Canada’s department for public health has come under fire over suggestions a new scheme it has launched will unfairly target healthy foods.
Health Canada is running public consultations for its new “healthy eating” program, which proposes advertising bans on “junk food” and large health warnings on the front of packaging to “help” citizens make healthier choices.
But food industry groups claim the moves could lead to normal foodstuffs, like milk and cheese, being unfairly labelled as “unhealthy”. Some also claim the moves could cost the Canadian food industry as much as $2bn to implement.
Canada’s Health Minister Jane Philpott claimed the consultation was “important”, and didn’t deny that normal foods might be targeted. “One of the most important things about our health is what we eat and how we eat. Moderation is important… Maybe they [food manufacturers] should make it with less sugar or salt. That will be to Canadians’ benefit, and the label won’t need to go on with the warning sign.”
“If we can help Canadians’ make choices so that they’re not eating a sugary diet, then the health benefits of that will far outweigh the costs.”
Manufacturers, though, fear the hand of regulation will affect both their bottom lines as well as the quality of their products.
A document from a coalition of industry figures presented to the federal government raised concern that “front-of-package-warnings” could confuse shoppers, giving “the perception that there is inherent danger from consuming the product”.
Dairy Farmers of Canada, whose products look set to bear the brunt of government regulation, have also taken against the proposals, petitioning all Canadian MPs to “imagine yourself walking alongside your constituents in your local grocery store and seeing a carton of whole milk.”
“Unfortunately… despite its nutritional benefits, there is a big stop sign put there by the government to warn you away.
Advertising bans on junk food and warning labels on packaging are not unique to Canada; in recent years, the concept has become increasingly popular across Europe. During the UK general election cycle, the Labour Party proposed banning adverts for junk food on television before the 9pm “watershed”.
A UK scheme championing “traffic light” warnings on food packaging has also gained popularity, giving green labels to the healthiest foods, amber for moderately healthy foods, and red to those considered unhealthy. A similar scheme has been established in France, with more set to be introduced across Europe.