OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has vowed to review Canada’s food guide if his party forms government after the election, claiming the current version “seems to be ideologically-driven by people who have a philosophical perspective” and “bias” against milk.
Scheer made the pledge to a room of dairy farmers in Saskatoon, Sask. on Wednesday. It was one of two election promises he made to the agricultural crowd.
“The process was flawed. Complete lack of consultation,” Scheer said of the discussions that led to the revamped food guide unveiled earlier this year. The guide earned swift criticism from the Dairy Farmers of Canada after milk was replaced by water as a “beverage of choice.”
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Speaking at the Dairy Farmers of Canada annual general meeting, a group to which Scheer has mocked himself for having close ties, the Conservative leader said the lobby’s research “went completely unused” by the Liberal government.
“So absolutely we want to get that right. Get that guide to actually reflect what we know, what the science tells us,” he said.
Tory leader calls sudden shift against milk ‘ridiculous’
In lieu of citing scientific data, Scheer used a personal anecdote about his son to support the nutritional benefits of milk.
“I truly do believe that chocolate milk saved my son’s life,” he joked. He said the beverage was one of a handful of foods his picky-eater son would have between the ages of two to six.
“The idea that these types of products that we’ve been drinking as human beings, eating as human beings for a millennia — that now all of a sudden that they’re unhealthy, it’s ridiculous.”
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told HuffPost Canada the food guide has received an “incredibly positive reception.” She suggested the Conservative leader’s comments prioritize “pleasing big business and lobby groups” over Canadian’s health.
“What’s ridiculous is Andrew Scheer spreading lies about a food guide that was enthusiastically welcomed by Canadians and celebrated as a world leader,” she said.
“These totally inaccurate comments are hardly surprising coming from the same Conservative Party that muzzled government scientists and blatantly ignored evidence. Health policy should be based on evidence not industry, and meet the needs of all Canadians.”
Canada’s new food guide was unveiled in January, its first update in 12 years.
According to Health Canada, the federal department that oversaw the update, officials used “only high-quality scientific reports” from reputable agencies including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to shape the new food guide.
Its previous iteration recommended a daily dose of dairy, which is now gone. Instead of advocating for specific servings of traditional food groups, the new guide puts an emphasis on bigger portions of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and choosing more plant-based proteins.
Hasan Hutchinson, Health Canada’s director-general of nutritional policy and promotion, told the Canadian Press earlier this year the new food guide is designed to promote healthier eating and lifestyle choices.
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“Dietary risks are one of the top three leading risk factors for chronic disease burden in Canada, however nutrition science is complex and often results in conflicting messages. This is why Canadians need credible healthy-eating information to guide their food choices,” he said.
It’s messaging that Scheer seems to find an issue with. His second election pledge made to the crowd: no front-of-package labelling.
The federal government announced earlier this year a proposal to introduce a new nutrition symbol on the front of packages to identify products with high levels of sodium, sugar, and trans fat.
Scheer said the warning labels will have a “very negative effect” on the dairy industry.
“I don’t need the government to come along and put a big red sticker on something just because somebody in an office thought that I shouldn’t be eating that,” he said. “I think it’s not based on sound science.”