by Michael Barrett
Front of package nutrition labeling regulations being introduced by the Liberal government and the new Canada Food Guide will hurt our farmers. The government is charging ahead with both of these items and won’t invite farmers or agricultural experts to the table. In particular, the potential of massive costs incurred to the industry could come without evidence that labeling influences consumer behaviour, or correlates with decreasing obesity rates. These costs will be passed on to consumers eventually. I also have concerns about overhauling regulatory requirements without a scientific, evidence-based mandate; concerns that labeling exemptions (including individual packages served in restaurants, alcoholic packages) and singling out certain nutrients add confusion rather than clarity in making healthy decisions; and the fact that current Health Canada labeling proposals include a stop sign, triangles, and other symbols, which are associated with dangerous chemical substances.
Industry was not given adequate time to do market research, or consult with their members on labeling, and there could be a disproportionate effect on dairy and cheese that could be slapped with warning labels, despite containing other nutrients that are conducive to health.
An unintended consequence could be a loss of competitiveness in our agri-foods sectors, and job losses.
To make matters worse, the government proposes that marijuana packaging be blank, and yet staple food items like cheese could be slapped with a warning label like a big red stop sign, according to Health Canada’s criteria.
Committee meetings held in the spring for the food labelling regulations did not include any farm representation. The Liberal dominated committee simply refused to invite farmers to the table. I worry that commodity groups trust the government to keep its election promise to consult. They have no intention of doing so. When parliament reconvenes in the Fall, this bill will move forward and the Liberal majority in the House will pass it, unless they are made to listen to the agricultural community.
It may be that farmers will have to take their protests to Parliament Hill to get their attention. I will bring experts and the party critics to the riding to explain what is happening and devise a strategy to get the farm voice heard on Parliament Hill. I also want to make the agricultural industry aware of the timelines for the new Canada Food Guide.
This is another project by this government that will affect farmers and, unless you have been part of the online consultation, your voice has not been heard.