Alberta cattle ranchers concerned about changes to Canada Food Guide

Proposed changes to the federal government’s recommendations for a healthy diet has Alberta’s beef producers seeing red. 

In its first revamp in a decade, the Canada Food Guide is expected to recommend a drastic reduction of dairy, butter and beef consumption as part of what it recommends as a balanced and nutritional diet. 

Health Canada is also considering replacing the guide’s Meats and Alternates category with one encompassing all sources of protein — both animal and plant based.

That’s a concern to Canada Beef spokeswoman Joyce Parslow, who’s concerned these changes negate the importance of a balanced diet. 

“We’re concerned that’s not really very helpful for consumers — they buy foods, they don’t buy nutrients,” she said.

“To lump meat, dairy products and plant-based sources of protein all in one, saying they’re rich sources of protein — it’s not even true.”

Concerns are being raised after Health Canada released a series of ‘guiding principles’ earlier in the summer, purportedly advocating a shift from red meat consumption in favour of plant-based protein and foods high in fibre. 

The current food guide’s suggests that Canadians should eat one to three servings of meat and alternatives.

Unlike previous food guide revisions, industry won’t have an opportunity to meet one-on-one with Health Canada.

Instead, they have until Monday to submit comments on the guiding principles — the same deadline being offered to the general public. 

Food marketing boards like Canada Beef, Parslow said, aren’t permitted to make the claim their foods are ‘rich’ in any specific nutrient unless certain thresholds are met in terms of daily value percentages. 

“And here they are, trying to say that things like peanut butter are equal levels of protein, and the same levels of protein,” she said.

“It’s kind of counter to what they allow as claims, which is a bit strange.”

The guiding principles also advocate replacing dairy foods high in saturated fats, such as cream, high-fat cheese and butter,  with those containing unsaturated fat, such as nuts, seeds and avocado. 

Parslow said the changes represent misinformation to consumers regarding levels and quality of protein — especially when one considers the amount of nutrients like iron and vitamin B12 available in beef. 

That’s a position shared by Alberta Beef Producers spokesman Tom Lynch-Staunton, who said dismissing the role beef plays in a balanced diet will negatively impact the province’s cattle producers — not to mention the health of Albertans.

“It could have serious detrimental effects,” Lynch-Staunton said, who also serves as Issues Manager for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

As the Canada food guide is taught in schools as nutritional curriculum, he’s especially concerned about the long-term impacts.

“One of the problems is that children are especially vulnerable to not getting the right nutrients — especially protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12,”Lynch-Staunton said.

“Instead they’re eating too much sugar or processed foods, which can be a problem.”

With statistics suggesting a drop in meat consumption among Canadians, he questions why obesity levels aren’t seeing similar declines if animal-sourced proteins are such a concern. 

He’s also concerned about the long-term impact the changes would have to Alberta’s cattle producers. 

“It could reduce the size of our industry, but it could also be a detriment to our environment,” he said, pointing to Health Canada’s recommendations that Canadians should consider the environmental impact of their food choices.

“We all have to recognize environmental impact and do our best to find the right balance — but the food guide is about nutrition,” he said.

“The environmental piece is so complex — there’s still so much research to do on the best uses of our land and what types of food should be grown.”

That’s even more of a concern in Alberta’s diverse landscape, pointing to the predominance of cattle ranging among the Foothills’ native grasslands — the best use of that land agriculturally, he said. 

“The danger would be, if people are not eating meats for environmental reasons, you could actually unfortunately be negatively impacting native grasslands — people would be farming those up when they shouldn’t be,” he said, adding the importance of using sound, evidence-based data for the new food guide over popular, politically-motivated decisions.

“Our hope is, whenever the next iteration of the food guide comes out, it’s really important that it’s based on scientific evidence and not perceptions.”

— With files from Canadian Press

bpassifiume@postmedia.com
On Twitter: @bryanpassifiume

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