If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. British Columbia is cranking up the heat on trans fat. Within B.C.’s Public Health Act there is a provision to regulate “health impediments.” Impediment number-1 has become trans fats, and regulating them is just what B.C. will be doing. The Public Health Impediments Regulations will be in effect Sept. 30, 2009.
These new B.C. regulations apply to foods as defined in the regulations, which essentially includes those located on the premises of, or are prepared, served or offered for sale in a foodservice establishment, including ingredients used to prepare foods and beverages. The scope of the regulations are limited to defined foods in foodservice establishments (restaurants, cafeterias, coffee shops, bakeries, in-store delis), and do not include any foods that are required to carry a nutrition facts table under federal law. Packaged foods sold in retail grocery stores are not covered by the new regulations.
The story of eliminating trans fat from foods in Canada is not new. In 2004 a motion was introduced to the House of Commons to essentially ban man-made trans fat. As a result a multi-stakeholder Trans Fat Task Force was set up. The Task Force’s recommendations were to limit the trans fat in vegetable oils and soft, spreadable margarines to two per cent of the total fat content, and limit the trans fat for all other foods to five per cent of the total fat content, including ingredients sold to restaurants. These limits exclude naturally occurring trans fat such as those in dairy products and certain meat products, but apply whenever man-made trans fats are added to foods, including those of mixed origin (natural and man-made).
The Minster of Health adopted the recommendations in 2007, beginning a two-year approach that the industry was asked to voluntarily comply with. Up to this point federal laws limiting trans fat in foods have not been created. While the current federal approach was voluntary, the caveat was that if industry did not meet the targets for trans fat, laws would be formalized. Essentially, compliance will be achieved one way or another.
The B.C. regulations with regard to the limits of trans fat are identical to those set out by the Federal Trans Fat Task Force. As already mentioned, they do not capture prepackaged foods, whereas the federal approach does. So why then does B.C. need to formalize regulations now? Well, for one, the 2010 Winter Olympics are coming and B.C. has stated it wants to do this by then. The two-year window whereby Health Canada was evaluating the voluntary national approach has also ended. While the industry to a large degree has conformed to the trans fat limits, it would not be surprising if national regulations were introduced. While the federal voluntary approach was gentler than the very hurried B.C. approach, it is tough to enforce voluntary guidelines. Other provinces have also mentioned that they would be looking to similar legislative measures. Perhaps with this kind of pressure, federal regulators will act as well.