Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An open letter to Canada's Minister of Health

June 23rd, 2009

Honourable Leona Aglukkaq
Minister of Health
House of Commons
460 Confederation Building
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Aglukkaq,

My name is Yoni Freedhoff and I'm a physician located in Ottawa with special interests in nutrition and in public health advocacy.

I'm writing you today with regard to trans-fat.

As I'm sure you're aware, on June 20th, 2007 your predecessor Tony Clement ignored the recommendations of the Government's own Trans-Fat Task Force that called for the immediate regulation of trans-fats and instead announced,
"today industry is being given notice they have two years to reduce the levels of trans fats or Health Canada will regulate their use."
So how did the food industry use their two-year free pass?

Not well.

Sally Brown, Chair of Canada's Trans-Fat Taskforce reports,
"Although some companies and sectors have stepped up to the plate and done well, overall the food industry is not sufficiently reducing trans fats voluntarily."
What else has happened over the course of the past two years?

Well according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Centre for Science in the Public Interest as a consequence of Health Canada's two years of inaction on trans-fat over 6,000 Canadians lost their lives due to its inclusion in Canada's food supply.

And of course it's not as if Health Canada is incapable of bans on dangerous chemicals. Here's Health Canada's rationale for the banning of bisphenol-A from baby bottles,
"We have immediately taken action on bisphenol A, because we believe it is our responsibility to ensure families, Canadians and our environment are not exposed to a potentially harmful chemical."
Yet in that same press release Health Canada stated,
"The scientists concluded in this assessment that bisphenol A exposure to newborns and infants is below levels that may pose a risk"
And just last week Health Canada announced a ban on six phthalates compounds that the most recent comprehensive review article notes,
"Analysis of all of the available data leads to the conclusion that the risks are low, even lower than originally thought, and that there is no convincing evidence of adverse effects on humans. Since the scientific evidence strongly suggests that risks to humans are low, phthalate regulations that have been enacted are unlikely to lead to any marked improvement in public health."
Contrast those actions with the inaction on trans-fat, a compound that head of the Trans-Fat task force has stated is,
"a "toxic" killer that need to be removed from the food chain as soon as possible"
"the longer we wait, the more illness and in fact death will happen, so we know we have to get it out of our food supply"
and that,
"there is no safe amount of trans consumption"
Superficially it would appear to me that Health Canada only tends to leap into action on matters that are politically palatable.

If it truly is Health Canada's
"responsibility to ensure families, Canadians and our environment are not exposed to a potentially harmful chemical"
why then is trans-fat still on Canada's store shelves?

Two years is two years too many. Minister Aglukkaq, how many more thousands of Canadians need to die before Health Canada takes real action?


Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD
Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute
575 West Hunt Club, Suite 100
Ottawa ON K2G5W5