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Federal food labelling proposal has dairy farmers concerned

Health Canada said its proposed front-of-pack symbols aren't yet in the proposed regulations as published, but will be included in the final regulation. (Dave Bedard photo)

CNS Canada — While trade deals have had Canadian dairy farmers concerned about losing market share domestically, a recent proposal to change food package labeling could potentially be more damaging to the industry.

Health Canada launched consultations in February for its proposed new front-of-packaging labeling. The proposal, part of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy, would include new warning labels on the fronts of products sold in Canada for foods that are high in saturated fats, sugars and sodium.

“Our concern is that many Canadians would actually put that product back down if they see a warning label on it. So it would impact our markets domestically,” David Wiens, chair of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba (DFM), said Wednesday at Headingley, Man. during one of the group’s four spring meetings.

Wiens said he has heard such a proposal could negatively impact the Canadian dairy industry by as much as $800 million.

While milk would get a pass from the proposed labels, other dairy products such as cheeses and yogurts will not, which has the Canadian dairy industry concerned.

“It’s intuitively wrong where you would have nutrient-dense foods that Canadians rely on for (their) healthy eating strategy, would now come with warning labels,” Wiens said.

Under the Health Canada proposal, he said, many dairy products would fall into the category of being too high in sodium or saturated fats. For example, sodium is used in the aging of cheese.

Products such as flavoured milks and yogurts would also see labels placed on them, but products like soda with aspartame would not.

“It’s a rather simplistic way and what they’re doing then is they’re ignoring the level of essential nutrients that these nutrient-dense foods that are dairy contain, because they’re simply focused on those bottom three.”

Health Canada, in a release, cited research that Canadians consume “too much” of these nutrients, with eight out of 10 Canadians consuming too much sodium and “almost one in two” Canadians eat too much saturated fat.

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) has been lobbying against the proposals stating the science doesn’t make sense. According to Wiens, research completed by DFC and partly funded by the federal government has been dismissed, as Health Canada has said it is biased.

There have been outside voices speaking out against the proposals, including Dr. Andrew Samis, general surgeon and critical care specialist at Quinte Health Care at Belleville General Hospital in Ontario.

According to Wiens, Dr. Samis has said if the new labelling is implemented, he could have patients buying products he has recommended for them with labels saying such products aren’t good for them.

“That’s the concern that’s being raised by people like that… I’m at least hoping they’re having some impact about getting the message out (that) Health Canada really needs to rethink their healthy eating strategy here,” Wiens said.

DFM members at the meeting were encouraged to speak out against the front-of-package labelling plan and to visit for more information.

Health Canada’s consultation runs until April 26.

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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