The problem with what once passed for breakthrough and progressive pieces of legislation is that too often they’re just not really breakthrough and progressive enough, at least with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
Using the Canadian federal Food and Drugs Regulations Act back in December of 2002 to mandate the disclosure of calories and 13 core ingredients used to make pre-packaged foods right on the product labeling—including nasties such as transfats and sodium—was a commendable piece of proactive regulatory business, for many reasons.
Alas, it also left some important business unfinished—notably by granting exemption from the disclosure requirements to restaurants and foodservice operators.
Considering that restaurant foods account for 20 per cent of all the food consumed by a typical Ontario resident, according to the Canadian Restaurant and Food Service Association, and that 20 per cent of premature deaths in countries like Canada are linked to diet-related risk factors, according to the World Health Organization, it doesn’t take a nutritional expert to see an ominous missing gap in our existing public health set-up of regulatory checks and balances.
So a warm round of applause, then, to the Ontario New Democratic Party’s health critic France Gélinas for proposing a legislation earlier this month to force fast-food restaurants to start posting calorie counts for all their products on both menus and display boards—right beside the price—and to the provincial Health Promotion Minister Margaret Best for publicly acknowledging that, “It’s certainly something we see merit in.” (The Toronto Star, June 5, 2010)
Always nice to see the governing party and opposition MPPs to find something to agree on for a change, albeit leave it to the Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak to smell a Big Brotherish ‘health nazi’
conspiracy in the air.
“There’s a lot of red tape out there and what I’m hearing from families is that life’s getting more expensive [and] their top priority is lowering the taxes they’re paying,” scowled Hudak. “I don’t hear them worrying so much about what the menus say; I’m hearing about how much more prices are increasing.”
Sorry Tim, but please save it for another debate on another issue. With the proposed legislation intended to apply only to foodservice businesses operating more than five locations and earning annual revenues of over $5 million, it takes a very overactive imagination to portray The Healthy Decisions for the Healthy Eating Act draft either as a hidden tax or a back-breaking bureaucratic burden.
If anything, we fear the proposed draft does not go far enough—both by setting the revenue threshold too high and also omitting sodium content from the disclosure—but that doesn’t cheapen its value as a
profoundly important, if long overdue, measure to help the consumer public save itself from willfull gluttony and blissful ignorance.
While it’s true that is often possible to find accurate information on calorie count and sodium levels for many fast-foods by surfing corporate websites or reading corporate brochures, hands up all those who did just that the last time you treated yourself to a burger-and-fries lunch, honestly now!
In a province where 64 per cent of adults and 28 per cent of children are considered to be “overweight or obese,” according to Statistics Canada, any move to help consumers make informed selections right at the source is a quintessential no-brainer, with the only appropriate lament being: Why did it take so long?