The Canadian Health Coalition is dedicated to preserving and enhancing Canadas public health system for the benefit of all Canadians.
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Stop the New Food Act Canada Food Safety & Inspection Act (C-80)
Here's what's in it and what's terribly wrong with it
Bill C-80 was tabled in Parliament last spring, but didn't get dealt with before the summer recess. It is scheduled to be re-introduced in the House of Commons during the coming months. Although allegedly drafted to ensure the safety of the food Canadians buy and consume, Bill C-80 is badly flawed and, if passed, will seriously compromise food safety. This is hardly surprising, since it was largely developed through consultation with the corporations that produce food, rather than the people who eat it. As now worded, the legislation not only fails to protect consumers from potentially harmful food products, but would actually make such undesirable foods--including those genetically engineered--more easily available on our grocery shelves. Factors driving this regressive Bill include international trade pressures, a shift from protecting consumers to coddling corporations, abandonment of the precautionary principle and rigorous scientific testing, and deep cuts in government funding for research and inspection.
Here, in summary form, are the main flaws with Bill C-80:
1. It shifts the burden of proof
Bill C-80 shifts the burden of proof from the manufacturer having to demonstrate evidence of safety to the public having to prove harm (§16 No person shall sell an article of food that... (b) is injurious to health). The Minister of Health describes this act as strengthening food safety. The evidence is to the contrary. The current Food & Drugs Act, while not being enforced, prohibits the sale of food that might be hazardous. To wait for proof of harm and a body count is to treat people like lab rats in an experiment.
2. It has a conflicting mandate
Bill C-80 would put the enforcement of food safety solely and permanently in the hands of the ineffectual Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which was set up to replace Health Canada and Agriculture Canada inspectors in 1997. But its mandate as spelled out in the CFIA Act is "to promote trade and commerce." The CFIA covers up food poisoning incidents to protect food industry "clients" (Toronto Star April 3, 1999). The current fragmentation of duties is dysfunctional, especially in time of emergencies.
3. It protects GE foods
Bill C-80 would legalize and widen the sale of genetically engineered (GE) foods. More than 40 GM food products have already been approved for sale in Canada, ranging from potatoes to corn to canola, but Bill C-80 would open the flood-gates. It would continue to have reviews done in secret and based mainly on information supplied by the food companies. It would continue to approve GE foods solely on their "substantial equivalence" to their natural counterparts--a standard many scientists insist is inadequate to protect consumers and the environment.
4. It's lax on labelling
Bill C-80 blatantly caters to the biotechnology and food companies. It rewards the producers of GE foods by allowing their products on store shelves without mandatory ingredient and nutritional labelling. C-80 removes language in the Food & Drugs Act (§5) that prohibits deceptive labelling regarding the character and safety of any food. These provisions provide the basis of a legal challenge to GE foods on the market.
5. It neutralizes the Health Minister
Bill C-80 would weaken the role of the Minister of Health. The agency responsible for food safety no longer reports to the Health Minister. Instead of being responsible for guaranteeing that foods are safe, the Health Minister would be reduced to "assessing the effectiveness" of CFIA inspections from the sidelines. The Minister of Agriculture is given over-riding powers (§28(x)) to exempt any product from the Act.
6. It relies on company self-policing
Bill C-80, though touted as the greatest government effort to modernize food legislation, is in fact a food industry-friendly bill that provides for an even weaker and more selective inspection and testing system. It would place even more reliance on industry self-policing to prevent e-coli contamination and other kinds of health hazards. It would have safety standards negotiated and set through international trade agreements in which corporate interests and influence predominate.
7. It limits regulation
Bill C-80 implicitly assumes that the least government "interference" in the food marketplace, the better. So it limits the regulation of packaging, labelling, and other trade practices, and turns a blind eye to fraudulent and deceptive corporate advertising, profiteering and price-gouging. The bill gives no consideration to the nature of our food supply, sets no goals for achieving food self-sufficiency or rural survival, and encourages rather than deters more foreign investment and ownership in the food industry.
8. It lacks a coherent food policy
Bill C-80 fails to equate food safety with a Canadian-made sustainable food policy or as the basis for improving people's health. It fails to spell out clear food safety and quality standards, or even a definition of what constitutes safe and wholesome food. So chewing gum and all kinds of junk foods are lumped together with nutritious foods and treated the same. The bill does not even specify which kinds of food are unsafe or potentially unsafe.
9. It allows no public participation
Bill C-80 was first introduced last spring after being drafted with only the participation of food industry officials. There was no opportunity given for prior public discussion or involvement, and the bill reflects this predominant concern with producers rather than consumers. The bill fails to establish an independent consumer food council, and makes no provision for consumer class actions on food issues. The interests of the food industry alone are given special consideration. So obvious is this bias that the bill reads like a joint government-business partnership agreement.
10. It denies the public's "right to know"
Bill C-80 limits access, disclosure, and the public's right to know. It states only that information on food issues "may" be released. There are no provisions for disclosing food inspection or compliance reports, no requirement for food safety information to be posted in grocery stores, no provision for a consumer education program, no protection for whistle-blowers in the food industry or the government who may want to make their concerns public. These would all be vital elements of a really effective food safety system, and their absence from Bill C-80 betrays its true nature.
What can be done about to stop the new food Act?
Pressure your M.P. Get your friends and neighbours to do the same. Bill C-80's obvious purpose is to not to strengthen the federal government's responsibility for food safety, but to further weaken it. If the Bill is enacted, it will leave the regulation of foods in the hands of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which in its first two years has failed to establish effective standards for testing and monitoring foods and seems more concerned with catering to multinational food producers than serving the interests of Canadian consumers.
What Canada needs is a food safety agency that is transparent and accountable, with a single mandate: "gate-to-plate" food safety and health protection. It must report directly and regularly to the Minister of Health, and must be subject to a parliamentary oversight committee. CFIA meets none of these conditions and, under Bill C-80, never will.
There is still time to stop Bill C-80 if we act now. Bill C-80 has been delayed because of national media attention. If M.P.'s are pressured coast to coast, this food bill can be stopped. Join the campaign to stop C-80 and the gutting of food safety. It's time to put the public interest ahead of profits.
This material is based on the analysis of public researcher and access-to-information specialist Ken Rubin. Thanks to Ed Finn of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for editing this material and everyone who contributed to the analysis of the dangerous new food Act.
Food poisonings and anxiety about genetically engineered food are on the rise. Chrétien's plan: gut food safety laws.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act was recently gutted on behalf of industry polluters. Now Chrétien plans to re- introduce the Canada Food Safety and Inspection Act (formerly C-80 ) which will dismantle the Food & Drugs Act. The new food Act puts trade before safety and health.
Facts on the new food Act:
Tell your M.P. that Parliament needs to:
People aren't lab rats