Thursday, August 05, 2010

Canada's trans-fat failure.

The release of Canada's National Sodium Working Group's recommendations led me and many reporters to lament the lack of regulatory teeth.

Of course if we look at what's happened with the recommendations of Health Canada's Trans-Fat Task Force, the one that did have regulatory teeth, it begs the question of whether or not these task forces and working groups are only being put together to make Canadians feel as if someone cares about their health, rather than to actually effect change.

To recap, the Trans-Fat Task Force was industry inclusive, which meant that industry had veto power. Still, in June 2006 when the food industry inclusive task force released their recommendations, formal regulations were their immediate call to action,

"Foods purchased by retailers or food service establishments from a manufacturer for direct sale to consumers be regulated on a finished product or output basis, and foods prepared on-site by retailers or food service establishments be regulated on an ingredient or input basis."
Yup, the group that included Big Food actually called for regulations. They even included a timeline,
•Draft regulations be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, by June 2007;

•Regulations be finalized and published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, by June 2008;

•A basic phase-in period be set at one year from the date of entry into force of the final regulations
So what did our feckless government do with these recommendations that had the explicit approval of the food industry? After a year of doing nothing, in June 2007 then Health Minister Tony Clement gave the food industry a two-year free pass, calling for them to voluntarily reduce trans-fats in the food supply,

Said Clement at the time,
"Today industry is being given notice they have two years to reduce the levels of trans fats or Health Canada will regulate their use."
Well it's 411 days after that deadline, and over four years since the task force's final report, and yet we have still not heard a peep from Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq as to when we'll see regulations. This despite the fact that on April 22nd, 2010 she readily admitted voluntary efforts had failed.

So why the wait?

According to Sally Brown, the chairperson of the Trans-Fat Task Force,
"The regulations are written, they're sitting there waiting to be promulgated",
She went on to state,
"It's alarming that something so clear, so well-researched, consultations that were a year-and-a-half long involving national and international experts from the health side and the food industry, came up with a clear consensus that this stuff has to be out, and it's still in. It's time."
So while we may lament the lack of regulatory teeth in the Sodium Working Group's recommendations, perhaps our concern is misplaced. Because even with regulatory recommendations, the likelihood is our government won't do anything anyhow.

As an aside, I do wonder whether or not there are grounds here for a class action lawsuit. A government task force recommends formal regulations. The government ignores those recommendations opting instead for a voluntary approach and promises a regulatory approach should the food industry's voluntary efforts fail. The government then admits that the voluntary approach has failed yet still does nothing despite the fact that the regulations have already been written and both the public and private sectors are clamouring for their adoption. Meanwhile, the Centre for Science in the Public Health estimates that since the release of the Trans Fat Task Force recommendations and their subsequent dismissal by the government, 12,000 Canadians have died due to the continued inclusion of trans-fat in our food supply.

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  1. Do you suppose this has anything to do with the Conservative ideology of small government and loving the free market? Even when corporations won't voluntarily change, I get the feeling the Conservative government sees this as a failure of the will of the people.

    "If consumers really wanted these changes, the changes would take place. We're not going to force businesses to change."

    I imagine it's the same kind of "laissez faire" thinking that says people need to take charge of their own weight issues, instead of demanding the world around them change.

    (I've read your thoughts on THAT issue.)

    The conservative ideology appears to be, "If the people demand change, business will change. If the system is broken, and few people want it fixed, can we really say the system is broken?"

    The answer is, of course, yes, we can say the system is broken. But because it goes against Conservative ideology, maybe they just can't perceive it that way?

  2. Well, south of the border, we allow outright lies on front-of-the package claims. The unsuspecting public has no idea that this is going on. Sad, sad, sad!

  3. Donna4:52 pm

    I really think that any consumer, who knows how to read a lable would want this change.
    The problem being that many people don't have the knowlege of what a trans fat is, or what is does to you.
    My daughter 4, probley knows more then most adults when it comes to food, and what's healthy. I'm not knocking most adults, it's just one of the ways our world is changing. (We raise our own animlas and have a hudge garden we eat from all year)
    When were in the grocery store, she asked for things her friends bring on their lunch, cool aid, fruit roll-ups, bearpaws, all not really healthy. I tell her we'll read the list, I point out whats bad and tell her why it's bad.
    She looked at me the other day and said"someone better to tell so and so mom, cause he brings that everyday.
    Comsumers don't know what it's doing to them, and a responsible government should help insure are food is as healthy as it could possible be.
    PS at soccor another mom brought cool-aid, for the snack.. She's 4. she took one sip, and said she didn't like. Mom, I don't want to drink this, ok, put it in the garbage, where it belongs.
    Sorry for ranting, but or goverment doesn't care about the health of our children or they would step it up!

  4. I agree with Donna's point that not many consumers seem to know that trans-fats are a problem, and the ones that do know don't seem to care much. In Australia, trans-fats aren't a big public health issue at all. People are more aware of healthy eating messages like increasing fruit and veg intake and reducing fast food consumption. Rice bran oils and margarines aren't even always available, let alone in the mainstream.