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Combating Climate Change Through Diet Change: Is Canada Doing Enough?

Over the past year, AEL Advocacy has worked to amplify ProVeg International’s Diet Change Not Climate Change campaign to combat one of the leading contributors of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: animal agriculture. With animal processing and consumption responsible for approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions and a substantial amount of deforestation worldwide[1], it is crucial to address this issue by fighting for a more compassionate and sustainable food system.


The question is: Is Canada doing enough? In this blog post, we will explore the progress made so far, the challenges that still persist, and the steps individuals and policymakers can take to drive a meaningful shift towards more plant-based diets.



Are key public institutions and schools serving enough plant-based meal options?


Increasing the availability and affordability of plant-based foods is one of the keys to encourage a shift in consumer behaviour.[2] Serving predominantly plant-based foods in canteens and catering helps to establish plant-centric diets as a cultural norm.[3]


The good news is that Canadian post-secondary institutions have made great strides in embracing sustainable and plant-based food options. Notable examples include the University of Toronto, which pledged to convert 20% of its menu to plant-based options [4], and Western University, aiming for 40% plant-based menu items in residences by 2024 [5]. In 2019, Trent University and Flemming College organized the 'Forward Food Culinary Experience' to promote cost-effective and sustainable plant-based dishes.[6] Furthermore, the University of Guelph has successfully transitioned its childcare and learning center to a 100% plant-based menu.[7] These institutions exemplify a positive shift in culture towards sustainable and humane food choices.


Unfortunately, elementary and secondary institutions are lagging behind. The Education Act of Ontario grants the Minister of Education the power to regulate food types and nutritional value in schools.[8] However, the current nutritional framework is rigid, misguided, and fails to acknowledge the environmental impact of animal agriculture. The Ontario Student Nutrition Program, for example, is meant to adhere to Canada’s Food Guide, but falls short in promoting plant-based alternatives effectively.[9] While non-dairy products are offered by the Program, it is one of the few food groups that contains warnings about nutritional value, reinforcing common misconceptions about plant-based products lacking in nutritional value.[10] For instance, while plant-based meat alternatives are offered, the products come with numerous stipulations on when and how they can be served, which may act as a deterrent for schools to bother acquiring creative plant-based meat alternatives.[11] Meat and dairy products contain no such warnings, despite significant evidence about their negative human health and environmental impacts.[12]


Programs like the Ontario Student Nutrition Program need to more effectively promote plant-based alternatives and dispel misconceptions surrounding their nutritional value. Education plays a vital role in empowering children to understand the environmental consequences of their food choices and fostering a sustainable approach to nutrition.


Is the Canadian Government Supporting Industrial Animal Agriculture? What About Public Money for Climate-Friendly Plant-Based Innovations?


Despite the widely recognized harmful effects of animal agriculture on the environment [13], all levels of the Canadian government continue to financially and politically support the animal agriculture sector.


Unfortunately, government supported initiatives to support a transition away from meat products to plant-based products like the ones in Denmark[14] and the Netherlands[15] have not seen the same degree of financial support in Canada. However, Canada is starting to show signs of change. Recently, the governments of Manitoba and Canada announced a significant investment of over $600,000 to establish a hub supporting the implementation of Project ASPIRE (Accelerating Sustainable Protein Impacts and Results).[16] This project is part of Manitoba's Protein Advantage Strategy, which aims to foster growth in the plant-based protein sector within the province.[17] An even more substantial investment in the plant-based sector is taking place in western Canada, where the Canadian government and Canadian food companies, including Koncious Foods, Merit Functional Foods, and Canadian Pacfico Seaweeds, have invested $11.3 million in transitioning to plant-based alternatives.[18] These funds are intended to support the development of over 20 plant-based seafood alternatives, utilizing ingredients grown and processed domestically.[19]


While these initiatives represent important steps toward creating a more accessible market for those interested in transitioning to plant-based foods, they still fall short in comparison to the financial support and investment provided to the animal agriculture sector.




Does the Canadian Government Support Plant-Rich Dietary Guidelines?


Food-based dietary guidelines play a crucial role in promoting public health, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles.[20] In this aspect, Canada has taken commendable steps forward.


In 2019, the Canada’s Food Guide underwent significant revisions, eliminating dairy from its recommended food groups entirely––––a move that saw praise and recognition from multiple animal justice and environmental organizations. The revised guide also emphasizes the importance of choosing plant-based protein sources, recognizing their nutritional advantages. These changes reflect a growing awareness of the benefits of plant-based diets and signify a positive direction for Canada's dietary guidelines.


Are Animal-Sourced Products Fairly Taxed When Compared to Healthy and Climate-Friendly Foods?


Taxation can be an effective tool in reducing the consumption of certain product categories, as demonstrated in the case of tobacco.[21] However, the current situation regarding taxation on food products in Canada is not aligned with sustainability goals. Some countries have implemented higher tax rates on processed plant-based products compared to meat, inadvertently subsidizing and supporting less sustainable and resource-intensive food options (Germany, for example, taxes processed plant-based products at a rate of 19%, while meat is taxed at just 7%).[22]


Regrettably, Canada does not currently impose a consumption tax on animal products or animal by-products, which fails to address the demand for GHG-intensive animal-sourced products and hinder the shift in consumer purchasing behaviour. Implementing an appropriate taxation system that reflects the environmental impact of food choices could encourage consumers to make more sustainable and climate-friendly decisions.


Are the Impacts of Animal-Based Products on Health, Environment, and Animal Welfare Transparently Communicated to Consumers?


Food labeling plays a crucial role in raising consumer awareness about the impact of their lifestyle choices and empowers them to make informed purchasing decisions.[23] The Canadian government has not yet implemented a comprehensive food labeling framework that educates consumers about the health, environmental, and animal welfare implications of their food choices.


However, Health Canada is taking steps to address nutritional concerns by introducing a new policy for nutritional warnings.[24] These labels will highlight "nutrients of public health concern" associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and other inflammation-related illnesses.[25] Products containing more than 15% of the recommended daily intake of sugar, saturated fat, or sodium will display these warnings.[26] This policy intends to include ground red meat, milk, cheese, and other cattle by-products.[27] While the impact of this policy on consumer choices is debatable, this change reflects a growing consensus on the health risks of animal products and animal by-products that were previously downplayed due to lobbying influence.[28] Unfortunately, the current nutritional warnings solely focus on health implications and fail to address the environmental impact of these products.


Nevertheless, the significant global emissions generated by animal agriculture can no longer be disregarded. Health Canada should emphasize to consumers that the products they choose to consume have a substantial impact on the environment, comparable to the emissions from their transportation choices.



So, is Canada doing enough to combat climate change through diet change?


The answer is no. When evaluating Canada's efforts to combat climate change through dietary changes, it is evident that more needs to be done. Extensive research consistently highlights that reducing meat consumption and transitioning to a plant-based food system is the most effective strategy for reducing emissions.[29]


While Canada has taken some positive steps in promoting plant-based diets, there is still much progress to be made. Policymakers must leverage the growing awareness of the harmful impacts of animal agriculture on health, the environment, animal welfare, and workers. They should also consider the increasing popularity of plant-based foods and prioritize the need for a significant transformation of the food system.


There are various actions policymakers can take to encourage the adoption of plant-based diets, such as education, shifting subsidies, providing financial support, incorporating default vegetarian options in public institutions, and implementing targeted taxes on animal-based food products. Individuals also play a crucial role in driving change by choosing to consume more plant-based foods, using their purchasing power to incentivize producers to adopt more sustainable and compassionate practices.


We urge you to take the Diet Change not Climate Change pledge today to reduce your carbon footprint through dietary choices and inspire others to do the same.


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[3] Ibid.

[8] https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90e02

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[24] https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/06/30/canada-to-require-nutrition-warnings-

on-front-of-some-packaged-food.html

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.



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