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New food nutritional label guidelines in the works

The changes are part of a Health Canada strategy to promote healthy eating

The federal government is serving up changes to its nutrition labelling rules to help consumers make healthier food choices.

The changes are part of Health Minister Jane Philpott’s Healthy Eating Strategy, to encourage Canadians to reduce their consumption of salt, sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. The big changes for consumers will be in the nutrition facts boxes on food products and the adoption of label advisories. The changes will be phased in during the next five years as the rest of the strategy is unveiled.

Michi Furuya Chang, vice-president of scientific affairs and nutrition with Food and Consumer Products of Canada, welcomed the nutrition facts changes, additional ingredient information and food colour declarations to help achieve a balanced diet.

“We are not aware of whether these changes have been tested with Canadians. This will be a critical step as Health Canada moves forward with more complex elements of its Healthy Eating Strategy,” she said. “There are many modern policy and education tools available to achieve this goal, and, in addition to the latest nutrition science, consumer market research is the most direct and concrete way of assessing consumer response to these tools and policy proposals.”

Chris Kyte, president of Food Processors of Canada, questioned whether labels alone would change consumer attitudes.

“Anything to help consumers make informed choices is a good thing.” But labels alone are unlikely to “change diets and lead to healthier people. Health Canada and the provinces must invest heavily to promote healthy eating.”

The new labels will include more information on serving sizes of different foods, Health Canada says. “A simple rule of thumb, five per cent is a little, 15 per cent is a lot, has also been added to the Nutrition Facts Table to help Canadians use the per cent daily value (per cent DV) to better understand the nutritional composition of a single product or to better compare two food products.”

Consumers will be able to learn more about the sugar content of foods from the new labels. Allergen information will be easier to read and a new health claim will also be allowed on fruits and vegetables about the health benefits of these foods. It will say that a healthy diet, rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit, may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

What’s driving the Healthy Eating Strategy is data that shows four out of five Canadians risk developing conditions such as cancer, heart disease or Type 2 diabetes, that six out of 10 adults are overweight and one-third of youth are overweight or obese.

Consultations with consumers and the food industry found support for more informative and easier-to-read labels, the department said.

It is currently consulting on revisions to Canada’s Food Guide and front-of-package warnings about foods that are high in sugars, sodium and saturated fat. It is also collecting views about a proposal to ban the use of industrial trans fat in foods.

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