Canada

Canada’s Food Laws Ban the Best Burgers

America's neighbor to the north also has a host of dumb regulations.

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Burger
Renamarie / Dreamstime.com

My girlfriend and I spent the Christmas holiday in Vancouver, Canada this year.

While there, we visited a bunch of nice sites, saw a good band, and ate some great food. On our last day in the city—Tuesday, which was also Boxing Day—we ate at Joe Forte's, an airy steakhouse just off the city's main tourist avenue, Robson Street.

I was craving a hamburger and figured Forte's, which bills itself as a chophouse, was the place to go. My girlfriend ordered a steak sandwich, cooked medium. I ordered the burger, cooked medium.

My burger was great in every single way possible except for the fact it wasn't cooked the way I'd requested. And that wasn't because the restaurant erred. Instead—as I was warned after ordering my burger medium—it's due to an awful Canadian law that says all restaurant hamburgers must be cooked until no longer pink. Even my response when our great server asked if we had any food allergies—"Overcooked burgers," I replied—got me no closer to a burger cooked my way.

I have no doubt this regulation probably prevents some handful of harmful or even fatal cases of foodborne illness, which can occur if pathogens that may appear in ground beef are not killed off by cooking the beef to an internal temperature of at least 160F. But as a regulation, it's as arbitrary a decision as banning raw animal products such as oysters and sushi, raw produce such as sprouts and melons, and countless other foods that are definitely legal in Canada. In other words, the medium-hamburger ban is both dumb and wrong.

With respect to its burgers, then, Canada is very different than the United States, where diners ordering a medium burger might notice a menu warning cautioning against eating some raw or lightly cooked foods. But if one looks past the specifics of that law, they'll notice Canada, just like the United States, has lots of terrible food laws, along with its share of food controversies.

For example, I wrote last December about an awful proposal by lawmakers in Montreal to ban new restaurants, in a bid to protect existing ones. And in 2011 I blogged about a Canadian Wheat Board monopoly in Western Canada. When—in the course of writing my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable—I was looking for a foreign analog to an awful USDA enforcement action that forced an exceptional American sausage producer out of business, I found I needed look no further than Canada.

Those are just a few of Canada's dumb food laws.

I also learned this week about one of its stranger ongoing food controversies, which Canada's Globe and Mail reports was just settled after a decades-long fight. The battle concerns Prosciutto di Parma, the tasty cured Italian meat, and use of the word "Parma" to describe the food in Canada. The Italian term "di Parma" literally translates as "from Parma." When used in conjunction with prosciutto, it refers to prosciutto that's both from Parma and that meets the EU definition of "Prosciutto di Parma," a specifically defined term that's known as a protected designation of origin.

The truly mind-numbing 83-page EU protected designation of origin rules for what is and isn't "Prosciutto di Parma," adopted in 1992, include the most tedious minutiae about pig breeds, feeding, slaughter, geographic boundaries, altitude, and the like. They also include nausea-inducing language like this: "The envisaged quantitative programming of protected production has to be integrated in a synergetic way with the qualitative classification requirements already introduced by the protection rules (qualitative analytical parameters that uniquely characterize Parma Ham and the production requirements in pig breeding)."

Despite these fastidious and obnoxious EU rules, it turns out it's been illegal for Italian producers of Prosciutto di Parma to refer to their product as "Prosciutto di Parma" in Canada. That's because Canada's Maple Leaf Foods trademarked the term "Parma" in Canada in 1994. The company sells a "Parma" product there, too. This—along with a Canadian court siding with Maple Leaf five years ago in a challenge by Italian producers—has meant Prosciutto di Parma, introduced to Canada in 1995, has been labeled in Canada not as "Prosciutto di Parma" but as "The Original Prosciutto."

It's also meant, as The Globe and Mail report notes, that "Prosciutto di Parma" has been a "name recognized around the world…. except in Canada."

It took a recent trade agreement between Canada and Europe to scrap what was effectively a "Prosciutto di Parma" ban. The fair compromise, reached after a 20-year battle, says both Canadian and Italian producers may use the term "Parma."

"Now, thanks to this agreement, we will be able to legitimately use our Prosciutto di Parma designation as well as our famous, brand-identifying Parma Crown," says Stefano Fanti, who leads Italy's Prosciutto di Parma association.

That's a win for Italian producers and Canadian consumers alike. But Canada—like the U.S.—still has a long way to go before its food laws truly embrace consumers the way its food already does. Until then, I'll stick with American hamburgers.

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62 responses to “Canada’s Food Laws Ban the Best Burgers

  1. You have to be protected from your own dumb decisions. Like deciding you’d like a medium burger. And God help you if you decided you’d like a large Coke with that.

    Christmas Eve I stopped by the Gulp-N-Blow near my house and there was only one other customer in there, buying a 12-pack of Bud. Since it was Sunday, beer sales are illegal. The cashier, who knows me, kinda looked at me sideways and then rang the guy up. I had to laugh, here we are three grown-ass adults, and we gotta sneak around just because some guy wants a beer, somebody else wants to sell him a beer and you gotta worry that somebody’s gonna stick his nose in where it doesn’t belong and tattletale about it. What the hell kind of pantywaists are we that we let shit get to this point?

    1. Dangerous and unsanitary slaughterhouse practices were alleged in the early 1900s, government got in there with some regulation (the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act), then the ratchet effect ran its course for 110 years, et voila.

      It’s hard to see how we as voters can stop the process. (Elect Trump?) Elections aren’t generally fought over minimum meat-cooking times.

      1. When we have entrenched interests, in the form of government agencies and their employees, they are going to guard those interests. No agency ever says “Well, disband us, the problems we were formed to address have all pretty much been resolved.” No, those are good-paying jobs with good benefits and by God if there aren’t any real problems to deal with they’ll make some!

        Bureaucrats gonna bureau.

        1. No agency ever says “Well, disband us, the problems we were formed to address have all pretty much been resolved.”

          As much as I despise Trump, he does seem the sort of person who will appoint someone just like this to run a federal agency.

          1. That’s the hope. That someone as disruptive and brash as the current jerk-in-chief can shake up the status quo of generations.

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    3. What the hell kind of pantywaists are we that we let shit get to this point?

      It’s called twenty-first century America, fella – deal with it or move to Wyoming.

      1. Idaho, dummy. Nobody’s moving to Wyoming. Get with the times, man.

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  2. Canadians are descended from the colonists who chose to stay under the Crown. As they are hereditary kneelers, they are predisposed to be told what to do. Of course they have a more intrusive nanny state.

    That being said, the Prosciutto thing is more of a trademark dispute between two highly protectionist governing bodies than a food regulation per se.

    1. Right. It’s like what is and what is not allowed to be labeled “Champagne.”

          1. Or use the letters WWF. Or what may or may not be called a Cornish Pasty, even if they’re made in Cornwall.

  3. Speaking of regulations to come:

    “So it is here. In truth, the coming debate over driving is not really about driving at all, but about movement, autonomy, and reliance upon one’s self. Which is to say that the root question is whether free people are to be permitted to move themselves around without needing somebody else to agree to the transaction, or whether the government may interpose itself. This, naturally, is a perennial inquiry, not a contingent one. It would have been as pertinent in 1790 if there had been an anti-horse movement, and it will be necessary when the car has been replaced with the jetpack, or the rotocopter, or whatever is coming our way. May I move myself, or may I not?”

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/…..an-driving

    1. Thanks for the link, great column. Hope Reason editors read it. Driver less cars are the biggest threat to liberty since the NSA.

    2. I like Cooke but that article is overwrought. Car and Driver has more even handed coverage over the years.

      Big Brother already routinely tracks your Bluetooth emanations for the purposes of traffic monitoring. We are forced to trust that they really do anonymize and scrub the data as mandated by law. We will have to hope that they continue to do so. Or put stricter safeguards in place.

      His lamentation that he will switch to uber doesn’t really make sense. People will continue to own cars so long as they make economic or time management sense. Do you want to spend your commute in a shared car or a luxury vehicle? People already make choices with regard to commuting vs park and ride.

      If and when truly autonomous cars are available, the choice between ownership and paying by the ride will arrive long before any mandates are put in place.

  4. But as a regulation, it’s as arbitrary a decision as banning raw animal products such as oysters and sushi, raw produce such as sprouts and melons, and countless other foods that are definitely legal in Canada.

    No, not quite as arbitrary. People are more willing to outlaw something for paternalistic reasons, especially related to safety, if they think they’ve left you a close enough alternative that you won’t suffer as badly from the loss of as you’ll gain in whatever value they think you should benefit by. In the case of chopped meat, they figure a well-enough-cooked piece is so close an alternative to an undercooked one that you won’t mind the difference much, and meanwhile you’ll be safer. In the case of melons, they think, nobody eats those cooked, so the sacrifice in requiring them to be cooked would be much greater than for meat. In the case of oysters, they figure the difference between raw & cooked in terms of the experience is greater than it is between a hamburger cooked this much & cooked that much; if steak tartare were more popular, maybe they’d face more resistance.

    1. However, the paternalism works the opposite way when it comes to psychoactive drugs, where the fact that the effect of another substance is a close substitute for the effect of one that they don’t let you have is taken as a reason to not let you have that other substance either.

    2. Not arbitrary at all, since most do-gooders are eager to ban things or otherwise regulate in ways that only affect other people.

      Maybe what we need are reciprocal bans on things like tote bags, birkenstocks, and Priuses.

      1. most do-gooders are eager to ban things or otherwise regulate in ways that only affect other people.

        But not only. Many have been the times I’ve heard from smokers, “I wish they’d ban cigarets so then I could quit.” I think a lot of prohibition sentiment comes from people who don’t want to be more tempted to do whatever it is that’s either already, or that they want, prohibited.

        1. Reading some on North Korea and defectors. To a man (or woman; 70% are female), the defectors have a hard time adjusting to freedom, in that they now have to decide what is the right thing to do in ambiguous cases.
          Like the smoker who hopes the government will ‘make’ her quit, the defectors find they miss the certainty of following the government line.

          1. My former neighbor told me he likes excessive tax withholding because he can’t save money on his own. I wanted to vomit on him.

    3. “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” C s Lewis

  5. Actually you can get your burger medium in Canada. What I have figured out is that it must follow two general rules. One it must be ground fresh and 2 must be from quality cuts. Usually steakhouses are good candidates, so if they refuse I would order something else. I have been able to enjoy medium rare burgers in two different Toronto steakhouses.

    1. I knew one place in Ottawa that would serve a medium burger if you signed a disclaimer. I preferred to make them myself. Food in Canada kind of sucks. I want my grass fed butter. Heck, I want a whole range of better cheeses. At least I can buy my maple syrup directly from a guy in new Brunswick now that I’m in the maritimes. And get lobster off the back of a truck. My neighbor smokes his own salmon and I’m so happy none of the other neighbors complain because it smells amazing. For all it’s faults, atlantic Canada is much more wild and individual than the rest of Canada. Our small breweries have gotten really good at telling the provinces where they can shove their liquor monopoly, too.

      1. Every country should dispose of it’s progressives. Life would be so much better.

        1. If we could tempt them to regulate THEMSELVES…fines for racist/sexist assumptions about groups in the service of anti-racist/sexist goals, jail time for assumptions-presented-as-argument, summary execution for false accusations of being “literally worse than Hitler”, some kind of sitting-in-a-field-scaring-away-crows punishment for strawmanning people who disagree with them?

          Set up another government agency/white collar jobs program to get people with PoliSci/Public Admin degrees off the streets and out of local governments as kind of financial jackpot for them, and the prospect of thousands of pages of regulations…they might do it. Department of Progressive Rehabilitation?

    1. Hello. On behalf of my suffering commentator, even if by reputation alone.

    2. America sat on its hat many times.

  6. To be honest, I’m okay with Italians protecting their products. For example, producers making shitty ‘Parmesan’ knock offs and passing it off as ‘authentic’ was grating. It sounds all so dumb but it does help in differentiating. If it says ‘Parmesan’ stay away from it. Parmiggiano Reggiano is the real deal – and more expensive.

    As for the claim you can’t get ‘pink’ or medium burgers here in Montreal, I’m gonna call BS. Maybe there are laws in place but I get my burger cooked that way in two places without a problem. I’m sure there are others.

    And if you want to see real asinine laws go look at Quebec’s stupid language laws on food. If it doesn’t have French, we can’t get access to it. Which only keeps good products away from consumers.

    In my view, nonetheless, the Canadian pallet is a tad notch below their American cousins. We *think* we’re all that but not really. Whatever we have here, you have 10 times more in the USA. Fact is fact.

    1. For example, producers making shitty ‘Parmesan’ knock offs and passing it off as ‘authentic’ was grating.

      I see what you did there.

      1. Nothing gets past you people.

      2. That was pretty cheesy.

    2. I’d be interested in your technique. I don’t live there, but visit frequently, as I grew up in T’o. But I’ve never been able to persuade the servers to give me ‘medium rare’. Sometimes they apologize, other times they sneer at my ignorance, but no dice.

      1. Technique for?

  7. You were already kneeling when you ordered it Medium. WTF mate, forget the diktats of the nanny state for a second, how can you even ask for beef cooked more than Rare!?

    1. Ground beef should not be eaten rare. It takes all the microbes from the outside of the meat and moves them to the inside where they don’t get killed.

      If you clean the grinder yourself and you trust the meat that goes in the grinder, then maybe…

      1. Fuck off, slaver.

  8. Because there’s no Burgerville USA?

  9. You want stupid? Here’s stupid: I was in a diner once and asked for a burger as rare as they can make it. The waitress lady said that they can’t do that. They have to cook it a certain amount. Well, I said make it as rare as you can. She said that they can’t.

    For the slower of you reading this, she’s telling me that they can’t do something as much as they can.
    .

    1. You should have asked for “the most rare permitted by law”.

    2. The confused waitress doesn’t understand meat. The owner said they don’t do rare so if they ask for it say “they can’t”, she didn’t grasp it could’ve been medium or medium well.

  10. ‘wrong and dumb’ are both required in order to be considered a regulation
    there is a regulation about that

  11. It is actually a provincial regulation which requires ground meat to be cooked to 71C for at least 2 seconds. In Ontario it is Section 33(7) of Regulation 562/90 under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. It was NOT easy to find.

    Interestingly the Reg makes no mention of cooking temperatures for not-ground meat. So the proper response would be for burger vendors to cook whole meat as desired, and chop or grind it after cooking, for serving.

    “For the slower of you reading this, she’s telling me that they can’t do something as much as they can.”

    For the really slow, she was telling you that there is a minimum below which they cannot go and ‘as rare as they can’ is the same thing as ‘what everybody gets’.

    1. Very few people deign to broadcast their slowness so boldly.

      Thank you for this wonderful display.

      And, now that we know, here’s some help–

      You can’t cook the meat first, then grind it, and then reassemble it into a burger, The process doesn’t quite work that way, the textures and flavors are all off.

      For the record, she was saying that she couldn’t do something as much as she COULD do it. She wasn’t insinuating anything about .’minimums’ or ‘what everyone gets’–she was standing there, waiting for an alteration to the order so she could continue.

    2. Very few people deign to broadcast their slowness so boldly.

      Thank you for this wonderful display.

      And, now that we know, here’s some help–

      You can’t cook the meat first, then grind it, and then reassemble it into a burger, The process doesn’t quite work that way, the textures and flavors are all off.

      For the record, she was saying that she couldn’t do something as much as she COULD do it. She wasn’t insinuating anything about .’minimums’ or ‘what everyone gets’–she was standing there, waiting for an alteration to the order so she could continue.

      1. Hey! squirrels! That means it’s gonna be an early spring!

  12. If you want to see REALLY dumb and stupid regulations in practice, google what is happening with maple syrup in Quebec. A land-owner can own the land and own the maple trees and tap the maple trees, but he doesn’t actually own the maple syrup. That belongs to a governmental monoply (but I repeat myself) which has the power to install guards to surveil production *and* charge the landowner for the cost.

    Start with: http://business.financialpost……-in-quebec

  13. When people are free to choose, they choose wrong.

    1. And you know this …. how? Perhaps you’re willing to concede that “When people are free to choose, they choose wrong” some of the time. It’s called “freedom.”

  14. I’ve known Canadian food laws are screwy for a long time. You can’t get Mountain Dew with caffeine in it in Canada, basically because it’s the wrong color.

    1. Canada changed that in 2010. https://tinyurl.com/y8gc5csm

  15. I like mine medium rare, with all the trimmings. Government should butt out and let hamburgers be the greatest food on earth that they naturally are. Lots of pickles and onions, please.

  16. You went to Robson street and didn’t get sushi or some other east Asian cuisine? Unless you’re visiting from HK or Tokyo I fear Vancouver was wasted on you. Not that there should be a law or anything. Do what you want, but really…

  17. You didn’t even touch on the dumbest, most insane food regulations in Canada – the backwards, uncompetitive, government-supported Dairy, egg and poultry cartel.

    And a note about that burger – it doesn’t need to be cooked to 160F to be safe to eat. Pastuerization is a function of temperature and time. The lower the temperatue, the more time is needed, so a burger cooked to 140F or even lower is just as safe to eat as one cooked to 160F – provided it is held at that temperature for 10+ minutes.

  18. So, what about the town of Parma, Idaho?

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