Mandatory food product labelling in Canada was introduced many years ago. At a glance the Nutrition Facts panel and Ingredient List allow consumers to learn about what’s in the food they choose. Not all countries have mandatory food package labelling, so I feel lucky that Canada has this. Spoiler Alert! …. this information is still needed for restaurant food given consumers are eating out more than ever mounting a significant proportion of our intake. I have written in my ebook and this blog that awareness is bliss, simply put, people will do better when they know better.
The Nutrition Facts table has come under much scrutiny as it potentially confuses consumers. There was a public consultation on this last year and today Health Canada has announced this Canada Gazette 1 proposal of changes to the label. There is a 75 day response period where Canadians can provide comments on their proposal before it goes to the Canada Gazette 2 stage.
As I sat to pen my thoughts on Health Canada’s proposed changes to the food label, the skies became dark, thunder rumbled and rain teemed down. Here’s an overview of the main proposed changes that I feel Canadians really care about outlined in Dietitians of Canada’s press release:
- Mandatory standardized serving sizes for the Nutrition Facts table
- Improved legibility of the Ingredients list on the label with consistent placement for allergen information
- Sugars grouped together in the Ingredient list plus a %Daily Value for total sugars in the Nutrition Facts table
- Updated % Daily Values to reflect the most recent nutrient recommendations
- An exemption for requiring a Nutrition Facts table on pre-packaged vegetables and fruits before making a Health Claim
Here are my preliminary thoughts:
Uniform Serving Size
Standardizing serving sizes is a great idea. This will make comparing various brands easier. I cannot stress enough, though, that we need to get this right. We live in an era with multiple health epidemics – namely obesity and diabetes. If Health Canada rounds UP the sizes too much I fret what message this will give to consumers about diet quantity. I was at the Dietitians of Canada conference last week and an RD friend and colleague of mind said the company she works for is worried about this as some of the proposed serving sizes are too large. When big food industry is worried, then I become increasingly worried….
Sour About Sugar Labelling
In last year’s consultation with Canadians the notion of having an extra line on the Nutrition Facts table to highlight added sugar was a fabulous idea. Sadly though, this did not make the cut in today’s recommendation. What they have proposed appears more confusing to me as an RD and probably to consumers at large.
Firstly, cutting back on added sugar has been raised as an issue by none other than the World Health Organization and the Heart & Stroke Foundation suggesting no more than 6-12 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Our current labels AND the proposed labels make it impossible to discern the amount of added sugar in any product.
Right now the ingredient list positions ingredients from most to least by weight. Consumers can review that to get an idea what the product is made of. In terms of sugars in various forms they are scattered among the list based on amounts. What has been proposed is to group them all together in a bracket in the list. That is all fine and good to do this but consumers still don’t know how much added sugar is actually in the product. I fret for a product like milk which has natural lactose that people might cut back because they’re not really sure.
Also, adding a % Daily Value after sugar on the panel sends me the message “…that although 15% might be deemed as “a lot” I can have more to make it to 100%…” when this is the last thing we want consumers to think. If consumers are told simply by WHO and HSF to eat no more than 6-12 teaspoons of added sugar each day throw them a bone and help them discern this without the need to play Where’s Waldo? making it impossible to figure out. At least in Where’s Waldo? you can eventually find him, on the label you have no clue whatsoever….
What Can YOU DO?
Take advantage of the comment period and weigh in on these recommendations by August 26, 2015 when our window of opportunity closes. Don’t lose heart!
I love our country but it’s times like these I find myself saying “OH Cana-DUH”! Let’s get this right, shall we?