Good afternoon. My name is Bill Jeffery. I am the National Coordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.
The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is an independent consumer health advocacy organization with offices in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. CSPI is supported by over 100,000 Canadian subscribers to our Nutrition Action Healthletter. I am pleased to participate in this historic event on behalf of CSPI. We have advocated mandatory nutrition labelling since 1997 when we were joined in that effort by the Alliance for Food Label Reform -- a coalition of nonprofit groups representing two million consumers, scientists, and health professionals.
This is a landmark event for health promotion in Canada. Preventable diet-related disease causes tens of thousands of premature deaths and costs the economy $5.3 billion each year. The new nutrition labels will help consumers improve their diets and reduce their risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada estimates that the new labels will save Canadians more than $5 billion over the next two decades as a result of reduced health-care costs and improved productivity.
Under the old, market-driven system, nutrition labelling appeared on only about half of all food labels, was incomplete (often revealing the good news while concealing the bad news about the nutrient content of a food), was based on unrealistic serving sizes (over which manufacturers had discretion), and failed to inform consumers how much saturated fat, sodium, fibre, and other nutrients a food contributed to the amounts one should be eating daily to be healthy.
Mandatory labelling rules will ensure that nutrition information appears on practically all foods, is displayed in a format that is easy to read and interpret, and discloses amounts of most nutrients that are important to the public's health. The new labels will aid consumer choice and encourage manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their products.
Today the Government of Canada is taking a very important step in the direction advocated by the Romanow Commission, and helping to make our public health-care system a bit more sustainable as a result of improvements in health as consumers begin to use the new labels to improve their diets.
Health Canada officials, including Dr. Margaret Cheney, Mary Bush and Pat Steele among many others, and Ministers Anne McLellan and Allan Rock under whose watch these regulations were drafted all deserve to be commended. The federal government deserves special credit for sustaining the proposed method for disclosing amounts of trans fat (along with saturated fat) on nutrition labels. Trans fats -- found in margarine and many baked and deep fried starchy foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils -- promote high levels of LDL serum cholesterol which is an important risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. Many food companies lobbied hard to block, delay or water down trans fat labelling requirements in Canada, and food companies have stymied similar regulatory efforts in the United States for years.
I do not want to detract from our strong support for these new rules, but I would be remiss if I did not identify three areas for future improvement:
- First, mandatory nutrition labelling should apply to all fresh meat, poultry and seafood, not just ground beef and prepared meats.
- Second, health marketing claims should not be permitted on foods like whole (3.25%) milk or high-fat cheeses -- which, though calcium-rich, are high in saturated fat. Such foods may decrease the risk of one disease (like osteoporosis), but increase the risk of another (like heart disease).
- Third, the amounts of "added sugars" (not just "total sugars") should be disclosed on labels. It is the added sugars that promote obesity, tooth decay, and dilute the nutritional quality of the diet.
CSPI will continue to advocate such changes and looks forward to working with many of you here today.
Also, we must now turn our attention to nutrition promotion and physical activity efforts that can lead to further improvements in public health. I look forward to working with ministries of health and legislators at all levels of government to help develop additional public policy changes that will help reduce the burden of preventable diet-related disease in Canada.