Shields speaks about concerns on new labelling for packages

With the House of Commons back in session, Martin Shields MP for Bow River, rose in the House for the first time during session on Oct. 19. He addressed new legislation that would require front-of-package labelling on package products in the grocery store and health concerns related to stress brought on by the increase to the carbon tax.

“It is great to be in the House tonight and dealing with this topic. I am glad to see the parliamentary secretary for health, and since I have asked a question about health, we will start with a bit about health.”

“There was the warning label on ground beef and pork. There was no warning label on the same cuts of beef and pork when they were whole, but all of a sudden there was a warning label on the ground meat itself. Maybe it was the knife. Maybe it was the grinding that made it. I do not know what the science was, but a couple of people have mentioned analogies to me. They said we might have a whole log that had no warning label on it, yet if we cut it up into a two-by-four, it might get a warning label. Maybe it is the saw. What about a potato? If it was whole and baked it could have no warning label, but if we turned it into mashed potatoes, it might get a warning label. Maybe it is the utensils.”

“The science must have changed because the Liberals reversed it. We did not know what the science was before, but the science changed, so they reversed it. They did not tell us what the reversing science was.”

“Let us go into a bit more about health in the ag sector because it is huge in the sense that it directly affects ag. Is there a lot of stress in the ag sector? There absolutely is. Have members seen the suicide rate in the ag sector? They should check it out.”

“In my riding, we have irrigation and a lot of irrigation. Four per cent of the land produces almost 20 per cent of the Alberta ag GDP. Electricity is used to produce irrigation. Electricity is not a fuel, so there is not an exemption for fuel. As a business expense, it is very small: less than part of one per cent. It is an inflation carbon tax. The carbon tax takes literally millions away from my ag producers. Does this cause stress and is it a health problem? Absolutely.”

“Now, the Liberals want to triple the carbon tax. It is not going to be returned; it is gone. That means there is a ripple effect on the machinery producers and the communities. Wherever they buy, there is less money there.”

“Stress is there in the ag sector. The warning label on beef was just one of the stresses, but the tripling of the carbon tax and the cost of irrigation, which is huge in my riding, is another problem for health in my ag producers.”

“The minister announced a 30 per cent fertilizer reduction by 2030. Where was the science? Where was the baseline? Where was the consultation with the ag organizations, with the wheat organizations or with the fertilizer or ag producers? Why is the minister not talking about it being voluntary now? Does this create stress and a health issue in the ag sector? Absolutely it does, because there were no consultations and no credit was given to incredible, world-leading Canadian ag producers whose work is science-based, capturing carbon, reducing fertilizer use and using other practices that are world-leading.”

“There is no science behind this 30 per cent reduction of emissions. These are world-leading ag producers who are doing it. They will continue to do it. The government’s goal, which it now calls voluntary even though it was not, was to reduce ag production by $20 billion a year. Canadian food security would go down if it did this, and export production would go down. Where is the science, and what about the stress on their mental health of tripling the carbon tax on the ag producers, especially in the irrigation sector in my riding?”

Adam van Koeverden, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health and MP for Milton Ontario, responded back to Shields’ concerns.

“It is always a pleasure to come into the House to discuss these issues with my friend from Bow River. He was a teacher, so it is interesting to me that he, like many of his colleagues, refers to a change in the price of pollution, or ‘carbon tax’, as he calls it. Of course, judges in courts across the country have deemed it not to be a tax, because it is not a revenue program, but when it goes up $15 from $50, I still fail to see how that is a tripling. Perhaps my colleague from Bow River was not a math teacher. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this important initiative that will help Canadians make healthier choices.”

“There is a chronic disease crisis in Canada and its scope is staggering and increasing. Diet-related chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease are now a leading cause of illness and death. Two out of five Canadians live with a chronic disease. COVID-19 showed us that people with obesity and diet-related chronic diseases are more vulnerable to hospitalization and death. This problem is growing and has a human cost. Chronic disease diminishes quality of life and shortens lifespan. It robs us of time with our loved ones. It also has a significant impact on the healthcare system and our economy. No ag producers or anybody, really, are immune from these complicated lifestyle-related diseases.”

“My colleague from Bow River did reference front-of-package labelling on ground beef which, if he had a look at the legislation, he would know there is no front-of-package labelling on ground beef as he indicated. He is correct. The vast majority of single-ingredient foods, including butter, milk or sugar, are not front-of-package labelled as a product that contains a lot of sugar. A bag of sugar is not front-of-package labelled because, of course, it contains sugar: it is sugar.”

“More than half of the packaged foods in grocery stores are high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat. Most of us eat too much of that stuff without even realizing it. Canadians’ average intake exceeds the recommendations established by authorities such as the World Health Organization.”

“The front-of-package symbol will signal to consumers to look more closely at nutrition facts on the label. It will only be required on foods that meet or exceed certain thresholds for saturated fat, sodium and sugar. The symbol will give consumers more information about what is in their food. It will help them quickly and easily make healthier choices.”

“Several countries have advanced similar regulations, and evaluations clearly show that symbols are effective and help people make better decisions when they are at the grocery store. More information is always a good thing. As a teacher, I am certain that my friend from Bow River would agree.”

“To ensure the policy will be effective, exemptions are only provided in specific circumstances, such as when there is evidence that the food provides a protective effect on health, like fruits, vegetables or healthy oils. In most cases, when consumers go to the grocery store, there are options in every food category that do not carry the front-of-package symbol.”

“It is time to provide Canadians with the information they need to choose healthier foods. The evidence is clear that front-of-package labelling will help consumers make healthier choices. That is why I am glad that our government has brought them forward on foods that Canadians will now have a little bit more information on. My colleague’s questions did not focus only on front-of-package labelling, so I look forward to the rebuttal.”

Shields responded with a very brief rebuttal.

“I always appreciate being in the House with the parliamentary secretary and hearing his response to what I may say, which might be slightly different from what he might have expected.”

“I will talk again about the irrigation districts, the lack of pipes, the cost of pipes and the environmental practice of putting in pipes instead of canals. The price is now over 200 per cent more than it was a year ago. Municipalities are also experiencing the same cost for pipes to put in the ground.”

“We are talking about a challenge that is stress-related. It is hard on irrigation ag producers in my riding when there is talk about increasing the carbon tax, as the government is going to do. This is a price taker. That creates stress and mental health challenges for the ag producers who produce all of this food for our country and food security.”

Koeverden finished off this back-and-forth by speaking about the farmers in his own writing.

“It is always a pleasure to talk with my colleague from Bow River. I am glad that he brought up the topic of climate change. I met with a whole bunch of farmers from my riding. Many people are not aware that the riding of Milton is home to many ag producers. We have beef farmers, chicken farmers, egg farmers and apple farmers. When my family came from the Netherlands, they settled just outside of Chatham, Ontario, and they are apple farmers themselves.”

“I love visiting farms and talking to farmers. I will say that the farmers in my riding are committed to fighting climate change. They understand that they have an extraordinarily important role to play and they are focused on saving our environment from climate change. I know that the farmers in my colleague’s riding also care about climate change and fighting it.”

“It is up to the provinces to decide if they would like to bring something forward like cap and trade or another measure to fight climate change. For the provinces that do not, like Alberta where my colleague is from, and Ontario where I live, we have a backstop program and that is a price on pollution. It is a good thing.”

Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times