Health Canada launches consultations on food warning labels

The federal government has launched consultations on regulations for new “front-of-package” food labels designed to communicate if a food is high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat.

“The consultations launched today are geared towards helping Canadians make healthier food choices. 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,” said Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor in a statement on Friday.

Health Canada says the labels are designed to provide a visual cue to help Canadians avoid food decisions contribute to chronic diseases, such as cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

The department is considering four label designs:

A screenshot from Health Canada’s online food label survey.

The opposition Conservatives have expressed concern about how Health Canada will decide which foods will receive a label, using yogurt and cheese as examples.

“This will be a huge impact on these commodities, because people will see a warning label on that yogurt that they would normally have bought for their kid’s school lunch. They’ll likely make another choice that could very likely be more unhealthy, but because it doesn’t fit the ideological activism that Health Canada is currently chasing, those other products won’t be impacted,” said John Barlow, shadow minister of agriculture, earlier this week.

While milk is exempt from the proposed labels, Dairy Farmers of Canada is concerned other dairy products will be “stigmatized by a warning label that may confuse consumers.”

“Dairy Farmers of Canada supports the education of Canadians on the benefits of a balanced-diet. We are concerned that this approach to labelling may come with the unintended consequence of deterring Canadians from seeking more information on the nutritional value of dairy products, at the expense of a balanced-diet for Canadians,” says DFC president Pierre Lampron, noting dairy products contain nutrients that associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases.

“The intent of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy is to help consumers make informed healthier choices. The best way to do this is to drive them to the Nutrition Facts Table. What assurances can Health Canada give that this type of warning labelling will not simply deter consumers from the products themselves?” asks Lampron. “This approach 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?”

You can read the complete regulatory proposal here. The food label consultations will end on April 26, 2018.

Related: “Ideological activism” driving revamp of the Canada Food Guide, says Conservative shadow minister

Editor’s note: Updated February 12th with comments from Dairy Farmers of Canada.

3 thoughts on “Health Canada launches consultations on food warning labels

  1. The existing labels already provide adequate information about sugar, fat, etc. What I want to know is whether ingredients are genetically engineered; put that on the label!

    1. That is absurd. If you try to read the current labels but do not know what healthy conten is, the current labels are not much use. In addition, less educated folks do not read the current labels.
      As for a GMO label, you seem educated and concerned. Do some research. Too many labels will confuse people. The priority is the health issues arising from heart disease, cancers, diabtes and high blood pressure.

  2. I was all set to vote on one of the labels (I like the one with the red panel on the left best), but it seems you’re wanting lots of input only at this stage. I simply don’t have the time — and I think this will apply to many people — to wade through all of the material and respond!
    I think it would be much better for you people to make the preliminary decisions — it’s your area of expertise, and you surely know what’s best in terms of health — and then simply send us designs to vote on! (By the way, I tried clicking on the plus signs at the top right of each design and wasn’t able to enlarge any of them as you suggest we can….)

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