Food Links: Canadian consumers cry out over downsized milk

By Sarah Dziedzic - Published on July 4, 2016
a glass of spilled milk with straw
Consumers are upset that Nielson's milk has been downsized from a four litre package to three, effectively increasing the price.

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Every week, TVO.org talks Food Chain. Snack on these policy, nutrition and food safety nuggets from around the province and beyond.

China’s new beef with Canadian beef

According to an article in Exchange Magazine, Canada’s animal protein producers may have to re-think Asian markets in light of China’s new food guidelines, which recommend significantly less meat consumption. Prior to the guideline changes, the average Chinese consumer ate approximately 63 kilograms of protein per person per year, which makes for quite the hefty cash cow considering the country’s population of 1.3 billion. Chinese public health officials have encouraged the population to cut their meat consumption in half, and consider alternative protein sources. The article explains: “China and the rest of Asia have been seen as beacons of hope for [Canada’s] cattle industry, which has looked to other markets to sell a commodity that is an increasingly difficult sell in the eyes of the modern western consumer.” According to The Western Producer, China is a big buyer in beef trade – importing 473,000 tonnes in 2015, and Canada is the seventh-largest beef exporter in the world.

Brexit’s effects on agriculture

As the world grapples with the Brexit decision, the effects of international trade rank high on the list of worries — and agricultural trade is a big part of that. The Globe and Mail reports that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union is still under negotiation and will likely collapse, considering so much uncertainty in agricultural policy and the island nation’s very future. According to op-ed writer Sylvain Charlebois, the CETA “deal was our greatest chance to act as a portal between Europe and North America.” Further agricultural uncertainty stems from the EU common agricultural policy, which once represented more than 40 per cent of the EU’s budget and 55 per cent of farmer income support in Britain.

Consumers cry over downsized milk

Saputo, a Canadian dairy company, is under strain after consumer backlash over its Neilson milk packages, according to a report in The Globe and Mail. The three-bag packages now contain three litres of milk, down from four litres last year. While the price increase amounts to 3 cents per litre, or 9 cents per package, it’s the principle that’s creating a stir. Greater consumer awareness, thanks to online forums such as RedFlagDeals.com and demand for company transparency, has consumers wielding the upper hand in customer relations. Much like the French’s vs Heinz ketchup debacle when Loblaw reversed its decision to take French’s ketchup off the shelves after social media outcry, Saputo’s reversal to its larger milk bags is emblematic of the power of social media and an era of consumer watchdogs.

GMO labelling bill

Ever since the Flavr Savr tomato, the first commercially grown genetically engineered food, hit the produce aisle, genetically modified foods have been a source of controversy. Pierre Luc Dusseault of the New Democratic Party is attempting to introduce a bill that requires labels for genetically modified foods in Canada, reports Radio Canada International. Dusseault introduced a private members bill to the House of Commons after the U.S. state of Vermont enacted a law requiring food product labels on products with genetically modified or engineered ingredients. Dusseault and supporters are calling for greater transparency and information about their food while organizations such as CropLifeCanada who oppose the bill say that “mandatory GMO labelling would … give consumers the impression there is something unsafe about GMOs.” In 2014 NDP MP Murray Rankin introduced GMO labelling legislation to no avail, so if Dusseault’s gets past the next step it will be the first of its kind to be debated.

Allergy app

People with severe and life-threatening allergies may soon find peace of mind thanks to researchers at the University of Guelph, who developed a device that tests for allergens in foods. According to a report in The Guelph Mercury Tribune, the wallet-sized device connects with a mobile app and uses a small amount of microfluidics and nano-equipment to detect the type and concentration of an allergen. The device can currently test for peanuts and gluten, and researchers are working to develop the technology for other food allergens. Amid a high prevalence of food allergies, the technology may quite literally become a life-saver for those with allergies until a cure for food sensitivities is found

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