Canadian Food Label Intervention Concerns Dairy Farmers

Fears that New Labels Could Lead to Loss of Sales

Proposals to introduce new food labelling rules in Canada have been met with concern by Canadian Dairy Farmers, who call the labels an over simplification.

Across North America, government organisations are under pressure to do more to curb obesity through education and encouragement towards healthy eating. However, a recent proposal from Health Canada has met with instant opposition from those within the dairy industry, who feel it could do more harm than good.

The government body has proposed that all foods that are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat should bear food labels warning consumers that they constitute a risk to public health. Canadian trade body the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba (DFM) has expressed concern that dairy produce is likely to fall within this category, and that the impact on the domestic dairy industry could be catastrophic.

Potential impact on sales

Clearly, the idea behind such labels in protecting consumer health is to make shoppers think twice about purchasing applicable products. David Wiens is Chairman of the DFM. He feels that this will be effective, and said that: “many Canadians would actually put that product back down if they see a warning label on it.”

Wiens estimated that the move would have an $800 million dollar impact on sales within the Canadian dairy industry, and could be enough to send some farmers out of business.

Mixed messages

However, the DFM’s concerns were not only in relation to sales of dairy products in Canada. He argued that adding a label that emphasises the negative aspects of dairy products is an over simplification and could even be harmful. He explained: “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.”

Is milk good for you?

While Wiens did not go into details as to the specific nutrients he had in mind, it is reasonable to assume he was talking about calcium and protein. Indeed, milk has always been touted as a good source of these kinds of nutrients, which is why it is such a fundamental dietary requirement for babies and young children.

However, are we missing the point here? Plant-based dairy substitutes are also rich in these nutrients – but they have the added benefit of having no saturated fat or sodium.

Choice and information

Ultimately, the rationale behind any effective food labelling strategy has to be about arming consumers with the information they need to make the right choices. Research commissioned by Health Canada has shown that on average, Canadians are consuming vast amounts of saturated fat and sodium every day, often without realising it.

The proposals will help Canadian residents to identify those foods that contain larger concentrations of these harmful ingredients, and inevitably, many dairy products will fall into this category. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the Canadian Minister of Health, said: “Identifying foods that are high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat is not always easy, and this front-of-package symbol will make it clearer while shopping for groceries.”