Each day TFO Canada publishes a sample of trade news on the Canadian import market along with any new, updated or changed regulations and legislations regarding international trade; countries in which TFO Canada offers services and on the export sectors which it promotes.
Tougher Food Labels ComingThursday, May 29, 2008 > 16:24:18
Foods labelled 'Product of Canada' will no longer be allowed to contain large amounts of foreign ingredients and additives under tougher guidelines proposed yesterday by the Conservatives.
Saying frustrated consumers have lost faith in the labelling system, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his government is planning regulations to ensure that ingredients produced in foreign countries are kept out of items carrying the "Product of Canada" label.
Current rules allow use of that label or "Made in Canada" even if a substantial portion of the product – up to half – comes from foreign sources, Harper said.
"The truth is, foods marked `Product of Canada' or `Made in Canada' may not be very Canadian at all," he said during a press conference at a berry farm in the Niagara region.
"A bottle of apple juice labelled as 'Made in Canada' might have been made from apples grown in China, Harper said. And a bar of chocolate might be marked as a Canadian product but be made with cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast."
Under the new rules, a "product of Canada" label will mean all or virtually all the contents are Canadian in origin.
The Tories' proposals, which the government will submit to public consultation for the next month, are the first update in food labelling rules in two decades.
"Our new guidelines are designed to redefine Canadian food content labels to better reflect the true origins of products in today's global marketplace," Harper said. The aim is to ensure that "Canadians know exactly what they're getting and get exactly what they want."
Under the initiative, "all or virtually all" of the ingredients in "Product of Canada" items would have to be Canadian, with the only exceptions being spices or minor additives not available here.
Other Canadian-produced foods would be labelled either "Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients" or "Made in Canada from imported ingredients."
The move comes at a time of public concern about possibly hazardous additives or ingredients from China or other countries showing up in products available globally. In 2006, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found elevated rates of chemical residue on Chinese fruits and vegetables.
The tests prompted the Consumers' Association of Canada to call for tighter safeguards to protect the public from potentially harmful additives in Chinese-made products.
Fears were fanned by tainted cough medicine shipped from China to Panama, which led to 90 deaths, and toothpaste from China that contained a harmful chemical found in antifreeze. The toothpaste was distributed widely, including in a dozen Canadian hotels. Responding to international complaints, the Chinese government has been cracking down on companies linked to tainted products.
Canada's grocers said they're in favour of any new labelling that "provides greater clarity for consumers," said Jeanne Cruikshank, a vice-president with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors.
However, the industry group has concerns about how the label would be applied to products that contain multiple ingredients, she said.
The government needs to ensure the label is compatible with those used by Canada's trading partners, she added.
And, finally, "based on our experience with the current label, we need good, sound, clear consumer education around what the label means," Cruikshank said.
Canadian farmers have been pushing for better labelling for more than a year, saying it will help consumers make more informed choices while also boosting local farmers' sales.
The problem with the current Made in Canada label, which is based on 51 per cent of a product's value, is often value of the packaging and shipping is greater than what's inside, explained Ron Bonnet, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
Most apple juice made from concentrate is labelled Made in Canada but is actually processed from apples grown in China, he said. A lot of fish processed in Nova Scotia and labelled Made in Canada is imported from China or Vietnam, he said.
Consumer surveys show people would prefer to buy locally grown food because of concerns about the safety and security of some imports, and also the environmental impact of flying food halfway around the world, Bonnet said.
John Cranfield, an associate professor of food economics at the University of Guelph, said that while the changes are a step in the right direction, it may result in more confusion 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?"