Health Minister Jane Philpott announces new food labelling, marketing regulations

The federal government is overhauling Canada’s healthy eating guidelines with a sweeping strategy that will include new limits on marketing and labelling certain foods aimed at children.

Health Minister Jane Philpott said the “iconic” Canada Food Guide has not kept up with the country’s changing demographics and lifestyles.

“The classic one-size-fits all guide no longer meets the needs of Canadians,” she said in a Montreal speech.

Philpott said the guide must be “relevant and practical” and provide advice for Canadians whether they are shopping at the grocery store or looking at a restaurant menu. It must be individualized and adaptable for food preferences and sensitivities, Philpott said.

Another change will eventually see front of package labelling that will highlight if a product is high or low in certain nutrients such as sodium, sugar and saturated fats.

In May 2010, the World Health Organization released recommendations on the marketing of food and beverages to children. It called on governments worldwide to reduce the exposure of children to advertising and to reduce the use of powerful marketing techniques employed by the manufacturers of foods and beverages high in saturated fats, trans-fat acids, free added sugars or sodium.

Nutrition Facts label

A nutrition facts label is shown on the side of box of cookies. One change will eventually see front of package labelling, which will highlight if a product is high or low in certain nutrients such as sodium, sugar and saturated fats. (Kelly Crowe/CBC)

Today, Canada will act on those recommendations, following the lead of Quebec which already restricts marketing to children under the age of 13.

It will take anywhere from 5 to 10 years to implement them, after consultations with industry, stakeholders and the public.

Some will require new, or amendments to existing regulations. For instance, it may be difficult to limit marketing of unhealthy food, when most Canadians live close to the United States border, and have easy access to American tv channels and magazines.

New food guide changes to be introduced

Health Canada has just completed a scientific review of the Canada Food Guide. It found that most of the science behind its recommendations were sound.

However the department found there were not enough distinctions between age groups, sex, activity levels, or height. So Philpott is announcing consultations on how to make the food guide easier to interpret for individuals.

Those consultations will wrap up December 8, 2016. The last time the guide was updated was 2007. It remains the most requested document at Health Canada.

Elimination of trans fats to continue

The federal government asked industry to voluntarily eliminate trans fats in processed foods in 2007. No regulations were ever introduced by the previous Conservative government.

Many food manufacturers took them out of their products anyway, bowing to consumer demand. But some trans fats still exist, and Philpott is expected to have more to say on eliminating those this morning.

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