Why not let consumers make informed decisions?

Why does it seem as though our governments prefer to opt for the financial health of food companies and restaurants over the physical health of its citizens? We’ve seen it happen repeatedly with the federal government in Ottawa as over and over again they have rejected the opinions of the experts on key issues such as sodium and trans fats.  Now it seems as though provinces want to get in on the act of ignoring the health experts.

Instead of providing  the nutrition information  the experts say are needed to aid consumers  in  making healthy food choicesthe government’s plan is to limit what’s will be mandatory to  disclose  on chain restaurant  menus and menu boards.

More than 40 community group leaders and experts have publicly supported  including both sodium and calorie labelling on menu boards.  On the list are  various experts such as  Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, the Chair of Nutrition at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine who is also a nutrition advisor to the World Health Organization, the President of the World Hypertension League who is also the Heart and Stroke Foundation Research Chair in Hypertension, the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, and the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Consumers have also repeatedly stated they want this information as well.

According to the CSPI, Liberal MPPs, who hold a majority of votes on the Committee, claimed that labelling experts on its Healthy Kids Panel advised the Government that providing sodium information would provide so much detail that consumers would be overwhelmed and too confused to even use calorie information. According to biographies of Panel members, both food labelling experts represent companies that are affected by the bill: employees of Loblaw and Food and Consumer Products Canada.

While it’s true that not everyone would be able to use this information to make optimal choices but to say  providing sodium would lead to consumers being overwhelmed and too confused to even use the calorie information is ridiculous. If the policy makers think consumers will be so confused, where are the educational initiatives to help them sort through the issues?

CSPI is asking for MPPs of all parties to call on the Government to strike an expert committee, without financial conflicts of interest, to advise whether to endorse regulations mandating sodium levels before the calorie-labelling regulations become effective. The consumer advocacy group also says that the  government’s stated reliance on experts with commercial conflicts of interest should raise alarm bells for Ontarians. Not a single expert report or study justifying concealing sodium levels was cited by the Healthy Kids Panel, the series of invitation-only Ministry of Health consultation meetings in Toronto in the fall of 2013, the debates in the legislature since 2009, or legislative committee hearings.

CSPI also points out that without sodium disclosures, calorie labelling alone may unwittingly motivate consumers to select  foods that are high or higher in sodium than they would otherwise choose. We already consume double the recommended amount of sodium, causing upwards of 10,000 premature deaths annually in Canada.

One reason why is that simply listing calories may promote changes in formulations of various menu items to yield lower calories but in doing so, industry may bump up sodium counts to improve the taste of these dishes. Listing sodium counts can help to motivate companies to reformulate for better nutritional profiles on the whole.

A vote could come as early as this week although it could be delayed until early Juneor possibly during the fall session. . Let’s get the Liberals to include both sodium and calorie counts in the legislation. Send your MPP a quick email to get support. Click here for your MPP’s contact info.

Do you think this type of  nutrition labelling should be  available and if so, what information should be included? Please share your thoughts on the issue in the comment section below.

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Categories: Nutrition News, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

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

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4 Comments on “Why not let consumers make informed decisions?”

  1. Byrl Staples
    May 4, 2015 at 7:57 am #

    It always seems to come down to dollars & cents not conscience thinking & doing the right thing.

  2. May 4, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    Byrl, It’s a shame it doesn’t come down to another sense- common sense!

  3. Vicky Dekker
    May 9, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    I agree with your comments. It has been several years since Health Canada( or whatever it is called now) was actually acting in the best interest of its citizens. Unfortunately, food labelling as it is now just serves to confuse consumers even more than the labels that identify the item. You can’t depend on the government to act on our behalf. Buyer beware.My advice, prepare your own food, eat real food, and everything in moderation. Don’t I sound like the retired dietitian that I am?

  4. May 9, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Vicky, you do sound like a dietitian – current or retired. Thanks for your comments! While Health Canada has seemed to care more about corporate health, I had thought provincial governments might be better. Apparently I was wrong!

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