Nutrition labelling reforms needed to help Canadians make healthier choices

September 11, 2014

Hon. Rona Ambrose
Minister of Health
Brooke Claxton Building, Tunney’s Pasture
Postal Locator: 0906C
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9

Dear Minister Ambrose,

Regarding your Department’s initiative to update food labels, I wanted to take this opportunity to outline some of my concerns with the Health Canada proposal for updating nutrition labels on packaged foods.

New Democrats have long demanded an overhaul of nutrition labelling in Canada, most recently calling for it in our vision for a pan-Canadian food strategy, which lays out several areas in which the federal government could improve food labelling to improve consumer choice and promote public health. For example, these areas include identifying whether food products have undergone genetic modification, working with industry to develop clear, accurate and consistent labelling on animal treatment in food production, and ensuring up-to-date labelling for new food processing techniques that change food safety requirements.

While there are many changes that need to be made, I will focus my submission on a few key areas for improvement in regards to better nutrition labelling.

The current Health Canada proposal misses the opportunity to create mandatory, easy-to-understand nutrition labels on the front side of food packaging. Presently, manufacturers use the front of food packaging for their marketing claims, requiring consumers to turn over the package to seek-out the most important information contained on the label – the information that allows them to make informed, healthy choices about what they are putting into their own bodies and on their families’ kitchen tables. Mandatory, front-of-package nutrition schemes like the traffic light ones used in the UK, would better serve Canadians in making healthy choices.

Canada must adhere to the international norm and include “added” sugars in its daily limits. Research shows that excess sugar, from “added sugars” not naturally occurring in food, can triple the risk of dying of heart disease. In February of this year, it was reported in the Globe and Mail that your own department would review the JAMA study, but had already ruled out setting limits on “added” sugars. Canadians expect real change when it comes to information vital to their public health, but I believe the current Health Canada proposal misses an important opportunity by not including “added” sugars on nutrition labels and considering recommended daily limits. 

Health Canada must also develop standardized serving sizes to better reflect actual consumption patterns. Consumers should be able to relate the nutritional information on a label to the package they have in their hands. There are numerous examples where the amounts referred to in the label are not an accurate reflection of the expected serving size. 

In summary, I feel very strongly that we must implement updated, relevant and easy to understand nutritional labelling to make caloric and sodium information easier to understand, move to develop differentiated labelling and daily limits for sugar, and improve standard serving information to better reflect actual consumption patterns. Some of your proposed suggestions are a step in the right direction, but these key changes are needed to ensure the new labels can provide better information to Canadians.

I hope you will consider this feedback outlining how Canada can make the current nutrition labelling proposal by Health Canada more relevant and functional for Canadians. 

I look forward to your response.


Libby Davies, MP
Vancouver East
NDP Health Critic