Winnipeg, Jan. 17 – While still in the works, proposed changes to Canada’s Food Guide seem to emphasize a reduction in foods with high levels of sugar, sodium and saturated fats.
If those revisions come to light, they could benefit Canadian farmers, based on the principles of food sovereignty, the head of a national farmers’ group says.
As part of its Healthy Eating Strategy, Health Canada is in a multi-year process of revamping Canada’s Food Guide It finished its first round of consultations last month, with more to come this spring.
The government’s Healthy Eating Strategy aims to improve information, strengthen labelling and claims, improve nutrition quality of foods, protect vulnerable populations, and support increased access to and availability of nutritious foods, an online version of the strategy said.
“An increasing number of foods high in calories, fat, sodium and sugars are readily offered in multiple settings, thereby challenging our ability to make healthy choices,” the strategy said, pointing to research from the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan (2013-2020).
The government’s strategy also included research pointing out that billions of dollars are spent marketing foods high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar, with nearly 80 percent of all food products advertised falling into those categories, according to a study from Monique Potvin Kent in the Obesity Journal.
It’s not clear yet if the research included in the Healthy Eating Strategy will be considered in the proposed changes to the Food Guide.
“We believe it’s ultimately in the farmers’ interest that food is not overly processed, but produced in a way that is best for eaters,” said Jan Slomp, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU).
He added that certain trends in non-essential food processing are concerning, notably use of products like high fructose corn syrup and artificial ingredients.
“Every step Health Canada makes toward healthier consumer choices is a good one. I think it is in the farmers’ interest. I think we should align ourselves with the eaters,” he said, adding that the NFU adheres to the principles of food sovereignty.
Slomp noted the distinction between essential and non-essential processing. Milling and baking bread, pasteurizing dairy, or culturing foods are included in essential processing, he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with food processing, when it comes down to the pasteurization. Eating raw grain is not very palatable.”
The principles of food sovereignty are made up of multiple pillars. Literature from Food Secure Canada, derived from the 2007 International Forum for Food Sovereignty, says the concept includes a system that values farmers and what they grow.
Food sovereignty also aims to rebuild relationships between food producers and those who eat, and reclaim local decision-making about food production and environmental protection, giving control to local food producers.
Slomp is cautious about changes to the Food Guide, and what sort of input will be considered.
“There’s nothing wrong with having healthy pressure on the farm, for having ethical treatment of animals and healthy production of food. I welcome that pressure, but that pressure needs to be first and foremost on the food processing sector to make improvements,” he said.
Food Guide revisions will be completed in phases. In late 2017, the government is expected to release information and resources for Canadians, in addition to an online dietary guidance policy report for health professionals and policy makers.
In late 2018, Health Canada is expected to release healthy eating patterns — recommended amounts and types of foods — and tools and resources for Canadians to apply dietary guidance in their everyday lives.
The updated version will replace the current edition of the Food Guide, which was last updated in 2007.