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Health Canada Food Label Changes: Have Your Say

March 27, 2018 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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Health Canada Food Label Changes

Last week, my 9-year-old and I got into a disagreement about breakfast cereal while grocery shopping. I’ll leave it to your imagination which one he picked out, but I wasn’t buying it. “What’s too high in sugar?” he wanted to know. I tried to offer a brief tutorial on how to use the percent daily value (% DV) and show him that “sugar” was second in the ingredient list (which means it’s the second most used ingredient in the food.) His eyes glazed over. He told me that I was being “all dietitian-y again.”

Sigh. If only there was a way for products to be clearly labelled so that everyone—including 9 year olds—would know if they were high in sugars, sodium (salt), or saturated fat… To my delight, this wish is soon going to become a reality.

A diet high in sugars, sodium and saturated fat is a major risk factor for obesity, heart disease and diabetes. These are three nutrients we want to limit.

Health Canada is introducing new “front-of-package” labelling

As part of their Healthy Eating Strategy, Health Canada is introducing a nutrition symbol for the front of food packages. The symbol will help you quickly and easily identify foods that are high in sugars, sodium and/or saturated fat. Here are some examples of foods that would require a front-of-package symbol:

  • soft drinks, fruit juices, sugary breakfast cereals, sweet baked goods (high in sugars)
  • mixed dishes like frozen dinners, soups, crackers, sauces and condiments (high in sodium)
  • processed meats, pizza (high in saturated fat)

Not all foods high in sugars, sodium, or saturated fat will get a symbol. Health Canada is suggesting that some foods be exempt, such as:

  • foods that provide important health benefits to all people or certain groups with extra needs; for example, 2% and homogenized milk
  • foods that do not have a Nutrition Facts table; for example, foods sold at farmers’ markets or at roadside stands
  • foods where the symbol would be repetitive; for example, packages of sugar or honey or salt

For foods that do require a symbol, there will be very specific guidelines about the size and location of the symbol. The symbol will also bear Health Canada’s name. What we don’t know yet is what the symbol will look like.

Health Canada wants your feedback

Health Canada has come up with four possible front-of-package symbols. Now, they are looking to you to help them pick just one.

Until April 26, 2018, anyone in Canada has the opportunity to give feedback as part of the Food Front-of-Package Nutrition Symbol Consumer Consultation. Results from this consultation and other consumer research Health Canada is doing will help to inform the final design of the symbol. The final regulations for front-of-package labelling are expected to be published by the end of 2018.

It takes only five-10 minutes to complete the survey. If you are interested in helping to make the healthier choice the easier choice, this is your chance to be heard!


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