Do you remember – 8

Just mix and you have instant Butter – until you tasted it

Hey, do you remember having to eat, especially during WWII, white margarine on bread? I found it to be disgusting and it looked like lard or shortening. Once it was mixed with the little packet that came with it to change it to yellow or close to the colour of butter it went down a bit easier – but just.

When it came to margarine Quebec had a law that barred it. Quebec is distinct no more — when it comes to margarine. The province’s cabinet agreed in late June 2008 that the time was right to change a 21-year-old law that forced margarine producers to colour their product white if they wanted to sell it in Quebec. Quebec’s distinct margarine policy comes to an end. Quebec was the last jurisdiction in North America to force margarine producers to ensure that their product could not be confused with butter — at least when it came to colour.

Even Ontario repealed its Oleomargarine Act back in 1995. Until then, it was technically illegal for companies to make or sell margarine that was coloured yellow, making it look suspiciously like butter. With that law on the books, no one had ever been charged with trafficking in butter-coloured margarine.

In Quebec, it was a different story. The dairy lobby made sure the law was enforced and even small batches of margarine in tiny grocery stores would be seized.

The battle over butter-coloured margarine was a long one. Until 1948, it was illegal to sell margarine of any colour in Canada. That year, the Supreme Court lifted a ban that had been in place since 1886, the same year the U.S. imposed a heavy tax on the non-dairy spread.

As part of the First World War effort, Canada temporarily lifted its ban on margarine from 1917 to 1923 because of dairy shortages during the war.

Package of Margarine – White

When the Supreme Court removed the ban permanently, Newfoundland, still a British colony, was churning out bootleg margarine for the Canadian market at about half the price of butter.

The Newfoundland Butter Company was established in 1925 and, despite the name, produced margarine exclusively. Food giant Unilever bought the company in 1937. Newfoundland made what looked in the packaging like margarine but tasted like fish oil. It is believed to have been made from herring renderings. Unilever had been producing margarine in Europe since 1878, when it was originally made from whale oil.

(As a small boy and enjoy in a ‘mug up’ aboard a ‘Newfoundland Jack’ at Uncle Johnny’s wharf I got to taste Newfoundland Margarine or Butter. You could smell it first and it smelled like rotting fish – disgusting. CAPER)

In some provinces, margarine had to be bright yellow. In others, it was sold colourless. Some margarines were sold in a plastic sack that came with a tab. Pressing the tab released a yellow dye into the margarine. Squishing the sack for 20 minutes or so would mix the dye into the margarine.

Dairy farmers were incensed when the Supreme Court lifted the margarine ban, arguing it would cause butter sales to plummet – they didn’t. That would lead farmers to cut back production, possibly causing a milk shortage.

The dairy lobby persuaded Premier Robert Bourassa to ban coloured margarine in 1987. At the time, most other provinces had either dropped their prohibition of butter-coloured margarine or had stopped enforcing laws against it.

The court mulled over the case and ruled in 1999 that the law was valid, although the judge did concede that the ban violates interprovincial trade rules.

The province’s dairy lobby says the law’s not needed anymore and it has no plans to fight the government’s decision to allow Quebecers access to yellow margarine. Quebecers, a dairy industry spokesman suggested, won’t switch to margarine just because of colour.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Bette (Ryan) Turnbull on November 12, 2010 at 17:29

    Hi George;
    Boy, do I remember! As if that orange/yellow colored “stuff” could ever have been mistaken for butter.
    Now, believe it or not, we prefer the taste of margarine over butter. (but it has to be Becel) I guess after a while your taste changes.


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