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Government regulations could kill the use of the wood-fired ovens in the restaurant industry

Sylvain CharleboisDecarbonizing our economy must remain an absolute priority. We need to adjust our practices to preserve our planet at any cost, a perspective widely shared by most of the population.

However, our environmental ambitions can sometimes clash with important aspects of our lives, especially when they compel us to change our culinary habits and traditions. A prime example is the significant increase in plant-based protein products entering the market, eliciting mixed reactions among both omnivores and carnivores.

Another area of concern emerges with recent intentions from Environment and Climate Change Canada to regulate the use of wood-fired ovens in the restaurant industry. According to a recent statement, Ottawa is considering requiring certain bakeries and various restaurants using wood-fired ovens for cooking to annually report their total air pollution emissions to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Notably, we find pizzerias and renowned bagel bakeries among the establishments using these wood-fired ovens.

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The NPRI is a federally regulated public inventory that lists pollutants emitted into the air, water, and land by industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities. All owners and operators of facilities meeting specific requirements must submit annual reports detailing the total pollution emissions from their establishments to the NPRI, which are then forwarded to the Environment and Climate Change Canada. Failure to report may result in substantial fines.

This requirement may necessitate many establishments to hire professionals to measure emissions, submit reports, and incur additional costs, which is often the case with such regulations, possibly leading to added taxes. Restaurants do not need additional financial pressures, especially right now.

It should be noted that each city and province has its own rules concerning ovens and fireplaces. Beyond that, the primary goal of this federal registry is to accurately measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the entire economy, including the agri-food sector.

However, a more fundamental issue arises beyond financial concerns: cherished tastes and culinary practices that have been celebrated for decades. Wood-fired ovens bring a unique flavour that cannot be replicated by any other means. Without these ovens, bagels lose their distinctive flavour. The Montreal Jewish community has perfected the art of creating the world’s best bagels using wood-fired ovens. Montreal bagels, known as “Montreal-Style Bagels,” are a treasure integral to the city’s heritage and the community that played a significant role in the province’s history.

As for pizza, the situation becomes even more complex. In 2017, UNESCO declared Neapolitan pizza as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. And you guessed it. To prepare authentic Neapolitan pizza, it is imperative to use a wood-fired oven. Reducing GHG emissions is undoubtedly important, but our intentions can sometimes go too far.

Ultimately, it comes down to preserving our culinary heritage. The environmental cause remains noble, but putting our priorities into perspective and addressing more pressing environmental issues is more essential than the use of wood-fired ovens to bake our pizzas and bagels.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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