Canola was a “calculated” risk

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It was about three dozen years ago that my friends and colleagues at the then Rapeseed Association of Canada invited me over to discuss the specifications and definition for a new crop. When I arrived, Al Earl, the executive director of the association, told me that the board had decided to name the new double-zero-type of rapeseed “canola.” The name, he said, does not have a specific meaning other than the “can” in the name to designate it as Canadian in origin. The “ola” simply was a tag, like in mazola, or cola.

It should be noted that the Wikipedia article on canola says that the “ola” means, “oil low acid” but this is mistaken. While the oil is “low acid,” canola is defined as being low in both erucic acid and especially glucosinolates; the latter is not recognized in the “low acid” definition.

The rapeseed association chose the name and then carried out a search for other commodities that had the same name. Sure enough, one turned up.

It was a Canon Canola Calculator. But the association decided that it was unlikely that there would be a confusion between this electronic calculator and a new oilseed.

I was reminded of this story on a recent visit to the Home Hardware museum in St. Jacob’s, Ontario. Amongst all the other electronic historical items on display was a Canon Canola Calculator.

Association officials moved quickly to obtain a registered trademark for its new oilseed product. They had learned the hard way how important this was when the decision was made to give the generic name “canbra” (Canadian Brassica) to the low erucic rapeseed oil developed in the early 1970s.

This became a problem when one of the Canadian processors changed their name to Canbra Foods. Some of the older literature still refers to canbra oil.

I was asked to look at the first draft of the trademark and I quickly became aware that the plant breeding had outstripped the chemistry, especially with respect to glucosinolates.

It took some time and several iterations to arrive at the canola definition as it stands today. But that is another story. The decision to seek trademark protection was probably a good one as the name became well accepted.

By the end of the 1980s, the Canola Council of Canada was able to remove the trademark as the commodity had come into general usage, including acceptance under ISO nomenclature.

Before seeing the Canon Canola Calculator in St. Jacob’s, I believe the last one I had seen was in the Canola Council of Canada’s office. Yes, they bought one just to see it.

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