Canada to require nutrition warnings on the front of some packaged foods

Canada will require nutrition warnings on the front of pre-packaged foods with high levels of saturated fat, sugar or sodium starting in 2026 in an effort to help grocery shoppers make healthier choices at a glance.

The policy, which has been in the making for more than five years, will clearly label products with so-called “nutrients of public health concern” that have been linked to conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

“These regulations are designed to make it easier for us to make informed and healthier decisions,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference on Thursday morning.

Health Canada said the new labels will supplement, rather than replace, the more detailed nutrition information typically found on the back of food packaging.

They will generally be placed on prepackaged foods that contain more than 15 percent of the suggested daily value of saturated fat, sugars, or sodium.

For prepackaged foods, warnings will only apply to items containing more than 30% of the recommended daily intake, and for foods sold in increments of less than 30 grams, labels will apply if they contain more than 10% of the recommended daily intake. daily recommendation.

The proposed labels were at the center of controversy earlier this month when a group of ranchers opposed the government’s plan to put warnings on ground beef.

At the time, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said the policy would “vilify” ground beef and make people think it’s a less healthy option than whole cuts.

Now, Health Canada has exempted single-ingredient ground beef from warning labels, even if it’s high in fat. The product was considered to have health benefits despite “nutrients of interest”, along with milk, many cheeses and fruit.

“Canadian families depend on ground beef as a nutritious and affordable staple food and a major contributor to food security. We are pleased with Health Canada’s decision to prevent ground beef from requiring a misleading warning label,” Canadian Cattlemen’s Association President Reg Schellenberg said in a written statement.

Sugar and salt packets will also be exempt, as the government said including labels on such products would be redundant.

The plan to place warnings on the front of food packages was first introduced as part of Health Canada’s “healthy eating strategy” in 2016, with inquiries continuing in 2018.

But Duclos said the government is giving companies until 2026 to implement the change to help them manage the cost of packaging checks and potentially reformulate foods so they are not subject to labels at all.

He said that this is one of the objectives of the program, which was fulfilled in Chile when that country required similar labels on the front of the package.

A year after implementation, Health Canada said, the proportion of products in Chile required to carry the symbols dropped significantly, suggesting that companies changed their recipes to reduce sugar, fat and salt.

The regulation has seals of approval from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Diabetes Canada.

Mary L’Abbé, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto and an expert in nutrition for public health, said she, too, is pleased with the policy.

She said a shopper choosing between two spaghetti sauces will now be able to quickly tell if one is significantly healthier than the other and make a decision accordingly.

“We know that most consumers, in the grocery store, don’t spend time flipping packages over to compare one Nutrition Facts table to another, so it will really help them make those comparisons,” he said.

L’Abbé said research shows that after these warnings are added, people are more likely to choose foods low in sugar, salt and fat.

While it’s too early to say whether it’s making a difference in levels of diet-related health conditions, he said, models suggest it will if people continue to make these choices.

“People will always consume some products, even if they have warning labels,” L’Abbé said, giving the example of processed meat, which is a convenient and cheap option for many.

“I don’t think people will change all of their eating habits, but I think a lot of the categories where foods will have front-of-package labels, it will be easy to spot the ones that do (they have a warning label) and the ones that do. the ones that don’t And that is the type of change that has been seen in other countries.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 30, 2022.


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