Health Canada is proposing a change in front of label packaging in order to allow consumers to make more educated decisions when it comes to buying packaged foods. They have found that over 80% of Canadians say they find nutrition important. However, 2/3 of packaged foods in grocery stores were found to have sugar added to them. These packaged and processed foods have also been found to have high amounts of sodium and saturated fats, as well. Part of Health Canada’s initiative to promote healthy eating involves, including a new front of package symbol to help consumers identify foods which are considered high in sugars, sodium and saturated fats. This is Health Canada’s attempt to counter recent increasing health risks in Canada, which include obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure.
The new proposed labels are aimed to make it easier for consumers to make informed choices about packaged foods and to help health professionals educate the consumers.
Foods with servings that contain greater than 15% of the daily value of sugar, sodium and saturated fats, will be required to display this cautionary symbol on the front of their package. The proposed cautionary nutrition labels have been posted on Health Canada’s website and are available at www.healthyeatingconsultations.ca/front-of-package. They are encouraging the public to go on this website and provide feedback on the proposed nutrition labels.
At the CHFA West conference in February, members of the CHFA argued that some foods should be exempt from this labelling, based on the origin of their fats and sugars. Dr. William Yan, Director at Health Canada’s Food Directorate, spoke to this by saying that they are working on a list of permissible foods, that may exceed the 15% daily value, without requiring the cautionary label. However, these would only be permissible if they were not adulterated in a way that would trigger one of the other cautionary labels. For example, if sugar or salt were added to the food product, in an amount that is greater than 15% of the daily value, this would require the cautionary label.
Members of the CHFA urged Health Canada to be sure to take into account the source of these three nutrients, as to not further confuse consumers. The members are concerned that if this is not done, it will cause consumers to think that products that are high in sugars from fruits or nuts that are high in saturated fats, should be avoided. However, these are actually required in a well balanced diet and offer plenty of other health benefits.
Another issue that was brought to attention was how the cautionary label does not discern between products that are slightly above the 15% level or way above the 15% level. Therefore, items that substantially exceed this amount, like a can of soda, may be seen as the same as a product that is right at the 15% level. By having one generic label for all items that exceed 15%, it could further confuse consumers and prevent them from making informed decisions, when comparing two products that display the cautionary label.
During the upcoming months it will be important for Health Canada to continue to work on this proposal in order to make more clear distinctions, as to which foods will be affected by these new labels and which will be exempt. At the CHFA West conference, it was clear that the majority of members of the CHFA agreed that more work needs to be done, in order to educate the public on health risks and benefits of packaged foods. Having quick ways to read the labels on packaged foods and being able to compare them with others is important, but it must be done in a way, as to not further confuse consumers.
Consultation for the nutrition symbol began on February 9th, 2018 and closes on April 26th, 2018. Health Canada is encouraging the public to provide their feedback on how they want to see these displayed on packages, in order to allow consumers to make more educated decisions, when it comes to packaged foods. You can find all the information about the new proposed labels and provide feedback at www.healthyeatingconsultations.ca/front-of-package.