Food guide revisions – here we go again… meat gets bad rap as usual


It seems so familiar – Health Canada bureaucrats announce that the Canada Food Guide (CFG) needs to be revised to reflect the latest in nutrition science and cultural diversity. They engage in a contrived consultation process with stakeholders and presto, they come up with most of the revisions they wanted in the first place. Animal industry lobby groups then protest the revisions due to bias towards plant-based foods and the lack of firm science to back up the proposed revisions. The next observation may be, “who cares”? Outside of nutrition students and government institutions, does anyone really use this guide when planning their meals? Perhaps there are a few who believe government wisdom is needed to guide their food choices, but if the history of the CFG is noted, such government advice on healthy food consumption cannot be completely trusted. After all why do bureaucrats continue to feel the necessity to change and update new nutritional guidelines? One presumes every new version of the CFG shows that there were flaws and misconceptions with the old version.
Health Canada trots out the old saw horse about new science and changing social conditions that affect our health, but is there any actual indication that after 70 years the CFG has contributed to better health in Canada even on an incremental basis? I don’t recall seeing any research studies on how the CFG has increased the lifespan of Canadians. On the contrary, I would suggest higher average incomes, low food prices, food choices and medical science are what has had a more significant impact on the increased health and longevity of Canadian citizens. That would question the value of having a CFG, however there is no chance of that happening. Generations of entrenched Federal government bureaucrats have made careers out of reinventing the CFG. One shudders to think of the taxpayer millions this has cost over all those years.
In the past, revisions of the CFG did not raise much concern with the food industry because it stuck to basic facts about food groups and stayed away from using conjecture to justify changes. However, by the 1990s political correctness in food trends was beginning to infiltrate society. I expect young bureaucrats exposed to political correctness during their formative years in universities quite understandably embraced that approach, which saw an ideological move against food animal products particularly red meat. In turn those same folks in charge of the CFG would, not unexpectantly, try to redirect revisions to the CFG towards their preferred notions about nutrition, regardless of the scientific evidence. One notes that trendy concepts like sustainability, buying local, and protecting the environment have crept into the edges of the CFG in its new revision proposals, even though none of that has anything to do with nutrition. What’s next one fears – obesity is caused by climate change?
Food and animal agriculture industry lobby groups have had to be vigilant to the politically correct direction of CFG bureaucrats. To their credit they mounted lobbying and PR efforts to expose the dubious basis underlying proposed changes to the CFG. When it comes to these issues beef is the main target, with eggs and milk further down the list. The subtle CFG suggestion is that by reducing consumption of those foods and increasing consumption of plant-based foods one’s health will improve and longevity will increase. The meat lobby groups have noted the use of weasel words like “linked” and “associated” to make those connections are hardly a science-based approach. We need to be grateful to Canadian livestock, milk, egg and meat industry lobby groups for challenging CFG bureaucrats and their motives, that are more based on political correctness than scientific evidence.
It gets worse of course – some of the revision commentary reveals subtle references to the impact of food and farming production on the environment. This appears to be an effort to imply that those issues are somehow connected to food nutrition. There is no scientific connection to that perspective, but it gives the impression that the CFG wants to play its part in saving the planet. One wonders if the Canada Food Guide had never been created, would the nutritional state of Canadians really be any different. For the many millions of Canadians who have little connection to this overblown document – I think not. Eat lots of meat – it’s good for you, as millions know and some future revised CFG will probably confirm. Will Verboven is an agriculture opinion writer and agriculture policy consultant.