By Connor Lynch
KEMPTVILLE — For the moment, international trade deals aren’t the biggest worry for Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s General Manager and CEO Graham Lloyd. If NAFTA fails, it’s not a loss for dairy.
Of greater long-term concern are federally-proposed changes to Canada’s Food Guide and front-of-package food labelling. Neither proposal is backed by science, nor are they good for either consumers or producers, Lloyd told about 60 farmers in Kemptville on Feb. 15.
The Food Guide, last updated in 2007, is the second-most requested federal government document, second only to income tax forms, according to the Globe and Mail. The food guide is used as a resource in schools, doctors’ offices, and dietitians’ offices across the country. The guide is the federal government’s recommendations for what is, and is not, a healthy diet for Canadians.
Some fear the new food guide will revise the four food groups (grains, fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy) by dropping the two categories for meat and dairy and instead recommend protein-rich foods while staying away from saturated fats (that would include steak). The proposal has evoked public outcry from the DFO and Beef Farmers of Ontario, especially because industry stakeholders were explicitly excluded from private consultations with Health Canada. That may change; Conservative Health critic Marilyn Gladu said that the Liberal-majority committee would hold additional meetings and not exclude agriculture. A spokesperson for Health Canada told iPolitics two years ago, when private consultations were starting, that industry participation would undermine public confidence in the food guide.
The proposed food guide emphasis on plant-based sources over animal-based ones to obtain protein is not science driven, Lloyd said. The science is far from conclusive that plant-based protein is as good or any better than animal-based protein and the federal government shouldn’t advocate that it is, Lloyd said.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, animal-based proteins are a more efficient source of protein, and also provide a complete amino acid profile. A consumer looking to satisfy his protein requirements for one day could eat one eight-ounce steak or to get the same protein would need more than three cups of legumes, such as chickpeas, and would still need another vegetable to get all his amino acids.
Taking a strong stand on weak data is bad for producers and consumers, said Lloyd. Consumers get pushed towards products that may not be better for them and away from the products that dairy farmers are producing, he said. Public consultation of the Food Guide is closed, so Lloyd has been urging farmers to get in touch with their local MP to put pressure on the government.
Front-of-package labelling is designed to flag food products that hit a certain threshold of sugar, fat or salt. But the label doesn’t take into account nutrient factors, such as the amount of calcium in the product. That could mean seeing scenarios where a package of cheese gets the warning label and a bag of potato chips doesn’t. Consultation on the labelling proposal is open until April 26.
The danger with the proposed changes to the food guide and food labelling is that they can change attitudes towards dairy products, which could seriously damage consumers’ interest in buying what dairy farmers produce, Lloyd warned.