Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Why the food industry's thrilled with Canada's Sodium Working Group

With the release of Canada's Sodium Working Group's recommendations last week I imagine champagne corks were flying in Canada's food industry's boardrooms.


1. There's no call for regulation. There's no call even for the most conservative recommendations like for instance limiting the amount of sodium per serving in toddler foods. With no call for regulation, there's no cause for urgency. With no cause for urgency, there's no cause for change. With no cause for change, there's no cause for spending any money reformulating and repackaging products.

2. The call to post nutritional information on menu boards includes both calories and sodium. You might think industry would be upset by this. I'd guess you'd be wrong. I'd guess you'd be wrong because by coupling the call to action with a call to post both calories and sodium, the call is far less likely to be heeded. It simply adds a degree of difficulty to any push for menuboard reform and that of course in turn makes it far easier to fight.

3. With the call to adopt the recommendations of the US' Institute of Medicine report on front-of-pack food labeling the food industry is likely hopeful that their recommendations will be more lenient than ours - a likely case scenario given that front-of-package health claims are far easier to make in the States than in Canada and so even with reform, they're still likely to allow the Canadian food industry to enjoy a robust expansion in their front-of-package labeling allowances.

All said and done, the Sodium Working Group's recommendations, while broad reaching in theory, aren't particularly likely to be broad reaching in practice and demonstrate quite clearly why the inclusion of the food industry at the decision making table is a completely irresponsible practice.

While the food industry is certainly a "stakeholder" in federal dietary recommendations and reforms, their role should be relegated to that of a consultancy whereby they're asked and encouraged to provide as much input as they'd like to a committee free of industry influence. That committee would in turn take the food industry's concerns into account when creating a series of recommendations whose primary goal is to improve the health of Canadians, not protect the wealth of Big Food.

[Tellingly, when I was asked by Health Canada a few weeks ago to participate in a post-hoc survey on the implementation and design of Canada's 2007 Food Guide there was a question as to whether or not there were "stakeholders" who should have been consulted or whose concerns may have fallen by the wayside. I of course suggested that the question should also have asked whether or not there were stakeholders who should not have been consulted or whose concerns were overly represented in our awful Food Guide.]