Labeling | Health Canada’s blunders

Photo Ivanoh Demers, LA PRESSE archives

Nearly 50% of the beef consumed in Canada is eaten as ground beef.

Sylvain Charlebois

Sylvain Charlebois
Senior Director, Agri-Food Analytical Sciences Laboratory, Dalhousie University, Special Collaboration

Thanks to new labels on the front of food packages, Canadian consumers who go to the grocery store will soon be warned if a product contains too much fat, sugar or sodium. Such a policy can help us make better food choices. However, exemptions for certain products make the new rules a little weird.

Posted June 9

It looks like we’ll all soon be seeing different symbols on the food packaging of groceries. Health Canada will likely soon adopt a policy requiring front-of-package nutrition symbols for foods high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. This approach will finally give us clear and easy to read labels.

The acceptability threshold that Health Canada intends to apply promises to be quite simple. For prepared foods or processed foods as well as foods intended only for children 1 to 4 years of age, the tolerance threshold is established at 15% of the daily values ​​(DV). This means that if a product’s serving size exceeds 15% of the maximum daily intake for saturated fat, sugar or sodium, a label will be placed on the package for the consumer to see at first glance. . For prepackaged meals and meals, the threshold is 30%.

At first glance, the policy seems logical. It’s hard to argue against more clarity, more transparency and, therefore, a healthier population. But the situation becomes bizarre when one examines the list of exemptions. Many products will be exempt from this policy. For example, products from a farmers market, products that are not sold directly to consumers, raw single-ingredient and unprocessed meat and fish products, all dairy products and eggs. The list includes technical, practical and health-related exemptions, with 16 categories in total.

Beef and pork

Surprisingly, some meats like ground beef and pork are not on the list of exemptions. This means that in a few months, ground beef and pork, two sources of unprocessed, natural and affordable animal protein that many consumers eat very frequently, will carry a label indicating that they contain too much saturated fat. Meanwhile, dairy products, which arguably contain just as much saturated fat, benefit from the exemption.

The powerful milk lobby has provided enough evidence and scientific data to Health Canada to show that the saturated fat found in dairy products is different and healthier.

Maybe, but Health Canada certainly has some explaining to do, given how it mistreated dairy products in its latest edition of the food guide, released in 2019. The lack of consistency is stark.

In addition, the thresholds established by Health Canada are suitable for raw and uncooked products. Few people will eat ground beef and pork raw! When cooked, the saturated fat levels of these meats normally drop below the threshold established by Health Canada.

Then there is the affordability of protein. While retail prices for specialty cuts of beef and pork have skyrocketed lately, ground beef and pork have remained relatively affordable. In fact, nearly 50% of the beef consumed in Canada is eaten as ground beef. However, Health Canada wants to put a warning on these products that more than 90% of Canadians consume, while our food inflation rate is around 10%.

The discrimination against these two products, despite the exemptions, probably responds to the elitist ideologies encouraged by some out-of-touch bureaucrats. We often get the impression that Ottawa wants to save consumers from themselves.

The beef and pork industries are not only an important contributor to our economy, but are also part of many Canadian traditions rooted in our culinary DNA.

As we try to figure out how to lead healthier lives, warning Canadians that certain unprocessed staple foods are suddenly becoming dangerous to their health makes no sense.

Dietary recommendations, like most things, should be applied in moderation.

Canada would become one of the first countries in the world to implement a front-of-package policy targeting single-ingredient products. Many other countries before Canada with this type of labeling did not require single-ingredient products to carry such warnings.

At the heart of the policy is the intent to help consumers make better informed and healthier choices at the grocery store, especially when it comes to processed foods. Health Canada deliberately targets two very important staple foods that people have eaten for centuries. Such a move makes no sense. These products simply need to be added to the list of exemptions for this new front-of-package labeling rule.

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