March 12, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Don Boudria


Hon. Don Boudria (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say a few words about this bill.
First, I want to dissociate myself from the remarks we just heard, which I do not find very kind—in fact I find them rather harsh—toward Canada's food processing industry.
This is a very important industry, in the dairy sector and in other sectors. We know the companies located in our region, be it the Saint-Albert Cheese Factory, in my riding, or others such as Ault Foods, elsewhere. These are important industries in our country, and I think they have a very good reputation as regards food safety, ethics and so on. I do not feel that they deserve to hear such criticism.
Second, it must be recognized that several shareholders in the agri-food industry are farmers themselves. There are a number of cooperatives. Take for example one of the largest ones in the country. We know it well, because it is located in Quebec. Earlier, I mentioned cooperatives in my riding, such as the Saint-Albert Cheese Factory, or others elsewhere in the country.
So, one should avoid making such gratuitous accusations about the food processing industry.
This whole food labelling issue is not a simple one. Like others here, I grew up in the days when we used Beehive syrup, with a beehive on the bottle. Yet, as far as I know, Beehive syrup does not have any honey in it. It is made with corn extract, not honey extract. If there is honey in it, there is not much. In fact, there is probably none at all.
This is just an example.
I was raised in a household where there always was a brown can of maple spread in front of us. I do not even know whether that spread contains any maple syrup at all. I suspect it probably does not or not very much. It is maple flavoured or something like that. Maybe it has a little bit of maple syrup but probably not much. It is a form of caramel with seasoning. I think I have eaten enough of it to remember the taste, although it has been a long time since I ate that stuff.
The hon. member is telling us that the industry got me to eat a product using misrepresentation. When I was 7, 8 or 10 years old and I ate a product called “maple spread”, I did not eat it because it contained maple syrup. I ate it, as one might guess, because I thought it was good. That was why we ate that product.
That said, the hon. member opposite has made some good points about a certain number of issues. For example, when one goes to the grocery store, I think it is abnormal, and the dairy producers in my riding are always asking me this question, that in all the big supermarkets there is a big refrigerator with a sign saying “Dairy products” and that the margarine is always in there. But we know that margarine is not a dairy product. And in the flyers and the newspaper ads, as well as in the supermarket counters, this product is found in the dairy section.
It is arranged so that those who might usually buy a dairy product will perhaps be tempted to take the other product right next to it. In such a case, there is at least an attempt to get consumers to buy a product that is not the one they wanted.
On the other hand, we often find eggs in the dairy counter. I do not know anyone who could confuse eggs with butter. In that case, it is obvious that there is no attempt to confuse the consumer. Sometimes there is such an intention and sometimes not.
A little earlier I was pondering with some colleagues as to whether or not butterball turkeys contained butter. There are a number of other such questions that create confusion with the consumer. If it does, well all the better, but it is not always obvious that it does. To that extent I give credit to the MP for raising the issue and bringing it to our attention.
I am told that some of the bill's clauses, as they are currently worded, can produce the opposite effect to that intended by the hon. member across the way.
The department's experts have advised me, for example, that the terms “artificial butter flavour” and “imitation cheese” will not be allowed. I agree. However, from what I am told, the use of terms such as “butter flavoured” would also be restricted. It may be going too far to restrict the use of “butter flavoured” to describe a product containing natural butter extract. Perhaps that was not the intention when the bill was drafted; nevertheless, experts conclude that this is the effect of the bill.
The parliamentary secretary has taken a positive approach in his suggestion today. This is not a dilatory approach, as the member opposite said.
The government is not promising to undertake a study on packaging and labelling at a later date. It will not happen at a later date; consultations are underway as we speak. During the consultations, 2,000 adults were surveyed. According to the experts in this field, the accuracy rate is 95%.
We hold these consultations on the content of various food products. It would be important, in all of our undertakings, not to do anything to harm the food processing industry, and even less so the dairy farmers of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, and Stormont—Dundas—Charlottenburgh, soon to become Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, or anywhere else. Our primary interest must be to protect farmers, as well as consumers, and we also need the consumer's support for what we are doing.
The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has said that the dairy industry spends a great deal of money on promoting its products. He claimed that the main reason for doing so was to counteract the bad guys in the food processing industry.
I do not feel that is their main objective. As far as I know, their campaign is to make the consumer realize that what we were told in past years was incorrect, for instance that eating a lot of cheese or other dairy products was somehow bad for the health. Now we know that was far from correct. We know that some of the fats people have been eating in substitutes for butter or other dairy products are very bad for us, and that in fact dairy products hove some very beneficial effects.
All this to say that the campaign run by dairy producers seeks to inform the public and increase the consumption of their products which, in my opinion, are excellent. To claim that if we eat cheese we will all end up weighing 150 kilograms is not necessarily true. If this were the case, I would be very heavy, because I probably eat more cheese than most hon. members do. My colleagues are always teasing me about my dairy product consumption, particularly cheese, which I eat in very large quantities.
The things that we were told in the past are not necessarily true and the dairy industry knows that. It has quite rightly decided to inform consumers about the very high quality of its products, and I support this initiative.
Also, the dairy industry just went through some very difficult times. I mentioned this this morning in the House. During oral question period, I raised the issue that prices for culled cows or even heifers are terrible. We must support the agricultural community in this regard.
If the bill is reviewed in committee, some major amendments will be necessary. We must protect our producers, but we must also preserve consumers' confidence, because we want them to buy the excellent food items made by dairy producers from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell and elsewhere.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Dairy Terms Act
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