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Trading our Children’s Health

It seems that nothing is sacred when the Harper government is negotiating trade deals, certainly not our children’s health. Last year the ban on caffeine in non-cola drinks popular with children (such as orange or grape flavoured soda) was removed. While the government claimed that this was due to new information on health, the CBC has uncovered that it was instead due to trade.

IRN-BRU, a popular drink in Scotland, has been trying to break into the Canadian market for years now. “‘Canada’s blocking of IRN-BRU, the leading non-cola soft drink in Scotland, was ‘a longstanding trade irritant,” according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade”. So Health Canada dropped the rule “not because caffeine was suddenly good for kids … but because it was good for trade” reported CBC. And we all know that Canada and the EU are pushing through the Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement as quickly and quietly as possible, eliminating an additional trade irritant is another step towards finalizing this deal.

“Internal records released under access to information show Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq approved the wider use of caffeine in soft drinks following a request from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT)…the regulatory change, made through a ministerial tool called an Interim Marketing Authorization, was requested…on behalf of Irn-Bru, a popular caffeinated drink from Scotland”.

As CBC points out, “Health Canada’s own internal research cautioned about the tradeoff.” Yet, because of policies which ask branches of government to consider the negative effects to trade, Health Canada is not able to focus solely on…wait for it….health.

Sadly, this is not new. The Council of Canadians began speaking out about merging regulatory harmonization to facilitate trade with the United States during the SPP period. The issue has also come up with North American beverage companies in the perimeter security and regulatory cooperation negotiation with Obama. Apparently Mountain Dew was upset it couldn’t put caffeine in Canada for a long time.

When will the Government of Canada start to put the health and wellbeing of Canadians first?