Calgary

Alberta ranchers fear new food guide will curb Canadians' appetite for beef

Alberta Beef Producers say they're worried Canada's new food guide will steer people away from red meats.

Health Canada advises Canadians to 'choose protein foods that come from plants more often'

Alberta Beef Producers questions whether plant-based protein is better for someone than animal-based protein. (CBC)

Alberta Beef Producers says it's worried Canada's new food guide will steer people away from red meats.

The new food guide was released on Tuesday by federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor in Montreal. The last time the guide was revised was 2007.

The new food guide no longer puts an emphasis on food groups or recommended servings. Instead, Health Canada now recommends eating "plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods." It also says to "choose protein foods that come from plants more often."

It's that distinction between plant and meat proteins that has Alberta's ranchers worried.

"We would question whether it's actually true that plant-based protein is better for you than an animal-based protein," Tom Lynch-Staunton, Alberta Beef Producers' government, relations and policy advisor, told Edmonton AM, Tuesday.

"Is a serving of tofu more nutritious than a serving of beef?" he asked. "I think you could have arguments on both sides, depending on how you're eating that and with what other foods."

Lynch-Staunton said there are health benefits to eating red meat that are being ignored by the recommendations. 

"What we do know is that beef by itself, a serving of it, is packed full of nutrients. It's considered a nutrient-dense food, and you don't need to eat very much of it to get those nutrients," he said. 

Tom Lynch-Staunton is the issues manager for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. (Submitted by Tom Lynch-Staunton)

"And if you complement that beef with other fruits and vegetables, for example vegetables high in vitamin C, you can get complementarity in your digestion of the vitamins from the Vitamin C and the iron in the beef, so you will actually get more of what you need."

When asked about studies that have linked beef and saturated fats to heart troubles, Lynch-Staunton acknowledged that overeating red meats and saturated fats can be problematic.

"Make sure you don't eat too much," he said. "Because not only will you be overeating that piece of meat, but you also won't be getting the fruits and vegetables you need."

Lynch-Staunton said if someone is concerned about fat consumption, they can always eat leaner meats, whole cuts and ground beef.

"Those are all good for you," he said. "And you can get different choices for that fat content."

In a news release, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association echoed the Alberta Beef Producers' position.

"Health Canada missed an opportunity to inform Canadians of the nutritional benefits of eating lean beef as a protein source," they said. "It would be unfortunate if Canadians interpret this bias toward plant-based proteins as a signal to remove red meat from their diets."

In terms of the environmental impacts of producing beef, Lynch-Staunton said the good outweighs the bad. 

"Raising beef does produce greenhouse gas emissions, there's no doubt about that. But there are also many benefits to raising cattle and other livestock that many people may not realize, like intact grasslands that provide a host of biodiversity, carbon sequestration and ecosystem function that may not be there if you farm that land up," he said.

Lynch-Staunton said more than 80 per cent of what a cow eats in Canada is on pasture and grass-based. 

Health Canada recommends eating 'plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods.' (Health Canada)

"It's only at the end of their life, for about three months, that they spend their time in a feed lot," he said. 

And while beef producers fight against the perceptions of the new guide, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) is congratulating Health Canada on a guide they say will "improve the health of both people and the planet."

"Animal-based food products lead to disproportionate impacts in terms of land use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions," said Kim Perrotta, executive director of CAPE.

"By gradually increasing the proportion of plants in our diet, we will reduce our impact on the planet." 

The province's minister of agriculture and forestry, Oneil Carlier, said in a statement that Alberta is "blessed with a variety of high-quality foods from farms and ranches … including world-renowned beef."

"We've heard producer concerns that the new food guide will put less emphasis on animal-based proteins, but the fact is, livestock agriculture is an essential part of sustainable agriculture, and our entire food system is getting more sustainable, not less," it reads.

"Our government supports Alberta's robust beef industry, and we have partnered with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef to promote sustainability with our hardworking beef producers."


With files from Edmonton AM

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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