Packages of ground beef and pork would contain labels warning of high levels of saturated fat
By Diego Flammini
At least two livestock organizations have voiced opposition to a proposed Health Canada measure that would see certain meat products labeled as having too much saturated fat.
Proposed amendments to food and drug laws in Canada would introduce front-of-package labels for prepackaged foods deemed to be high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat.
Prime Minister Trudeau identified this initiative in then Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s mandate letter.
And while some single-ingredient items, like eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables, meat and fish products would receive exemptions from these new labels, ground beef and ground pork aren’t exempt.
This kind of regulation is a blow to the beef sector, said Tyler Fulton, president of Manitoba Beef Producers and that province’s representative with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
“It feels like we’re being kicked while we’re down,” he told Farms.com. “It makes no sense that products like milk or butter, which are single ingredient products, receive the exemption. It feels like we’re being used as a target, even as we’re trying to get the story out that beef is great for conservation and environmental outcomes.”
A potential risk of this food label is having consumers not trust Canadian agriculture.
Seeing a label identifying ground beef as being high in saturated fat may turn shoppers to alternative products, Fulton said.
“Some consumers might ignore it because they know it’s a nutritious product with a ton of benefits,” he said. “But younger consumers who are learning and developing their own shopping practices will be influenced by that label. If we want shoppers to buy Canadian products, why are labels going to be placed on them that may steer shoppers away from Canadian products?
“These labels are going to have the opposite effect on consumers as to what the policymakers want.”
Pork industry representatives agree the new labels aren’t necessary.
Placing these kinds of labels on single ingredient, raw products doesn’t address the issue at hand, said Gary Stordy, director of government and corporate affairs with the Canadian Pork Council.
“Front-of-package labeling should address the real nutrition priority that Canadians need to reduce their consumption of ultra-processed foods,” he told Farms.com in an emailed statement. “Statistics Canada reports approximately half the calories Canadians consume come from nutrient poor ultra-processed foods.”
Should Canada proceed with these labels, it would be the only country in the world to require them.
Other countries have implemented new food labels but provided exemptions for single ingredient products, Fulton said.
“Argentina recently had new food label regulations put in and they exempted all single ingredient items,” he said.
“Other countries that have implemented front-of-package regulations have provided an exemption for all single ingredient whole foods, based on their nutritional value, including ground pork and ground beef,” Stordy said.
Opposition leaders in Ottawa are calling on the federal government to reconsider the labels.
Going forward with these labels could become problematic for Canadian trade, said the ag critics for the Conservatives and Bloc.
“Canada is poised to become the first jurisdiction in the world to self-impose front-of-package labelling on ground beef and pork,” they said in a statement. “This decision will undercut Canadian producers both domestically and abroad. The United States has already identified this policy as a trade irritant potentially leading to fewer exports of Canadian beef. This would be a major hit to producers."
Farms.com has contacted Minister Bibeau’s office for comment.