Blog Entry

Risk First, Safety Last

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

Environmentalists from across Canada were told about plans by Health Canada to gut health protection for Canadians through a proposed new "Canadian Health Protection Act" at a retreat February 17-19.

Health Canada proposes to consolidate four laws and bring them into compliance with language in Canada's trade agreements like the World Trade Organisation (WTO). These laws are the Hazardous Products Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Quarantine Act and the Radiation Emitting Devices Act. Laws like the Pest Control Products act would be "integrated into the new framework".

Many metals and mineral products are hazardous and Canada consistently supports their use in Canada and their export to other countries based on 'safe use' criteria. As an example, bans on the import of nickel-cadmium batteries had enormous public support in the 1990s, but were beaten back by the industry lobby led by Canada. The import of chrysotile asbestos products is not allowed in France, but they are considered safe for use here.

The spin surrounding the new proposals by Health Canada is that they will "modernize and strengthen the legislation", but careful analysis indicates that it has serious flaws:

• It downgrades the role of Health Canada as a regulator
• It does not explicitly incorporate international health protection covenants
• It relies on "assessing risks", rather than on the precautionary principle.
• It incorporates language that would allow economic advantage to a company to over-ride concerns about the health effects of a product
• It incorporates the idea of "undue" risk in proposals for a General Safety Standard and declines to legislate clear standards for product safety.
• It makes no new proposals regarding "novel" foods or water protection.

For more information, see Risk First, Safety Last on the web site of the Canadian Health Coalition