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EDITORIAL: Changes in preference open possibilities

This isn’t the first time nutritional recommendations have ruffled feathers in the food industry.

But when those expressing objection are the farming community, expect a lot more people to be concerned – it’s an industry that’s vital, near and dear to most of us and already facing its share of challenges.

Health Canada has indicated its next food guide could discourage consumption of beef, butter and cheese. That has organizations representing the producers of those foods raising an alarm, since those recommendations in the guide not only influence individual choices but are often included in advice given by dietitians and as marketing tools for other food industries.

These lobby groups are also advising to be careful about such advice, since those foods are obviously rich sources of protein and other vital nutrients.

Health Canada has gradually been moving in this direction, suggesting people should reduce consumption of red meat, and stick to leaner cuts, also to choose lower-fat dairy products. The food guide also has been telling people of the benefits of choosing plant-based protein foods more often – they for the most part contain no saturated fats, are loaded with fibre and contain many other nutrients.

So it’s not like this comes out of the blue. And keep in mind the recommendation is not to give these foods up, but rather to limit consumption. Moderation has always been a key word when talking about many foods and beverages included in the average diet.

But we have to remember the farming sectors feeling threatened in this instance represent a huge industry, many livelihoods, many spinoffs and support products and their value to the country as a whole as export commodities.

While we can expect and hope people’s diets will shift gradually as a result of education about nutrition, the industries that supply the foods can’t turn on a dime. Expect them to be concerned about these recommendations if they do indeed slacken demand when farmers are already under pressure to maintain a thriving business and livelihood out of their operations. How many farms have shut down across the country in recent decades?

In all likelihood, changes in consumer habits will be gradual – we hope, for the farming community’s sake.

In the meantime, with shifting preferences in food selection, farmers should have government supports to change their operations. Many of these plant-based proteins do fabulously in Canadians soils – beans and lentil for example, grains and even the much-touted quinoa in some regions.

With changes in demand for certain food products, new possibilities inevitably open up. Farmers considering a switch could use some encouragement, detailed information and public support.

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