3 Threats to Health Freedom in Canada

Natural Health Product Regulations

In the mid-1990s Health Canada started attacking NHPs. Products were taken away from Canadians because they were not complying with the chemical drug regulations. Canadians became so alarmed that they rebelled. This was perhaps the largest citizen movement in Canadian history. The message from Canadians was clear: we wanted our access to NHPs protected. The Government backed down. The Minister of Health at the time, Alan Rock, asked Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health to look into how NHPs should be regulated. The Committee held wide consultations and made recommendations intended to protect Canadians’ access to NHPs. There was no misunderstanding with the Government or with the Committee with what the wishes of Canadians were: Canadians not only wanted their access to NHPs protected, they wanted increased access to NHPs. Remember citizens did not become involved because of their concern over the safety of NHPs, rather they became involved because of their concern over the danger of taking NHPs away. Canadians were relying on NHPs to protect their health and did not want their health in jeopardy.

In response to our demands for increased access to NHPs, Health Canada came out with the NHP Regulations. The NHP regulations are chemical drug-style regulations. They presume NHPs to be dangerous. Under them the NHPs we have traditionally relied upon must be taken away unless it is proved to Health Canada that they are safe and effective. In 2004 when the Regulations started to be phased in, Health Canada estimated that there were 40 – 50,000 NHPs being used in Canada. NHPs had several years to come into compliance and so the number of NHPs continued to grow. By some estimates there were 70,000 NHPs available in Canada around 2007. Then the numbers began to drop.

The numbers are declining for 3 reasons.

One reason we are losing NHPs is that they are not getting through the licensing process.

Of all the NHP license applications that Health Canada has processed to date, slightly more than 50% have failed. The thousands of products that failed to get licensed are illegal and must be removed. Some in the media focus on the licensing statistics and predict that this 50 – 55% will represent the total loss of our NHPs. They are underestimating the number of products we are losing because they are not looking at the other reasons we are losing products.

Another reason we are losing products is that producers are taking them all off of the market without ever submitting a product license. The reason for this is simple. The cost of complying with the Regulations and obtaining a license is so high, that they cannot afford to comply.

The third reason we are losing products is that foreign products are being stopped at the border – products that are completely legal in the U.S. but the manufacturers of them find the licensing process in Canada so cumbersome and the relative market so small that it’s just not worth it to continue selling excellent quality products to Canadians.

Genetically modified foods

GMO’s — or genetically modified organisms — refer to the plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology. In conversation, GMO’s and GE foods refer to the same thing. They are foods created by merging DNA from different species.

The first GMO crop (the Flavr Savr tomato) was approved by the FDA in 1994. Since then, GE varieties of corn, soya, sugar beets and canola have become common local crops in Canada. In addition to locally produced crops, GE varieties of cottonseed oil, papaya, squash and milk products are imported from the USA into Canada. In a mere 20 years, GMO ingredients have made their way into most of the processed foods available on Canadian grocery shelves. Apples, potatoes and wheat are all in the lineup for approval.

GMO crops, when first introduced, were touted as the answer to world hunger. The argument was that by developing pesticide and herbicide resistant crops, farmer’s would be able to increase their yields and decrease their costs. This has not proven to be the case. Instead, bugs and weeds have become increasingly resistant to the widespread applications of these chemicals, leading to increased use of both. More spraying means more costs for the farmers, more damage to the environment and more health concerns.

On the flip side, it means more product purchased from the seed producer. The companies that develop and patent GMO seeds are the same companies that develop and patent the pesticides and herbicides to which the unique seeds are resistant. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world and owns about 86% of GMO seeds sown globally. It is also the parent of Roundup.

The safety of GMO foods is unproven and a growing body of research connects these foods with health concerns and environmental damage. For this reason, most developed nations have policies requiring mandatory labeling of GMO foods at the very least, and some have issued bans on GMO food production and imports.

In Canada, we do not.

Canadians are often unaware that the foods they choose contains GMO ingredients. It is this basic right to choice that is behind the growing movement to have GMO foods labeled. While environmental and food advocates lobby for labeling, other groups, like The Non-GMO Project, have created voluntary non-GMO certification to facilitate consumer information.

Health Care Cuts for Newcomers

People arriving in Canada, particularly refugees, have a greater risk of healthcare issues just by virtue of the situations they are coming from, including lower sanitation and hygiene in refugee camps and cumbersome journeys in which access to food and water are a constant concern. Only very recently has the federal government opted to give these individuals full health-care coverage, including expenses incurred abroad when beginning the process to come here.

The interim federal health program was set up nearly 80 years ago to help address the health care needs of immigrants in the aftermath of the Second World War. It eventually evolved to bridge the gap between arrival and the point when refugees become eligible for provincial health-care coverage. In addition to basic medical coverage, it paid for things like prescription medications, dental and eye care for those who came as refugees and those who sought asylum upon arrival.

But the former Conservative government clawed back many of its provisions in a surprise 2012 move that was part of a broader overhaul of the refugee system and also a bid to save an estimated $20 million a year. That led to a series of successful court challenges. A scathing 2014 decision from the Federal Court ruled that the cuts amounted to “cruel and unusual” treatment and put people’s lives in danger.While the court decisions forced the Conservatives to bring back some of the benefits, they didn’t restore them all, instead creating over a dozen categories that frustrated health-care providers and claimants.

The Liberals pledged to restore the program in its entirety in their platform, and took the first step late last year, when they granted full coverage to all the Syrian refugees who were coming to Canada as part of the Liberal resettlement program. Immigration Minister John McCallum said the restoring the old system will cost an additional $5.9 million a year and the extension of the program will cost $5.6 million beginning in 2017. But he said the money is covered by the existing $51 million a year budget for the program. In the wake of the Conservative cuts, several provinces stepped forward to pick up the tabs on their own and one of them, Ontario, estimates it spent $2 million providing the extra care.

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