22 Emergent Food Issues and Topics

The food industry is a vast and complex industry that includes neighbourhood bakeries, chocolate and confection specialty stores, full-service bakeries such as cafés, and large food producers and food growers. The Government of Canada has established many food regulations and policies for food labelling, food safety, and other food-related issues. For example, in order to be approved as a permitted food, products must undergo rigorous safety assessments by Health Canada; only then can they be made available to consumers. Currently, probably the most talked-about issue is genetically modified foods.

Genetically Modified Foods

Health Canada “assesses the safety of all genetically-modified and other novel foods proposed for sale in Canada. Companies are required to submit detailed scientific data for review and approval by Health Canada, before such foods can be sold” (Health Canada, 2014b). In addition, Health Canada is, under the Food and Drugs Act and its Regulations, responsible for public health, food safety, and nutrition. Health Canada works to protect the health and safety of Canadians through science-based regulation, guidelines, and public health policy, as well as through health risk assessments concerning chemical, physical, and microbiological contaminants, toxicants, and allergens in the food supply. Health Canada also conducts pre-market evaluations to assess the safety and nutritional adequacy of “novel foods” proposed for sale in Canada, including foods derived from biotechnology.

Biotechnology is an umbrella term that covers a broad spectrum of scientific tools and techniques, including genetic modification and genetic engineering. In Canada, foods commonly referred to as genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are considered to be one class of novel foods. “Health Canada regulates the sale of novel foods in Canada through a pre-market notification requirement which is specified under Division 28 of Part B of the Food and Drugs Regulations (Novel Foods)” (Health Canada, 2005a).

To date, there are no regulations requiring GM foods to be labelled, although Canada has a voluntary labelling standard for them. Proponents of GM foods suggest that voluntarily labelling has negative connotations, implying that GM foods are immoral. Opponents are lobbying for GM food declarations stating that they would benefit consumers, artisanal bakers, and organic grain and produce growers.

A complete list of GM foods approved by Health Canada is available and includes varieties of soybean, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beet, papaya, and the Arctic apple. There are currently no GM wheat varieties permitted for sale in Canada. Watch the CBC video on the debate over GM food.

Many Canadians are seeking easily accessible information on genetically modified foods, such as whether it promotes or hinders food security and sustainability. They have unanswered questions about the environmental impact of GM foods. They want to know about already-known consequences or scientific evidence for or against GM foods. Genetically modified food topics trigger many opposing and supporting views and discussions. Learn more about this contentious topic through David Suzuki (Understanding GMO) and Thierry Vrain (Ex-Biotech Scientist Gives TED Talk on the Dangers of GMOs), and by reading Growing Resistance Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat.

Other Trends

Food diet fads have come and gone. One popular food diet followed by many Canadians is the Mediterranean diet, which consists mostly of whole grains, dairy, fish, poultry, fruit, and vegetables, and includes legumes and nuts with the occasional serving of red meat. This diet promotes eating as many whole foods as possible. Bakers can support this diet by producing nutritious products that use whole grains and wholesome ingredients.

Food Issues in the News

Students in the food industry will find many educational opportunities outside the classroom. Below are documentaries and recent publications in the news. Many more can be accessed online.

Additional reading

  • Read Chapter 27 in Professional Baking by Gisslen (6ed)
  • Familiarize yourself with the Health Canada website and its content on nutrition
  • Read Visualizing Nutrition by Grosvenor, M.B.; Smolin L.A.; Bedoya D.L. Canadian Edition (2014)

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