Farmer Fights Ban on Trans Fat

Agriculture, Commentary, Frontier Centre, Media Appearances

A Manitoba farmer is crusading against Canada’s proposed ban on trans fats, even though the ban might be a boon to Prairie farmers.

Agricultural commentator Rolf Penner started digging into research on the health problems attributed to trans fats after Parliament passed a motion in November to move toward a ban.

The motion was brokered by two Winnipeg MPs — New Democrat Pat Martin and Conservative Steven Fletcher — who Penner described in a speech yesterday as Manitoba’s “doughnut fighting duo.”

Trans fat is an artificial fat common in processed food that has been shown to increase bad cholesterol in the blood and lower good cholesterol.

Health Canada and the newly released U.S. dietary guide recommend avoiding it.

But Penner called the research behind the health fears “junk science” in a breakfast talk yesterday sponsored by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He admits trans fat increases blood cholesterol, but he claims it’s a myth that high cholesterol is a good indicator of heart-disease risk. Swedish doctor Uffe Ravnskov has written a controversial book on that topic.

Penner also said studies that try to link past habits with rates of disease should only be taken seriously if the disease shows up in about three times as many people with the habit. He claims studies on trans fats don’t come near that standard.

But University of Manitoba nutrition professor Harold Aukema, who did not attend the talk, disputed Penner’s analysis point by point in an interview.

He said there’s no real debate among scientists about whether trans fat is bad for you.

“Even the food industry is not arguing with the science.”

The only debate is a policy one, about whether trans fats need to be banned outright or whether eating a little bit of it is OK, Aukema said. Lisa Johnson, a grandmother of 12, attended the talk to learn more about what she should be feeding her loved ones.

Johnson said knowing that trans fat might be harmful to children would be enough to motivate some people to turn against it.

Parliament’s motion gives the government a year to introduce rules or a law that “effectively eliminates” trans fatty acids.

Penner, who has an agriculture diploma from the University of Manitoba, runs a mixed grain and hog farm near Morris.

He said specialty canola is one of the only crops that produces an oil that can substitute for trans fat in many food products, increasing the value of the crop to farmers.

But Dennis Owens, senior policy analyst for the Frontier Centre, said forcing manufacturers to switch from trans fats will drive up food prices, which will hit poor people hardest.

“This fits with our anti-poverty work,” he said.