Alberta beef producers take issue with Health Canada’s proposed new labelling requirement

Alberta’s beef producers are concerned that a proposed regulation from Health Canada to change the labels on packages of ground beef may create doubt of their product’s nutritional value.

According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), Health Canada is proposing a food labeling change that will require ground beef sold in Canadian retail stores to carry a “high in” saturated fat warning label.

The group says this would make the country “the only jurisdiction in the world” to have such a label on its ground beef.

“Ground beef should be exempt from Health Canada’s proposed front-of-package (FOP) labeling like other nutritious foods, such as single ingredient meat, milk, eggs, vegetables, and fruit,” said Michelle McMullen with the CCA in a release.

TRADE IMPLICATIONS OF LABELING

Dr. Melanie Wowk, chair of the Alberta Beef Producers, says Health Canada’s proposal, if it goes through, will put the beef industry at a disadvantage with trading partners and affects what consumers think as well.

“It minimizes the nutritional value of beef and it will have negative impacts on consumers,” she told CTV News in an interview this week.

Wowk says Health Canada hasn’t recognized that beef is a very small contributor to saturated fats in the Canadian diet, so the label is unneccesary.

“Most of that saturated fat comes from processed foods and that’s where we are making that distinction. Beef is one ingredient.”

There is also a lot more nutrition in beef that the label will not draw attention to, she says.

“The zinc, the iron, the B12 – all important minerals and vitamins that we require in our diet,” Wowk said, adding that beef is a good source of that nutrition given how Canadian families are struggling in today’s economy.

“Ground beef is exceptionally affordable, it’s versatile (and) it’s very important for growing children.”

She says protein in ground beef is also important for every Canadian’s diet.

NOT A WARNING, HEALTH CANADA SAYS

In a statement to CTV News, Health Canada said saturated fats, sugars and sodium intake levels in Canada are above the recommended limits and unhealthy diets can lead to several health issues.

It said these labels would not be viewed as a warning but a quick way for Canadians to determine what is in their food.

“The FOP nutrition symbol will complement existing initiatives, such as the revised Nutrition Facts tables and Canada’s Food Guide. These labels are widely recognized by health organizations as an effective tool to help counteract rising rates of diet-related chronic disease in Canada,” Health Canada said in the statement.

The organization added the label wouldn’t be applied to all ground meat as there are options with lower saturated fat content.

Wowk and the CCA both want those exemptions, which apply to raw whole cut beef products like steak, to be extended to all ground beef products.

“Like other nutritious, single-ingredient foods that are already included such as meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables,” she said. “We are asking, really, for a policy that is equitable for our industry.”

She says Health Canada is expected to make a decision on the food labeling in the coming weeks and the only option they have is to continue to lobby the agency to change its mind.

“We are only really trying to get the Canadian consumer behind us in this and to realize that slapping that label on this isn’t just going to mean an extra label at the grocery store,” Wowk said.

“It has true, true trade implications for our industry, which contributes over $4 billion to the GDP of this province.”

(With files from CTV Winnipeg)

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