The dairy and poultry sectors have been placed precariously at the edge of a glut, with the announcement of a new food guide by Health Canada, suggests Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.
Canada on Tuesday updated the food guide aimed at promoting healthier eating and lifestyle choices, and recommended the consumption of more plants while discarding the traditional four food groups.
The new guide advised people to regularly eat more of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant-based proteins, such as legumes, nuts and tofu, as well as emphasising that people make water their beverage of choice.
It further stated that processed and prepared foods that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat should not be consumed regularly.
Speaking against the backdrop of the new food guide recommendations, Prof Charlebois noted that eggs, poultry and milk were by far the biggest losers in the new guide. He suggested as the new food guide’s message is institutionalized over time, it could affect consumer behaviour to the point that Canada’s supply-managed dairy and poultry sectors end up overproducing within just a few years.
“Our domestic production for these commodities may require recalibration in the near future, and many of our farms could disappear,” Charlebois said in an email.
The national policy and lobby organization representing Canada’s dairy farmers also released a statement Tuesday saying it is concerned about the new food guide’s updated recommendations that tell Canadians to choose lower-fat dairy options. In eliminating specific food and portion recommendations, the guide also no longer lists milk and dairy products as a distinct food group but lists them within other recommended food categories, such as healthy proteins.
“Current and emerging scientific evidence does not support a continued focus on lower-fat milk products, as it reveals that milk products that contain more fat are not associated with harmful health effects and could even provide benefits,” said Isabelle Neiderer, Director of Nutrition and Research for the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
However, Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada — which represents the country’s growers of lentils, beans, dry peas and chickpeas, said the new food guide brings Canada in line with other countries that are already emphasizing the importance of plants in the diet,
“It’s a structural sign that there are shifts in the food industry,” Bacon said. “There is definitely a huge increase in interest at the consumer level in plant-based foods.”
Canadian Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor had said that updating the guide was not a responsibility government took lightly, as it was developed with input from science and health experts, and specifically excluded the input of industry to avoid past concerns about political interference.
“We really needed to keep that distance for any perceived or real conflict of interest,” said Hasan Hutchinson, director-general of nutritional policy and promotion at Health Canada. “We felt very strongly about that because in the 2007 food guide, there was a fair amount of criticism about the influence of industry and, we think, to make sure we keep the confidence of Canadians and health professionals and other stakeholders, it was necessary to stay quite strict on that.”
The document is only part of Health Canada’s new healthy-eating recommendations. A report directed at health professionals and policy-makers is to be released later this year, which will provide details on amounts and types of foods for hospitals, schools and seniors’ facilities to guide in the formulation of menus or diets in clinical or institutional settings.