Manitoba beef industry wants exemption from new warning label by Health Canada

Cattle farmers in Manitoba and across the country are pushing back against a proposed change to food labels by Health Canada.

The government organization is looking at putting labels on foods warning consumers of high amounts of saturated fats, sugars and sodium, a label that currently would also go on beef products.

“That’s concerning for ranchers and farmers across Manitoba and across the country because it really does send mixed messages and we fear it’s going to hurt the demand for our product,” said Tyler Fulton, the president of the Manitoba Beef Producers.

Fulton said he feels the beef industry provides consumers with a healthy protein option and thinks a label like this would see fewer people spend money on beef products.

Currently, there is no label on beef products and Fulton would like for it to stay that way.

“One of the things that confuses the situation is not all single-ingredient products are subject to the rule. For example, butter, milk, those products exempt from (the label). So it makes one question why those products would be exempt and something like ground beef is not.”

He added the industry has been hit hard over the last few years dealing with extreme weather events and COVID-19, and he said a label like this would just add another hurdle for the industry to try and jump over.

“The hurdle is really reducing the demand for consumers for that product and at the end of the day it would come out of the bottom line of our farms.”

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) shares a similar viewpoint saying beef should be exempt from all front-of-packing (FOP) labels.

“Canadian farmers and ranchers produce high-quality, delicious and nutritious beef,” states Reg Schellenberg, CCA President, in a news release. “We strongly oppose Health Canada’s proposed regulations and believe they send the wrong message to Canadians about whole, single-ingredient foods.”

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.

Health Canada said exemptions include foods that are already exempt from displaying nutrition tables like raw whole cut meats; there is evidence that the food provides protective health effects; and the information would be redundant.

Fulton feels ground beef should fit in that category because it is high in protein, iron and vitamins.

“If Canada goes and enacts this regulation, it would be the only jurisdiction in the world that does that. And by that, I’m saying, puts a warning label on a single ingredient product, like ground beef,” said Fulton.

According to Manitoba Beef Producers, cooked extra lean ground beef has 2.5 grams of saturated fat, which is 14 per cent of a person’s daily value, while raw extra-lean has three grams at 17 per cent of the daily value.

Health Canada said a label for prepackaged foods would be applied if the saturated fat daily value is over 15 per cent or three grams.

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