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From the Editor: Chicken Little

Chicken Little

June 19, 2008
By Cam Wood


Lately I’ve been thinking about all this “banning” of things that is going on in Canadian society.

Lately I’ve been thinking about all this “banning” of things that is going on in Canadian society. The latest intrusion into our lives comes, yet again, courtesy of Health Canada. Fresh off their panic mongering that bisphenol A was going to kill all of us, starting with sweet innocent little babies – those nasty, nasty bottles – the bureaucracy with your best interest in mind has now decided that chewing gum will be the death of the rest of us (just in case your mom breast fed and you escaped your fate of a plastic bottle induced demise).

That’s right, this month the long arm of all that keeps us from determining our own wellness has decried that another trace chemical once found in minute amounts in certain brands of chewing gum may be hazardous to our health. Well, come on people, of course it will … we’ve been watching lab rats perish in controlled conditions from the good old days of saccharine.

These seemingly monthly “substance alerts” remind me of the childhood story about Chicken Little. You recall that tale, where the “sky is falling” simply because one day in the forest an acorn dropped onto Chicken Little’s head.


Of course, if your recollection is good, you’ll know it’s likely easier to explain why a chicken is walking through the woods, chatting along the way with Goosey Poosey, Cocky Locky, Henny Penny and Foxy Woxy, than it is to understand the workings of a bureaucratic branch of government.

The proposed action over declaring gum toxic has its roots in a chemical known as vinyl acetate. This colourless liquid is used to make a base polymer in the production of gum … but only in some examples. In fact, a number of the major confectionery companies spoke out against this immediately; as they do not use vinyl acetate.

More deeply concerning, especially after the public panic over bisphenol A, is that vinyl acetate has not been proven to have any adverse effects on humans.

So, in a bureaucratic sense, the “sky is falling … but only if you don’t look up.”

From trans fats to saccharine, groups like Health Canada that want to act as a conscience for freethinking Canadians have plagued the food industry.

Honestly, some of us do need guidance in making judgments – but isn’t that what thousands of brave men and women sacrificed for? So we had the right to decide for ourselves?

Bans have a role when there are some real consequences. The evidence was there to support saccharine.

The same cannot be said for chewing gum. We don’t need advertising bans against gum, nor controlled access from behind pharmacy counters just to get your fix. Goodness, if that were the case, half of the teenage girls from St. John’s to Victoria would need therapy.

As Cadbury’s Luisa Girotto said when asked about Health Canada’s recommendation on vinyl acetate: “We’re barking up the wrong tree if we’re looking for it in gum.”

But the rumour is, the Health Canada branch of the government tree is full of nuts, and the consumer is expected to buy into Chicken Little’s philosophy.