Statements & Speeches

Senator Seidman speaks to Bill S-228, Prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children – Motion for Concurrence in Commons Amendments

October 18, 2018

Your Honour, I move that the Senate agree to the amendments made by the House of Commons to Bill S-228, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children) and that a message be sent to the House of Commons to acquaint that house accordingly.

The Hon. the Speaker: It is moved by the Honourable Senator Seidman, seconded by Honourable Senator Boisvenu, that the Senate agree to the amendments made — shall I dispense?

Hon. Senators: Dispense.

The Hon. the Speaker: On debate, Senator Seidman.

Senator Seidman: Honourable senators, it is with real joy that I stand before this chamber to speak now as Bill S-228 returns to the Senate for concurrence on amendments made in the House of Commons, for I speak with the voice of our dear friend and colleague Senator Nancy Greene Raine, who retired in June. We all had hoped she herself would be standing here today to speak for the final time on a piece of legislation that she worked on with enormous commitment, a piece of legislation very dear to her heart. She and I have worked closely over the years on these issues of child health, some of which were natural extensions of work done on our Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, particularly our study on obesity.

At the outset, I should say that when I was speaking to Senator Greene Raine recently, she asked that I convey congratulations to Law Clerk Suzie Seo, who worked with her to draft Bill S-228. Senator Raine also consulted widely, both in Canada and the U.S., especially with the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Bill S-228, the child health protection act, began its life here, in this chamber, on October 5, 2016, introduced by our colleague Senator Nancy Greene Raine. The bill was studied, amended and passed unanimously by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology in June 2017. After third reading debate, it was passed in this chamber on September 28, 2017, about one year after it was first introduced.

It is important to note that the version of Bill S-228 that was passed in this chamber would have prohibited the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages targeted to children under the age of 17.

Perhaps now is the time for a bit of history in order to clarify the issue around the choice of the age of target. In the original version of this bill, in this place at second reading, the age of target was children under 13 years of age. The fact that this particular target age had already survived a Supreme Court challenge of Quebec’s own legislation, passed in the 1980s, made this choice compelling. The Supreme Court ruling did categorically find that advertising to children was “per se manipulative.”

However, a growing body of evidence was developing to indicate that the teenage brain, too, is very susceptible to the powers of persuasive marketing. Supported by many stakeholder organizations working in the obesity field, Senator Greene Raine proposed during the Social Affairs Committee hearings in June 2017 an amendment to raise the age from 13 years to 17 years of age. This amendment was approved in the committee stage.

Now fast-forward to the other place, where Bill S-228 was studied by the Health Committee after their second reading debate just this past June and was amended to change the target age back to the original of under 13 years of age. This amendment was moved by MP Dr. Doug Eyolfson, who was the sponsor of the bill in that place. He stated that his reason for this amendment was that, although he agreed in principle with the importance of protecting children up to the age of 17, there were concerns of a Charter challenge to render the entire bill invalid. Dr. Eyolfson concluded that the original target of 13 years of age, supported by Quebec legislation, would give the bill the greatest chance of success.

Dr. Eyolfson then moved an additional amendment that called for a parliamentary review within five years to assess whether unintended consequences might ensue, particularly an increase in the marketing of unhealthy food targeted at the 13- to 17-year-old age group. This review, designated or established for this purpose, is to take place by both houses of Parliament within five years of the bill’s coming into effect.

Senator Greene Raine supports both of these amendments that were passed in the other place.

Honourable senators, I remind you that the genesis of this bill was in the study that the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology undertook because of rising obesity rates in Canada. Rates of obesity have tripled in Canada since 1980, and one in three children between the ages of 5 and 17 years are either overweight or obese. Evidence shows serious consequences for overweight children, who are much more likely to develop chronic diseases later in life.

Obesity research has demonstrated there to be many causes, but, as our Senate committee study concluded, the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children has a very negative impact. In our committee’s study of Bill S-228, we heard testimony from witnesses who, with the exception of the food and advertising industries, unanimously supported the strictest controls on the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children. This testimony led the committee to recommend that the federal government implement a full prohibition on the advertising of food and beverages to children, following from Quebec’s prohibition of all advertising to children, which has been in place since the 1980s.

While the prohibition in Quebec has had some success, their legislated restrictions are limited to print and broadcast advertising. Predictably, after the law came into effect, other forms of marketing to youth increased. It is good to see that La Coalition Poids, the Quebec coalition, supports Bill S-228. The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, which includes 12 notable allied health agencies, co-led by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Childhood Obesity Foundation, have been extremely vocal with their support from the beginning.

Honourable senators, during the debate on Bill C-45, we heard concerns that children are targeted with many forms of marketing. Will the money currently spent on marketing junk food to children under 13, once that is prohibited, move to target teenagers? For this reason, I am pleased that Bill S-228 was amended to include a five-year review of the potential for unintended consequences that may negatively affect teenagers. Marketing specialists today understand that adolescents can be targeted with messaging that plays on specific emotions, especially through social media. When teenagers choose to snack on foods high in salt, sugar and fat, and to drink pop and highly caffeinated beverages, it can result in poor food choices for the rest of their lives.

The amount of targeted advertising of unhealthy products to children and teenagers in Canada, including all forms of commercial marketing, has greatly increased over the years. This has happened for the simple reason that the experts who design these marketing campaigns know full well that they work.

Today, there are many ways to influence children to choose unhealthy food and beverages, including sponsorships, testimonials and product giveaways. We know the tools used to develop successful marketing campaigns effectively use the latest technology and the reach of the Internet.

While this legislation to amend the Food and Drugs Act includes the general intent and framework, the details will be contained in regulations that can be updated to respond to new ways of marketing. Senator Greene Raine is confident the many stakeholder groups involved in the childhood obesity issue will watch and ensure the regulations to be developed following Royal Assent of Bill S-228 will live up to the legislation’s intent and purpose.

Honourable senators, I ask that you carefully consider the positive impact that Bill S-228 can have on the health of Canadian children. Just like Senator Greene Raine, I, too, support the amendments from the other place that protect children under 13 years of age from targeted advertising of unhealthy foods and ensure that any new evidence over the next five years is followed up to keep this legislation current and relevant.

The goal of the bill remains, as it was always intended to be, the protection of child health. I urge you to concur with Bill S-228 as amended in the other place. Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions if you have them.