The Minister of Health believes the new food labeling laws will help Canadians make healthier choices, but do consumers agree?
Changes to Food Labeling in Canada
Consumers rely on labels to help them make wise choices about the foods they purchase. But in Canada, change is in the air.
The plan is to make alterations to the current food labeling laws to provide consumers with more information. While many applaud the action, others are not so sure. Here are some of the most significant changes and how they will impact the marketplace in the coming years.
Why Make Changes to the Current Food Labeling Laws?
Is there any real value to changing the current practices regarding food labeling?
One of the reasons Jane Philpott, Minister of Health, sought to update the labeling largely relates to the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey results.
“In our study, we saw a U-shaped curve that reflects the quality of eating habits among the Canadian population,” said Dr. Mary R. L’Abbé, PhD, Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto and Lead Researcher on the study.
“In early life, when parents have the most influence, the nutritional quality of foods that young children eat is generally quite good. Choices start to deteriorate in late childhood and are at their worst in adolescence, then start to improve as Canadians enter their late twenties and early thirties.”
The survey results revealed that:
- 20% of the total calories consumed by Canadians were from foods and drinks not favored in the Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.
- Children are getting as much as 25% of their daily energy from snacks instead of recommended foods.
- Home is the primary location for most of the day’s calorie intake: 88% of children, 81% of adolescents, and 83% of adults
- Between 1985 and 2011, the obesity rate tripled. Current surveys indicate the rate is continuing to increase and experts project it may reach as high as 21% by 2019.
Would providing more information in an easier-to-read format via new food labeling laws make a difference? There are those in government who believe the answer is yes.
What Changes are Being Made?
The changes from the food labeling laws are intended to make it easier for consumers to make wise choices about the foods they purchase. To that end, the more important updates focus on two key areas.
One looks to improve the overall readability of the labels. That means making the list of ingredients more prominent and updating the percentage of Daily Values. Discrepancies in serving sizes between similar products will also be standardized.
Another key change in the food labeling laws ensures the ingredients list is found closer to the Nutrition Facts Table. The goal is to help consumers understand what nutrients they are taking in per serving.
The following side-by-side set of charts will be helpful for those who want to decrease the intake of calories, carbohydrates, or fats and still ensure they are getting a reasonable amount of vitamins and minerals each meal.
When Will the Changes Take Effect?
Some food manufacturers are already planning to change their packaging to comply with the new standards. At present, the government is granting the food industry a period of up to five years to complete the transition to fully comply with the updates.
This means consumers are likely to see some changes as 2017 progresses. Manufacturers who do not have large inventories of packaging ready for use will be able to make the transition faster. In theory, others could utilize most of the allowed transition time to come up with new packaging designs and ensure the layout is in full compliance with the changes.
What Do Consumers Think?
Feedback from customers is still in the early stages so data that can be compiled into a controlled study will not likely be available for at least the first year. A great deal depends on whether consumers notice that much of a change.
Certainly, those who routinely read food labels will notice the difference immediately. Others may take longer to read the adjusted format and begin to see the value of using it to make wiser choices.
One thing is clear: nutritionists and other health professionals will be on the lookout for how quickly different companies incorporate the new standards into their packaging and what sort of impact it has on drawing consumers to foods with higher nutritional content and fewer empty calories.
While it will take more than new food labels to encourage better nutrition and a more active lifestyle, this measure does have the potential to provide the simplicity and ease some consumers need to examine what and how much they are consuming.