"According to a recent survey, 14 out of 10 people love chocolate" A woman in Cyberspace, 2004.
THE CURRENT CONTEXT:
Members of Parliament voted 193-73 on November 23rd, 2004 to ban artificial trans-fats from Canadian diets, despite existing legislation requiring more complete labeling of food to take effect by December 2005. The U.S. Public Health Service announced in June 1975 in its Forward Plan for Health, that it was considering "strong regulations to control the advertisement of food products, especially those of high sugar content or little nutritional value." By 1980, Health Canada had already been made well aware of the dangers of trans-fats, but made no moves to require proper labeling or to educate the public. Experts warned Health Canada again in 1995 of the need to label trans-fats in foods, but still the government did little or nothing to educate the public.
By 1985, Obesity was declared and widely accepted as a ‘disease’ in the U.S. and Canada. Given the trend in sin-taxes, regulation of the tobacco industry, and harassment of adult smokers, how long before the ban on trans-fats becomes a ban on "being fat?" If obesity is as dangerous and unhealthy as smoking, and overeating is classified as an addiction, could the government possibly start regulating and adding sin-taxes to high calorie foods?
The idea has already been proposed by people like Kelly Brownell, Director of Yale University’s Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. Jacob Sullom, in The Tyranny of Public Health, posits that at this rate, there is no logistical reason why people could not be required to weigh in at an approved doctor's office, say, once a year, and report the results to the Internal Revenue Service for tax assessment. He goes on to say that such a scenario is ridiculous because "it is an intrusion by the state into matters that should remain private." If such a scenario appears ridiculous now, we need only consider how the current smoking bans, or bicycle helmet laws, would have appeared to the generations of Canadians fighting in World Wars One and Two…
The general government trend in nutritional health for the past 25 years, however, has unfortunately NOT been to inform the public nor to legislate strong labeling requirements so that individuals can be informed and take responsibility for themselves. Now, despite labeling legislation finally set to take effect in December 2005 in Canada and January 2006 in the U.S., the government seems to have jumped onto the "We-know-what’s-good-for-you-and-we’ll-make-the-decisions-for-you" train. Much as it is doing with tobacco and as it proposes to do with bicycle helmets, the government prefers to impose tyrannical laws forcing its citizens to abide by an unnecessary ideal rather than to inform and protect them from external threats and misinformation.
A very important upset to the Nanny State occurred in April 2005 when the scientific community revealed that it had grossly over-estimated the morbidity rate of obesity. In one fell swoop, a decade of negative health stygma and justification for upcoming social control was eliminated. Unfortunately, few if any journalists asked the question: "if the scientists and politicians had so exaggerated the dangers of obesity, is it not possible that they are also misrepresenting the dangers of trans-fats, or of environmental tobacco smoke?"
Canada’s NDP was the strong proponent of the legislation banning transfats in Canada. Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin introduced a bill based on Danish law. (Dennmark is currently the only other country to ban trans-fats). The leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, made the following frightening statement: "Legislating transfats out of food is safer for families than weak voluntary guidelines and confusing labels. When something’s dangerous, families need protection and industry needs an incentive to find replacements. Families have a right to safe food and industry should have an obligation to make it safer. When a drug is unsafe, it’s not subject to a voluntary ban or a label, and there’s no reason families’ food should be treated differently." This type of thinking opens the door to the banning of many other consumable products, including but not limited to cigarettes, alcohol, red meat, french-fries, seafood (the highest incidence of food poisoning is in shrimps, after all), sweets and various carbonated beverages. But why limit the bans to consumables, why not also ban other products that can clearly maim or kill, such as knives, scissors, household bleach, super-glue, hammers, rollerblades, bicycles, cars, baseball bats, diving boards, pillows, plastic shopping bags, trampolines, etc.
Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh called the vote to ban transfats a "clear victory". Displaying typical condescension towards average citizens, he contends that proper "labeling" would just be confusing and do little to change eating habits. Dosanjh subscribes to the Danish state philosophy of simply making all the "right" choices for its citizens instead of informing and educating them.
According to Dr. Steed Stender, head of the Danish Nutrition Council, "It's been cited by industry that people won't read labels, and -- when they do read them -- they will not necessarily understand these labels. That is a problem," So, in his own words Dr. Stender describes the strategy that Canada has adopted, and that CAGE fears and contests: "Instead of warning consumers about trans-fats and telling them what it is, we've simply removed it."
As with ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke), the nefarious trans-fats lack any real body count and the 30,000 Americans per year who die from eating trans-fats are simply a statistical figure based on suspect epidemiological studies that assign a relative risk number of 1.07 to transfats. When the risk number is punched through mathematical models, it yields a virtual body count of 30,000 based on the U.S. population and of about 3000 based on the Canadian population.
The chief of the Nutrition Evaluation Division of Health Canada, Dr. Margaret Cheney, supports labeling over banning. Although she acknowledges that not all consumers would understand the labels that they are reading, she prefers an approach whereby the public is educated as to what transfats really are. Cheney proposed to start with the much less drastic labeling requirements, see how those go, and then react accordingly. Finally showing respect for the intelligence of its citizens and for their rights to know what is in the food they buy, Health Canada will mandate comprehensive food labeling by December 2005.
Big industry food companies, including fast food giants such as McDonald’s and Burger King, have found it extremely difficult to reduce the fat content on their menus despite making voluntary commitments to do so. Trans-fats are found in almost all processed foods, including such common items as margarine, peanut butter, doughnuts, pizzas, breakfast cereal, granola bars, cake and cookie mixes, fish sticks, chocolate, etc. The producers of these various foods are all potential allies. When the real scope of a ban on trans-fats becomes evident, and these foods either disappear from shelves or go up in price due to the higher cost of replacement oils, the population in general may become a very strong supporter of any liberty-minded opposition to this regulation.
Canadian exporters of any types of products (but especially exporters of softwood lumbers, wheat and hogs) to the US may also become supporters of a fight against the global ban of trans-fats. Because there is a lack of real evidence against trans-fats, it is possible that when Canada suddenly bans the importation of mass amounts of foodstuffs from manufacturers abroad, it will be subject to retaliatory trade barriers by the U.S. and its other trade partners. With Albertans and Manitobans already suffering financially due to the BSE scares, many will feel strongly that now is not the time to aggravate Canada’s largest trading partner for such a dubious gain as eliminating trans-fats, a substance which has caused a grand total of zero deaths in any country.
While CAGE congratulates the NDP and other concerned politicians and citizens for their growing awareness of the importance of healthy foods, we find the direction that the government has chosen to be hypocritical and short-sited. Rather than promoting organic foods, labeling and information and reducing its subsidies to producers of less healthy products, the Government is again wasting money and intruding on civil rights through its micromanagement of the industry. It is difficult to understand how the Federal Government can ban one kind of food, while the Quebec Government actively supports and subsidizes the local pork industry, and actually promotes indirectly the consumption of pork with huge billboards saying "Le Porc, J’Adore!". Even worse, grass-roots citizens movements attempting to prevent the building of pork factories in their neighbourhoods have been essentially stone-walled by the provincial government.
For decades, the Canadian and U.S. governments have resisted urgent requests that pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and all other contents in the feed of "meat" animals be listed on the labels. Ironically, this is exactly the sort of positive action that a responsible government should engage in. Proper labeling and education would provide the information to the citizens so that they can make their own choices. Unfortunately, the government has chosen a far more paternalistic, condescending route. All the while doing little to mandate or improve labeling requirements, it bans certain food types and ingredients that are known to provide pleasure and less expensive alternatives to a large number of the population. Thus the government denies its citizens the opportunity to make informed choices with one hand, and it imposes a financially debilitating choice with the other hand. CAGE resents and resists this attitude on the part our health ministries, and fears the slippery slope that such attitudes can lead to.
CAGE supports very stringent and complete labeling requirements, and the revocation of the ban on trans-fats announced by Parliament on November 23rd, 2004.