Governments have the ultimate say in what foods we can eat.
For many decades, governments across the world have helped regulate the food industry. From the 1981 flour fortification laws in the UK that mandated chalk, iron, vitamin B1 and nicotinic acid be added to bread flour, to the 2014 laws in Scandanavia that lead the world in banning the use of cholesterol raising trans-fatty acids in foods. However, mounting evidence shows that governments simply are not doing enough to regulate our food.
Without regulation, food manufacturers are free to produce products designed for profit rather than health. and designing food for profit tends to compromise the nutritional benefits of the food. These may include ingredients designed to preserve the shelf-life of the product and/or increase its flavour. Ingredients such as trans fats, sugars and extra salt, but these ingredients are known to have a detrimental effect on human health. Sometimes, important nutrients are removed (like fibre and B vitamins from wholegrains) in order to produce a product that has a historical track record of better sales (eg. refined flours, pastas and rice). Sometimes, the lack of these important ingredients can lead to chronic long term disease and death.
Regulation helps establish national health.
Failing to regulate the food industry costs the government and taxpayer lots of money in healthcare costs annually. For example, bowel cancer screening is mandatory for all Australians over 50. Decades of a fibre-poor diet (from all the refined bread, flour, pasta and rice products) has contributed to this national problem.
Many other chronic diseases can be linked to the ingredients that food manufacturers are allowed to include, such as added salts and sugars. Many cases of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure can be traced to food products which we, as consumers, are unaware are ladened with unnecessary salt and sugar to make the product last longer or to improve taste. While costing the government money, these diseases cost people quality of life when they are afflicted.
Similarly, heart disease can be linked to the trans-fatty acids added to products to improve shelf-life. Trans-fatty acids are harmful because they increase bad cholesterol, reduce good cholesterol and assist heart disease. By 2018, in America the government will have banned trans-fatty acids from products sold in supermarkets. Currently in Australia, labelling does not require trans-fatty acids be mentioned, except in products where the manufacturer makes a nutrition content claim about cholesterol or saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, omega-3, omega-6 or omega-9 fatty acids (like margarine, which is where you’re most likely to find trans fats).
Consumers are unaware that supermarkets are allowed to sell harmful products.
Across Australia, people are unknowingly buying and consuming supermarket products that are contributing to possible health issues later in life. Not enough is known about the food regulation industry, and we therefore believe that all food sold in supermarkets must be okay to consume.
Many of the products available on our supermarket shelves do reveal the amount of harmful preservatives in them, but we tend to assume that the government is regulating all of our food and we do not have to be concerned.
Governments should do more.
By and large, governments are taking only tiny, cautious steps to make sure that the products supermarkets are allowed to sell, and manufacturers allowed to make, are providing nutrition and not harming our population. Our current labelling laws are a small splash in the pond to informing the consumer of what is in the products they are buying at the supermarket.
Tighter regulations are needed to control what is manufactured and sold, and a better education for consumers about the effects of excess sugars, salts and fats on their health. Tran-fats should be completely eliminated from all food products, excess sugar and salt reduced and a higher emphasis placed on fibre and vitamins necessary for good health.
One day we may look back on this period of history and things will be very different – with the government regulating the food that can be made and sold in a far more calculated way in order to deliver health to the nation. Until then, we have to make the best of our current situation and be vigilant when we pick the products we are serving up to our families.
Should governments do more to regulate? Absolutely.
What are you worried about in your weekly shop? Let us know in the comments!
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ref 1 http://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/flour_fortification/#current_situation
ref 2 http://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/press-releases/2014/europe-leads-the-world-in-eliminating-trans-fats
ref 3 http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20533295,00.html
ref 4 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/17/health/fda-gives-food-industry-three-years-eliminate-trans-fats.html?_r=0
ref 5 http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/nutrition/transfat/Pages/default.aspx