Centre for Science in the Public Interest

For the Record

For Immediate Release:
February 9, 2004

For more information:
Bill Jeffery, CSPI's National Coordinator,
at (613) 244-7337.

For more background, see: CSPI's 2000 party leader's election survey at http://cspinet.org/ canada/response1.html or the full text of Bill C-398 at http://www.parl.gc.ca/ PDF/37/2/parlbus/ chambus/house/bills/ private/c-398_1.pdf. The transcript of Friday's debate in the House of Commons is now available on the Internet at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/ PDF/37/3/parlbus/ chambus/house/debates/ han005-E.pdf.

   Conservatives flip flop, Cabinet hedges on bill requiring nutrition info on fast food chain menus, fresh meat labels
OTTAWA (February 9, 2004) - Legislation that would ensure consumers have important nutrition information on chain restaurant menus and pre-packaged food labels garnered support from Liberal, Bloc and NDP MPs, and equivocation from the Liberal front benches during debate in the House of Commons. The fledgeling Conservative Party of Canada reneged on prior statements of support for nutrition label reform from both of its parent organizations.

If passed, Bill C-398, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (food labelling), sponsored by Liberal MP Tom Wappel, would require that:

fast food chains post the number of calories in menu items beside prices on menu boards, and that full-service restaurant chains (where more spacious menus are provided) to also display the amounts of saturated plus trans fat, and sodium;

all fresh meat, poultry and seafood (not just ground, processed and frozen meat) sold in retail stores disclose full nutrition information to be mandated for most other pre-packaged foods by December 2005; and

pre-packaged, processed foods disclose the percentage-by-weight of main ingredients, and ingredients that are especially relevant to health such as added sugars, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

The Liberal Government stance on Bill C-398 remains ambiguous despite significant support from Liberal backbenchers and having a year to constructively analyze the bill. "The absence of active Government support discredits the throne speech declaration that 'prevention is the best cure,' and belies its commitment to the 'Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy' now being negotiated by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial ministers of health," said Jeffery. However, Government spokesperson Eleni Bakopanos conceded that Government reservations could be taken up in the Health Committee. "The questions is whether Cabinet will side with Liberal back benches or the Conservatives in voting whether to refer the bill to committee," said Jeffery.

"It is clear that the Conservative leadership has defaulted on earlier support and is now pulling for big food instead of Canadian consumers. Virtually every objection raised by Conservative Health Critic Rob Merrifield was lifted from self-serving food industry propaganda," said Bill Jeffery, National Coordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

During the 2000 general election campaign, the Canadian Alliance Party stated:

"The purpose of nutritional labelling is to let every consumer know about the nutritional qualities of food they are about to purchase. By enacting reasonable regulations requiring labelling we would ensure that all Canadians who make food purchases have this information."

In April 2003, the Progressive Conservative Party Health Critic Greg Thompson supported the bill during the House of Commons debate by saying, in part:

"What the member is attempting to do would be very difficult to argue against...We are concerned with the health of Canadians. They have a right to know what they are eating. It would serve the purposes of a lot of people in Canada if we could find a way to adopt this legislation. Details have to be fleshed out in committee. We support moving Bill C-398 on to the next logical step."

"Hopefully individual members of the Conservative Party will attach more weight to their election promises and responsible financial stewardship of the health care budget when this bill comes to a vote in the House of Commons in March," said Jeffery.

Diet-related cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis cost the Canadian economy $6.3 billion and as many as 25,000 lives annually. Bill C-398 builds upon nutrition labelling regulations announced in January 2003 by former Minister of Health Anne McLellan. Those new rules are predicted to generate $5 billion in health care cost savings and productivity gains -- 20 times greater than the costs of changing labels.

Bill C-398 is also supported by over two dozen health and citizens groups -- representing two million Canadians -- including the National Federation for Seniors and Pensioners, Canadian Women's Health Network, Canadian Teachers' Federation, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, L'Association des Diététistes au Québec, Community Nutritionists Council of British Columbia, and Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is an independent consumer health advocacy organization with offices in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. CSPI's Canadian advocacy efforts are supported by over 100,000 subscribers to the Canadian edition of its Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI does not accept industry or government funding.

CSPI Canada