The Canadian Food Guide
and Andrew Scheer
Is our Government elected to represent the health interest of the people or that of industry?
By Georges R. Dupras
In theory, Federal Parties should not cater to special interest groups, but there is a world of difference between theory and fact. No sooner has the long-awaited updated Canadian Food Guide been released, that Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, promised this country’s dairy industry that the guide would change under his leadership. It would appear that the new publication was compiled without the input of the dairy business (water has replaced milk as the recommended drink).
What Mr. Scheer is in fact saying is that a supposedly independent and scientific body, mandated to protect our health, must include representation from a group of lobbyists representing industry. He is also saying that he will ignore the advice of subject specialists and “sanitize” our food guide (see Wearing two hats below).
Since Mr. Scheer is no more qualified than myself in the field of nutrition, I can only surmise that he will review the present offering with the intent of “politicizing” it. Now I understand that the dairy and meat industries are going through a tough period and that these two demographics are important. They are crucial to the people behind them, their elected representatives, and Canada’s economy. What is also important is public safety and that should come before corporate profits and private greed. The issue here is one of accountability and a flagrant conflict of interest.
In theory, Federal Parties should not cater to special interest groups, but there is a world of difference between theory and fact.
What surprises me is that Canadians accept that politicians can and do override expert advice from professionals, including nutritionists, dieticians and other specialists in the health field.
Copying the American system
When governments claim to represent the interest of all Canadians, what exactly do they mean? Are they referring to our health or to our economic interests, and are they playing one against the other? Are we trying to copy the American system where insurance companies dictate medical treatment?
Health professionals are telling us to exercise more, cut back on carbs, dairy and red meat. There are ongoing questions about the use of antibiotics, growth stimulants and a multitude of other compounds used on all food animals. Canadians must ask themselves who is best qualified to advise them; nutritionists and dieticians, or politicians prompted by industry lobbyists?
Big Ag and health
I’m not suggesting that we surrender all our decision making to professionals, but I am saying that politicians should take greater care before undermining, or muzzling the views of dedicated specialists. Objective research can help us in establishing the reality from which we can make an informed decision. This is hard to do under our present system when political parties decide on our behalf and scientific dissenters are dismissed.
‘What surprises me is that Canadians accept that politicians can and do override expert advice from professionals, including nutritionists, dieticians and other specialists in the health field.’
Wearing two hats
The following is an example of why Government cannot wear two hats in the public’s interest.
Rosemary Masson and Colin Todhunter (Global Research, July 2019) demonstrate why Governments cannot act to both protect the public’s interests and promote BIG AG simultaneously. They quote from a publication about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) compiled by the European Environment Agency, Late lessons from early warnings (Patrick Van Zwanenberg and Erik Millestone):
“Many of the UK policymakers who were directly responsible for taking policy decisions on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) prior to March 1996 claim that, at that time, their approach exemplified the application of an ultra-precautionary approach and of rigorous science-based policy-making. We argue that these claims are not convincing because government policies were not genuinely precautionary and did not properly take into account the implications of the available scientific evidence.”
“It is, however, essential to appreciate that UK public policymaking was handicapped by a fundamental tension. The department responsible for dealing with BSE has been the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), and it is expected simultaneously to promote the economic interests of farmers and the food industry whilst also protecting public health from food-borne hazards. The evidence cited here suggests that because MAFF was expected simultaneously to meet two contradictory objectives it failed to meet either.”
‘I would suggest the Canadian Food Guide should not be answerable to the Federal Government but act on it’s own merit, independent of corporate pressure.’
At arm’s length
Over the years, we have seen Governments muzzle scientists on matters pertaining to the environment (Stephen Harper, Conservative Party of Canada), and now to subvert the work of those behind the Canadian Food Guide (Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party of Canada). That said, is our Government elected to represent the health interest of the people or that of the industry? Are consumers so inept, so ill-informed as to be unable to decide for themselves?
I would suggest the Canadian Food Guide should not be answerable to the Federal Government but act on its own merit, independent of corporate pressure. How the people of Canada utilize the Canadian Food Guide recommendations will differ little from how they react to their own family doctor’s advice. The point is that consumers will have the best information available from which to make their own decisions.
Give some credit to consumers
Our Federal Government must not be allowed to neutralize purely objective scientific recommendations simply because they are politically unfavourable. Politics and science are much like Government and religion – they make for strange bedfellows.
Since political parties are unduly influenced by the demands of industry, it seems to me that it is high time to bring them into line and allow professionals to do what they do best, regardless of political pressure, in order to give consumers the opportunity to decide for themselves.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca, its publishers or editors.
Feature image: Health Canada
Read also: other articles by Georges Dupras
Georges R. Dupras has advocated for animals for over fifty years. A member of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), a Director of the Animal Alliance of Canada (AAC), Quebec Representative of Zoocheck Canada and past Board member of the Canadian SPCA, he worked on the original Save the Seal campaign in 1966 that culminated in the founding of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 1969. Georges Dupras has published two books, Values in Conflict and the eBook Ethics, a Human Condition, and currently lives in Montreal, Canada.