Dairy sector wary of proposed food label policy

Health Canada said its proposed front-of-pack symbols aren’t yet in the proposed regulations as published, but will be included in the final regulation. (Dave Bedard photo)

Canadian consumers are being asked to weigh in on proposed new front-of-pack warnings for foods high in saturated fats, sugars and sodium, starting this weekend.

And while whole milk would get a pass from such a plan, Canada’s dairy farmer organization fears many other dairy products would wind up wearing such warnings, thus “alarming” consumers.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor on Friday announced Health Canada will run public consultations from Saturday through to April 26 on rules requiring a new nutrition symbol on foods.

The proposal, part of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy, wouldn’t replace the Nutrition Facts table now seen on the sides and backs of packages, but is meant to offer “a clear visual cue that a food is high in nutrients of public health concern, such as sodium, sugars, or saturated fat.”

The consultation documents available online include four different options for a front-of-pack symbol.

“The consultations launched today are geared towards helping Canadians make healthier food choices,” Petitpas Taylor said in a release. “Identifying foods that are high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat is not always easy, and this front-of-package symbol will make it clearer while shopping for groceries.”

Health Canada, in its release, cited research showing Canadians consume “too much” of these nutrients, with eight of 10 Canadians consuming too much sodium and “almost one in two” Canadians eating too much saturated fat.

Dairy Farmers of Canada, in a separate release Friday, said it would take part in the consultations, noting Health Canada “recognizes the scientific evidence demonstrating the nutritional value of milk as a key contributor to the health of Canadians” by exempting whole milk from the label proposal.

“However, as currently proposed, many other dairy products, rich in essential nutrients, will be stigmatized by a warning label that may confuse consumers as to which products are healthy and which are not,” DFC said.

DFC, in its release, didn’t specify which dairy foods might be affected by the proposed label rule.

Given that Health Canada’s goal is to help consumers make informed choices, “the best way to do this is to drive them to the Nutrition Facts Table,” DFC president Pierre Lampron said in the same release. “What assurances can Health Canada give that this type of warning labelling will not simply deter consumers from the products themselves?”

The proposed approach, he said, “runs the risk of alarming consumers, and ultimately preventing them from learning more about the nutritional benefits of a food. This is completely contrary to the stated intent of Health Canada. How will they address this issue for Canadians?”

DFC emphasized it “shares the overall goal of promoting healthy eating for all Canadians, so long as it is supported by evidence-based policy.”

Health Canada said Friday it also wants public input on “other regulatory requirements related to nutrition,” including:

  • updating conditions for some label claims;
  • changing labelling requirements for foods containing “certain high-intensity sweeteners;”
  • increasing levels of vitamin D in milk and margarine.

Health advocacy groups on Friday hailed Health Canada’s proposals. Corinne Voyer, director of Coalition quebecoise sur la problematique du poid, said in the government’s release that “educating the public on healthy eating is no longer sufficient and must be supported by policies and regulatory action.”

Dr. Laurent Marcoux, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said in a separate release that adding front-of-pack labels “represents a step towards enabling all Canadians to make the healthy choice, the easy choice.”

Nathalie Savoie, CEO for Dietitians of Canada, added that a label requirement “will also encourage product innovation, providing more food products that are lower in sodium, sugars and saturated fat.” — AGCanada.com Network

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