Canada’s New Food Guide Has Climate Considerations

Spotlight Activity: Canada’s New Food Guide Has Climate Considerations

Health Canada’s (HC) new food guide (January 22, 2019) is being applauded for its simplicity. Food guides help us establish a healthy diet. They incorporate sophisticated dietary analysis and merge national nutrition goals, food consumption data, and issues of food supply and production. They translate the science of nutrient needs into a practical pattern of food choices. The previous four food groups, vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and meat are history. We now have three groups: vegetables/fruits, whole grains, and proteins. The new guide comes less than a week after a report, from a leading medical journal, The Lancet, similarly emphasizing an eating approach including “a diversity of plant-based foods, and low amounts of animal source foods.”

This is an important step in an era of Canadian history defined by climate change, and food-insecure families. Using the IPCC’s fall climate appraisal, (a part of the Paris Agreement) in calculating greenhouse gas (GHG) production, it shows that the meat and dairy industry could reduce its emissions by up to 30%. The UN Food and Agriculture agency’s last livestock report in 2006, found that farms breeding chickens, pigs, and cows for meat and dairy products, created 18% of the world’s emissions. As well, farming animals for food uses nearly 70% of the agricultural land available on the planet plus another 10% being used to grow animal feed.

A recent Dalhousie University survey (October 2018) found that 6.4 million Canadians limit the amount of meat they eat, with numbers expected to grow. Just under half of the respondents eat meat daily, with an additional 40% saying they eat meat once or twice a week. Just over half of the respondents are willing to reduce meat consumption, and one-third to do this within the next six months. Regionally, Ontarians are most likely to already be eating less meat, and those in Atlantic Canada the least likely.

Another report last October in the journal ‘Nature’ calls for Western countries to reduce beef and pork consumption by 90%, and poultry and milk by 60%, replacing meat with 4-6 times more beans and pulses. Food production already causes environmental damage, through GHG from livestock, deforestation and water shortages from farming, and ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution. Without action, this impact will get worse given our planet’s increasing population and global income, enabling more to eat meat-rich western diets.

Choosing a sustainable healthy diet has never been more challenging, as we will inevitably have to confront the interrelated challenges of food insecurity and post-carbon food systems. The Lancet report notes that diets rich in plant-based foods are not only better for public health but that they will be essential to avert climate catastrophe, calling food “a defining issue of the 21st century.”

Status: Right Direction

Take Action

To request action, please contact Minister Catherine McKenna, with the following message:

We live on a finite planet, with finite resources. To meet this challenge, dietary changes must be combined with improved food production and reduced food waste technologies. HC’s move to promote more plant-based eating is a sign they are resisting industry pressures and taking the latest research on sustainable food choices more seriously. With your acknowledgement, food options are an obvious opportunity to support increased reductions of GHG in Canada.

Send Action Alert Message to:

The Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
200 Sacré-Coeur Boulevard,
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3
Tel: 819-938-3860 or toll-free: 1-800-668-6767

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