While trade deals have had Canadian dairy farmers concerned about losing market share domestically, a recent proposal to change food package labeling could potentially be more damaging to the industry.
Health Canada launched a consultation period in February for its proposed new front-of-packaging labelling. The proposal is part of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy and would include placing new warning labels on the front of products sold in Canada for foods that are high in saturated fats, sugars and sodium.
“Our concern is that many Canadians would actually put that product back down if they see a warning label on it. So it would impact our markets domestically,” said David Wiens, chair of Dairy Farmers of Manitoba (DFM) during one of the group’s four spring meetings held in Headingley, MB on April 4.
Dollar-wise the proposal could have a huge effect for Canadian dairy farmers. Wiens has heard that it could negatively impact the Canadian dairy industry by as much as C$800 million.
While milk will be getting a pass from the proposed labels, other dairy products such as cheeses and yogurts will not, which has the Canadian dairy industry concerned.
“It’s intuitively wrong where you would have nutrient dense foods that Canadians rely on for (their) healthy eating strategy, would now come with warning labels,” Wiens said.
According to Wiens, under the Health Canada proposal many dairy products would fall into the category of being too high in sodium or saturated fats. For example, sodium is used in the aging of cheese. Other products such as flavoured milks and yogurts would also see labels placed on them, however products like soda with aspartame would not.
“We’re concerned with the way in which Health Canada is approaching this. It’s a rather simplistic way and what they’re doing then is they’re ignoring the level of essential nutrients that these nutrient dense foods that are dairy contain, because they’re simply focused on those bottom three,” he said.
In a news release from Health Canada it cited research that Canadians consume “too much” of these nutrients, with eight out of 10 Canadians consuming too much sodium and “almost one in two” Canadians eat too much saturated fat.
Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) has been lobbying against the proposals stating the science doesn’t make sense. But according to Wiens, research completed by DFC and partly funded by the federal government has been dismissed, as Health Canada has said it is biased.
There have been outside voices speaking out against the proposals, including Dr. Andrew Samis, general surgeon and critical care specialist at Quinte Health Care at Belleville General Hospital in Ontario. According to Wiens, Dr. Samis has said that as a doctor, if the new labelling is implemented, he could have patients buying products he has recommended for them with labels on it saying it isn’t good for them.
“That’s the concern that’s being raised by people like that…I’m at least hoping they’re having some impact about getting the message out (that) Health Canada really needs to rethink their healthy eating strategy here,” Wiens said.
DFM members were encouraged to speak out against the front-of-package labelling at the Headingley meeting, and were told to visit Keep Canadians Healthy for more information.
Health Canada’s consultation period runs until April 26 and can be viewed here.