that I will likely have to start taking pills, getting more exercise and eating responsibly.
That said, I do not eat chips or other junk food, as they call it. Like everyone else, I am responsible for what I eat and I do not deny that. Nobody should. But we have faith in the system. We have always had the impression, in the provinces of Canada and in Quebec, that there was a whole bunch of inspectors, specialists and doctors protecting us by carrying out studies before a new food was allowed on the market.
I believe, however, that some complacency has developed in this country as far as this is concerned. We saw that when certain Health Canada employees were not really able to get anywhere when they tried to act as whistleblowers about certain practices, about being pushed by lobbyists to allow certain harmful products and so on.
Is the system working to protect consumers? Consumers are faced with choices. In the case at hand, trans fats are mostly produced by an industrial process, hydrogenation, which turns oils to solids or semi-solids.
Take peanut butter for example. I think it has become a basic food for most students. I have overindulged in it myself, in my youth, but now I have to eat it in secret because my daughter is allergic. We can see that it is less attractive when the oil separates from the peanut solids. We are used to seeing foods that are presented in a more readily saleable version. Marketing has trumped public health and the health of our people, and we have not been informed of these effects.
There were no studies done before these foods were introduced into our diet in massive quantities 50 years ago.
We also realize that, according to the Heart Foundation's studies, our organisms were not designed to digest this kind of trans fats and are not able to eliminate them. There is some confusion in the ratings, depending on the study, but they appear to be more dangerous than saturated fats—which are bad for our health because we use too much of them.
In the case of trans fats, these products were imposed on us. I come from a large family that was not very rich. I remember that we used shortening or margarine instead of butter for our cooking, because they cost less than butter. We did not know we were damaging our health by doing so. We did it blithely, with no one telling us anything and with no safety system to protect us.
Avant-garde countries like Denmark, Sweden and all the Scandinavians have long been concerned with the composition of foods.
In this country, antibiotics are systematically added to finisher feed for pork. Collectively, these antibiotics do us harm when we really do need them to fight infections. The bacteria have grown stronger and, as a result, we are unable to fight off these infections because our base level of antibiotics is too high and our systems have gotten used to the antibiotics. Again, we have a false sense of security.
We have also gotten a false sense of security from the system. For instance, because Canada is a major producer of GMOs, more effort has been put into listening to the industry than into protecting human health, to the point of not being able to read the labels.
As regards trans fats, one has to know that if they are listed at the top, there is more, and one has to really do the math, which is not easy, to figure out how much there is. If one has that kind of time while doing the groceries, one can subtract the saturated fats from the total amount of fats to know how much trans fats a product contains.
The motion the NDP has put forward is an extremely interesting and innovative one. It raises the question of whether we, in Canada and Quebec, can change and start paying closer attention, as some already do. We can no longer afford to assume that food is automatically safe because there are people looking after it, that water is automatically safe because there is lots of it, and that there is no need to protect either food nor water or to ensure they are safe for the public. At the end of the day, we realize that policies are largely determined by industry, and not by concern for public health.
What Denmark and Scandinavia are doing, and a growing number of countries will have to do, is look into applying the precautionary principle and prohibiting processed fats used for reasons of aesthetics, quick processing or preservation, which seems to be to a large extent what trans fats are used for.
There are alternative products. I know that the Leclerc cookie company and other companies have product lines without trans fat, although they are generally a little more expensive. If you do not have a lot of money then you get heart disease. However, if you have a little more money you can afford trans fat free cookies. There is a responsibility in there somewhere. There is certainly a concern about the cost of food, which the Conservative member has raised. We cannot ignore such things. However, the price of junk food is always too high.
Awareness needs to be raised and often good legislation helps to do that.
For example, when there were no laws governing blood alcohol levels, people drove—I did as well sometimes—after having had a little bit to drink. It is odd, but people became good citizens because they had to. If we have a law banning trans fats, which are not produced naturally in food processing, this will send a clear message that they are bad and that we have to change what we eat. This will sound an alarm and work out for the best.
We also have to change our behaviour and make it clear to this government, which is sometimes more sensitive to lobbies than to public health, that the presence of GMOs in products has to be indicated so that people can make informed choices. Nor should bovine hormones be put on the market just because a Canadian industry has developed them. The government needs to develop a sense of responsibility that it is currently lacking. Hopefully, the NDP's call to ban trans fats will be a signal to put public health first and the economy second. Although it is important to have a healthy economy, it should not come at the expense of public health.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for giving me this time to express my opinion on the motion put forward by our colleagues from the New Democratic Party.
Naturally, we all want to be in good health and to have a good quality of life. To that end, we have to make wise and healthy food choices. But these choices are neither obvious nor easy to make, as my hon. colleague said earlier.
When we go grocery shopping, we all do our best to select wisely, but we sometimes cannot understand what the labels say and do not always have a calculator handy to determine how much trans fatty acid there is in the food we are looking at.
A study has shown that adult Canadians consume approximately 8.4 grams of trans fat per day, as my hon. colleague indicated earlier, while younger people may consume up to 10 grams a day. As he also pointed out, the human body is not designed to digest these fats. Not only is it not designed to digest them, but it does not use them as a source of energy either.
This means that these fats we consume are not only harmful but they also get stored in our bodies, eventually making us obese. I must say that our young people are certainly likely to end up with arteries full of lipids by the age of 30 or 35, putting them at risk for coronary heart disease at an earlier age than our parents.
I must admit that I did not use to pay much attention to those things and, whenever my grandchildren came over to visit, we fed them what grandchildren like to eat, because we want them to be happy when they visit.
When I learned that, among the more than 4,000 processed foods containing such trans fats, there was french fries, chips, donuts, pizza crusts, cakes, muffins, TV dinners, crackers, cookies and granola bars, I wondered what I was going to give them to eat. This left very little on the list of their favourite foods. These were part of their regular diet when visiting grandma. Going to grandma's meant eating junk food. But I realize that this is not doing them any good.
Therefore, I am very pleased to see a motion proposed that would limit these fats in our food industry. If we look at Denmark's experience in 2003, we see it did not entirely eliminate trans fats, but permitted trans fats in oils to a limit of 2%, or 2 grams per 100 grams. I think that is very reasonable and would keep part of the taste our children want and would have a better effect on our cardiovascular health.
We must not be fooled; these trans fats cause a greater increase in the rate of bad cholesterol. I have it, too, so I know what my hon. friend was talking about. When my doctor told me that, I was not very happy either, but I do know the causes, I must admit.
Thus, not just one thing causes a reduction in good cholesterol. And I like it. This kind of cholesterol helps my nerves remain calm, because it helps in processing vitamin E which is very good for the nerves. So good cholesterol is very good for that.
According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2,000 heart attacks per year could be prevented if trans fatty acids were banned and thus at least 1,000 human lives saved. I think that is very important.
The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation has issued a number of recommendations on this issue, including that: accurate information about the nutritional value of foods and the health effects of lowering trans fat be made available to the public, to help consumers make informed and healthy choices; trans fat in processed foods be replaced as soon as possible and where feasible by healthy alternatives such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than with equal amounts of saturated fat; and Canadians consume a healthy, balanced diet that includes foods from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating.
I have to admit that this is very hard. In addition to not necessarily being aware of all the problems trans fats can cause, there is also the fact that some people are illiterate. When they do their shopping, in all good conscience they cannot even read the labels warning them about potential problems if they consume the ingredients in these foods.
We do not take the number of illiterate people into account often enough, not in Quebec and not in Canada.
We recently received little cards to send to our constituents who had learned to read. These people, who learn to read with great determination and effort, do not necessarily have the ability to understand the significance of the food described on food product labels.
This affects not just those of us who are used to these things, because we often talk about it, but it affects other people too. It affects children who go to the grocery store or to restaurants at lunch time. They do not know or understand what trans fats are. We have to do more to help them than just list these items on labels. It is a good idea, but it is not the ideal solution.
In early 2003, the Canadian agri-food industry was given three years to label the saturated fat content but not the quantity of trans fat in every product, while smaller companies had up to five years to comply with this new legislation. Five years means they have until December 2007. That is a long time.
Despite these deadlines, some responsible companies, such as Frito-Lay in Alberta, have not only complied, but have already announced they will eliminate trans fat from their ingredients. That means we can keep eating Doritos and Tostitos. My grandchildren will be very happy about that, but I have to stay away from such food.
On a more serious note, currently in North America roughly 50% of adults are overweight or obese. Cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death in Canada and Quebec. People suffer from many diseases caused by factors we cannot control. However, when we can do something to fight the diseases that afflict are fellow citizens, I think we must do so diligently.
That is why we agree with the NPD motion. We will work together with all the other political parties in this House that want Canada to take a firm stand by limiting the quantity of trans fat allowed in food and follow the example of Denmark where the limit is 2g per 100g of fatty oil in food.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East. I am pleased to do so and pleased to rise in the chamber to talk about the motion relating to the banning of trans fats.
It is important to identify a couple of things at the forefront. The first is that when we learn as legislators about a public policy issue related to our health and we know about the harm it is causing our citizens, there is a duty and an obligation for us to act. It is simply not enough to expect other forces out there to do the job that parliamentarians should be doing. That is why today we are discussing this issue. That is why I believe it is very important that we participate right now in the changing of a food additive that harms Canadians' lives and that we also provide the solutions necessary for our dietary health. That is what this motion does.
There has been some discussion about the issue not really being in the forefront of the radar screen of Canadians right now. They have heard some information about it on a regular basis or piecemeal through the media, but it is an issue that has been breaking ground in the health field for many years.
It is interesting that the member for Winnipeg Centre raised this in caucus over a year ago. I want to pay tribute to his hard work. It is his due diligence in the past year that has led to today's motion. I hope it will be supported by all parties. I hope we will actually see action on this to protect Canadians' health. I hope we will be at the forefront in the world in making sure that our producers comply to better standards for trans fats, that our consumption as Canadians and our health are improved, and that we become world leaders like we can be and should be in many other fields.
The member for Winnipeg Centre did that by doing due diligence. He did a lot of research at the forefront. I will touch on the people he spoke to and the organizations he consulted, both for and against the concerns he was raising. He actually followed a process that is very complementary to the parliamentary process. It goes back to previous parliaments. On February 6, 2004, he introduced a private member's bill to look at banning trans fats. That was the point of pressure. It is very important to recognize that.
One of the reasons I am proud to be a New Democrat is that we have members who are not afraid to put their necks on the line to introduce discussion on a topic that is sometimes seen as being too difficult to raise. That is how we started on this file when there was very little public discourse about the effects individually as opposed to the banning aspect, which is seen as no solution. The member deserves credit for this, because that was the situation more than a year ago.
In response to the motion of the member for Winnipeg Centre, he was able to get the House of Commons health committee to do a study on the health effects of trans fats. He also pushed for expert witnesses and a review paper to provide testimony and also the discussion points that are so necessary to open the door to not only just the health aspects of this, but also to the industrial side effects in terms of the production and manufacturing of food products. He did that in a way that was very complementary and inclusive and I once again congratulate him on that.
The hon. member also did another important thing, and it is very important to recognize the hard work of his office. His office did a mail-back campaign to educate his constituents as well as those across the country. Speaking from the Windsor West perspective, I know that many of my constituents sent back the card to give solidarity to and support for us as parliamentarians to start talking about trans fats, their effects on human health, and how we can improve our products and the goods we are consuming, to have a healthier society for all of us.
That is important, because it recognizes the fact that right now in the system of the products we have available as food substances, individuals at the lower end of the income scale often cannot afford to purchase some of the healthier alternatives out there. There is a premium on natural foods. There is a premium on some of the foods with less additives. There is also an issue of access, as some individuals do not have the transportation or the time to get non-perishable and healthier alternatives. The member has been really diligent in expressing this concern that all Canadians need the opportunity to have a better selection of food sources and trans fats need to be addressed for all of us.
I note that the consultation process the hon. member undertook was extensive. I want to touch upon some of those organizations. In preliminary research, he looked at the World Health Organization, its suggestion about banning trans fats and the work done on the world front there. He consulted with the New England Journal of Medicine, looking at the research that had been done to ensure that the scientific background and merits were there before he actually launched into his work on this campaign.
From there, setting out the groundwork of the research, he then started to talk to groups and organizations that were very important and had great credibility in Canadian society, for example, the Heart and Stroke Foundation. What a great opportunity to get it involved in public policy. It is an organization that I support. My father has had bypass surgery and my grandfather prior to that. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has been leading the public charge on improving our cardiovascular health. I was very impressed to see that it was consulted right away.
He also went to universities and doctors, namely Dr. Bruce Holub from Guelph University, Dr. Ruth MacPherson from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Dr. Peter Jones from McGill University, Dr. Robert Issenman from McMaster University, and Dr. Sheila Innis from UBC. Those are just a few who have been consulted, although I know that there were others. It was an impressive view across Canada. He ensured that he spoke to people in different regions. He heard their concerns about what was happening in those regions.
Because of the scientific validation of this additive to our food, it is important to get the public to support the necessary transition. It is also important to get the government to act in a responsible way to ensure that we see changes, not just in words and emotion but to have a committee get things moving sot that we meet that year timeline and get real progress. It will also be important for those industries to have the validation that we support their changes.
There also was consultation with the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. The member was very concerned about how this would affect not only the daily lives of Canadians but also employment. He had discussions with the association about its concerns on the phase in approach so we could accommodate its special needs and ensure that restaurant industry would continue thrive. We are dealing with a bad decision to allow a substance in our food chain that is clearly threatening not only our current health but how we are bringing up youth. We also are dealing with the employment aspect so our restaurants are not going to be the victims of a transition to cleaner, safer food processing. That is why I was very impressed.
As the industry critic for our party and one who enjoys restaurants, I want to commend him for ensuring that we will see them as part of the process. Many students and single mothers work in the restaurant sector. They need protection. Therefore, it is important that any transition not affect their vulnerable status. Often they do not receive the wages and compensation they deserve, and it is very difficult work. The risk associated with individual businesses and restaurants is very high. We certainly do not want to impede the progress that individuals and chains can make.
I would also like to note that he met with the vice-president of McDonald's to hear the concerns of that company. In Denmark, McDonald's has moved to comply with the trans fats legislation. We have not seen Ronald McDonald running out of Denmark, which would probably be pretty hard in those big shoes. Nonetheless, McDonald's has stayed in Denmark. We hope to see the same thing happen in Canada. We do not want to be harshly punitive with any franchise. We want to work with them. New York Fries should be commended for being pioneers in this. That is very important.
I want to summarize by saying that Canada is not alone in this. Denmark has already moved in a progressive state. I again commend the member for Winnipeg Centre for meeting with the ambassador of Denmark. He also met with the ambassador of New Zealand. It also is interested in pursuing what Canada is doing now. We want to ensure that Canada is at the forefront of human health through banning a substance or, as a first step, reducing it from our diets. This would have terrific effects for our health, economy and our ability to proceed as a society