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Canada food labels for saturated fats, sugars, sodium a good step: expert

The symbol will be on the front of packaging and will complement the Nutrition Facts table, which is already found on pre-packaged items.
2022-07-02 Health Canada warning
Health Canada warning label. (Credit: Health Canada)

You will soon notice new labels on pre-packaged food products that contain high levels of saturated fats, sugars, or sodium.

The food industry has been given until Jan. 1, 2026 to make the change, which is being applauded by many.

Diana Bedoya, a senior lecturer in Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University, is among those who is all for the new warnings.

“I think it’s fantastic. I think there’s been a long time that this has been coming. It’s been planned for quite some time. It’s worked in other countries — in Mexico and Chile,” Bedoya explained.

“There’s evidence to support that if people have more information about nutrition and it’s just more obvious and easier to understand, that they’re more likely to make better decisions. So, I am all for it.”

According to Health Canada, the new labelling will include a magnifying glass “intended to capture people’s attention and act as a quick and easy visual cue to identify foods high in these three nutrients.”

The symbol will be on the front of packaging and will complement the Nutrition Facts table, which is already found on pre-packaged items.

“For some people, it’s not going to change their behaviour at all. But I think that at the population level, and if so much of our population isn’t eating well, is eating a lot of ultra-processed foods and the kinds of foods that this initiative is targeting, that’s enough to make at least a bit of a dent in some of our nutrition and health-related issues,” added Bedoya.

Most pre-packaged foods will require the new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol. However, some items will be exempt. Those that will be required to include the symbol may include things like soups, frozen desserts, pickles, salad dressings, and pizza.

Ground meat will be exempt from the labels, after ranchers groups objected to Health Canada’s proposal earlier this month.

Information to help make informed choices

Bedoya says while labels can help people make healthier food choices, she understands that making some of these changes on a consumer level can be difficult, given many processed foods are generally cheaper to buy.

“The way the food industry works is it makes a lot of sense for them financially to highly process foods so they stay longer on the shelves. That also makes them a lot cheaper. Outside of major centres of Canada, it’s harder to get fresh foods and vegetables, so it might be harder for these communities,” she told CityNews.

“I agree that there is something to be said about it maybe having more of an effect on some of these communities than others, but I still think it’s important to have that information there and what they’re hoping for, too, is that industry sees maybe a drop in sales of their more highly processed foods and they start maybe reformulating or maybe un-formulating, under-processing some of these foods so sales stay up. So maybe it’s not just about the consumer and maybe it’s about the producers as well,” Bedoya continued.

“Food is something that we enjoy and I think we should keep enjoying it. With these new labels, I don’t think it is a time to start fearing food but maybe just being more aware of the types of foods that we’re going to eat.”

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