Why is Health Canada postponing simplified labeling of processed products?
Labelling warning of foods exceeding the recommended daily value of saturated fat, sugar or sodium is postponed to 2026. Grocery wanted to see more clearly.
In the shape of a magnifying glass, a new warning will be mandatory in 2026 on foods exceeding 15% the recommended daily value of saturated fat, sugar or sodium.
For many people, the Nutrition Facts table on products is a real headache. In 2018, Health Canada proposed new regulations to force manufacturers to add a clearly visible pictogram on packaged foods.
According to several experts, a warning on food labeling processed would help consumers make better choices. While a new nutrition symbol was to appear in December 2022, Health Canada announced that it was postponing this requirement to 2026.
In the form of a magnifying glass, this warning will be mandatory on foods exceeding 15% of the recommended daily value of saturated fat, sugar or sodium, the components most likely to increase health risks.
In 2018, Health Canada proposed new regulations to force manufacturers to add a clearly visible pictogram on packaged foods.
The food environment in Canada encourages us to make unhealthy food choices. We therefore need to help consumers with tools so that they can make more informed choices. Labeling is one of the strategies that can be used, explains Jean-Claude Moubarac, professor and researcher in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Montreal.
< p class="e-p">This pictogram is therefore postponed to nearly eight years after the filing of the new regulation.
There is a lack of consistency. We have a Canadian Food Guide which has been in effect since 2019, but we do not have the labeling that accompanies this guide, considers Jean-Claude Moubarac.
For Jean-Claude Moubarac, this postponement is not to the advantage of the Canadian population. I was very disappointed, but not very surprised. This confirms for me that Health Canada has made a compromise and serves more private interests than the public interest.
Dre Julie St-Pierre, pediatrician at McGill University , goes further.
“We have come to believe that Health Canada is a negligent institution that will be held responsible in the next few years for causing more chronic diseases. »
— Dr. Julie St-Pierre, Pediatrician, McGill University
She explains that chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, are linked to the phenomenon of obesity. That's more than one in two Canadians [who are overweight]. So we are facing an epidemic neglected by Health Canada.
For its part, Health Canada explains that the industry needed a transition period. When the proposed settlement was published, it was not legally binding. A transition period of four years was proposed, explains Maya Villeneuve, Associate Director of the Bureau of Nutritional Sciences, Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada.
“Industry needs to be given enough time to familiarize themselves with the regulations, which is one of the first approaches, but also to be able to use their stocks. We received a lot of comments. We had to go through all these comments and make some adjustments when they were justified.
— Maya Villeneuve, Associate Director, Bureau of Nutritional Sciences, Health Products and Food Branch, Health Canada
Is the food industry seeking it slow down the process of implementing this new labeling?
No, not really, replies Maya Villeneuve. It's not just us asking for certain changes. There are changes that are being requested by other groups within Health Canada, but also by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. If we set a transition period that is too short, it can also lead to waste.
Health Canada includes this new labeling in a vast strategy for healthy eating, of which Canada's new Food Guide.
The new Canada's Food Guide was released in 2019.
The experts we consulted deplore the delay in implementing the magnifying glass and, moreover, some are of the opinion that this tool is not the best that the organization could have chosen.
For the new labeling, Health Canada has decided that it will take the form of a warning about three problematic nutritional elements: salt, sugar and fat.
The Professor Moubarac criticizes the lack of nuance of this pictogram, which can reveal inconsistencies.
For example, while analyzing popular cereals with his team, Jean-Claude Moubarac found that a product that does not display the warning may be just below the maximum limit for sodium, sugar or fat. But that doesn't make it a great choice over the product that would have the logo because it's just over the limit.
It shows us very well that& #x27;the industry is not encouraged to change the recipe, concludes the teacher and researcher.
Several nutritionists around the world cite the French Nutri-Score as an example, since this indicator takes into account the overall nutritional value of the food, unlike the Canadian magnifying glass.
This logo is based on a calculation that takes into account the content of nutrients to promote (fiber, protein, etc.) and nutrients to limit (saturated fats, sugars, salt). The food is assigned a letter from A to E and a color, green, yellow, orange or red. Food E (red) has the lowest nutritional value, and food A (green) has the best value.
The French Nutri-Score is based on a calculation that takes into account the content of nutrients to promote and nutrients to limit.
In Europe, we have instead chosen both [to issue a warning] on products of good nutritional quality and to promote products of good nutritional quality, explains one of the architects of Nutri-Score, Serge Hercberg, doctor, nutritionist and professor emeritus of nutrition at Sorbonne Paris Nord University.
His team took several years to establish this voluntary system, defying constant pressure from industry. The researcher claims that he was even threatened with death.
This is simple consumer information. But it is still a right that must be provided to him to have access to simple information, understandable by all and which really allows him to integrate the health dimension into his food choices, mentions- he.
The advantage of such a system is that the information is interpreted for the consumer, who often makes his choices in a few seconds.
This tool is useful for people who know little about nutrition or who do not consult nutritional values, says Dr. Julie St-Pierre. When we talk about percentage, not everyone is able to understand that. When you come up with colors, it's much more meaningful.
Even though the Nutri-Score has been proven in seven European countries and the European Commission is studying the possibility to adopt it throughout the territory of the European Union, the Nutri-Score still arouses opposition among manufacturers.
The lobbies are extremely active in trying to delay its implementation, or even succeed in blocking it. They use a whole host of strategies to prevent the implementation of this measure which is nevertheless considered scientifically effective, but which comes up against a certain number of economic interests, deplores Serge Hercberg.
While waiting for the new labeling, Jean-Claude Moubarac deplores the fact that it is up to the consumer to manage to make informed choices. I think that developing autonomy, forming people's minds is the solution in a world where policies do not seem to be developed for the welfare of citizens, but rather to defend the interests of the private sector.
With information from Caroline Gauthier and Myriam Fehmiu
The report by Myriam Fehmiu and Eric Barbeau is broadcast at L'Épicerie on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. on ICI TÉLÉ. Broadcast Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. on ICI RDI.