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Health Canada Proposes Warning Labels on Cheese


Laliberte cheese by Canada's Fromagerie de Presbystère

Cheeses and other dairy foods high in fat may soon feature warning labels in Canada.

These new regulations are intended to help customers make healthier choices in their food purchasing. Simple, easy to understand symbols would be prominently placed on foods high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats—that includes whole milk, yogurts with added sugars, and high-fat cheeses.

According to The Western Producer, warning labels would appear on prepackaged foods that contain more than 15 percent of the daily recommended intake of salt (345 milligrams or more per serving), sugar (15 grams) or saturated fat (three grams). They would also be placed on prepackaged meals containing 30 percent of the daily intake of salt, sugar, or saturated fat.

Dairy’s Perspective

Seems like a reasonable plan to assist the public in reducing obesity rates and improving general health, no? Well, not according to Nathalie Savoie, assistant director of nutrition with Dairy Farmers of Canada. Along with many other dairy farmers, Savoie’s fear is that these regulations are inconsistent and will negatively impact dairy sales and consumption.

The Western Producer reports that certain products including chips and diet sodas would not carry this warning label, whereas others would. Savoie fears this inconsistency and potentially misleading information may not improve the health of Canada.

“What does that tell (consumers)? That they should have chips and not cheese? That doesn’t make much sense to me as a dietician,” said Savoie to The Western Producer.

Savoie isn’t the only member of Dairy Farmers of Canada who’s concerned about the possible effect of these warning labels. Isabelle Bouchard, director of communications for DFC, is concerned that the regulations focus too heavily on negative attributes, while ignoring healthy nutrients entirely.

Bouchard explains to the CBC, “There’s zinc, potassium, vitamin C, there’s a lot of other nutrients that need to be comprehended, when you’re thinking about a balanced diet.” 

The Counter Argument

Concerned about the long-term effects of an unhealthy diet, Health Minister Jane Philpott is aiming for more transparency. In Canada, 10 percent of adults over 20 have diabetes, while approximately six percent of adults over 20 have a cardiovascular disease

According to a CBC report, Philpott feels that, “One of the most important things about our health is what we eat and how we eat.”

Alfred Aziz, chief of the nutrition regulations and standards division at Health Canada, shares Philpott’s views regarding Canadians’ health. According to Aziz, Health Canada is attempting to clearly communicate to the public that these foods are high in nutrients of concern and that moderation is key. 

For example, a flavored yogurt may exceed the sugar limit whereas plain yogurt might not. Aziz explains, “We want to encourage people to choose the yogurt that does not have the symbol.”

He also wants to strike some sort of balance when it comes to labeling, pointing out that a number of food products today tout only their positive attributes on their labels.

What to Expect in the Future

Implementing these changes are expected to be costly—around $1.8 billion CAD—and it’s evident not all feel this will improve Canadians’ health. A document submitted by a food manufacturing coalition to the government earlier this year said, “There is concern that the front-of-package warnings proposed by Health Canada (with stop sign and caution symbols) can leave consumers with the perception that there is inherent danger from consuming the product.” The coalition would prefer continuing to use standard nutrition facts labels instead of these new, front-of-the-package symbols. 

The next step in this process will be released this fall in the government’s official newspaper, The Canada Gazette.

Jessica Mandelbaum

With a BA in Anthropology, as well as her current work towards a MA in Gastronomy, Jessica offers a distinct and eclectic perspective to the culture team. When she’s not writing about the multi-sensorial perception of flavor or force-feeding her loved ones cheese-laden meals, Jessica can be found practicing yoga, gardening, reading, hiking or spending quality time with her dog-daughter, Emmie.