A Senate Report Says The Canada Food Guide Is Useless And Harmful

    The obesity study pushes for major changes to how food is made, taxed and labelled in Canada.

    Some people wonder what Canadian senators do when they're not sitting in a giant red room or filing dodgy expense claims. Well, some of them just released a bombshell(-ish) report calling for a total overhaul of Canada's food system.

    The Canadian Press

    Led by Kenneth Ogilvie, a decorated scientist, the Senate's Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee spent two years studying obesity.

    They found obesity costs Canada $4.6 billion to $7.1 billion each year between healthcare and lost productivity.

    The report, released Tuesday, is a nightmare for food and beverage lobby groups.

    Some of the recommendations are what you'd expect — increased education, more money for physical activity programs, etc. Others call for major changes that Canadian governments have never pursued.

    Here are some of the biggest recommendations.

    1. Ban trans fats.

    Carlos Osorio / ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Partially-hydrogenated oils make up most of the country's trans fat intake. Cakes, cookies, chips, and deep-fried foods are among the 40,000 food products that have these oils. They are, as you'd guess, terrible for you.

    "The World Health Organization has declared that there is no safe consumption level of this compound," the Senate committee wrote.

    They are calling for partially-hydrogenated oils to be prohibited from use in Canada except for when special permission is granted.

    2. Bring in a soda tax.

    Sam Hodgson / Reuters

    During committee hearings, many witnesses called for increased taxes on unhealthy foods, in particular pop and other sugary drinks.

    The food and beverage industry fought against the tax. They said it was "unlikely to be effective" and that "taxation doesn't work," according to the committee report.

    But in the end, the senators chose to recommend a tax on sweetened beverages. They don't say exactly how high the tax should be, but the report mentions it should be high enough to change behaviour.

    3. Bring in nutrition labels on menus and menu boards at restaurants.

    Though the committee didn't specifically single out fast food joints, this recommendation seems targeted at them. The committee said that restaurants and take-out foods are so standardized that adding nutrition labelling shouldn't be very hard.

    4. Fruit juice is just Coke without the fizz. Stop pretending otherwise.

    Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

    The current Canada Food Guide lists fruit juice in the fruit and vegetables category. The committee found this to be nonsense, since most fruit drinks are just as bad for you as pop.

    "It was pointed out that fruit juice is little more than a soft drink without the bubbles," says the report.

    "It contains all the sugar from several pieces of fruit, none of the fibre and the vitamin content may be compromised due to the production methods used."

    5. The current Canada Food Guide is awful. Scrap it.

    Health Canada / Via hc-sc.gc.ca

    Witnesses described the food guide as "at best ineffective, and at worst enabling." Its nutrient-based advice was seen as confusing. "People don't eat nutrients, they eat meals," says the report.

    Another critical flaw is that the guide doesn't properly warn people to avoid processed foods. The committee is calling for the government to immediately rewrite the whole food guide.

    The message of the new one should be: "Canadians need to eat more whole foods, namely vegetables, fruit, nuts and meat and they need to stay away from highly processed foods."

    6. The food industry should not be involved in setting health guidelines.

    Speaking of the Canada Food Guide, senators also want to change who writes it. The food industry has long been successful at changing the Canada Food Guide for their own interests, such as upping the recommended intake of meat, eggs, and dairy.

    Four of the twelve people who drafted the last Canada Food Guide in 2007 were from industry groups.

    The Senate report says this needs to stop. It says that only experts in areas like nutrition and biochemistry should be in charge of writing the guide.

    7. Crack down on false healthy food claims.

    Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters

    The committee found that under the current rules, unhealthy foods can make false or misleading claims about their nutritional value.

    They call for strict limits on health claims so foods that are "highly processed and are of low nutritional value" cannot be passed off as nutrient-rich and healthy.

    8. Bring in clear, easily understood health labels on the front of food packages.

    Without mandated front-of-package health labels, the industry has come up with its own labels that allow it to pass foods off as more healthy than they really are.

    There are a variety of different styles of front-of-package health labels out there. Britain has a green-yellow-red system that indicates how healthy a product is. In Sweden, packages either have a green "healthy" label or they don't. Yale University came up with a 1-100 nutritional value scale based on tracking 30 nutrients.

    The committee recommends the government study which front-of-package labelling system works best and implement it in Canada.

    Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

    Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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