Health Canada food packaging warning against sugar, sodium, and saturated fats

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: PROVIDED BY DOMENIC M. CARULLO
Health Canada is proposing required front-of-package labeling to address public health issue and healthy eating.

Health Canada is proposing required front-of-package labeling for products high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats.

According to Health Canada's, Food Policy Liaison Officer, Sonya Agbessi, this is being done to address a public health issue.

“We already know that a diet high in sugars, sodium and saturated fats is a major risk factor for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. That's why we are proposing to have a nutrition symbol that will help Canadians quickly and easily identify foods high in sugars, sodium and saturated fats,” Agbessi said.

These changes won't occur overnight however. Health Canada is providing the food industry with a timetable to either make changes to their products, or accept the label.

“We will have a transition period of four years. We'll have until December 2022 before we regulate and before we implement this change on food packaging,” Agbessi said. Fanshawe student Amanda Hudder in the social service worker program spoke with Interrobang about her feelings on Health Canada's decision.

“I agree with what they [want] to do for a couple of reasons. Businesses may alter their recipes for the better, [] when consumers can better understand what they are consuming, [] healthier products may become available. Another reason that I agree with the front of package warning [is because it] can confirm/assist me in making healthier choices,” Hudder said.

According to Agbessi, Canadians should expect other changes to food product labelling as well.

“We're requiring changes that actually came into force December 2016. On the nutrition fact table there are changes relating to the font [and] how the nutrition fact table is displayed; for instance the font size will be increased for the amount of calories. There will also be changes relating to [the] percentage of daily value and other changes relating to [the] display of certain minerals, nutrients, and vitamins,” Agbessi said.

The focus of Health Canada's new food packaging announcement are the four different design proposals. Health Canada is reaching out to ask consumers which design they prefer and how each design will affect their purchasing habits. The various design choices feature a prominent red rectangle, a black rectangle, a magnifying glass or an exclamation mark.

“These symbols are based on science [] and also based on extensive consultation on the design and the appearance. We had many consultation sessions with consumers and a few members of industry. The [online] consultation is open until April 26 on the Health Canada website so that Canadians will be able to provide their feedback,” Agbessi said.

For Canadians curious which foods you currently purchase would become subject to a front-of —package warning label, Agbessi has the answer for that.

“If it is more than 15 per cent [of the daily value per serving size of sugar, sodium, or saturated fats], then it is high in that particular nutrient and that will trigger a frontof-package symbol,” Agbessi said.

Hudder went on to explain how a front-of-package warning label could change people's shopping behaviours.

“I would be less likely to purchase [products with the label] or at the very least not purchase them as often,” Hudder said.

Although the front-of-package label proposal by Health Canada may seem like an attempt to get consumers to avoid certain foods by emblazoning products with a type of scarlet letter or badge of infamy, that is not the case.

“The goal is to support Canadians in making healthier food choices; it is not to prevent them from buying the product. Everything in moderation is good. So we can enjoy cookies, candies, chips and products that are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat; that is not the issue. The issue we have is that we over consume these products, and one of the reasons we over consume these products is because we have difficulty to interpret the information that is on the nutrition fact table,” Agbessi said. Consumers are invited to participate in the online consultation by April 26 at healthyeatingconsultations.ca/front-of-package. For more information, please visit gazette.gc.ca.