New Food Labelling Rules in Canada
~ January 2003 No.162 ~
The goal of nutrition labelling has always been to provide the consumer with information that she/he can use to make intelligent choices about what foods to buy and eat. We are getting bombarded by information that is many times confusing. But even the most naive consumers know that they should be cutting down on their fat intake (avoiding trans fatty acids in particular), looking for low cholesterol or cholesterol-free foods, cutting back on salt (NaCl), increasing the amount of fiber in their diet and getting as many vitamins and minerals from their food as possible.
Up until recently in Canada, nutrition labelling of foods has been voluntary. When a new law comes into effect, prepackaged foods will be required to have on the label the number of calories, fat, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron that is contained in a specified quantity (weight or volume) of the food. The law does not apply to fresh fruits and vegetables, or raw meat (that has not been ground) and poultry. The new label requirements will be phased in over a three period.
One criticism of the legislation is that it does not require fast food outlets to label the nutrient content of their products. Many such outlets do supply information upon request, but because of the large number of meals eaten away from the home, many nutritionists feel that the consumer still will not be able to fully control their intake of important dietary components such as fat, cholesterol and salt.
In addition to requiring food manufacturers to provide nutrition information on their products, Health Canada has also given the go ahead on a limited number of "health claims" that can be used on food labels.
Under very defined conditions, food manufacturers can use phases such as : "A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of some types of cancer." "A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease. (Naming the food) is free of saturated and trans fats." "A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease. (Naming the food) is low in saturated and trans fats." "A healthy diet containing foods high in potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a risk factor for stroke and heart disease. (Naming the food) is low in sodium." "A healthy diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D, and regular physical activity, help to achieve strong bones and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. (Naming the food) is a good source of calcium."
Canadian consumers now have more information to make better choices when they shop, that will hopefully mean more nutritious diets and better health.
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