Frustration builds as Canada Food Guide debate continues

The Canada Food Guide has been a staple ingredient in Canadian health classes and nutrition-focused discussions for decades.

For more than 75 years, the federal government has published a nutritional guide aimed at helping Canadians maintain a healthy diet.

The current review of the Canada Food Guide is part of Health Canada’s healthy eating strategy. It includes a major overhaul of Canada’s nutritional guidelines and polices, including labelling changes.

The food guide is also expected to get a substantial makeover and the update has been met with controversy.

From the beginning, the agriculture industry was told by Health Canada that its involvement in the guide’s development would be limited. The agriculture industry would be able to participate in online consultations like the rest of Canadians, but the department wouldn’t be directly consulting with the agriculture industry.

Health Canada’s decision followed on the heels of a report from the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology that said the food industry should not be involved in the development of a new food guide.

At the time, the committee said the agriculture industry’s involvement in the guide was undermining public confidence in the document because of the sector’s economic interests.

Draft versions of the proposed Canada Food Guide show a shift toward a more plant-based diet, with a lesser focus on dairy and meat.

That shift has infuriated the agriculture industry, which feels it has been shut out of the process. They argue the draft versions of the food guide are not science-based and fear the proposed changes will have large economic, social and global impacts on their sector.

Federal health officials insist the draft is not the final version. They also continue to insist the new guide will be, and is, science-based.

Health Canada has been adamant that a major overhaul of the guide is needed given the public health issues facing this country, such as rising obesity rates.

As the release of the new guide approaches, the frustration and anger between the agricultural industry and the health industry grows.

For one thing, Canada’s agriculture industry feels increasingly under threat.

From trade uncertainty to grocery store wars to rising consumer skepticism, combined with increased regulatory and consumer scrutiny, Canada’s farm and food industry is routinely under the microscope.

Farmers and the food industry say they are under extreme pressure, emotionally and financially.

The agriculture industry also says it is concerned about protecting the scientific process. In these days of growing skepticism, the agriculture industry regularly relies on science to help navigate the choppy waters of consumer and government doubt. Facts matter.

Those same arguments, however, can be made for the health industry, where budgetary cutbacks, stressful work environments and personnel shortages are also a reality. So, too, is public skepticism around health science.

The debate about the food guide also highlights another reality: food and individual health are personal.

For consumers, what they eat is often part of individual identity, particularly in these days of endless so-called advice from blogs, family members, chefs, fitness gurus and many others.

Many people’s fondest and saddest memories are tied to food. Celebratory dinners, holiday meals with family and friends, social outings, meals at wakes — they’re all tied to food and various emotions.

Too often what we eat can be laced with personal guilt or judgment.

The Canada Food Guide is designed to remind all of us that we all need to eat healthfully. However, how we achieve that will likely never be entirely agreed upon.

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