OP-ED: Liberal Healthy Eating Strategy Serves up a Table of Junk Food

February 28, 2018

The Prime Minister’s father once said, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” The government may be good at keeping out of our bedrooms, but with the Healthy Eating Strategy, the kitchen is another story.

The Liberals are serving up a table of junk food in their Healthy Eating Strategy – a three-course meal of guidelines, a private members bill and a bold regulatory move – to what they claim will address the nation’s growing obesity problem. This strategy includes Canada’s Food Guide, Bill S-228 – a push to ban marketing of what has not yet been defined as “unhealthy foods” to children under 13 – and the latest to hit the supermarket, Front-of-Pack Labelling, a system of warning labels to be slapped on certain foods and products. All of these over-reaching servings boil down to a Health Minister checking off a box in her mandate letter without the high-quality scientific evidence to back her case.

For a government that claims to make evidence-based decisions, Health Canada is taking the route of assumptions over causation, dogma over due diligence and optics over objectives. The Health Minister is rushing through her mandate letter, while ignoring the most important ask from the Prime Minister; to “work closely with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to align these regulatory initiatives with food policy. All of these initiatives should be based on high-quality scientific evidence and meaningful consultation with Canadians.” Can a minister cherry pick from the mandate letter?

Nobody is arguing that we don’t have a problem with obesity in Canada. It is a serious problem which requires a serious solution. It is a complex dilemma that calls for a multi-pronged commitment to bring education, physical activity and a culture of moderation and balanced diet into the fold. The solution is not to be found in a rushed strategy that cannot stand on the legs of high-quality evidence and is not rooted in meaningful consultation with key stakeholders – the very hardworking Canadians, the farmers and manufacturers who plant, grow, harvest, herd, and produce the food we eat.

For an industry that knows the food Canadians eat – from the economic development contributions, to industry impacts, to health benefits, to trade issues and TPP restrictions – we are asking that the Liberal government make decisions on all components the Healthy Eating Strategy that are rooted in high-quality scientific evidence. Just as the Minster’s mandate letter states. And we are asking that the Health Minister open the doors to a far more consultative process. Concerningly, the Minister’s officials have repeatedly kept industry stakeholders away from the table.

The decisions being made today are reminiscent of historical mis-steps in dietary guidelines based on flash-in-the-pan studies. Often such claims have failed to hold water over time. It is too soon to forget the drastic impact knee-jerk decisions have made on important segments of our agricultural community.

Take eggs as an example. After years on the back burner, eggs are making a comeback as an essential source of protein, good fat, and vitamin B12.

We want to know that the Health Minister has all the facts before repeating the same mistake with this latest round of dietary guidelines and before we inch towards the same fate for other segments of the agricultural and manufacturing community.

Minister Petitpas Taylor needs to reach out to farmers and other stakeholders before formalizing the Healthy Eating Strategy, which would bring risk and uncertainty to farmers, small business owners, and the food industry across Canada.