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.