Food Labels Like Those On Cigarettes Would Help Environment, Public Health
By Terri Chu
The Paris climate change summit has turned out to be as ambitious as it is ambiguous. There’s little in the way of a road map for each country but it certainly is aspirational. How it will translate into action is anyone’s guess.
But with the federal Liberals still in honeymoon phase and the provincial government a willing ally, I’m hoping we can see some action on big businesses that have otherwise been untouchable due to their status as economic drivers (and often big political donors.)
And as the environmental atrocities related to our food chain become better known, there are organizations working in ad hoc ways to educate people on them.
For example, California has popularized “meatless Mondays” in an attempt to reduce meat consumption that is much too high. It is far more environmentally damaging to feed the world on meat than vegetables (or insects).
So would it be too much to ask to see both levels of government confront big agriculture?
In the 1990s, the Chretien Liberals boldly took on big tobacco, requiring grotesque images to accompany cigarette packaging. History would prove this to be a fortuitous move, and countries around the world have since adopted a similar approach to curb smoking. This was in a time when Canada took courageous actions, beyond just mouthing feel-good words. Canada became a world leader then, and can do so again.
Given the amount of information we already know about animal cruelty in commercial meat farming, I think poignant reminders would go a long way toward curbing meat consumption.
On a recent trip to Tasmania, a friend and I were grocery shopping. She took a look at the cheap eggs on offer, spotted the word “caged”, noted “that’s why it’s so cheap” and moved on past it.
She was able to make the observation because eggs laid by caged chickens in Australia must be labeled as such (not just have packaging lacking the words “organic” or “free range” or “natural” - whatever that means.)
If we brought food labeling in line with cigarette labelling, meat consumption (and the carbon emissions that go with it) would likely plummet.
Imagine your next pack of bacon with an image of pigs in cages and the text “This pig was raised in cages. That produces xx amount of carbon per pound”. Since Canadians eat about three times more meat than dieticians recommend on average, this might also lower our spending on public heath care.
The egg board is advertising aggressively lately. But a friend noted the conspicuous lack of hens in the photos. Why aren’t there pictures of hens? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out they are mostly in battery cages in conditions we would rather be not see. A label stating that “These eggs were laid by hens in battery cages” on the packaging could do a lot for how we treat our cheap food.
Labels like those brought in for cigarette packages would certainly be a salient reminder of the cost of cheap food. There would still also be a market for cheap food, but my hope is that it would shift demand towards small, more humane farmers who let their pigs roam free.
Please don’t mistake me for a hog hugging, vegan hippie. I feel meat substitutes are often more environmentally (and health) harming than eating meat in some cases. Substitutes made to resemble animal products often use petrochemicals. I have yet to see a good environmental (let alone health) case made for them.
As we learned with cigarettes, consumer information is half the battle. When the consumers are informed, they make different decisions than when they aren’t. The federal and provincial Liberals really do have an opportunity to work together and stand up to big agriculture, better informing Canadians and Ontarians about their food and environmental choices.
Meeting our Paris accord obligations means more than just going after big polluters. Canadians need to know the impact of their shopping decisions too if they are to meaningfully contribute.