Health Canada: M.I.A.

ee-HealthCanadaWhat did the folks at Health Canada think of my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen: Take food labels with a grain of salt? It’s a question I wanted answers to. After all, my reasons for writing it were twofold: firstly to let Canadians know about the sham that is called the Daily Value and secondly, to bring about change and to have useful and honest nutrition labelling.

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ee-nutritionfactsboxSo on Friday, I turned to Health Canada to ask them for a comment. On Monday, I was told by their spokesperson, Sean Upton, that Health Canada does not respond to op-eds, only questions. So I then sent them questions on Monday, ones that I think should have been considered quite a while ago and certainly before they launched an educational campaign promoting the DVs.

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Yet here it is midday on Wednesday and I have received no answers as of yet. Yes I am disappointed but why should I be surprised at their pace. After all, isn’t the information on our food packages 30 years old?

Here are the questions I asked of Health Canada:

1) Can you please tell me why the DVs were not updated using the DRIs (many of which had been developed years before)  prior to the launching of mandatory nutrition labelling which came into being in 2005?

2) Why was an educational campaign which provides a focus on DVs launched prior to any revisions to update the DVs?

3) Why have the DVs not been updated as of yet and why would it take 2 to 3 years to do so? The definition of the DVs is very specific so therefore establishing the new figures should be a simple and speedy task. I do understand that the food industry would then need time to change their figures and packaging but it would seem that only months would be needed for this. The last DRI changes that took place were in 2010.

4) Is Health Canada not concerned that the outdated DV for folate (220 micrograms from 1983 to 400 micrograms in 1998) might put some woman and their babies at risk?  They may wrongly perceive that they are consuming well over the DV (let’s say 150%)  so they may decide not to take a folic acid supplement that is recommended. If the DV for folate was not outdated by 15 years, a woman consuming 150% DV would be consuming 600 micrograms (the RDA) not 330 micrograms.

5) With all the discussion about reducing our sodium intake, how can Health Canada allow for a DV for sodium that even exceeds the UL of 2300 mg per day?   The Tolerable upper intake level (UL)  is defined as the maximum level of total chronic daily intake of a nutrient (from all sources) judged to be unlikely to pose a risk of adverse health effects to humans.

Why was this not changed when the DV did not only not  reflect the amount according to Health Canada’s own definition of Daily Value ( “The Daily Values for vitamins and minerals are based on the highest recommended intakes for each age and sex group, so they apply to most people aged 2 and over. They do not include extra needs for pregnancy and breastfeeding.”)?

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How do you use the nutrition labelling on packaged food products? Do you agree that Health Canada  and our Minister of Health continue to abstain from their responsibilities in putting the health of Canadians first (in the areas of  trans fats, sodium and nutrition labelling come to mind)? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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Categories: Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “Health Canada: M.I.A.”

  1. Paula
    February 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    thank you Rosie for pushing the government re. the outdated values on our labelling…..very misleading…..as a person in a health care profession….i see the effects on the young and old and the pressure on our health care system related to unhealthy eating….thank you

    • February 27, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      My pleasure – actually it’s not a pleasure having to do this. I wish we had a government agency who abides by their mission for Canada to be among the countries with the healthiest people in the world. Help on the healthy eating front would go a very long way in achieving this!

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