Stock growers express concern over front-of-package food product labelling

Photo: Canada Beef Inc.

In February, the Government of Canada announced it would launch consultations on front-of-package (FOP) labelling, as part of the Healthy Eating Strategy announced in late 2016. The labelling, according to a press release, would use a symbol to “provide a clear visual cue that a food is high in nutrients of public health concern.”

The concern behind the move is an “urgent public health need to confront obesity and chronic diseases.” Canadians, according to Health Canada, eat too much sodium, sugars, and saturated fats, and FOP labelling would enable people to quickly make more informed choices.

But opponents say the regulations lack equity.

Just this week the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) responded to the initiative in a press release suggesting the FOP labelling may move consumers away from nutritional benefits, and towards “highly-refined, low nutritional foods.”

“While it is commendable that Canadians are being encouraged to eat healthy, this measure raises concerns because it also has the effect of singling out foods for one ingredient,” says SSGA President Shane Jahnke. “We are disappointed that ground beef, which is healthy and loaded with nutrients, will be required to have a FOP label, but foods like diet soda and some kinds of cookies and chips, that are highly processed and less nutritional, won’t be required to have a label.”

The SSGA is encouraging Health Canada to exempt ground beef from FOP label regulations, and has begun an online petition stating the overall nutritional content is not being highlighted. Rather than focusing on the 23 grams of protein and 14 essential nutrients, the organization says, the label will direct consumer attention to 3 grams of saturated fat.

A daily recommended serving of ground beef contains 23 grams of protein and 14 essential nutrients. But the FOP label focuses consumer attention on the 3 grams of saturated fat in ground beef, which is 15 per cent of the daily value. This label also misleads Canadians about the type of fat found in beef. Half of the fat in beef is unsaturated, of which almost 50% is oleic acid, the same as in olive oil. Moreover, fresh red meat is not the dietary culprit for fat, accounting for only 7% of fat calories in the average Canadian diet. – From SSGA’s online petition.

In February, the Dairy Farmers of Canada published a release saying Health Canada’s decision to exempt whole milk from the proposal recognized “the scientific evidence demonstrating the nutritional value of milk as a key contributor to the health of Canadians.” But, the warning label had the potential to confuse consumers.

“This approach runs the risk of alarming consumers, and ultimately preventing them from learning more about the nutritional benefits of a food. This is completely contrary to the stated intent of Health Canada,” said Pierre Lampron, DFC president. “How will they address this issue for Canadians?”

According to the Canada Gazette, some products will be exempt from FOP labelling, for “technical, nutritional, or practical reasons”, including (but not limited to): non-flavoured whole and partly skimmed milk; whole eggs; sweetening agents (including honey); fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables and fruit.

The regulations are expected to be finalized later this year. Public consultations will end April 26, 2018.

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