IN THE NEWS ~ Activist applauds MP's toxins bill

Peter Julian is calling for 'right-to-know' labelling for consumers

Christina Myers, Burnaby Now

A longtime Burnaby environmental and health activist is applauding a push to introduce "right-to-know" labelling for toxic ingredients in household products.

Mae Burrows of Toxic Free Canada - formerly known as the Labour Environmental Alliance Society - says the private member's bill put forward earlier this month by MP Peter Julian will give Canadians the tools they need to make informed decisions for their families.

The bill would require all household products sold or imported into Canada containing toxic substances to have clearly marked labels identifying their toxic contents to consumers.

Burrows notes that her organization - which has been campaigning for such legislation for five years - wrote to local MPs in January urging them to act, adding that, as people learn more about the potential health impacts of certain toxins, they are demanding more information and accountability.

"The polls that we have show the majority of Canadians want to have the right to know," Burrows told the NOW recently. "The legislation we have now doesn't protect us, it's very hit and miss."

She says there are a wide variety of potentially toxic ingredients that people want, and should have the right, to know about. For example, some paint strippers have carcinogenic toxins in them.

"People are really starting to realize that low-dose exposure does have an impact."

The society has successfully managed to work with several municipalities in B.C. in having cosmetic pesticide bans introduced, and Burrows says they are now working at a provincial level to see that expanded.

"People sometimes think that maybe we're trying to create panic, and that's not it at all. We want people to have the information they need, and then they can be calm about it and can make the decisions in the marketplace that fit their life and their concerns," she said.

As an example, Burrows points to the recent concerns over bisphenol-A in certain plastic products. Last year, Health Canada determined that pregnant women and babies are at risk from exposure to BPA, but products don't have to be labelled.

In a statement, Julian noted that a previous version of the bill had been pending a second reading in the House of Commons prior to the dissolution of Parliament last fall.

"Bill C-338 recognizes that every single Canadian has a right to know what dangers are posed to their health by the everyday products they use," he said. "It's high time consumers are empowered with this knowledge, not just to be able to make informed purchases but also to use their purchasing power to put pressure on companies to use more environmentally sustainable and healthier ingredients - it's a clear win for every Canadian."

He says the bill builds on existing legislation that provides for product labelling in the case of poisonous and dangerous products but that doesn't extend to consumer products. Similar legislation has already been enacted in the European Union and in California.

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© Burnaby Now 2009