Leading Canadian consumer organizations are calling on the federal government to reduce food fraud and help consumers make healthy food choices by improving how packaged food is labelled.
The six organizations – Anaphylaxis Canada, My Sustainable Canada, Consumers Council of Canada, Option consommateurs, Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Union des consommateurs – today released a report highlighting eight recommendations for government. The groups spent 18 months working together as part of a Consumers Council of Canada multi-stakeholder consultation.
"The message is very clear to the federal government that consumers need and want better packaged food labelling so they can more easily buy healthy foods and avoid food fraud," said Aubrey Leblanc, president of the Council.
The report is in response to the federal government’s current review of food labelling regulation.
In its joint statement, the panel highlighted eight areas the federal government should improve, including:
Establish food label regulations that require the quantity or proportion of any highlighted ingredient be stated accurately within the ingredients label in descending proportion;
Ensure laws and ensuing regulation of geographic origin of food claims are thorough enough to allow consumers to determine, with reasonable certainty, the place of origin of the majority of the food ingredients;
Update legislation and regulations surrounding the Nutritional Facts Table (NFT) to reflect current research regarding nutrition, and to improve consumer comprehension and usability;
Work closely with consumer organizations and business to establish a front of package (FOP) label scheme in order to reduce consumer confusion resulting from multiple FOP programs;
Mandate unit pricing in order to standardize and maximize its impact;
Ensure foods that have been irradiated, produced using nano-technology or contain genetically modified organisms are appropriately labelled;
Create a legislative framework that allows for more timely updating of label regulations to meet the ongoing and rapid evolution of food production and labelling;
Undertake a comprehensive and on-going consumer education program to ensure Canadians are informed food consumers.
"While consumers are responsible for trying to be informed shoppers, they require food information that is accessible, easy to understand and truthful," said Mr. Leblanc.
Leading Canadian consumer organizations have formed a national panel to investigate and recommend what today’s consumers require from food information, advertising and labelling in order to exercise their right to make informed choices.
"Consumers both want and need clear, accurate and harmless food information, advertising and labelling to help them make informed choices. Unfortunately, all too often there is dissatisfaction for one reason or another," said Aubrey LeBlanc, president of the Consumers Council of Canada.
The Consumer Group Panel on Food Product Information, Labelling and Advertising will work to identify areas of required research, consultation and advocacy concerning food product information, labelling and advertising.
Members of the panel include three major multi-issue consumer groups: Consumers Council of Canada, Option consommateurs and Union des consommateurs; and three organizations with particular concerns about how people are affected by food and food information: Anaphylaxis Canada, Heart & Stroke Foundation and My Sustainable Canada. The panel is being facilitated by the Council, which will use the next nine months to research, debate and invite formal input from government, industry, subject matter experts and the public. A final report is expected by March 2013, with the possibility of the interim release of findings while the panel is in progress.
"We are encouraged to be able to conduct this process in parallel with work being done during the same time period by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency," LeBlanc said. "We expect this important project to raise the quality of consumer participation in the work of government. CFIA has made strides towards improved consultation with consumers over the last year, and we feel encouraged that they will welcome the input of this panel."
"We expect the panel process to create a better informed public, media, government and businesses," said LeBlanc. "After all, consumer confidence in the marketplace depends on useful and good quality product information."
The Council acknowledges and thanks the Dairy Farmers of Canada for its willingness to sponsor and encourage the independent work of this panel to develop the knowledge required to develop a fair and comprehensive expression of consumer perspectives in this subject area. This support will enable the panel to invite the stakeholders in Canada’s food system to contribute research and insights pertinent to the rights of food consumers.
Persons, organizations and news media interested in the work of the panel may register online by clicking here.