What is the Stupidest Thing You Have Heard about Bill C-51 Lately?
We should consider giving out an award in this category. Here is a possible winner for June 2008 – Jeremy Arney, Canadian Action Party candidate for the federal electoral district of Saanich-Gulf Islands, BC. Have a listen, but be warned, the video contains unsettling levels of arrogance, ignorance and disdain:
If that sounded too off-the-wall to possibly be correct, that’s because it is, in fact, completely wrong. But let’s see how wrong it is.
Claim No. 1 – Foods are regulated with drugs because of their healing powers
“Originally back in 1907, a Bill was produced in the House of Parliament [sic, Parliament or House of Commons] to stop people from altering foods. That’s what it was called, the Food Alterations Act [sic]. And then in about 1920, it was changed to being the Food and Drug[s] Act. The reason for that was because, by this time, drugs were beginning to become to be a little bit more widely used and more powerful and more dangerous, so that they were combined. I’m not quite sure why foods were combined with drugs, except that … for thousands of years the Chinese have known [about] the healing powers of food. So I guess that some kind of faint logic says that if food has healing powers, then it should be combined with drugs.” [Time 0:12-0:58]
Just a little quibble here, but if you’re going to try to sound authoritative, you should at least get your facts right. I’m not personally familiar with the early history of the Food and Drugs Act, but I will cite as possibly better researched the article by Gary Gnirss for the foodincanada.com website called “A History of Food Law in Canada.” In the article, Gary talks about the Act Respecting Inland Revenue to Prevent the Adulteration of Food, Drink and Drugs of 1876 and the Adulteration Act of 1884. The creation of the first Food and Drugs Act in 1920 followed the establishment of the Food and Drugs Division of Federal Department of Health in 1919 and mirrored the British Sale of Food and Drugs Act of 1875 and US Food and Drugs Act of 1906.
These historical trends for combining food and drugs under the same laws are a compelling explanation. I would have guessed that it just makes sense to want to guarantee the safety and quality of consumable products, so that combining food and drugs under the same legislative framework is not that much of a leap in imagination. In any case, I don’t think we have to invoke the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine or the healing power of foods to get us there.
Claim No. 2 – Drugs have become more complicated and foods less complicated
“So now, up until 1958, things got more and more complicated. Drugs got more and more complicated, and the food got less complicated and maybe a bit more twisted.” [Time 0:59-1:10]
It’s not worth spending a lot of time on this one, but I couldn’t let it go unchallenged. On the one hand, are carrots from a hundred years ago any more or less “complicated” than carrots today? On the other hand, processed foods and genetically modified foods would imply that food complication, whatever that is, is probably on the rise. I’m guessing that Mr. Arney just got caught in a rhetorical construct on this one and zoned out when he was talking.
Claim No. 3 – With Bill C-51, food delivery vehicles will have to display dangerous goods signs
“In the Hazardous Goods Act [sic, Hazardous Products Act], there are four groups that come under the same classification. I’d like you to listen to these – explosives, pesticides, food and drugs, and nuclear waste that is radioactive. Now, three of those four cannot be transported anywhere in Canada without dangerous goods signs [sic, Controlled Products Labels] on them. My question is really quite simple, since now health foods and drugs are being classified together – and drugs should actually have those classifications on them, I’m not going to argue that – but since now … natural health foods, simple things like tomatoes, grapes, apples, oranges, anything that’s got a vitamin in it, garlic, mint that you grow in your garden, all have food subsidized [sic] type content – they now, if this Law [sic, Bill] passes, should be carried by vehicles with dangerous goods signs on them.” [Time 1:20-2:28]
This is the meaty part of the video, if you excuse the food reference, so it’s worth spending a little time on this claim.
Mr. Arney implies that Bill C-51 will cause “natural health foods” to be classified as drugs. By “natural health foods,” did he mean healthy food or natural health products (NHPs)? Healthy foods have always been considered foods under the Food and Drugs Act. Just because a food is healthy, it is not suddenly considered to be an NHP. NHPs, on the other hand, can be extracts of foods that are being marketed with health claims and, as such, are produced, distributed and sold in accordance with Natural Health Product Regulations (SOR/2003-196, SOR/2007-288 and SOR/2007-289), which impose product licensing, market authorization and site licensing requirements on them. This has been the case since 2004 when the NHP Regulations came into force. Under Bill C-51, drugs and NHPs are lumped together legislatively as therapeutic products, but they will be regulated separately, and existing regulations will continue in force, so for NHPs, nothing discussed here will change.
The Hazardous Products Act does refer to the Food and Drugs Act and has done so since 1985. The extract that Mr. Arney showed at Time 1:32 is from Part I of the Hazardous Products Act. This Part bans persons from advertising, selling or importing Prohibited Products as defined by the Act and mandates persons to follow regulations concerning Restricted Products as defined by the Act. So, let’s look at the wording of that extract:
“3. (1) This Part does not apply in respect of the advertising, sale or importation of any
(a) explosive within the meaning of the Explosives Act;
(b) cosmetic, device, drug or food within the meaning of the Food and Drugs Act;
(c) pest control product as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Pest Control Products Act; or
(d) nuclear substance, within the meaning of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, that is radioactive.” [emphasis mine]
When Mr. Arney was putting red ovals on his exhibit, he should have put one over the word “not”. The Hazardous Products Act does not apply to products covered by th
e Food and Drugs Act. This section underlines the fact that the four Acts listed have their own labelling regulations. For NHPs, the labelling regulations (see NHP Labelling Guidance Document) deal with the safety and usage information that goes on the NHP’s packaging.
What Mr. Arney was likely referring to when he talks about “dangerous goods signs” are Controlled Products Labels. In Schedule II of the Hazardous Products Act, Controlled Products are listed as:
“Class A – Compressed Gass
Class B – Flammable and Combustible Material
Class C – Oxidizing Material
Class D – Poisonous and Infectious Material
Class E – Corrosive Material
Class F – Dangerously Reactive Material”
NHPs didn’t make the list, and Bill C-51 doesn’t change that.
Claim No. 4 – Aspirin is a very dangerous drug that many doctors no longer prescribe for patients with heart problems and that probably would not be approved today
“Balance this against Aspirin. I’m not going to say any particular brand. I don’t need to. Aspirin. Many doctors will no longer even prescribe it for people who have heart problems because it is not a good drug. It is a very dangerous drug. It probably wouldn’t even pass even Canada Health Acts … Health Protection Acts … Department [sic, Food and Drugs Act] today, and yet you can go to a news agency, and you can buy Aspirin. Something’s a little twisted here, isn’t it?” [Tme 3:11-3:59]
First of all, isn’t “aspirin” the brand name of Bayer’s acetylsalicylic acid (ASA)? All right, I won’t quibble.
The exhibit that Mr. Arney displayed at Time 3:18 is “The Real Truth about Aspirin: More Alternatives to Lower the Risk of Stroke” by Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD. The article is a responsible, evidence-based assessment of the uses and risks of aspirin, along with some dietary suggestions to mitigate its use.
The first paragraph of the article says:
“For more than a decade, doctors have been prescribing a low, daily dose of aspirin to people at risk for heart attacks and strokes. This treatment, endorsed by the FDA, has been shown to be highly effective in preventing initial and recurring heart attacks in men. However, aspirin hasn’t been shown to lower the risk of stroke in men. Interestingly, an article in the March 31, 2005 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the opposite was true for women—aspirin helped prevent stroke, but not heart attacks!” [emphasis mine]
Dr. Northrup does not say that aspirin is a “very dangerous drug.” Instead, she very responsibly says:
So, should you be taking aspirin daily? Maybe, maybe not. Understand that taking an aspirin a day is only one way to lower the risk of a stroke—and not even the most effective one. And aspirin isn’t risk free. It carries the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and is contraindicated in those with a history of ulcers or who are already taking other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve, and other similar medications available by prescription only.
I think that is common knowledge. I certainly didn’t find it surprising or scary, for that matter. Despite Mr. Arney’s fear-mongering, doctors are comfortable knowing when and when not to prescribe aspirin.
So would aspirin be refused product licensing by Health Canada today? I don’t know why it would. It is currently treated as an over-the-counter drug because of its long safety record and its low risk side-effects. If it were to start from scratch today, it would follow the same product licensing path as other drugs (see Access to Therapeutic Products: The Regulatory Process in Canada for an overview of the process). Success would be based on the evidence coming out of pre-clinical studies and clinical trials. In fact, Bill C-51 recommends an improved, progressive licensing scheme for drugs and NHPs, which emphasizes the safety performance of drugs over their life-cycle and not just at initial product licensing. I would have thought Mr. Arney would want that.
Claim No. 5 – Big Pharma is behind Bill C-51 because they want to control everything you intake
“And what is really behind this? It’s hard to tell, but it would appear that it’s a pharmaceutical company grab for everything anybody intakes in any way, shape or form.” [Time 3:59-4:10]
Ah, the Big Pharma conspiracy theory. I was waiting for that. Of course, if Big Pharma does intend to control all consumables, isn’t it possible that they have surreptitiously bought out NHP companies and are now using the spectre of Big Pharma to conduct a grass-roots campaign to deregulate NHPs in order to maximize their profits? If he gets his conspiracy theory, then I get mine.
Claim No. 6 – With Bill C-51, you may be charged for carrying oranges in your car without a proper sign (at least on BC ferries)
“every food conveying piece of transport that goes on the BC ferries should now have dangerous goods signs [sic] on it. And if they’re in the same classification as explosives, pesticides and nuclear waste that’s radioactive, they can’t travel on the BC ferries. … Let’s say you want to take a trip from Vancouver to Victoria on the BC ferry and you have four oranges in your possession, that means that you should have placards on their car. And if they don’t like the fact that you’re carrying that stuff, they could confiscate it, charge you five million dollars and/or two years in jail. Just for carrying four oranges on the BC ferry.” [Time 4:13-4:54]
I’m not sure what the hang-up is with BC ferries, but I take it that he is speaking to his desired constituents. I also wonder who “they” are – BC ferries crew, Health Canada SWAT teams, Big Pharma men-in-black? In any case, as discussed above, Bill C-51 has nothing to do with Controlled Products Labels or “dangerous goods signs.” So our innocent, unsigned family of orange-eating motorists are safe.
Bill C-51 does indicate a maximum penalty of five million dollars or two years imprisonment (Section 31(1)), but it’s far from mandatory sentencing. It also states that “due diligence is a defence in a prosecution” of this type (Section 31(2)). Clearly, the enhanced enforcement measures in Bill C-51 are intended to deal meaningfully with large drug, NHP, food and cosmetic producers, distributors and sellers who knowingly or negligently provide unsafe, tainted, fraudulent or counterfeit products to the public. Grannies brewing up herbal teas for their grandchildren don’t seem to be targeted, or at least, I haven’t found that section of the Bill yet.
Claim No. 7 – People should be empowered to make choices concerning their own health
“Freedom for the people to think for themselves is really important. To have that choice to look after your own health is one of the fundamentals of any free country.” [Time 5:04-5:16]
I absolutely agree! Canadians have a right to make healthcare decisions based on informed choice. They need to know what
the risks are with the therapeutic products they are buying, that the products are what they say they are, and that the products can do what they claim to do. Surely, Mr. Arney would agree that ensuring, through meaningful enforcement measures, that drug and NHP companies provide safe, quality and effective products is what is needed. That’s all that Bill C-51 is trying to do.