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trueHUE® Water cooler stories
By trueHUEnews staff- by Albert Van Santvoort -June12, 2016
Black markets and shadow economies, that were typically used to buy and sell illegal goods, have a banned product that you wouldn’t expect to be on their proverbial shelves, breakfast cereal. Certain American cereals are not permitted to be imported according to regulators at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Nonetheless, some boxes of prohibited cereals have been appearing in Canadian corner stores and local farmers markets.
Breakfast cereals including Cookie Crips and Franken Berry are not sold officially by General Mills to grocery chains in Canada. According to General Mills Canada the reason that some cereals sold in America are not sold north of the boarder is due to certain government regulations.
“Products that are sold in other countries [including cereal] may not meet Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and Regulations,” stated Alice Lee, a spokesperson for General Mills Canada.
Canadian regulations put cereal in its own special category that requires cereal sold in Canada to have a specific nutrient profile. One might assume that sugar content might be the reason for the ban, but it turns out that the amount of sugar in American cereals is comparable to that contained in Canadian cereals. The real reason, however, that certain cereals are not sold in Canada has to do with vitamin and other nutritional requirements established by the government of Canada.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for the compliance and enforcement of the strict nutritional requirements surrounding cereal. Where and when appropriate the CFIA takes necessary enforcement action. Enforcement actions are based on harm, history and the intent of the violation. Punitive actions can range from verbal and/or written notifications to specific warnings, detention of a product, as well as product recall and prosecution.
As was the case with American alcohol prohibition, getting rid of a product’s supply doesn’t necessarily get rid of its demand. Where 1920s prohibition gagsters like Al Capone found opportunity in selling illegal alcohol, small Canadian business owners have found a much smaller yet similar opportunity with certain specialized sugary breakfast cereals.
For example, the owner of a convenience store in Burnaby sells so called banned cereals such as Cookie Crisp, Franken Berry and Boo Berry. To stock his shelves with this product the storeowner merely drives to the United States to pick up a few crates of cereal and then returns to sell the product at his store.
“I don’t think we are doing anything wrong, we pay duty and taxes and everything,” said the storeowner who wished to remain anonymous.
Burnaby isn’t the only place Canadians can buy restricted American food products. These breakfast cereals and snack foods can be found in a number independent corner stores and farmers markets across the country.
The black market commonly associated with drugs and illicit weapons is created when something is sold outside the bounds of laws and regulations. Prohibition, whether of drugs or breakfast cereal, is a solution that only addresses one aspect of the transaction that of supply. As long as there is still demand for a product it is likely that there is someone willing to sell it in order to make a profit.
“They come here because they know they can get the best prices and don’t have to pay to get over the boarder,” said the Burnaby convenience store operator.
Canadians who are fans of these cereals, however, have to pay for the privilege of enjoying this fine American breakfast cuisine. Walmart’s American website lists the price of a box of Cookie crisp at $3.13 USD or roughly four dollars Canadian. At the Burnaby convenience store the same box is priced at seven dollars per box.
General Mills is aware that people are selling their products on secondary markets and indicate that they have no control over the illegal activity.
“We are aware that products from outside of Canada, including General Mills branded products, are being sold in grey or secondary markets in Canada by third parties. We obviously do not control these third parties nor have a role in these transactions,” said Lee.
According to General Mills, food regulations aren’t the only reasons some American food isn’t sold in Canada. Labeling laws and French language requirements also play a role in preventing some of these cereals from being sold in Canada. General Mills also reports that different products are made to suit the needs of different consumers and that the cereals sold in Canada are made for the Canadian palate.
“We recommend customers and consumers in Canada purchase General Mills products created and intended for the Canadian market,” said Lee.
Cereal isn’t the only food item sold on Canadian black markets. Pirate Joe’s, a store popular in Vancouver, is an unauthorized and unaffiliated reseller of goods found at the popular US grocery store Trader Joe’s. Pirate Joe’s will soon be reopening after winning a legal case brought by Trader Joe’s.
In another example, in 2012 three Canadians including a police officer were arrested for smuggling restricted cheese across the border. Vancouver at that time even had its very own “cheese baron” who according to the National Post single handedly imported 18,725 kilograms of illegal cheese.
Buying or selling contraband cereal isn’t a crime punishable by jail time like some other restricted black market items. Which raises the question, why aren’t Canadians able to buy products that they desire that are available to our American neighbours?
With any law, regulation or prohibition there are unintended consequences. Do the existing cereal food regulations achieve their goal of a healthier public? If Canadians are willing to buy a cereal for nearly twice its U.S. price or smuggle tens of thousands of pounds of cheese across the border annually perhaps the government should consider liberalizing some of the current laws surrounding food regulation with the goal of increasing consumer choice?