Big Food flouts labelling laws yet no one cares


Where do I begin? Misleading health claims, questionable ingredient lists, new nutrition labelling regulations with meaningless deadlines and questionable enforcement practices – this post is about all of the above.

Agropur, the largest dairy company/ cooperative in the country by sales, is behind this ridiculousness with their Nano line of yogurt from iÖGO.  I was sent a sample to try and immediately upon opening the box, the red flags started waving.

The “No Refined Sugar Added” claim on the label was a shocker.

There is no such health claim in Canada and putting it on the package is a flagrant breach of labelling regulations. I did check with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to confirm this. (More on that later).

But I also contacted NATA PR, the company that had sent me the product to see what they would say. I told them I had not seen this claim as one that is permitted by labelling regulations and I asked if it was a claim that was allowed.

Agropur did a lot of research and development for this product as well as a lot of research for this label. This mention states that there is no refined sugar added in the yoghurt. The only sugar is coming from the fruits.“, said Elisabeth Bruyère of NATA PR.

But according to the ingredient list, the main sources of sweetener were not whole fruits, but fruit juice concentrate. According to Health Canada’s labelling laws, though, fruit juice concentrates are to be listed together with other sweeteners in brackets following the word sugar. As ingredients are listed in descending order by amount, listing sugars grouped together results in the ingredient list reflecting how much sugar is really in a product. The diagram below shows the way new labels should list sugars.

But check out the Nano ingredient list. Do you see sugar listed?

Now it’s true that while the new regulations were introduced in December, 2016, Health Canada, in a release the following summer stated, “The food industry has a transition period of 5 years to make these changes. This means that you might start seeing new food labels as early as 2017.” That was supposed to end in December, 2021, but that transitional period has now been extended until December, 2022.

Really? Six years for label changes? Six years for transitioning? Does this deadline really mean anything? Fat chance companies will roll out new labels one second before they have to. Why not make the transition period only for existing products?

As well, according to my understanding, a transitional period would be one that allows a company to change their old labels to comply with the new regs. Introducing a new line of products using the old regulations, to me, is not a transition. Yet Agropur, who researched this well, launched this line of yogurts in 2018.

Why bring out a new line of products using old label formats that were misleading?

Do I really need to answer that?

Then we get to enforcement practices – or should I say, the lack of enforcement practices. Now I do have to say that when there is a food safety or allergy risk, the CFIA does act quickly but they are also charged with enforcing nutrition labelling regulations. You might think that this would mean that if they were notified of flagrant breaches that they would take action.

But you would be wrong.

Instead the CFIA directs you to find a local office where you, as an individual citizen, would file a complaint. This would then be sent on to an inspector who would follow it up. The issue would then be resolved at some point – who knows when – and you would be informed that the complaint/issue had been resolved. Due to privacy concerns, you would have to file an Access to Information and Privacy request to find out the details of what took place.

I’ve done it a number of times over the years.

I am baffled, though. Why are there not protocols in place that when companies knowingly violate food labelling laws there is action taken and that the companies pay for their violations? Why spend so much time and money on these regulations when the enforcement policies are simply a joke?

Health Canada, isn’t it time that the food industry stops calling the shots?

Have you ever come across questionable food labels? Have you ever filed a complaint with the CFIA? Please share in the comment section below.

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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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2 Comments on “Big Food flouts labelling laws yet no one cares”

  1. Jennifer
    February 20, 2019 at 10:02 am #

    Very interesting. I’m happy that you are catching these things. Unbelievable that you need to file an access to information request to find out results of an inquiry

    Not that I would ever buy this product but just curious to know what is the total sugars in it, my plain Astro Balkan has 3 grams, just from the milk I assume. I have never understood the appeal, of “fruit” yogurts, so sweet and so little fruit

  2. February 20, 2019 at 10:46 am #

    Thanks, Jennifer! I agree that I shouldn’t need to request information about the outcome. Flagrant violations, such as health claims like this, should be acted on by the government in a speedy fashion. It shouldn’t be up to individual consumers to ensure compliance to labelling laws. It’ nothing less than ridiculous! As for the sugar content, this yogurt provides 11 grams per 3/4 cup serving- that’s 2 teaspoons more than your plain.

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