Centre for Science in the Public Interest

For the Record

For Immediate Release:
December 20, 1999

For more information:
Bill Jeffery

   Mandatory Nutrition Labelling Bill Is Put On Fast-Track
OTTAWA (December 20, 1999) -- 100 MPs from all 5 federal political parties signed a petition that will fast-track a mandatory nutrition labelling bill, Bill C-319, sponsored by Liberal MP, Tom Wappel. Using new Parliamentary rules of procedure, Mr. Wappel collected the signatures to fast-track the bill past a private Members’ lottery, a process that can delay, for years, bills not backed by a Cabinet Minister.

     If passed in the House of Commons, Bill C-319 would require manufacturers to list, on all foods, the amount of calories, fat, calcium, fibre, folic acid, and 12 other key nutrients, together with information indicating whether a serving of the food is high or low in such nutrients. The bill would also require that nutrition information be printed in an easy-to-read format and be based on standardized serving sizes.

     “This bill is different from the vast majority of private members’ bills,” said Bill Jeffery, L.LB., a public policy analyst for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and coordinator for the Alliance for Food Label Reform. “It has been pushed forward in the approval process by 100 MPs from all 5 parties.”

     “There is overwhelming public support for the measures advocated in the bill,” said Jeffery. “A recent Canadian Facts national public opinion survey estimated that 93% of Canadians believe nutrition information should be on all or most foods, which is the central feature of the bill. Over 7,000 consumers have signed petitions and sent letters to CSPI, Health Canada, Minister Rock, and MPs demanding mandatory, comprehensive and easy-to-read nutrition information on all foods.”

     “In addition, the bill is backed by the Alliance for Food Label Reform, a coalition of 18 non-profit associations representing 2 million Canadians. Of the 201 private members’ bills introduced this session by back benchers, only C-319 has this very powerful mixture of support from MPs, non-profit groups, and individual citizens. Only four of those bills have been supported by the 100-signature procedure.”

     When Parliament resumes in February, a six-member, all-party Sub-committee will review the bill to determine whether it should be tendered to the House of Commons for full debate and a vote. If passed, C-319 would supersede Health Canada’s current review of nutrition labelling rules and would make nutrition labelling mandatory. “I am confident that the Committee will recognise the technical merits of the bill. The breadth of support from all parties is now clearly reflected on the public record,” said MP Tom Wappel.

     Presently, nutrition labelling is voluntary in Canada. About half of all foods provide no nutrition information. “Physicians, nutritionists, and public health authorities all agree that Canadians should consume less fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and more calcium, iron, fibre and other nutrients. But how can consumers put that advice into practice if there are no rules requiring companies to provide that information on labels?” added Jeffery.

     Manufacturers are not required to disclose nutrition information unless a product makes a nutrition claim. If a claim is made, Health Canada requires manufacturers to disclose only limited information on one or more selected nutrients. Many products only provide consumers with the “good news” about vitamin content while failing to reveal the “bad news” about fat, cholesterol, or sugar content.

     “My bill would put a stop to the misleading use of nutrition information for marketing purposes and, instead, require standardized nutrition labelling for all foods so that consumers could improve their diets and reduce their risk of heart disease and cancer,” added Wappel.

     CSPI urges consumers to contact their Members of Parliament and Health Minister Allan Rock (at Room 441-S, Centre Block, House of Commons, Ottawa, K1A-0A6, fax (613) 947-4276, or e-mail at Rock.A@parl.gc.ca) to urge them to support Bill C-319.

CSPI Canada