Undermining science for votes is unacceptable

Should politicians use our public institutions as populist tools? Likely not. And when it comes to the de-sciencing of agriculture and food, definitely not.

Just because we are entering the silly-season, when the writ drops along with politicians’ expectations of our IQs, it doesn’t mean it is an excuse to court votes through agriculture and food fictions.

Some people actually believe what their favourite politicians say. From weaponizing trade issues to the recent announcement that the new Canada’s Food Guide would be opened up for elected officials’ amendments, politicians have long-misused their podium access to create “alternate truths.”

But when it comes to agriculture and food, and the related science and facts concerning trade and economics, it would better for everyone if they avoided undermining reality, even during a time of vote-getting.

Scientific knowledge and advanced public health policy, international diplomacy and global trade negotiation are areas where most Canadians, if not reacting to a sudden jerking of the knee or call-out by a favourite politico, would likely prefer be left to the professionals.

Taking a turn at the podium during at a national dairy farmers’ meeting, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer recently decried the lack of dairy products in Canada’s new food guide.

Scheer called into question the credibility of the guide, using his own, down-home example of his son’s remarkable health improvements after the introduction of chocolate milk to the boy’s diet. In exchange for dairy farmers’ votes he would force open the guide’s lid and pour in some milk, the very food guide that took a dozen years for professional dietitians, food scientists and doctors to rebuild.

As adults, very few Canadians consult the guide. According a recent Angus Reid survey about 34 percent said they have made changes to their eating habits based on its contents.

Mostly children come into contact with the guide because it is found throughout educational programming, where it is foundational.

The previous document contained the wisdom of ages-ago, much of it developed more than 20 years back. At that time the guides had felt the strong, guiding hands of industry on their keyboards and in their illustrating pens.

Canadians have changed their habits and science has evolved and delivered more and better food, as well as vastly improved experts’ understandings of the human body and its love-hate relationship with all that we consume.

The new guide was exclusively created using good science and Mr. Scheer, while entitled to his opinion about the lack of industry involvement in the creation of the national document, might want to consider what that says about agriculture’s need to be judged based on sound-science in all things.

Industry has the opportunity to use the health value of agricultural products to deliver the messages of the guide, outside of the guide. Meat and pulses deliver great proteins and dairy products are excellent sources of necessary calcium and vitamins, just like some vegetables. And there is good science behind those claims. The new food guide helps us understand our dietary needs, nothing else.

Undermining science in agriculture and food to dig up a few votes is unacceptable. We need all the science we can get. The same applies to some other politicians from the western region, who have claimed our lack of trade in pulses with India is the result of a faulty state visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Politicians, stop and think. The world, like our children, watch us. Some people actually believe you, and the rest of us should have the opportunity to do so, even in the silliest of seasons.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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