Sunday, November 27, 2011

Big Food is a Big Fat Problem

By now everyone's had a good laugh at our neighbours to the south whose Congress has declared pizza sauce a vegetable. Kristin Wartman wrote an excellent article for the Huffington Post about the food industry's power on politicians. I'd like to believe our government has a little more immunity to food industry lobbying. But then I'd have to ignore the evidence...

A few years ago, our government promised to ban trans fats. A task force - co-chaired by Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada - recommended imposing limits on the percentage of trans fats in food items.

In 2007 Tony Clement (then Health Minister) gave the food industry an ultimatum: get in line with the guidelines in two years or we'll regulate trans fats and force you to comply. But when the clock ran out in December 2009, guess what? Most of the products under surveillance had failed to meet the recommended targets. (Big Food calls the government's bluff. Quelle surprise)

Four and a half years have passed since Tony Clement shook his index finger at the food industry and Health Canada is now rolling over and playing dead in the face of corporate lobbying. In August 2011 Postmedia reported that Health Canada had "failed to move on the promise, hinting challenges facing the industry could stymie their plans." Challenges facing the industry. There's an euphemism for "heavy lobbying" if I ever heard one. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute agrees, saying (in the article): "To me, it suggests that Health Canada is more concerned with the health of the food industry than it is with the health of Canadians."

So much for banning trans fats.

Here's another example of food industry lobbying: Once upon a time, not so long ago, caffeine was illegal in non-cola drinks in Canada. Caffeine is addictive and I suppose our law makers thought kids didn't need any more of it in their systems. The food industry thought differently and they lobbied the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A year ago, Health Canada quietly dropped the rule and along came the "energy drinks" to the grocery shelves.

Our government aren't the only ones in bed with the food industry. At least one dietitian has spoken out about the fact that the Dietitians of Canada receive money from their partners Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald's and Monstanto.

Have a look at the Board of Directors of the Canadian Foundation of Dietetic Research. It's stacked with execs from Kraft, Nestle and High Liner. This group exists to "fund research and disseminate new knowledge in support of evidence-based decisions".

And guess who's footing the bill? If you don't think funding impacts research, have a look at this study by researchers at Yale. In an analysis of 88 different studies on soft drink consumption, they found that studies with the strongest research methodologies were the ones that showed the strongest associations between drinking pop and poor health while the research funded by the food industry showed weaker links between drinking pop and poor health.

So how long before Health Canada declares pizza sauce a vegetable?

This is the first in a series of articles about the food industry, obesity and solutions for change by guest poster Sharon Bala. Stay tuned.

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