Tougher rules for food labels

BEAMSVILLE, Ont. - Food products labelled "made in Canada" will no longer be allowed to use a substantial amount of foreign ingredients, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday as he announced new guidelines that consumer advocates hailed as a "big step in the right direction."


BEAMSVILLE, Ont. - Food products labelled "made in Canada" will no longer be allowed to use a substantial amount of foreign ingredients, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday as he announced new guidelines that consumer advocates hailed as a "big step in the right direction."

Under current rules, it's legal to call a product "made in Canada" if 51 per cent of the production costs were incurred here and the final transformation of product was in Canada, Harper said.

"The truth is, foods marked 'product of Canada' or 'made in Canada' actually may not be very Canadian at all," he said.

"A bottle of apple juice could have a 'made in Canada' label on it and be made from apples grown in China. A bar of chocolate might say 'product of Canada,' but the cocoa beans could come from the Ivory Coast."

The new guidelines will better reflect the origin of goods sold in grocery stores, Harper said.

Under the new rules, a "product of Canada" label will mean all or virtually all the contents are Canadian in origin.

If the ingredients of the product come from another country, the label would reflect that as well. For example, a label might say "made in Canada with imported ingredients," Harper said.

"This qualified 'made in Canada' label will let shoppers know they are supporting Canadian jobs and the Canadian economy, but also inform them that not all of the contents necessarily come from Canada," he said.

Mel Fruitman, vice-president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, said the guideline changes are good news provided Ottawa follows through with appropriate legislation.

"It's hard to tell where (Harper's) planning to take it with the announcement," he said. "What we want to see is in fact legislation, support staff as required to ensure legislation is enforced, and penalties for violators."

Overall, Fruitman said he was pleased with the regulation, which he said was long overdue.

"It's a very big step in the right direction," he added.

Fruitman said the new guidelines were along the lines proposed by his organization when he presented to the Commons agriculture committee last month during hearings on labelling.

"We were hearing a lot of concern about, 'What does this really mean?' Anecdotal information about things like pineapple labelled 'product of Canada'," he said.

"We were hearing stories about things like that and let's face it, we don't grow pineapple in Canada."

John Cranfield, an associate professor of food economics at the University of Guelph, said while the changes are a step in the right direction, it may result in more confusion on the part of the consumer in the short term.

"If a consumer doesn't know the difference between 'product of Canada' and 'made in Canada,' then how are they really able to determine whether or not the goods that they're buying are composed of goods purely of Canadian origin?," he said.

"The 'made in Canada' logo or moniker could be misinterpreted by some, I would imagine, and I would hope that the government actually puts effort out to try to differentiate in the eyes of consumers what these two phrases mean."

A new study released Wednesday by the University of Regina said Canada is doing a better job than most other countries but added the federal government needs to toughen food labelling rules.

Professor Sylvain Charlesbois said when it comes to food labelling, some companies in Canada use such information as marketing tool than providing accurate information - a move that needs to change.

"There is a lot of misleading information on food labels in Canada," he said. "When you look at Europe, a lot of the information on labels is monitored, checked and validated by third parties. That really helps consumers make proper decisions."

Blake Johnston, vice-president of government affairs, Food and Consumer Products of Canada, said the 51 per cent rule is a long-standing practice and a fairly standard one internationally, but said the organization can live with the new changes.

Johnston said one of his organization's members had expressed concern about the phase-in because they produce products and labels on packaging that sometimes doesn't make it to market for months.

"You want to do it in a way that doesn't make people recall or re-label existing products," he said. "You want to phase it in appropriately, and I think that's probably what they'll do."

The new guidelines come from the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan announced by Harper in December.

-With files from John Cotter in Edmonton and Lauren La Rose in Toronto

 
 
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