Early in the pandemic, Julie Van Rosendaal started to notice something different about the butter she used in her cooking and baking. It seemed harder than it used to be.
Van Rosendaal has a food blog called DinnerWithJulie.com. She talks about food on CBC radio and writes about it in magazines and newspapers.
Before, when she left butter out of the fridge it used to go soft; it was easy to spread on bread. But these days, she noticed, if she wanted soft butter, she had to put it in the microwave. If she used it right out of the cupboard, it would tear holes in her bread.
Was her kitchen too chilly? Or had something about Canadian butter changed?
On Feb. 5, Van Rosendaal posted her about suspicions on social media. More than a thousand people on Facebook and hundreds on Twitter commented that they had been noticing the same thing.
The answer seems to be that Canadian dairy cows, which produce milk that makes Canadian butter, are likely being fed more palm oil fats in their feed than before.
As more people began doing more baking and bread making during the pandemic, the demand for butter went up. Using palm fats in livestock feed can increase the amount of milk cows produce, which helps farmers to meet the increased demand for butter.
Some people don’t want palm fats in their diet, because they say it isn’t heart-healthy. Others say it changes the taste and texture of butter and cheese. There may also be environmental issues associated with the production of palm oil, according to critics.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) put out a statement in February saying that “palm products, including those derived from palm oil, are sometimes added to dairy cows’ rations” to help give cows more energy.
They also said the amount of palm oil in livestock feed is very small and the practice has been going on in Canada and other countries for years. They said all milk sold in Canada is safe to consume and dairy farmers must meet strict guidelines about safety.
DFC represents dairy farmers in Canada and promotes dairy products and their health benefits, according to their annual report. They said that they, and a group of experts, plan to look into the issue of hard butter and palm oil in livestock feed.
In the meantime, the Dairy Farmers of Canada are recommending that farmers “consider using alternatives to palm supplements” in livestock feed, according to their website.
THINK AND DISCUSS
If you are Canadian: Have you noticed any changes to your butter? If you’re from another country: Do you think the issue of what Canadians feed their livestock is relevant for people not living in Canada? Why or Why not?
Make a T-chart of the pros and cons of using palm oil in livestock feed. (Note: “pros” to one group may be “cons” to a different group, depending on their point-of-view.)
There are a lot of people and organizations involved in, or potentially affected by, this issue. Write down five people or organizations and what their point-of-view is about this issue.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada association is going to do a study to find out more about palm-oil products in livestock feed. What do you think the study will find? What recommendations do you think they will make?
The issue of hard butter has been labelled #Buttergate. What does that hashtag mean and why is it being used?
This issue has made international headlines, and even become fodder for humour on the late night talk show circuit. Here is a sample of some of the articles about #Buttergate.
Van Rosendaal’s article in The Globe and Mail: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/article-is-your-butter-not-as-soft-as-it-used-to-be-the-pandemic-and-our-urge/
Statement from the Dairy Farmers of Canada about the consistency of butter: https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-farmers-canada-comments-consistency-butter
Recommendation to diary farmers from the Dairy Farmers of Canada: https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/consider-using-alternatives-palm-supplements-says-dairy-farmers-canada
This article in Treehugger.com talks about some of the ill effects of using palm oil: https://www.treehugger.com/canadians-outraged-dairy-industry-use-palm-oil-cattle-feed-5114035
A follow-up article by The Globe and Mail: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-buttergate-spreads-as-dairy-lobby-asks-farmers-to-stop-using-palm-oil/