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


Wendy Lill

New Democratic Party

Ms. Wendy Lill (Dartmouth, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate today and to listen to the comments made by members.
It is a very interesting topic to think about such things as milk and dairy products. These are products that are the stuff of life that we have all grown up with, and to realize that there is a discrepancy and confusion sometimes about what terms are being used and what the foods really are that we are seeing in the grocery stores.
I just read a book called Fast Food Nation . It is an interesting look at fast foods, but also the whole flavouring industry, and the chemical creation of taste, flavours and scents that are overtaking our food industry. Therefore, it is not at all unreasonable for us to be asking, what is it that we are eating? I think that is the question that the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin is trying to get at and I support his efforts in that respect.
My colleagues and I in the NDP believe that fair labelling practices are important for today's Canadian families who have a bewildering array of products facing them during every trip to the supermarket. The average supermarket today has over 35,000 products, which is an incredible number.
Whether we actually benefit from that enormous choice and whether the quality of our lives has been improved by the kind of choice is another debate and we are not going to talk about it here. However, it does lead families and shoppers to want to have accurate labelling on products so that they can make decisions about what foods they are buying. With so many products, the average shopper cannot hope to scan each and every one of them before making their purchasing decisions.
This bill would provide consumers with accurate information on the ingredients of the products they choose. Consumers depend on the name of a product to decide if it is something they want since most lists of ingredients are small and written in common terms using words like hydrogenated and disodium phosphate. These are confusing technical terms that people do not understand. They want to have faith in the labelling and do not want to be misled.
New Democrats are also concerned about the impact that labelling can have on Canadians with low literacy skills. Misleading product names can prove especially confusing for people who are not able to get through the language as easily. They depend on words they know to make purchasing decisions. Also, seniors and other Canadians with low vision depend on the larger fonts of product names instead of the smaller fonts of ingredient listings to make their decisions.
Therefore, when they see the word dairy, milk or cheese, they get a comfort level from that and that helps them make a decision. In fact, we must ensure that they are not being bamboozled and that, in fact, it is a true representation of what they are buying.
My colleague from Winnipeg North Centre has a private member's bill before the House on food labelling. That bill's intent is to ensure that consumers will know whether a product has genetically modified ingredients before they make purchasing decisions. It is another fair practice that Canadians want so that they can trust in the product that they are buying.
As the member who brought forward the bill has mentioned, at the present time federal legislation does not have adequate protection for the use of dairy terms and that is just not acceptable. For example, the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act prohibit false and misleading labels, but what constitutes false and misleading labels in the dairy context is not fleshed out.
The dairy products regulations made under the Canada Agricultural Products Act do contain labelling requirements, but these only apply to standardized dairy products, for example what has to be on the label of cheddar cheese once it has met the standard. Federal legislation does not deal with the issue of the improper use of dairy terms and images on imitations or on substitutes.
Each year, Canada's dairy producers spend over $75 million advertising dairy products and promoting the nutritional benefits of dairy products. The good reputation and nutritional value of dairy products is being usurped by products which claim to have the same qualities as dairy products but which do not.
As I understand from my colleague from Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, the dairy terms act embodies the principles that were adopted at the international level by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1999 in the general standard for the use of dairy terms. Canada supported this standard at the international level. Canada should provide that same level of protection for dairy terms at the domestic level. It seems very straightforward to me.
Most important, the bill prohibits a dairy term from being used when a food or an ingredient in a food is intended to replace a dairy product or a dairy ingredient. It prohibits using a dairy term in conjunction with the words “flavour” or “taste” when the food is not milk, a milk product or a composite milk product.
The dairy terms act deals with the correct use of dairy terms in the marketing of food. It does not prohibit food from being made.
I support this bill. I support efforts always to clarify language and clarify the meaning of language. I support any efforts to make it easier, not more difficult, for citizens to understand the nutritional value of the foods and beverages that they are buying in the supermarket. I will be supporting this bill when it comes to a vote.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Dairy Terms Act
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