Concerns about new federal labelling for beef

June 29, 2022, 2:35 pm
Sierra D'Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Livestock producers and livestock organizations have expressed concern about federal labelling that targets ground beef and pork as unhealthy.

Recently Health Canada announced that packaged foods in Canada, which include ground beef and ground pork, will fall under their new front-of-package nutrition symbol of labelling foods that contain 15 per cent of the recommended daily intakes of sodium, sugar and saturated fat.

The new label requirement is intended to help consumers make better and healthier choices when buying groceries. Yet, there have been discussions on why beef should require front-of-package nutrition symbols, as other single-ingredient meats and dairy products are being exempted from the new requirement.

“We don’t think it should move forward for the label warning for ground beef because we don’t think that’s what they’re trying to achieve by getting people to eat less ultra processed foods, when beef is a high quality source of protein, B12, it’s the good stuff,” said Ryder Lee, CEO of Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.

“We’ve already put the nutrition label on beef products so this isn’t new, but if ground beef is the only meat in the grocery store that has a warning label on it, that’s not positive.

“Then if Canada is the only country that does that, that’s also something we wouldn’t like to see when you think of international trade and exports. Half of what we produce gets exported. That’s just not workable and really is something we’re trying to inform the government about.”

Aside from his concerns about labelled beef products impacting the beef industry financially, Lee spoke about how it may impact consumers to believe beef is not a healthy option to eat.

He explained why ground beef is a healthy source of food, and why it should be exempt.

“We do have iron deficiency challenges in Canada, we have vitamin B12 deficiency challenges in Canada, and how do you get those things? One of them is a supplement, well supplements are a way to fix a problem that doesn’t need to be there. If you can incorporate ground beef into your diet it’s affordable, and it delivers the nutrients along with the protein and calories that you need,” he said.

“Our understanding of this move towards front-of-package labelling was to help people make healthy choices and really to move away from ultra processed foods, if you have a warning label on ground beef it’s like having a warning towards home cooking and that’s not going to help our population.

“The modern problems that we have with our diet aren’t going to get fixed by getting rid of old fashioned staples like ground beef we need more of that, more home cooking.”

Lee was asked why he thinks beef should be exempt from this label requirement.

“Well part of it is that fair treatment, there’s a recognition that some of these other products deliver healthy fat and have good value for your calories, and we think ground beef is right there along with them,” he said.

“We just like to be treated the same way. This is a good product that delivers good things, you need protein, you need fat, iron, zinc, your B vitamins, it’s the opposite of something that needs a warning and we just want to get that figured out before we go ahead.”

The Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association has been reaching out to the government to inform them about their views regarding the new label requirement, said Lee.

“We are asking people to help us out and letting the decision makers know how they feel about this, you can go to:, and get in engaged individually,” he said.

“That is important, that does have an effect. We’re also doing direct outreach in capital cities across the country and in Ottawa. We’re having conversations about why beef shouldn’t be labelled.

“I think sometimes these things advance as people work on them in Ottawa without everyone knowing what’s going on, that’s why if we shine the light on certain things that are happening, members in parliament, ministers, and others can have a closer look before making any final decisions.”

MP Wagantall shares her concerns
MP for Yorkton-Melville, Cathay Wagantall also commented on the federal government’s front-of-package nutrition symbols proposal.

“It’s going to increase the cost for these products, for ground beef and pork, there are many other single-ingredient products that are meat, vegetable and fruits, dairy products that are exempt from this,” Wagantall said.

“It feels like Health Canada is deliberately targeting our ground beef and ground pork as unhealthy, that is a protein and that is healthy for Canadians.

“This also impacts lower income and middle income Canadians who tend to eat a lot of ground beef and pork in comparison to other meats. It’s an unreasonable expectation that I really feel, it’s going to impact our ability to even export as well.”

Other single-ingredient products that are being exempt from the front-of-package nutrition symbols, are fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Wagantall explained why beef should be included in the exemption.

“Beef is a single-ingredient product, there are other meats that are not included in this, it’s just our ground beef and our ground pork,” she said.

“You try to think through why they targeted those products specifically, and I do believe they want to change the mindsets of Canadians in regards to where they get their protein sources. It’s just trying to force change onto Canadians through their ideology, when there is nothing about ground pork or beef that changes them from a single-ingredient product.”

Wagantall was asked if she thinks they can change the federal government’s mind about exempting beef in the proposal.

“We push, we amend, and we see that they’re not doing everything that’s in the best interest for Canadian needs, and today again you’ll see that Bill C-11 was moved along because of the support from the NDP,” said Wagantall.

“I would say they do have the same mind set and rationale for doing this, it would be very difficult, but regardless we will stand up for the community. On our side of the floor we certainly value all food-production in Canada because we have the best products, what we raise, what we grow we do have the highest standards, we certainly don’t see this as something that should be proposed on our livestock producers.”

Dr. Kitchen expresses his thoughts on new label requirement for beef
Dr. Robert Kitchen, MP for Souris-Moose Mountain, shared his thoughts about the recent announcement for front-of-package nutrition symbols for beef.

“I think it’s disgusting that they are actually putting this forward, affecting one of the best food sources of protein that we have,” Kitchen said.

“They’re trying to put labelling on it that runs the risk of not only creating an impact on consumer use of it here in Canada, but also internationally. You look at the significance of the cattle and beef sector, aside from it putting meat on the table, it’s $22 billion in Canada’s GDP. We export over 500 million kilograms of beef to international markets, that’s a big concern when we start putting labels on what is a very good protein source that we have in Canada.

“They’ll be putting labels on ground beef in the grocery store, it’s not the same type of meat that is put in a big mac for example, and if you take that another step, the government has pushed forward for no warnings on free fentanyl that they’re giving out in parts of this country, but they’re going to put it on ground beef.”

Kitchen spoke about the concerns he has heard from cattle producers and his constituent regarding the proposal.

“They’re concerned are where’s this is going, they’re already having troubles from when we had the winter storm when calving, and the huge impact it had particularly in our area,” he said.

“Now you throw in this on top of the cost of their feed, cost of transportation, those are huge costs being dumped on them and that is all part of the picture of the pain they’re feeling.”

He said him and his constituents hope to change the government’s mind.

“We’re pushing on them, we hope they listen and will try to get them to hear from this industry because of how big it is. We’re hoping that will get them to focus on making some changes, we’ll have to see where that goes.”