Got Milk? Consume It! (Issues With Canada’s New Food Guide)

Milk for sale in a supermarket in London, Ontario. (This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 22 March 2012, 18:16 by Mindmatrix).

So the Government of Canada has produced a new “Food Guide” and shortly after it was released to the public, there were many journalists, dieticians, and food lovers discussing it. Personally, I think it is rather naive and just another sign of the “nanny state” attempting to influence our lives and in this case, our food choices. Perhaps some people truly need advice on how to eat; best they get themselves to a doctor who is up to date on the latest information. There are actually a number of issues I have with the latest Food Guide, but for now, I want to focus on the reactions I’ve seen in regard to the change of encouraging dairy and milk consumption in previous versions of the Canada Food Guide to now, in 2019, where dairy has taken a back seat, as well as some claims that the creation of the Food Guide was free of “politics.”

Many claim that the latest guide is based on science. I take issue with that, and I am pretty sure those that were involved in creating the guide didn’t actually read much of the latest science. This can be seen with the recommendations in regard to salt consumption, meat, and of course, dairy. Salt consumption has likely been demonized far too much over the past decades and the most recent science suggests this is the case.

Political Independence – Or Is It?

In Canada, we have a supply management system in our dairy sector. I know a little bit about this, having worked on a dairy farm for some years of my teenage life. Yes, that was a long time ago, but I heard the arguments back then, and I’ve always disagreed with this supply management. Oddly enough, one of the big reasons “back in the day” was that dairy supply management was going to protect the small dairy farmer and keep them around. Well, that just has not happened.

According to a paper entitled “Demographics of the Canadian dairy industry from 1991 to 2011” published in the Canadian Veterinarian Journal in 2015,

From 1991 to 2011, the number of dairy producers and dairy farms decreased by 48.9% and 61.9%, respectively.

~ Link (Source)

So, if protecting small independent dairy producers was a major goal of dairy supply management in Canada, it has utterly failed. What it has done is keep dairy prices high – artificially high and milk consumption has gone down, most likely due to cost.

What has this got to do with political independence of Canada’s Food Guide, edition 2019? Well, quite a bit actually as in the past, many critiqued Canada’s Food Guide for it’s promotion of dairy products suggesting that the Canadian Dairy Commission, provincial milk marketing boards, and other dairy producer organizations were able to lobby for recommendations of significant daily dairy consumption recommendations.

So in this sense, many view the most recent version of the Guide to show how those drafting and finalizing the most recent Guide immunized themselves from this political interference of the dairy sector. Even Chris Selley (whom I respect and am usually in agreement with on many subjects) wrote,

“Health Canada did its work, and did it well. It took on Big Dairy and won!”

~Source – National Post

Chris, in his column, seems to think that Food Canada came out with an “evidence based” guide and managed to stay away from politicizing food. But is this correct? Chris also correctly points out that “evidence based” depends on what constitutes evidence. Well, what is “mainstream thought” is not always what the latest evidence says! And this is a problem, in my opinion.

Today, what is often considered to be “evidence-based” is that which seems popular in some scientific circles (that old “consensus canard”) while rejecting all the other evidence that questions or outright shows popular belief to be wrong. We can actually see signs of activist politics in the Canada Food Guide:

1. The Guide touches on the subject of “food waste.”
2. The Guide makes false claims about plastic bags.

The above two subjects are presently in the cross-hairs of the environmental activist movement, who have a desire to radically change people’s behaviour, based on what the environmentalists consider “proper.” In this way, by not presenting the full facts, Canada’s Food Guide editors have indeed slipped into politicizing food and food supply. Food “waste” is a complicated area and not so simple as simply throwing food into the trash – the UN definition of food waste (along with activists’ definitions) is ridiculous. Besides, I’d rather live where I can waste food, then not be able to. This is a subject in itself and will require many paragraphs to examine and discuss.

Food Canada though, also makes a false claim about plastic single-use grocery bags. And yes, it is political – as it’s something often spouted by virtue-signalers who have not actually read the science, who want to change “behaviours.” What is the false statement?

“Use reusable shopping bags. Bringing reusable bags with you helps reduce the use of plastic bags, which are harmful to the environment.”
~ Government Of Canada

While at first glance, it appears to be obvious that using reusable bags are the least “harmful” to the environment over plastic, several studies conducted by the UK government, the Danish government, and Australia have shown this to be a false belief. It could be argued (and has been) that single use plastic bags actually have a lower environmental impact than reusables! How can this be? Well…. let’s look at cotton for one – most people might be astonished to learn that it can take up to 10,000 litres of water to grow a single kg of cotton! In India, where much of our cotton and cheap reusables come from, the figure is much higher, with more than 20,000 litres of water required for a single kg. In fact, according to The Guardian,

“The water consumed to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year.”
~ Source

Clearly, Food Canada is indeed being influenced by politics – the politics of false environmentalism.

Consume Dairy And Don’t Believe The Lies!

What originally got me thinking about this whole thing was an article I read by Sharon Kirkey of the National Post. The article is entitled “Got milk? Not so much. Health Canada’s new food guide drops ‘milk and alternatives’ and favours plant-based protein.”

I want to focus on a couple of the claims that are made in this article, and am very disappointed that Kirkey failed to fact check them. There are statements in this article that clearly imply that Canadians should drink less milk, and that in Europe, less milk/dairy is consumed. This is utterly false. Kirkey’s second paragraph states:

“Canada’s new food guide is being praised for its simplicity, for doing away with confusing, “idiotic and ridiculous” recommended portions and serving sizes and for promoting a plant-heavy eating plan that’s more in line with dietary guidance from other countries, where the smallest section in the grocery store is the dairy aisle.”

The smallest section is the dairy section, she writes, in other countries. I wonder how many other countries Kirkey has visited, and where she has noted the size of the dairy section – but later in the article we get a clue that she is getting her information from a scientist. A food scientist named “Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.” So, we’re getting a quote from an “expert” here who says, according to Kirkey,

“You go to any grocery store in Europe, the dairy section is very small — you can barely find milk.”

Read that sentence. You can go to any grocery store in Europe. You can barely find milk. What’s the implication?

To most people, reading the words of a professor at a University who’s specialty is in “food distribution,” should be pretty trustworthy. Now, I’m sure Mr. Charlebois could be a pretty nice guy – but his expertise on dairy and milk in Europe is absolutely wanting, for him to make such an absurd statement. How do I know it is absurd? Because I’ve been to Europe, and have visited many dairy sections in grocery stores there.

Granted, most of those have been in Greece in the past year and a bit. In fact, I’ve spent a total of about 16 weeks in that country – not as a regular tourist, but staying in a suburb of Athens, while visiting other mostly “non-tourist” places and have been in a number of grocery stores. And while not recent, I also have experience in grocery stores in Northern Ireland. The implication that “you can hardly find milk” in grocery stores in Europe, and the idea that Europeans must not consume much of it, is utterly ridiculous.

It IS true that the milk choices in the very large dairy sections (yes, the dairy sections are large in the grocery stores I’ve been in) are different than what you find here in Canada. But that goes with a lot of grocery items, not just milk. For example, you will have difficulty finding:

  • Milk sold in 4 litre packaging
  • Half and Half Cream
  • Whipping cream
  • The various different “types” of milk, ie, organic, fine filtered, and good ol’ regular pasteurized milk.

Here in Canada, we do have large areas of our dairy that take up space with milk in 4 litre packaging. Yes, you will have a hard time finding that kind of volume of packaging in Greece. But then, you will have a hard time finding packages of 2 kg of sugar, or the sizes of boxes of baking soda that we have here, (it is sold in much smaller packaging by weight) and many other things. European kitchens are smaller than North American kitchens – if you use sugar, you just need to purchase it more often than we need to, in Canada. Same with milk.

You won’t have an easy time finding 10 and 18% creams that we use for coffee. However, you will find in the refrigerator section, shelves of rows and rows of different pasta creams, that we don’t have here. In addition, you will also find lots of cans of condensed milk; Greeks are the highest consumers of that form of dairy milk in the world. You will also find many more packages of milk that is Ultra-High Temperature pasteurized (UHT). This milk might not even be in the “dairy section” if that means the section with refrigerated dairy, as it is often sitting on the shelves – it does not require refrigeration until the package is opened.

So, we can see that the implication that Europeans don’t consume much milk because “you can barely find milk” is simply false. You’d expect better from a food industry professor.

What MORE You CAN Find In European Dairy Sections

As already pointed out, you can find loads of pasta creams which are milk based (I tried them in my coffee; I am not sure but along with higher quantities of butter fat, I think they are also thickened with some other thickening agent – they are not good in coffee). But you know what else you can find?

Cheese. Lots and lots and lots of cheese! And cheeses that are much less expensive than here in Canada! But that is also the subject of another post; Canada’s lack of world class cheeses available at affordable pricing due to protectionist dairy tarrifs.

And butter. Kerrygold Irish butter! Sadly, Irish butter is virtually non-existent in Canada, yet widely available in Europe.

But let’s move on:

Dairy Consumption In Europe

Going on about how you can “barely find milk” in European grocery stores might leave many with the impression that milk is hardly consumed there – or at least, we who live in Canada must consume much much more (and perhaps caused by political lobbying in the past from the dairy sector back when they could convince Health Canada to include 2 glasses of milk per day in the old food guide).

Is this true?

Not on your life! And Ms Kirkey ought to have done some fact checking; surely she understands the implication that her readers might be left with.

The data is a bit old (2007), but as of that year – Canada stood 29th in the world for per capita milk consumption at 208 kg per person per year. Oh, but in Europe, you can hardly find the milk in the dairy section, right?

The top country in the world for milk consumption per capita is Finland at 361 kg per year per person. Finland is in Europe.
The second most milk consumption per capita in the world is Sweden at 355 kg per year per person. Sweden is in Europe.

Next is The Netherlands (320 kg), followed by Switzerland (315 kg) and then Greece (314 kg).

In fact, the vast majority of European countries consume more milk per capita – significantly more – than Canada! Wikipedia has the list, and this data is taken from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Is Dairy Good For You

The discussion about the health benefits of dairy consumption would take another 1,000+ words at least and I don’t want to do that right now, and I’m sure, if you have managed to get this far, you don’t want to read another 1,000 words. It is true that some “experts” believe that high consumption of dairy is not good for your health – but I’ll leave you with the conclusions of this recent paper published in Lancet back in September, 2018. So, it is a recent paper:

“Dairy consumption was associated with lower risk of mortality and major cardiovascular disease events in a diverse multinational cohort.”
~ Source

Got that? LOWER risk.

Got milk? Drink it! And let’s support the good riddance of dairy supply management in this country, so we can most likely, have it for less, and drink more of it!

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