June 2005: A Very Nasty Piece of Legislation

Bill C-28, if passed, will expose food supply to more carcinogens
June 1, 2005

With all eyes on the Gomery Inquiry, the Martin government was trying before an election was called to sneak a very nasty piece of legislation through Parliament. Bill C-28, an Act to Amend the Food and Drugs Act, would accelerate the adulteration of Canada’s food supply with cancer-causing chemicals, pesticides, food additives, and veterinary drugs like growth hormones and antibiotics.

During second-reading debate, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health, Robert Thibault, told the House of Commons not to worry, that the bill is “not related to food safety,” but is purely a “technical matter.” He added that C-28 is “in line with the ongoing intent of the Canadian government’s ‘smart regulation’ initiative.

In Article 4 of the Food & Drugs Act, the Minister’s duty is to prohibit the sale of food that has been adulterated. Under Bill C-28, the Minister will exempt from this prohibition: a) an agricultural chemical; b) and its components or c) derivatives; d) singly or e) in any combination; f) a veterinary drug and g) its metabolites, h) singly or i) in any combination; j) a pest control product or k) its components or l) derivatives; or m) a food additive.

Food would not be adulterated if the food is named in “an interim marketing authorization” or IMA. The IMA could also be used to allow higher residues of these toxins in a food.

Hocus-pocus! Adulteration is not adulteration if the Minister says so.

The effect of Bill C-28 is to eviscerate the Minister of Health’s statutory duty to protect the public from health hazards and fraud. The Minister’s new statutory duty in Bill C-28 would be to expose Canadians to chemicals, food additives, pesticides, and veterinary drugs, some of which—like the growth hormone estradiol widely used in industrial beef production—are believed to be carcinogens.

The transformation of the Minister of Health’s statutory duty from protecting our food from chemical adulteration to facilitating such adulteration is described as “smart regulation.” According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “smart” can mean: 1. severe enough to cause pain, and 2. selfishly clever verging on dishonesty; and unscrupulously clever. Bill C-28 is very smart indeed.

The Precautionary Principle states that: Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent adverse health impact. Why is Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch not applying the Precautionary Principle in the regulation of pesticide, chemical, and veterinary drug residues in the diet of infants, children, pregnant women, and other people?

Health Canada has approved the use of six hormones used in beef production that are banned in the European Union: estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, trenbolone, zeranol, and melangestrol. According to the EU’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health: “no threshold levels can be defined for any of the six substances.”

Estradiol is linked to DNA damage, early puberty among girls, and breast cancer in women. The human epidemiological studies point to astradiol as a carcinogen adding approximately 3% breast cancer risk per year of estrogen exposure.

The EU asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to press Canada for the risk assessment data upon which Health Canada decided that these six hormones banned in Europe are somehow safe for consumption in Canada. Our federal government’s response to the WTO and the EU was that these risk assessment data (as well as the Health Canada reviewers’ assessment) are private and confidential. In view of this secrecy, how can we possibly trust Health Canada’s claim that these residues in our food have no harmful health effects?

Health Canada is also in the process of once again approving the pesticide 2,4-D, in spite of the fact that toxic equivalent intakes will exceed the World Health Organization’s guidelines for all children under the age of 5. This decision is shocking. Even when there is hard scientific evidence of harm provided by the WHO, we’re being told that the safety of this pesticide has been established to Health Canada’s satisfaction. There appears to be no limit beyond which senior managers in Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch are prepared to go on behalf of their industrial “clients.”

It would be unwise, to put it mildly, to trust Health Canada to “determine”—in secret—that toxic residues in our food “would not pose an unacceptable health risk to the public.” How can anyone establish a “safe level” for residues in food of which a single molecule can cause a mutation leading to cancer? How many Canadians have to die from diet-related cancer before Health Canada stops the adulteration of the food supply with carcinogens?

Canadians are being misled about Bill C-28 and “smart regulation.” We’d have to be very naïve to think that harmonizing with U.S. regulations would have no adverse impact on public safety. The Bush White House is implementing a sweeping deregulatory strategy to dismantle public health and environmental safeguards.

Canadians don’t want their health protection to be further weakened—even if it is done in a “smart” (and unscrupulous) manner. They don’t want their safety rights gutted piecemeal by Bill C-28. Nor do they want their health protection in the Food and Drugs Act gutted wholesale by means of the Minister’s proposed new grotesquely mis-named Canada Health Protection Act.

(Mike McBane is the National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition—www.medicare.ca—and author of the recent CCPA book Ill-Health Canada: Putting Food and Drug Company Profits Ahead of Safety.)