Health Canada Proposal for Warning Label on Ground Beef Upsets Ranchers

Health Canada Proposal for Warning Label on Ground Beef Upsets Ranchers
Beef and other packaged meat products are displayed for sale at a grocery store in Aylmer, Que., on May 26, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Lee Harding
Beef producers are mounting opposition to a Health Canada proposal to label ground beef sold in stores as high in saturated fat. The proposal is part of an upcoming policy requiring warning labels on foods high in saturated fat, sugars, and sodium.

Jennifer Babcock, senior manager of government relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says discussions on the labelling proposal began in 2018 but the decision not to exempt ground beef was made apparent in March of this year.

“Since then, we’ve been very active in our conversations with Health Canada officials, MPs, senators, ministerial staff, and pretty much anyone who would take the time to listen to us,” Babcock said in an interview.

“We’ve been calling for Health Canada to exempt all single-ingredient whole foods, which includes ground beef, of course. Other countries have.”

The CCA has launched a campaign page to promote ground beef’s nutritional benefits, which will not appear on labels.

“Ground beef is a nutrient-dense protein that contributes iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and other essential nutrients that our bodies rely on,” says the website.

“Ground beef is a minor contributor to the overall saturated fat Canadians are consuming. Instead, [discouraging beef consumption] will affect the most vulnerable populations, including women and children, who require important nutrients from ground beef.”

Babcock says any healthy eating policy shouldn’t leave ground beef “caught in the crosshairs of this regulation.” She points out that muscle cuts of meat are exempt because they have nutrition labels already. This means a roast taken to a butcher to be ground up would have no warning label going in but would require one on the end product.

Ground pork is also included in the federal labelling proposal, a component of the Healthy Eating Strategy, which applies to prepared or processed foods and for those intended solely for children 1–4 years old. If a product exceeds 15 percent of the maximum daily allowance for sodium, sugar, or saturated fat, a prominent label will be placed on the package. The threshold rises to 30 percent for prepackaged dishes.
However, the policy has 16 categories of exemptions for technical, practical, or health-related criteria. Products not sold directly to consumers, non-processed raw single-ingredient meat and fish products, all dairy products, eggs, and food sold at a farmers’ market are exempted.

‘Makes no Sense’

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food at Dalhousie University, says many dairy products arguably have at least as much saturated fat, and that ground beef and pork should have had the same exemptions.

“Canada would become the first country in the world to actually force retailers to label a single ingredient product, which makes no sense,” he told The Epoch Times.

“The spirit behind a front-of-packaging label policy is to entice industry to supply healthier products to a marketplace. How do you actually reformulate a product with only one ingredient? That’s the question I have. I mean, it’s just impossible.”

Charlebois says Health Canada “butchered dairy products with the latest food guide,” so protecting them at the expense of ground meat represents a “mind-blowing” lack of consistency.

“For Health Canada, some saturated fats are more equal than others. When it comes to food there is always politics involved—always,” he said.

He notes that cooking ground beef reduces saturated fat to below Health Canada thresholds, making the label misleading.

“Once you slap a label like that on a product, you’re basically forcing grocers to eliminate that product altogether from the markets. Why would you buy a product that is labelled as unhealthy? And that’s really the real danger here—you would basically discourage Canadians from eating one of the most beloved products out there.”

The Epoch Times requested comment from Health Canada, but no spokesperson was available. The office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos did not reply by publication time.

‘Thoughtless Policies’

Then again, less consumption may be the point. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 14.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, with nearly two-thirds of this amount coming from cattle.

In April, a report from the U.N.’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change encouraged a shift from meat-based to plant-based proteins to prevent carbon emissions, and therefore climate change.

“[S]hifting diets, and reducing food waste, could enhance efficiencies and reduce agricultural land needs … as well as decreasing CH4 and N2O emissions from agricultural production,” said the report.

According to the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum, Canada is the fourth-largest beef exporter in the world and produces 1.2 billion kilograms of beef each year. Nearly half of the 3.7 million cattle in Canada are in Alberta.

Barry Cooper, political science professor at the University of Calgary, says environmentalism, bureaucracy, and a federal government unfriendly to Alberta have converged.

“When you have this perfect combination of a managerial state, a complete indifference to this part of the country, and this ideological commitment to all of the rubbish around the anthropogenic climate change, it’s really hard to sort out which factors are more important,” Cooper said in an interview.

“They all happen to just reinforce one another. So the result is you get these thoughtless policies that have a tremendous impact on cattle producers. To say that it’s crazy is only slightly to exaggerate. It certainly shows a complete ignorance of the benefits of eating beef.”

The Saskatchewan government and the province’s cattle industry are calling on the federal government to exempt all classes of ground beef from front-of-package (FOP) regulations.

“A proposed front-of-package labelling requirement for ground beef serves no beneficial purpose and will have several negative impacts on our industry,” Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit said in a press release.

“Other countries and major trading partners have exempted ground meat products from FOP labelling requirements. Moving forward with mandatory FOP labelling for ground meat has potential to impact Canada’s ground meat products destined for export markets.”