What’s the deal with Buttergate? The story behind Canada’s butter debacle
Buttergate? Really? It might be time to put a moratorium on adding “gate” to potentially scandalous situations. Sure, Watergate was a big deal, and Gamergate was certainly a thing, but subsequent “gates” have diminished the impact of the suffix. Adding “gate” to a noun now makes it come across as silly. Buttergate sounds as ridiculous as, say, Pizzagate. And yet, it’s a very serious situation in Canada at the moment.
The problem at the core of Buttergate (stop laughing, this is important) is that Canadian butter’s consistency seems to have been altered over the past few months. How big of a deal is it that butter isn’t melting at room temperature anymore? Well, nobody knows for sure yet. It could turn out to be bad for your health. Hence, Buttergate.
Most people’s first instinct when they first noticed their butter was harder than usual was to blame the cold weather. Canadian cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal wasn’t buying it though. After much online speculation & research, she can be credited with being one of the Canadian voices making waves about Buttergate. She even wrote an article about it for The Globe and Mail.
Van Rosendaal’s investigation – backed-up by people such as food researcher Dr. Sylvain Charlebois – seems to indicate that the current problem with Canadian butter can be attributed to palm oil and the COVID pandemic (surprise, surprise). Basically, COVID quarantines increased demand for butter while decreasing its production. Farmers fixed the problem by increasing their cows’ palm oil consumption.
Unfortunately, increasing the amount of palm oil in cows’ diets is known to alter the saturated fatty acid profile of the resulting milk fat – not to get too scientific about it. In layman’s terms, it’s the kind of thing that would make butter firmer at room temperature. But would it have other side effects as well? Is Buttergate a potential threat to Canadian health?
Unfortunately, research on the health consequences of palm-oil based dairy is not extensive. The aforementioned Dr. Charlebois expressed his frustration to NPR, saying: “Whether or not the butter is healthy . . . we just don’t know. There’s a complete disconnect between animal feed practices and how these food products impact the health of consumers.”
The Dairy Farmers of Canada, on the other hand, released a statement this month that generally amounted to “We’re looking into it,” while also saying they’re unaware of any significant changes in production or processing. As far as palm products go, the group stated that those ingredients “help provide energy to the cows and no undesirable effects have been identified.” Okay then.
The thing is, adding palm oil to butter products is legal – even if it may turn out to not be healthy. And in the wake of Buttergate, Van Rosendaal & Charlebois both agree: should it be legal?
Van Rosendaal & Charlebois are not alone in their Buttergate concerns. Yesterday, a group representing some of Canada’s major dairy producers called for a ban on palm-based dairy products. The group is called Les Producteurs de lait du Québec, and they’re expressing environmental concerns related to palm oil production. According to NPR, many see this as Les Producteurs caving to mounting consumer pressure.
At any rate, Les Producteurs are “asking milk producers to stop using products containing palm oil or its derivatives in the feed of their dairy cattle,” according to their statement (translated from French). They also asked food manufacturers to “adjust their recipes accordingly” and asked food advisors to “support our producers with required dietary changes.”
Quite the kerfuffle, this Buttergate deal. Dr. Charlebois insists the crisis could have catastrophic consequences if left unchecked. In a recent op-ed, he stated: “A Buttergate is not what the industry needs, or what Canadians deserve.” He also basically implied that the whole thing is just a bad look for an industry that’s already “particularly wary about its public image.” Nice burn, doctor.
Have you noticed an increase in your butter consumption since the COVID pandemic started? What do you think of Buttergate? Let us know in the comments!