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Why Do We Need The Canada Food Guide?

November 22, 2016
Why Do We Need The Canada Food Guide?

Article originally appeared on Huffington Post, November 18, 2016.

In late October, Health Minister Jane Philpott announced her department was launching a major review of the Canada Food Guide.

Canadians might recall the food guide from their school days: learning about the four food groups and the recommended daily servings. (To the chagrin of most kids, Halloween candy never seemed to make an appearance.)


The Canada Food Guide was created in an analog world. Today, 74 years later, Canadians are more likely to Google on their phone while standing in a grocery aisle than carry around a folded-up food guide poster. Almost every grocery product is now labeled, disclosing how much sugar, fat, vitamins and calories are contained in each serving.

This new reality calls into question why Canadians are paying millions to update a government diktat on what we should eat. And given the nutrition information is out there for all to see, why are we allowing faceless Ottawa bureaucrats to recommend what we should eat?

Even if some people need politicians to make official declarations on their diet, a recent Senate report on obesity in Canada was less than flattering on the effectiveness of the guide. The report noted the Guide has been "at best ineffective, and at worst enabling, with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Yet, the government has dropped major coin on an online survey, the results of which will then be considered by a panel of hired experts and turned into a series of draft recommendations, the results of which will then be open to more consultations, and then - millions of dollars later - we should finally have our new food guide.

But what exactly will a new guide achieve?

It will certainly keep many lobbyists employed and well fed (pun intended). The last time the Canada Food Guide was reviewed, lobbyists from every corner of the food and health industries swamped politicians and government officials with meetings. Consultations in 2005 drew more than 100 businesses and industry groups trying to have their products recommended in the food guide. One Health Canada official described the lobbying process as "intense." Perhaps that's why, this time, food industry lobbyists have been sidelined. Unfortunately, health industry activists are welcome to lobby up a storm.

According to the federal lobbyist registry, the Heart and Stroke Foundation alone has held 182 lobbying meetings since December 2015. These are the same folks behind a push to create a new tax on pop and other sugary drinks. If the questions singling out pop in the online food guide survey are any indication, that lobbying has paid off.

Given all this lobbying, Canadians should question whether the guide is about good science or just good politics.

Why else would the government be surveying people as to what should go into the guide? The sole purpose of a survey is to gauge public opinion. If this were truly all about creating the optimal healthy diet, why would the government care what average people think?

If the old guide (as spun by lobbyists) was "ineffective" and the new guide (also as spun by lobbyists) won't be read by anyone outside of an elementary school, why is the government spending so much money on it?

And in an age of information at our fingertips, why do we need the government to tell us what to eat? The government doesn't tell us how to dress, when to exercise or how to cut our hair (at least it doesn't ... yet).

The Canada Food Guide may have once filled a role. Today it's a relic, and an expensive one at that.


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