Editor's Letter: August/September 2017

Food and free will
Laura Aiken
August 16, 2017
Written by
Health Canada is proposing to ban the marketing of junk food to kids. This means anyone 17 and under. This regulation points to increased efforts to combat obesity and the diseases associated with it by starting with healthier children.
The government has become more and more of a helicopter hovering over food consumption in recent years: there have been voluntary sodium reduction targets, an upcoming revision to Canada’s Food Guide, changes to labelling regulations and the nutrition facts table along with the modernization of food safety. There is simply no shortage of bureaucracy in the food industry these days.

There are two general mindsets to government hands in the free will pot, for consumers or businesses. One is that they ought to back off. People should be free to make their own decisions and live with the consequences be they good or bad, and perhaps the government shouldn’t be limiting their choices. The other perspective views Canadian health as a public matter and intervention as justified because the burden of cost falls on everyone. In 2008, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated the annual economic cost of obesity to be $4.6 billion. The agency’s website points to a study online that indicated “physician costs in Ontario found that obese male and female adults (aged 18 and over) incurred physician costs that were 14.7% and 18.2% greater than those of normal-weight peers.”

The math is there and the government is looking at the books, and its aging population, and seems to be increasingly putting its foot down. Reflect back through the years and just as the days of riding around without a seat belt and a kid on your lap, cigarette dangling from a finger, are gone, so may be the days where drinking a pop and eating a bag of candy were guiltless pleasures. When it invokes societal guilt, it’s just not fun anymore. So many people stop. Not just because of their health, but because of what other people think of them. We are social creatures, and if the majority changes, the world changes. Increasing regulations, taxes and warning labels are certainly ways the government attempts to influence the majority.

Marketing bans, labels and initiatives like calories on the menu have clear implications for mid to large companies. How will the government’s intervention in the eating habits of Canadians affect the mom-and-pop shop? If the government continues to pressure the food industry with regulatory changes, consumers may come to expect more from fresh retail, which has been traditionally required to provide less information than its packaged counterparts.

Generally, fresh bakeries enjoy much consumer appeal when it comes to health, community, taste and innovation. But people really want to know what’s in their food, and in what quantities, especially when it comes to sugar. At some point, this desire may put strain on the unlabeled goods market. It may change the way parents feel about a trip to the local bakery with their kids, a family outing that has historically been perceived as a treat. It is up to the individual bakers to decide how their business fits in to the increasingly regulated environment…unless perhaps, one day, it won’t be up to them anymore.

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