Health Canada finalizes sugar labeling legislation following introduction of Don’s Private Member’s Bill C-257

November 28, 2016

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Health Canada is finalizing regulations for first-ever guidelines on daily sugar consumption. Similar proposals were delayed in the past following lobbying from the nation’s largest supermarket chain, according to Access To Information records.

“The change in labeling is going to give much better information about sugar,” said Simon Kennedy, deputy health minister; “We are going to be moving forward very soon to do a final promulgation of regulations.”

Loblaw Companies Ltd. and the Retail Council of Canada earlier protested a 2015 proposal by Health Canada to order manufacturers to label processed foods with a recommended daily sugar intake of 100 grams or 20 teaspoons – about 30 percent less than Canadians currently eat, by official estimate. The department suggested amendments to Food & Drugs Regulations that would see a revised Nutrition Fact Table on packaged foods disclosing their percentage of recommended daily sugar value with an advisory reading: “5% is a little, 15% or more is a lot.”

“Loblaws may insist that an appropriate transition time for businesses to implement the regulations should be developed and consulted on following publication of any regulatory changes, to help minimize the impact on the food and beverage industry and its stream of commerce,” said a 2014 cabinet briefing note; “As Loblaws is the largest food retailer in Canada and is a member of the Retail Council of Canada, they are considered an important stakeholder with whom collaboration is vital.”

Health Canada had said it would delay full introduction of tougher sugar labels till 2022. Testifying at the Senate social affairs committee, Deputy Minister Kennedy said changes were now imminent. “It is going to happen within a matter of weeks,” he said.

“You will be pleasantly surprised,” said Kennedy; “We are hopeful with the nutrition labeling changes that we have made, that we will achieve the kind of objectives people want in terms of putting a spotlight on sugar, giving people an idea of how much sugar is concerned consumed and whether it’s a lot or a little relative to what they should be consuming in the run of a day.”

“If you have a breakfast cereal or something else high in sugar, not only will the detail be very clearly visible on the label, it will be right on the front of the box, that a typical serving of this is actually sufficient to put you in danger of going above the daily limit,” said Kennedy. “We’re hopeful that this is going to give a lot more detail on sugar to consumers.”

Canadians currently consume the equivalent of 26 teaspoons daily, according to a 2011 Statistics Canada report Sugar Consumption Among Canadians Of All Ages.

Lobbyists Out Of Food Guide

Deputy Minister Kennedy said the department also barred regulators from meeting industry lobbyists in rewriting the benchmark Canada Food Guide.  The Senate social affairs committee in a March 1 report Obesity In Canada criticized the Guide for promoting fruit juice as a healthy substitute for raw fruit. Senators also heard complaints the Guide promotes unnecessary milk consumption by adults, two to three glasses a day.

“We’ve taken very careful note of that,” said Kennedy; “Anytime we get a letter in on this, frankly, if it’s from industry or somebody else, when we get correspondence in, when there are meetings, all of that will be made publicly available, that that’s happened.”

“There has been a commitment that the group that is developing this will not have meetings with industry with a vested interest in the development of this,” said Kennedy; “We aim to go as fast as we can.”

The Guide was last revised in 1982, 1992 and again nine years ago. A new version is due by 2018. “We are very much aware that the perception around the involvement of industry in the development of the previous Food Guide has reduced the public trust in the process,” Dr. Alfred Aziz, chief of nutrition regulations at Health Canada, said in an earlier interview. “We want to reassure Canadians that we are going to be very open and transparent.”

By Staff

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