Editor's Letter: July 2019

The “Year of Regulatory Confusion”
Naomi Szeben
June 18, 2019
Written by
There’s much to consider when it comes to food labelling regulation, and how to define what constitutes a healthy diet. BAC CEO and president, Paul Hetherington coined 2019 as the year of “regulatory confusion” during the panel discussion at the Bakery Showcase in May.

Health Canada’s revamped-yet-vague description of what and how much grains a person should eat in a day, paired with front of packaging laws, leaves much room for misinterpretation. However, the most troubling aspect of the regulatory element was the terminology. The term “unhealthy” could apply to ninety nine per cent of whole wheat, whole grain breads and crackers, as well as white bread baguettes and bagels.

In another study, The British Institute of Nutrition cited in a 2014 study that “The consumption of whole grain foods is associated with many nutritional, health and weight control benefits.” [British Journal of Nutrition, October 10, 2014.]

The Bakery Association of Canada and many Canadian in the food industry are concerned, and they should be. While there have been reductions made to the amount of sodium in the average loaf of bread, there were some gaps in the decision-making process that need to be addressed by Health Canada.

There is some alarmism among the populace as to how wheat or grains are seen as “unhealthy.” Even some nutritionists are deeply divided on the subject of the health benefits of whole grain bread. When an American cardiologist named William Davis, MD, published his book, “Wheat Belly” it became a New York Times best seller.

However, many nutritionists pointed out that many general medical practitioners didn’t study nutrition, and Davis cited as an example. Davis claimed that eliminated all wheat and breads would help patients lose weight and gain energy. He never conducted any scientific studies prior to his claim. Medical critics such as Joe Schwarcz of McGill University stated in an interview on CBC’s Fifth Estate, “This is one of these arguments that has one smidgen of scientific fact to it, which is then exploded into a whole blob of nonsense.”

The Canadian Celiac Association, the American Heart Association, the Obesity Society and the American College of Cardiology all refuse to endorse gluten-free diets for anyone who does not have celiac disease.

Ultimately, the decisions behind what we eat, and how comes down to a need for research and unbiased study. Currently, there is what the CBC’ coined “The War on Wheat,” something that leaves both consumers and baking industry stymied. We want to be healthy, but what is healthy?

If we can agree to a regulatory body that has the time, the resources and the luxury of time to research the long-term effects of wheat and flour on a body, we might get closer to that answer. Ultimately, the answer lies in what individuals determine makes them feel better. How can we judge what makes us feel better?

When we have charismatic doctors hawking best-selling books and studies that might be funded by a special interest group, the public has a reason to feel cynical. How the public does its own research is cause for alarm, in itself.

A quick Google search and a rapid scan of the first hit is deemed adequate information to form an opinion, but few follow through with reading an entire article; fewer still will read or attempt to find other articles or differing points of view on any given subject. If this is where information is headed, research and health can only decline.

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