Health Canada announces consumer consultations on Front-of Package labelling

Friday, February 16, 2018 - 4:09pm

On February 9th, Health Canada announced online consumer consultations for Front-of-Package (FOP) labelling, one of the pillars of its Healthy Eating Strategy. This is a welcome step to encourage Canadians to choose healthier foods, to reduce sodium, sugar and saturated fat consumption, and to incentivize companies to formulate healthier processed foods (and thus avoid front-of-packaging labels).

Research commissioned by the Heart and Stroke Foundation shows that the percentage of ultra-processed food (e.g. going beyond canned fruits and vegetables) has grown dramatically over the past few decades, from 10,000 products in the 1960s to 40,000 products currently. And it has grown to be the biggest part of our diets.

“In 2015, Canadians received almost half (48.3 per cent) of their total calories from ultra-processed foods, with the highest rates of consumption among those in whom it can do most harm — children.” (Moubarac, JC. “Grocery stores and Canadians are bulking up on ultra-processed food.” Toronto Star. 8 Feb. 2018.)

 

The ABC of Front-of-Package food labels

Health Canada’s proposed regulation for Front-of-Package (FOP) food labels will help Canadians to better identify healthier processed foods by labelling food products high in sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. Foods that are healthy (e.g. whole and 2% milk, healthy oils) or self-evidently high in sugar or salt (e.g. salt, sugar, honey, maple syrup) will not require FOP labels, which was one of the sticking points identified by agricultural producer organizations in initial proposals. FOP labelling will be required by 2020.

 

A food-systems lens tells us that this step will be most effective as part of a multi-pronged strategy not only to increase the healthfulness of Canadians’ diets, but also to ensure we are shifting toward more sustainable diets. Another pillar of the Healthy Eating Strategy, the upcoming revision of Canada’s Food Guide is set to recommend reducing the overall consumption of processed foods. Brazil’s food-based dietary guidelines set the bar globally in providing clear advice to consumers on healthy diets related to the level of food processing of ingredients and meals. We are interested in how this can ‘come to life’ in a transformative way in Canada.

For this reason, we are encouraged by the fact that the Health Minister has been instructed by the Prime Minister to align the Healthy Eating Strategy with A Food Policy for Canada.

 

What our members are saying about FOP labelling

Front-of-package nutrition symbol will put health front and center - Heart and Stroke Foundation

Front of package labelling will help food choices and encourage healthier product innovations - Dietitians of Canada

 

In watching the evolution of the proposals for FOP symbols, it is interesting to see how they have been modified significantly via consultation with stakeholders. For example, previous iterations included a a stop sign, which is a stronger symbol than those currently being proposed. It is therefore important that we remain watchful of the issue and more clearly leverage civil society support for the Healthy Eating Strategy and future policies that link health, equity and sustainability.

Sweeping reforms in Chile around nutrition labelling taken alongside Canada's efforts are a promising early sign of a global shift towards governments taking action to transform food systems in order to address growing rates of diet-related disease.

 

To support Front-of-Package labelling:

  1. Participate in the online consumer consultations, comment on the symbol and share with your networks.

  2. Share your support for FOP labelling and the Healthy Eating Strategy with your local MP. In a recent webinar organized by Food Secure Canada, MP Julie Dabrusin observed that she doesn’t hear a lot from constituents about food issues and encouraged Canadians to reach out.

  3. Look for opportunities to engage on other pillars of Healthy Eating Strategy (e.g. Marketing to Kids, Canada Food Guide).