Livestock feed and Canada’s butter controversy – a legal analysis from our latest issue
Our food supply is inextricably linked with livestock feed, notes Katrina Coughlin, an associate in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG, specializing in food and drug regulatory law, in our latest issue.
From the impact of livestock feed ingredients on subsequent food products, to the opportunity to divert food waste from landfills, livestock feed plays an important role in food production. Canada’s recent “Buttergate” controversy highlights the close link that can exist between what livestock is fed and the food that ends up on the consumer’s table. In case you missed it, Canada’s dairy industry was at the centre of a viral media story in February after observations were posted online suggesting that butter at room temperature is not the same, soft consistency that it used to be. The cause of this change was soon linked, at least by some, to palm supplements fed to dairy cows.
Whether or not you accept the link between palm supplements and butter consistency, the controversy is notable. First, it is an important reminder for those in the industry that livestock feeds may have a direct impact on certain characteristics of the resultant foods that are sold — which might be relevant to consumers, even if there is no impact on the safety of the food. This is something that parties should be cognizant of when making purchasing and sourcing decisions.
In addition, for food companies intending to make claims related to product composition or methods of production, livestock feed decisions (and record-keeping related to feeding) can have significant implications on the claims that can be made.
Second, for consumers who are not familiar with agriculture and food production practices, the type of linkage between feed and food that was highlighted with Buttergate may be the first time this connection has come to their attention. With consumers now (more) aware that livestock feed decisions can potentially have direct consequences on the food they eat, Buttergate may be part of a larger push by consumers for greater transparency from industry about livestock feeds.
In some of the coverage of Buttergate, there was also an acknowledgement that palm supplements are approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for use in livestock feed in Canada. This is important, as livestock feeds are highly regulated by the CFIA under the Feeds Act and the Feeds Regulations, 1983 (the “Regulations”), which establish, among other things, permitted feed ingredients, notification and registration requirements for some feed products.
For food companies looking to divert byproducts from landfills, selling that byproduct as a livestock feed ingredient may be an attractive and environmentally-friendly option. The Regulations can create challenges to such endeavours though, so it’s important to do your research. Many of the acceptable single-feed ingredients established under the Regulations are subject to very detailed criteria with respect to both how the ingredient is manufactured and its composition. New additions and modifications are possible with adequate evidence, but they require planning as the process typically takes at least 275 days based on current CFIA performance standards.
The CFIA has been working towards modernizing the Regulations for several years now (the first consultation was in 2016). In the fall of 2020, it published the Feed Regulatory Modernization — Pre Canada Gazette, Part I Publication Consultation. At a high level, the modernization proposes to adopt a more outcomes-based approach, similar to the Safe Food for Canadians Act and its regulations. This includes proposed preventive control, traceability and licensing requirements. The draft regulations should provide more clarity as to exactly how food companies with byproducts suitable for use as livestock feed will be impacted.
In the meantime, we’ll be watching to see if consumer attention on livestock feed following Buttergate “spreads.”
Katrina Coughlin is an associate in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG, specializing in food and drug regulatory law. Contact her at: Katrina.Coughlin@gowlingwlg.com