Canada considers different approach to labeling sugar content

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY – In the United States, a robust debate taking place regards whether added sugars should be included on the Nutrition Facts Panel. In Canada, regulators have proposed a different approach to communicating the sugar content of a food or beverage products that, in many ways, stands in contrast to the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal.

Broadly, the Canadian proposal calls for consistent serving sizes on nutrition panels and making ingredient lists easier to read. For sugar specifically, the proposal would create a percentage daily value for sugar and change the way sugars are identified in the list of ingredients.

The proposed changes to Canada’s nutrition facts table would require a percent daily value (% D.V.) for sugars and include a footnote that will differentiate between products that have a small amount of sugar, 5% D.V. or less, vs. those with an amount that may be perceived as excessive, 15% D.V. or greater. This will make it easy to see if a food has a lot of sugars, according to Health Canada.

“In recent years, there has been growing concern over the amount of sugar consumed by North Americans, with some findings linking excessive sugar intake to an overconsumption of calories, which in turn could lead to obesity and associated chronic diseases,” the proposal reads in the June 13 edition of the Canada Gazette. “The proposed amendments introduce provisions aimed at providing information and educating consumers on the content of sugar and other sugars-based ingredients (i.e. ingredients containing mostly sugar as a nutrient) in the foods they consume, with the intention of supporting the reduction in sugar intake in a manner consistent with the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide.”

A daily value of 100 grams is being proposed for sugar, and the declaration of the % D.V. would be mandated for all foods.

“Consumers would be able to use the % D.V. to determine whether a food contains a lot or a little sugar (as indicated by the rule of thumb footnote), and as a result adjust or limit their sugar intake,” according to the proposal.

“Further, the requirement to group all sugars-based ingredients in the ingredients list is intended to provide greater transparency regarding the sugar that is added to foods. Ingredients with common names such as fancy molasses, malted barley, isomaltose and pear juice concentrate may not be recognized by most Canadians as sugars-based ingredients. The grouping requirement, in cases where a product contains a large proportion of sugar, would move the sugars-based ingredients closer to the beginning of the ingredient list, indicating more clearly the relative proportion of sugars-based ingredients in the product. Thus, the proposed approach would help consumers identify unfamiliar sources of sugar in their foods.”

While both the Canadian and U.S. proposals have the same goal, Canada chose its proposal based on consumer feedback.

“The added sugars approach (in the U.S. proposed rule) and the % D.V. approach (in the Canadian proposed amendments) were both presented to Canadian consumers during the consultation in 2014,” Health Canada said. The feedback received indicate that, while both approaches were popular, Canadians found the information about carbohydrates and total sugars confusing when there were added sugars, and they found the % D.V. approach easy to understand and useful, particularly in association with the footnote. It is important to note that most foods that exceed the 15% D.V. threshold for “a lot” are foods that contain added sugars.

What stands out in the Canadian proposal is the focus on transparency. By proposing companies list all sources of sugar in the ingredients list as “sugars” they are meeting the stated need of some consumers for more information about the products they consume. Only actual implementation of the effort will prove whether Health Canada’s stated goal to promote healthier food choices is achievable.

Health Canada is accepting comments regarding the proposal through Aug. 27. The full proposal may be viewed by clicking here.
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