Food labels will change

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July 31, 2014 10:30 AM

Proposed changes include adding potassium and vitamin D on food labels, as well as lumping sugars together on the ingredient list and standardizing serving sizes. - Mallory Clarkson Photo

Local dietitian says some of the changes encompass things she already talks to her clients about

Soon when you look at the back of canned or boxed food, you’ll see a couple of changes.

First, you might notice the serving sizes are measured per item, rather than by grams. For instance, if you pick up a box of crackers, you’ll maybe see nutritional values based on eight crackers, rather than 20 grams of crackers.

Another thing you might see is sugar a little higher on the ingredients list. Not that more sugar will be added to the product, rather all forms of sugar, like fancy molasses and brown sugar, will all be lumped together, offering a clearer picture of how much you’ll actually be eating.

And where vitamins A and C used to be on the label, you may see vitamin D and potassium in their place.

Health Canada is proposing these little changes to how food is labelled, but there could have huge impacts on consumers if they are approved.

Jillian Nault, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with the Lloydminster Primary Care Network, said so far, the proposed changes look excellent.

“I think it will provide some really standardized information so people can make that choice,” Nault said. “These are all topics that I would bring up in an appointment, talking about added sugars, talking about vitamin D, talking about the per cent daily value.”

The way they labels are currently, she added, makes choosing health choices a little more difficult.

Food labelling regulations were first put into place in 2002, being fully enforced by 2007.

Since then, Health Canada has been looking at the effectiveness of the labelling program, seeing how it could be improved on.

The issue came to the forefront in 2013, when improving information on food labels so consumers could better guide their food choices being a priority for the federal government was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.

That’s when the current consultation process was launched to propose some changes to make on food labels.

William Yan, director of Health Canada’s Bureau for Nutritional Sciences, said there were a couple of ways the proposed changes came about.

He explained since 2002, a lot of new information has become available regarding suggested daily values for nutrients.

“One of the things we want to do is to update the information to make sure it’s the most up-to-date according to the latest science, but we also mixed in some changes to how the information is presented,” Yan said.

“We’ve been hearing from consumers, how they like or don’t like certain parts of the label and probably the best information we got was the most recent consumer engagement we did starting in January this year.”

It was a combination of those things that helped guide the proposed changes.

The No. 1 criticism of the food label, Yan added, relates to serving sizes and how it’s sometimes difficult to compare similar foods because the sizes aren’t standardized.

“That’s why we have come up with some proposals to help industry to make that more consistent,” Yan added.

He noted a lot of comments were also received about grouping all forms of sugar together, making the total amount more simple to read.

Having all of that information clearly displayed on the back of food products will make her job easier, Nault said. She added how to read food labels is something she talks with her patients about during the education portion of her sessions.

“I really believe these will help Canadians make more informed choices with respect to their health and dietary needs,” she said.

While it isn’t a provincial issue, Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne added he supports anything that helps people become better informed about the food they’re eating.

He added having the opportunity to have meaningful comparisons expressed in everyday terms will be helpful.

“In my province, people have a strong sense of personal responsibility towards their own health,” he said.

“In general, I think it’s in keeping with where Canadians want to see us go.”

But it could be some time before the proposed changes become permanent.

Health Canada is seeking public input until Sept. 11, then its proposals will be finalized before regulatory amendments need to be made.

Another round of consultations will also be conducted before any changes are made.

Yan said it’s hard to associate a timeline for when this process will end.

“We expect to get a very large volume of comments and we want to be very careful that we look at these comments carefully before we finalize our proposals, then the regulatory process also takes time,” he said.

“We don’t have control with some of those timelines, so it’s really hard to put a precise timeframe on that, but we’re working on this as quickly as we can because we know it’s important for Canadians.”

Yan added all Canadians are encouraged to participate in the consultation process because the label is there for them to use.

Check out Health Canada’s website at www.hc-sc.gc.ca to learn more.

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