Government Should Stay Out of Our Snacks

Worth A Look, Role of Government, Frontier Centre

Parliamentarians have rolled up their sleeves and gone on a crusade to rid Canada of a terrible scourge.

No, it’s not union leaders, environmentalists or even Carolyn Parrish. Rather, they’ve decided to stomp out the rampaging monster known as trans fats.

Last week, MPs from all political parties voted in favour of a motion concocted by the NDP and Conservative health critic Stephen Fletcher, to ban food containing trans fats in one year’s time.

If approved, Canada would become the second country in the world – after Denmark – to ban trans fats.

So while some Canadians smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or quietly carry around marijuana joints, none of us would be able to indulge in certain types of fatty foods.

Strange, but true.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a trans fat is a “specific type of fat formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine.” Trans fat also “behaves like saturated fat by raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).”

Yes, there are certain types of “good” fats, called unsaturated fats, which are fine to consume in moderate amounts. But trans fats are not good fats. Many foods that are fried, baked and processed, particularly snack foods, including potato chips and chocolate bars, have trans fats.

In other words, trans fats have aided in the rise of obesity among Canadians – documented last week in Ontario Chief Medical Officer Sheela Basrur’s finding that half of this province, including kids, is overweight. Since more and more people eat junk food to get a quick meal and sustain themselves during the day, our intake of trans fats is well beyond any acceptable level.

Should parents reduce the amount of trans fats in their children’s diets, and their own? Of course. We should eat healthier foods and exercise regularly. We would have more energy and vitality and lead healthier lifestyles.

But there’s a big difference in changing our eating patterns and a government ban on trans fats. Ottawa’s role is to provide information on the food we eat, not give us directives on what we can and cannot eat.

If people want to eat foods that contain trans fats, they must have that freedom. And if they want to ignore warnings about trans fats, they must have that freedom, too.

Besides, does Fletcher or the NDP really think banning trans fats is going to have any effect? When you make something taboo, you only increase a person’s desire to acquire it. Thus, Canadians will likely just drive across the border, buy foods that are banned in our country, and bring them back in large quantities.

If that were to happen, what are we going to do? Ban fatty foods at the border?Please. Harass citizens for bringing over a bag of potato chips with trans fats from the U.S.? Create a fat tax? Get real.

But there is something Ottawa can do – scrap this nonsensical idea of banning trans fats, and let people educate themselves.

Sure, some people won’t pay attention. But most will heed these warnings, and will start thinking about foods with trans fats when they go grocery shopping.

Several food manufacturers have already educated themselves. Voortman’s cookies and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers now market themselves as having zero trans fats, and Kraft has a trans-fat-free Oreo cookie.

Naturally, these companies changed their products for financial gain, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The free market works bests when it is innovative and meets consumer demand.

If a company can produce trans-fat-free products and continue to make profit, more power to them.

A government ban on trans fats will not help Canadians change their diets. Instead, maybe we should consider banning politicians who introduce these ridiculous motions.

That would definitely trim the fat, so to speak.