Doug Sawyer, with the Canadian Cattle Commission, says he wants to change labels on vegetarian products that use the word meat. Photo by Megan Roth/Black Press

Canadian Cattle Commission working to change views on beef

Doug Sawyer says he wants to change labels on vegetarian products that use the word meat

The Canadian Cattle Commission is working to combat the idea that beef, and other animal products, are bad for people and the environment.

Last year Canada’s Food Guide was updated to encourage the consumption of more plant-based proteins.

READ MORE: Calls to eat more plants, less meat also in line with Canada’s food guide: McKenna

The food guide suggests adding more items like legumes, nuts, seeds and tofu to meals in place of animal-based proteins.

This idea is a concern for ranchers and farmers in Alberta who rely on getting their animals to market.

Doug Sawyer, a rancher near Pine Lake who sits on many boards including the Canadian Cattle Commission, Canadian Cattle Identification Agency and Alberta Beef Producers, says this is an idea that needs to be combated.

However, there are limits to what the Canadian Cattle Commission can do, with the budget they have, to combat the message that beef is bad.

“Some of the organizations that are promoting [vegan alternatives] have more money on that campaign, by far, than we have in our entire budget,” Sawyer said.

The small budget Canadian Cattle Commission is faced with is a problem, and Sawyer says the organization is doing the best they can.

To try and fight the growing message that beef is bad, Sawyer says the Canadian Cattle Commission is working on a few different fronts.

On such front is to get the message out to consumers about a “healthy, balanced diet.”

“We are trying to get the information out about a healthy, balanced diet. The food guide didn’t do us any favours there, not at all, and we are still choked about that,” Sawyer said.

“That one did blindside us, because that was not the conversation we had.”

Sawyer said they are trying to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to try and once again include animal-based proteins in the Canadian Food Guide.

The biggest way to impact a change in ideals is by providing information directly to the consumers, according to Sawyer.

“A lot of it is through social media… I think we need to target it individually at that level.”

Canada is playing catch-up in what Sawyer calls the “fake meat market,” as it started in Europe years before it caught on in Canada.

The vegan burger products on the market generally account for four or five per cent of the market, Sawyer says.

“I hate fake meat, I don’t like it and we are challenging it,” Sawyer said. “We are working with the NCBA [National Cattlemen’s Beef Association] and Eat West to challenge them on labelling.”

The goal is to have the word meat removed from vegan options such as the Beyond Meat products.

“We want that removed because it is not meat, it is not a meat product, at all.”

While Sawyer is not a fan of plant-based proteins and vegan burgers, he says he understands why they are a product at restaurants and fast food establishments.

Because restaurants need to cater to a wide assortment of people, Sawyer says it makes sense to have a vegetarian option.

“I understand their need to have some sort of vegetarian menu item… but don’t dare call it meat,” Sawyer said.

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