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Opinion: Daycare is no place to promote veganism

Food choices are ones any adult and their family can make.
University of Guelph has chosen to keep animal agricultural products out of its Child Care and Learning Centre, which proudly states that toddlers and preschoolers have been learning about food without animal elements.

There are places where individual dietary choices shouldn’t be imposed on the many. A children’s daycare inside a public institution is one of them.

There’s some irony that the University of Guelph, one of Canada’s largest agricultural universities, has chosen to keep animal agricultural products out of its Child Care and Learning Centre, which proudly states that toddlers and preschoolers have been learning about food without animal elements.

The choice not to eat meat, fish or poultry and their products is one that any adult and their family can choose to make. It is available for religious or health reasons and for those who believe they are helping save the planet by not eating a diet with animal-derived components.

With all the new offerings reaching the market these days, such as not-meat meats and milk in many forms that are not from animals, and even dairy that is actually synthetic dairy, it has never been easier to be vegan.

Food allergies are very real and can be dangerous, causing sufferers to forgo certain foods. Luckily these are relatively rare. American government research has found that about 10 percent of the population has or had an allergy to some form of food, most commonly to peanuts (1.9 percent), eggs (1.2 percent) and sesame (0.5 percent.).

Pediatric allergy presence in Canada, in the most recent scientific findings for people from birth to 17 years, is 7.1 percent, half a point lower than in the United States. Dairy is very low on the list of food allergies. Meat is virtually zero.

Halal and kosher food restrictions require various food choices and do affect child-care operations to some extent, and thus must be recognized.

Saving the planet from carbon emissions through daycare meals and snacks might seem like a first step that any person could take. But justifications for this are nearly all based on questionable estimates and often on worst-case scenarios. Much of the science behind carbon savings in livestock versus crop production is just that — behind — and is geographically inappropriate for Canada.

Beef in Canada is largely raised on pasture and finished using confined feeding of regional feedgrains, forages and oilseed byproducts. Dairy also involves Canadian/locally grown ingredients including silage and hay.

Many folks hear statistics about the large amounts of water used to raise cattle when compared to water consumed by cropping. But nearly all Canadian cattle are pastured for a portion of their lives on rain-fed land that is not suitable for crop production and would generate significant amounts of carbon for our global atmosphere if left unmanaged. That land also supports a bio-diverse ecosystem that includes wildlife — mammals, birds, amphibians — plus trees, shrubs and other plants, all carbon friendly.

Loss or neglect of grassland, upon which cattle convert plants inedible to humans into food accessible and nutrient-rich for humans, has repercussions that many people, vegan or otherwise, seldom consider.

The Guelph child-care facility describes itself as showing leadership in social change to protect the planet and lower its carbon footprint. To reach its conclusions, it consulted a United Kingdom-based consultant rather than the research of Canadian academics and researchers who are virtually down the hall from the daycare. The U.K. calculations appear to be based on global averages, not Canadian ones.

It would be more responsible for an agricultural university to encourage and embrace food production at its most sustainable, including animal agriculture, rather than to avoid a major sector of the nation’s economy entirely.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.