Health Canada announces food labelling changes

New food labels to group sugars in ingredients list, aid comparison shopping

New food labelling amendments announced Wednesday by Health Canada are designed to make it easier to compare serving sizes on different products while shopping.

With the new labels, Canadians will also be able to tell how much sugar is in a product because the sugar-based ingredients will be grouped together.

And the new labelling will help consumers better understand the nutritional composition of a single product by using the per cent daily value (% DV). Packages will include a simple rule of thumb: five per cent is a little, 15% is a lot.

It's all about simplification of science-based nutrition information, Minister of Health Jane Philpott said outside a caucus meeting.

"I think all Canadians can relate to being there in the grocery store and trying to compare something that's 125 millilitres to 100 millilitres and figuring out whether the sugar content is greater or less,'' she said. "We're putting all the sugars together so sugar is sugar and people will know how much sugar is in their products.''

As well, the list of ingredients and allergen information will be easier to read and the common name of food colours must be specified rather than simply using the generic term ``colour.''

Potassium, which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure, will be added to the nutrition information. Most Canadians are not getting enough.

A new health claim will also be allowed on fruits and vegetables, informing Canadians about the health benefits of these foods.

The changes come after two years of consultations with consumers and stakeholders.

But consumers may not see the new labels for years, since the food industry has been given until 2021 to make these changes. They could start to appear as early as next month if manufacturers wish to comply that quickly, said Dr. Alfred Aziz, chief of Health Canada's nutrition regulation and standards division, during a media briefing.

The five-year timeline is intended to give small businesses enough time to phase in the changes, along with others that could come as a result of consultations with Canadians on a proposal to introduce front-of-package labelling on foods that are high in sugars, sodium and saturated fat, and a proposal to ban the use of industrial trans fat in foods.

Canadians can participate in consultations until Jan. 13.

Earlier this fall, Health Canada announced the launch of revisions to Canada's Food Guide.

Ottawa plans to introduce restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children as another step.

In Canada, four out of five Canadians are at risk of developing conditions such as cancer, heart disease or Type 2 diabetes; six out of 10 adults are overweight; and one-third of youth are overweight or obese.

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