Health Canada’s stance on the Daily Values boggles the mind

© Akakiy | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Akakiy | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Last week I reported that Health Canada was MIA.  I had asked specific questions of them as they would not give me a general comment about my  op-ed. It called them out for their using 30 year old information  as the Daily Values (DV) found on food packages and as part of a current educational campaign It took a while but Health Canada finally replied to my questions.

I wouldn’t say they provided answers. They seemed to avoid doing that.

They mainly  offered me information as to  what the Nutrition Facts table is all about. “One of its greatest strengths is that it helps consumers compare products, and that comparison is true no matter what the % Daily Value is based on.”,  states Sean Upton, spokesperson for Health Canada.

Comparisons would be great to do if there were standardized serving sizes but Health Canada has not bothered with that. So Health Canada, tell me if the numbers don’t mean anything, then if I see a soup with a % DV reading of 19%, then should  I choose it over one which has a 25% DV?  If I did, I would be choosing a higher sodium product.  As it happens, the first contained 450 milligrams of sodium for a 2/3 cup serving and the second,  600 milligrams for one cup.

Instead an accurate DV would tell me how much of my day’s intake I would be consuming in the serving size on the label.

Health Canada- please don’t talk about using it for comparing products until you have  standardized the serving sizes on products. Shoppers don’t use calculators at the supermarket.

They also ignored my questions as to why they launched the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign using outdated figures. Instead they provided information on the history of the campaign.

As to the outdated figures, Mr. Upton states, “It is important to note the difference between the numbers from 1983 is minimal and poses no risk to the health or safety of Canadians.”

Tell that to the now disbanded members of the Sodium Working Group, the expert committee appointed by Health Canada to come up with a sodium reduction strategy. In their 2010 report, they recommended the DV for sodium be changed to reflect the current daily recommended intake.

The current DV for sodium, set in the 1980s, is 1.6 times higher than the recommended  daily intake.  It continues to shock many that Health Canada has the DV for sodium set at even higher than what’s called the Tolerable upper intake level (UL). The UL is the highest level of  a nutrient that poses no risk of health problems to the general population.

That’s the government’s view of no risk?

Mr. Upton states, “For sodium, there still is not a scientific consensus as to which reference value should be used, i.e. whether it should be the Adequate Intake value (1500 mg) or the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (2300 mg). Changing the reference standard for sodium requires a thorough evaluation of its impacts on dietary choices of Canadian consumers to mitigate unforeseen consequences and achieve the public health outcome sought.”

Huh?

Besides the Sodium Working Group, the Institute of Medicine which sets our daily recommendations, there is a long list of health and citizen groups that have signed a joint statement in support Bill C-460 Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act. This includes Alberta Public Health Association, Association of Local Public Health Agencies,  Council on Health Promotion, Breakfast for Learning, Centre for Science in the Public Interest, Canadian Institute of Child Health, Canadian Society of Internal Medicine, Canadian Public Health Association, Canadian Women’s Health Network, Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health, Dietitians of Canada, Food Secure Canada,    Hypertension Canada, Ontario Public Health Chief Nursing Officers,  Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, Public Health Association of British Columbia, Public Health Physicians of Canada and more.

I am not aware of any food companies sending letters in support of the bill. Is this the consensus Health Canada is looking for?
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What are your thoughts on Health Canada’s actions? Does it make you as angry as it makes me? Please share in the comment section below.

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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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3 Comments on “Health Canada’s stance on the Daily Values boggles the mind”

  1. Patty
    March 14, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    I applaud your efforts and share your frustration with an inept government agency. Too often the civil service forgets they are working for us! Hope this all leads to an improved DV table.

    • March 14, 2013 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks, Patty! I agree with your assessment of Health Canada. It would be great if they would just adhere to their mission statement: “Health Canada’s goal is for Canada to be among the countries with the healthiest people in the world.” This would go a very long way in providing us with good leadership!

  2. Kathy Feltmate
    March 19, 2013 at 5:55 am #

    It is difficult to believe that Health Canada is so lax in their leadership, especially toward Sodium. I was disappointed that the Sodium Working Group was disbanded and now am simply shocked at the assessment of HC regarding the abilities of “the healthiest people in the world” … that Canadians can take the responsibility and do it themselves … with such outdated data.
    Thank you Rosie, keep up the frustrating but excellent work on our behalf.

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