In spite of all the breast-beating from politicians about the need to stem the obesity pandemic and clean up the environment, when it comes to keeping the farm vote obesity and the “environment” disappear from the radar screen.
Whey is about as ideal a food as can be found except for the lactose intolerant. Very nutrient dense, low fat and cheap. But dairy farmers need to sell butter fat because they are paid by the total amount of solids in the milk and fat is a large component of milk solids. Due to the apportionment of ridings, a rural vote is worth twice an urban vote. Also, the majority of Canadian dairy farmers are in Quebec and the minority Conservative government is desperate to increase its members from this crucial Province.
The sole goal of a democratic government is to get re-elected. So, politicians will do anything to keep the farm vote, including ignoring threats to the survival of our species, let alone a lot of other species.
Here are two reports on this exercise in raw politics from both of Canada’s national newpapers.
Government’s cheese plan stinks
New laws would favour dairy industry over good health
Recent initiatives by Health Canada might have you believing that the Canadian government is looking out for our health. But appearances can be deceiving. While Ottawa is offering up recommendations along with resources on healthy eating, they’re also readying to slash the availability of some of our more nutritious and tasty food choices, namely lower-fat cheeses.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been trying, very quietly, to bring in legislation that would change the rules of how cheese sold in this country can be made. And it’s a push that could significantly undermine our ability to implement the government’s own healthy eating recommendations.
The availability of lower-fat cheeses makes meeting the required number of servings from the milk and alternatives group an easier task. Besides offering protection against high blood pressure and osteoporosis, their lesser quantities of saturated fat also impact the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Saturated fat is not just a culprit in boosting blood cholesterol readings but has also been linked to a decrease in insulin sensitivity — the first step towards developing type 2 diabetes.
Currently in the making of lower-fat cheeses, processors can decrease the fat content in their products but, to make their cheeses more palatable, add milk components like milk solids and whey. The added protein from the whey affects the mouthfeel of cheeses, making them taste like higher-fat products.
But if the CFIA has its way, many of the lower-fat cheeses now available would be illegal because of the added whey.
Using whey makes cheesemaking more economicaland leads to better prices for consumers. Incorporating it to make lower-fat cheese also lessens the impact of any waste products from cheesemaking on the environment. At the same time, most people would not be interested in eating lower-fat cheese. Anyone who remembers the taste and texture of the first versions of low-fat cheese understands this.
So why is the CFIA proposing these new regulations? While the agency’s mandate is to “protect Canadians from preventable health risks,” the CFIA is not under the jurisdiction of Health Canada. The agency, in fact, reports to the Minister of Agriculture, and the minister may be making dairy farmers very happy with these proposals. The CFIA is proposing a maximum ratio of two proteins found in milk — whey and casein. Limiting whey would force cheese makers to use more fluid milk — and therefore more money for dairy farmers.
But it would potentially be at the expense of the health of Canadians.
Health Canada has started to take a more active stand on a variety of nutrition issues as of late and, through its new food guide, recommends we look for “reduced fat or lower fat cheeses. Lower fat cheeses generally have less than 20% milk fat (M.F.).”
When told that there could be a problem with the availability of lower-fat cheeses, Health Minister Tony Clement stated, “I’d be concerned about that.”
It appears, though, that on this issue Health Canada has been asleep at the wheel. Renée Bergeron, a Health Canada spokesperson stated, “Based on our initial review, Health Canada considers that the proposed changes to cheese standards would not be expected to compromise the nutritional quality of cheeses and cheese products. However, we will continue to work with CFIA on this file as comments are received as part of the consultation for the regulatory process.”
Initial review? These proposals were announced in February. And it seems that the CFIA didn’t notify or invite comments from wellknown health advocacy groups that might have had some interest in the proposed legislation. When members of the Dietitians of Canada asked their association to respond to the CFIA about their concerns, the organization was denied an extension to provide their comments.
The cheesemaking industry is also up in arms. The Dairy Processors Association of Canada (DPAC/ATLC), Canada’s nationalassociation representing the public policy and regulatory interests of the Canadian dairy processing industry, has asked for an immediate halt to the process. In a news release in May, the association stated that these new regulations on cheese could result in $1.5-billion impact on Canadian consumers, trade and the economy. Prices for all cheeses would increase substantially. And many imported cheeses would not meet the new criteria.
Health Canada’s Bergeron also stated: “For information about work being done by industry on the development of innovative low-fat cheeses, Health Canada suggests that you contact Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or the CFIA.”
But has anyone asked the industry about its advancements in the production of low-fat cheeses? According to Don Jarvis, president and CEO of the Dairy Processors Association of Canada, there have been a number of innovations that the cheese industry has developed over the past decade to produce healthier options — it’s these new techniques that the CFIA is attempting to stamp out.
We’re finally making headway in combining taste and good nutrition, so why does the government want us to take a step backwards?
Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto based consulting dietitian in private practice and is author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide: Harvest the Power of Phyto Foods (Viking Canada).
Mr. Strahl, it’s not the Canadian whey
May 4, 2007 at 5:53 AM EDT
OTTAWA — Like Little Miss Muffet, Canadians have been consuming their curds and whey – and helping the environment at the same time. By choosing “light” cheeses at the supermarket, products that recycle whey, Canadians have exponentially increased the country’s consumption of a waste product traditionally bereft of commercial uses. Since residual whey is a significant industrial pollutant, this marketplace adaptation has produced a fine symbiotic relationship. Fewer calories for people. Less wastes for industry.
In this allegorical construct, the next character we encounter should be the Spider. Enter Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl as Spiderman. When Mr. Strahl addressed a convention of dairy farmers in February, he announced that he had directed federal food regulators “to launch a regulatory process related to the compositional standards for cheese.” He had taken this action, he said, “to protect consumer interests and to promote choice in the marketplace.”
The federal guardian of supply-management farming had come to help Canadian consumers? This was more ominous than it sounded. Run, Miss Muffet. Run.
As subsequently translated, Mr. Stahl’s announcement meant that the government proposed to compel Canadian food processors to use more “full-fat” milk to make “light” cheese, prohibiting the use of recycled whey in some instances, restricting it in others. As you might suspect, however, the actual work was already well advanced. The regulations will require, for example, that mozzarella contain 63 per cent full-fat milk, that cheddar cheese contain 83 per cent full-fat milk, that “fine cheeses” contain 98 per cent full-fat milk.
In many cases, these requirements will prevent the recycling of whey from byproduct into buy-product. Even as Health Canada advises Canadians to consume more “light,” low-fat foods, Agriculture Canada will make it more difficult to do so.
We’re talking huge quantities of whey. Every pound of cheese produces nine pounds of whey – and Canadian cheese makers last year produced 350,000 tons of cheese. The Dairy Processors Association of Canada, representing companies that turn raw milk into products worth more than $10-billion a year, says Mr. Strahl’s restrictions will put 300 million litres of whey back into the environment for disposal. “Environmental regulations,” the association says, “make this disposition almost impossible and very costly.”
Whey is the liquid that remains after the removal of fat from whole milk. It’s rich in minerals and carbohydrates. Farmers used to feed it to pigs. Rural cheese factories used to dump it into rivers and streams. In the past few years, technology has produced a few commercial uses, notably in processed cheeses where it keeps cheese moist. It can be dried into a powder and used to bind fat and water in canned meats and sausages. It can be converted into alcohol – where it has found its way into Baileys Irish Cream. Theoretically, it can be made into ethanol.
The environmental problem is that whey has extremely high BOD, or biological oxygen demand. BOD measures the biologically degradable substances in sewage.
These substances are broken down by micro-organisms that consume oxygen. You can’t dump whey into a river or a lake because these micro-organisms will consume the oxygen and kill the waterway. You can’t dump it into conventional sewage systems because these micro-organisms cling together and clog the pipes. This has been known for ages. One old text advised farmers: “It is a cardinal rule that no milk product ever be dumped into a stream or a sewage system.”
Whey’s BOD can be expressed as 40,000 parts per million. By comparison, the BOD of cream (with 40 per cent butterfat) is 400,000 parts per million; the BOD of skim milk is 70,000 parts per million. The BOD of human waste is 200 parts per million. Try as you can, you can’t avoid a final unpleasant comparison.
BOD comprises 3.5 per cent of whey. Multiply 300 million litres a year of surplus whey by 3.5 per cent. You get 10.5 million litres of BOD – precisely equal to the human waste of 4.5 million Canadians. Run, Miss Muffet. Run.
The Dairy Producers Association of Canada says 30 per cent of the cheese currently imported into the country (value: $100-million) will not comply with the impending rules. Cheddar cheese from the village of Cheddar in Britain’s Somerset County won’t meet the federal government’s butterfat-based definition of “cheddar.” It says the high cost of milk will force food processors to substitute vegetable oils for butterfat – further hurting the dairy farmers Mr. Strahl wants to help.
The moral of this fable? Don’t trust Chuck Strahl with your cheese. You’ll pay more for your curds. You’ll lose your whey – and your tuffet, too.