Is the food industry still calling the shots in formulating healthy eating regulations?

I really did think we were going to see a change in nutrition policy from this government. How could I have been so naïve? I should have known better considering Health Canada first proposed having an Added Sugars line in the new nutrition facts label but then dropped it, even though Canadians said they definitely wanted this information. Health Canada said it couldn’t be enforced -never mind that other countries are doing this without hesitation.

Did the food industry play a role in scrapping something Canadians wanted? Many people thought so.

So it seems we’re heading down the same road now as the regulations dealing with the restrictions of food marketing to our kids.

In the spring, congratulations were being bestowed on Health Canada for their efforts in restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children. While I was critical of what Health Canada calls healthy, I was thrilled that they were even going to move ahead at all with these regulations.

It appeared that this government was not going to allow interference from the food industry in developing these regulations to deal with marketing aimed at kids. But behind the scenes, the initial initiative had already been diluted. The first plans were to not allow any food advertising aimed at kids at all.

Then Health Canada came up with a much criticized list of allowable foods that companies could market. (Check out my thoughts on that. Items such as low-sodium refined grain breads beat out whole grain offerings due to the sodium counts. In this day and age of scientific research pointing to the benefits of these foods, you have to wonder how these lists were made up.)

Well, it appears that the accolades came too soon. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the food industry is trying to put a halt to the proposed regulations.

In a news release by the foundation entitled, “Bill to restrict junk food marketing to kids may be falling victim to industry bullying”, they go on to say that the final Senate vote for Bill S-228 is being intentionally delayed, putting business before children’s health.

They add that it is being deliberately stalled in the Senate due to misinformation and pressure from industry and other groups.

“I am very concerned that some Senators may have been influenced on this very important legislation. Industry has been lobbying hard to try to kill the bill and it is obviously being successful. This is exactly why we need legislation to replace the voluntary industry measures currently in place – it is time to put our kids’ health before profits,” says retired Senator Nancy Greene Raine who first introduced the bill in the Senate.

The bill has made its way through the legislative process, originating in the Senate in September 2016 then going through the House of Commons where it was amended and passed, before being sent back to the Senate where it has been awaiting final vote since September 2018.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that last Thursday, Senator Terry Mercer requested the bill be subjected to further study based on “concerns from industry.” The concerns outlined include, among other things, that the bill will impact kids’ community sports programs. However, this is not true.

“This bill is based on evidence and it is about protecting children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing. It will not affect what people can buy nor what can be advertised to adults,” says Yves Savoie, CEO, Heart & Stroke. “And the government has been clear that kids’ community sports sponsorships will be exempted.”

Now here’s the kicker: if the Senate sends the bill back to committee for amendments this week, legislation cannot be passed before the next federal election – so effectively killing it.

As for industry no longer playing a role in the drafting of healthy eating regulations for Canadians, consider these figures from the Heart and Stroke Foundation: according to the Canadian lobbyist registry, 79 industry representatives have lobbied around Bill S-228 and 233 industry meetings with government officials have been documented.

Would you say that this points to no involvement? What are your thoughts on whether the food industry is still calling the shots in formulating healthy eating regulations?

You know what my answer is.

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Categories: Children's Health, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

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

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