I call the meeting to order.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Standing Committee on Health, meeting number 52. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are carrying out a study on healthy living.
We have guests here today who will be providing testimony. As an individual we have Dr. Véronique Provencher, associate professor and scientific researcher, department of food science and nutrition. From Refreshments Canada we have Justin Sherwood, president. From the Canola Council of Canada we have Robert Hunter, vice-president for communications, and Shaunda Durance-Tod, program manager. From Dietitians of Canada we have Paul-Guy Duhamel, public affairs manager.
We will give each of you five to seven minutes for opening statements, and we will begin with Dr. Provencher.
Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me.
To begin with, let me simply say that, in people's minds, healthy food is certainly one of the factors that are increasingly influencing people's dietary choices and that the food label is the source of information that people use to make their choices. Studies have shown that people who read food labels make better nutritional choices. However, does everyone really read food labels? This is the second question I want to raise.
Studies conducted in Canada show that 57% of people state that they regularly consult the food label. Why do people not consult labels enough? It is probably because we tend to purchase things in an automatic way. Also, people have little time when buying groceries, and it is not always easy for everyone to clearly understand all the information on a label. How do people finally make their choices? Following their perceptions, their knowledge and the appearance of the food, they evaluate and classifying different kinds of foods as good or bad. Often, we tend to classify food as healthy or less healthy.
This is what we have seen in the research done by my laboratory as well as in the work of other research teams. For instance, when a food item is perceived as being good for the health, its calorie content will often be underestimated, whereas if an item is perceived as being bad for the health, people will tend to overestimate the calorie content. People often do this because they tend to associate health with weight loss. In other words, when food is good for the health, they think that it also helps them to lose weight.
How does that translate on the consumer's plate? In one study of women, one group was offered oatmeal-raisin cookies as a health snack, and another group was offered the same cookies as a simple snack containing sugar and butter. When the snack was described as healthy, women would eat 35% more than when it was described as a normal cookie.
Presenting food by giving an impression of a health advantage can also influence the consumer's behaviour. Why is this? It is because it can create a false feeling of security and it can also alter the norm. So people can tell themselves that they are justified in eating more of a food that is supposed to be good for the health.
All this indicates that we must carefully plan how we communicate with people, but we must also decide whether we want to choose complexity or simplicity. I believe that we also have those questions to consider. For example, regarding recommendations, we can consider the overall value of an item before making any specific claim. Moreover, the use of logos should be regulated and standardized. That is clear. Finally, we should also foster public education and awareness on nutrition.
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much for providing me with the opportunity to speak with you today. My name is Justin Sherwood, and I am the president of Refreshments Canada.
Refreshments Canada, soon becoming the Canadian Beverage Association, is the national association representing the companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic beverages consumed in Canada. Our members' products include soft drinks, sports drinks, iced teas, energy drinks, and several brands of bottled water.
Since the introduction of the first known low-calorie beverage in the early 1980s, the beverage sector has been very proactive in providing consumers with a range of product choices to meet diverse tastes and preferences. In fact, no other food or beverage category has been as active as the beverage sector in this regard.
I am aware that the beverage sector and its products have been repeatedly referred to in this committee by a number of delegations, and I'd like to take a few minutes to quickly address some of the facts regarding this category.
First, sweetened beverages are not uniquely linked to obesity. No single food or beverage, in fact, has been causally linked to obesity. Obesity is simply a function of consuming excess calories versus the body's need over a period of time. Since 2006 there have been 10 systematic reviews of the relationship between sweetened beverages and obesity: six found no relationship, two found a probable relationship, and two found a strong relationship. As such, the scientific findings are highly inconsistent, and to state that sweetened beverages are linked to obesity is unsupportable, as no link has yet been established.
The relationship between soft drinks and BMI is not simple and can best be described as follows: some people who consume no soft drinks have a very high BMI, whereas some who consume a lot of soft drinks have a low BMI.
Soft drinks are a small and declining source of Canadians' caloric intake. According to the 2004 Canadian community health survey undertaken by Statistics Canada, soft drinks and other sweetened beverages such as fruit drinks account for only 4% of the calories in Canadians' diets. That means 96% of the calories come from other sources. Of that 4%, only 2.5% come from the consumption of soft drinks, and today, seven years later, due to lower consumption of soft drinks in general and the increased consumption of no-calorie and low-calorie beverages, that number is well below 2%.
The 2009 Statistics Canada report “Food Statistics 2009” identified that between 1999 and 2009 the consumption of soft drinks in Canada decreased by 28%, yet research during the same time period, again by Statistics Canada, shows that the percentage of Canadians who are obese has continued to rise.
Through the introduction of new no- and low-calorie beverages, Canadian beverage manufacturers have reduced the caloric content of their beverage portfolio by between 20% and 25%. In addition, the industry estimates that a full 33%, or one-third, of beverage choices made today are no- and low-calorie. This has removed billions of calories from Canadians' diets each year.
I'd like to take the opportunity before you today to profile some proactive solutions that the industry has undertaken. First of all, our sector does not market or advertise to children. In 2008 food and beverage companies committed to the Canadian children's food and beverage advertising initiative sponsored by Advertising Standards Canada, which further strengthened responsible marketing programs. Under this program, Refreshments Canada members do not advertise to children under the age of 12.
In 2006 we launched guidelines for the sale of beverages in schools, and by the end of the 2009-2010 school year we had fulfilled our commitment. We had voluntarily removed full-calorie soft drinks, and we are now providing lower-calorie beverages in smaller portions to elementary, middle, and secondary schools nationwide. This voluntary initiative has dramatically led to a decrease in the beverage calories in schools serviced by Refreshments Canada members.
In February of this year the industry announced Clear on Calories, a new voluntary industry initiative that will put caloric information at consumers' fingertips at every point of purchase and on all packages, all company vending machines, and all company fountain dispensers. The industry will be placing the Clear on Calories tablets on the front of all beverage products, and this will let the consumers know the calorie count of their beverage choices quickly and easily.
Here's how it will work by pack size and beverage type. For all single-serve beverages, including soft drinks, iced teas, 100% juices, juice drinks, and beverage products up to and including the 591-millilitre package size, we will display the total calorie count on the front of the containers for the whole container.
All sports drinks and flavoured waters up to 750 millilitres will also be considered single serve, and we will display the total calorie count for the whole container.
In the case of multi-serve soft drinks larger than 591 millilitres, we will be labelling soft drinks, iced teas, and other beverage products in calories per 355 millilitres, which is a change from the current practice of labelling per 250 millilitres. All 100% juices, juice beverages, sports drinks, and bottled waters will be labelled as per Health Canada requirements at 250 millilitres for the multi-serve format.
In summary, the beverage sector is pleased to undertake meaningful actions to assist Canadian families in achieving balance and informed choices. We have a long track record of developing products and implementing programs to address challenging issues, be they environmental or health related. We believe that Canadians are entitled to accurate science-based information to help them make decisions for themselves and their families.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, and thank you to the committee for the invitation to the Canola Council of Canada to appear before you today. I would also like to introduce my colleague, Shaunda Durance-Tod. She is program manager at the Canola Council of Canada and is also a registered dietitian.
The Canola Council of Canada is a vertically integrated association that represents all sectors of the canola industry in Canada, from seed developers and farmers to oilseed processors and exporters. We are very happy to have the opportunity to speak to you about the future of healthy living in Canada. Our industry has a strong commitment to health and a very strong tie to Canada. Canola is the only made-in-Canada crop and was developed by plant breeders at the University of Manitoba and Agriculture Canada in Saskatoon. It has now become one of the most important agricultural commodities in Canada and it is the most profitable crop for farmers to grow.
The canola industry is a very healthy part of Canada's economy, generating approximately $14 billion in economic activity. Canola oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in Canada, with approximately a 52% market share. Despite there being strong domestic demand for canola in Canada, exports from Canada account for about 85% of the canola crop. This is because canola has become a valued oil around the world due to its significant health benefits. It has the lowest amount of saturated fat of any common culinary oil and is high in omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fat. This well-balanced profile makes canola oil one of the most heart-healthy oils out there.
As our industry hangs our hat on health, we take the issue of healthy living very seriously and believe there is not really one single solution. Living a healthy lifestyle requires a holistic approach of eating the right food, becoming physically active, and having access to good information in order to make choices about health and nutrition.
The canola industry is very familiar with tackling issues about healthy eating head on. The trans fat debate, which has been a major issue over the last decade, is something that we have been directly involved in. We believe the trans fat issue is actually a good case study to use when trying to address other issues related to living a healthy lifestyle. Why? Because it is a good example of industry and government cooperation, innovation in the food supply, and effective consumer education.
In the early 2000s there was a lot of discussion in the fats and oils industry about trans fat and the need to eliminate these bad fats from the diet. From the development of Health Canada's trans fat task force to eventual monitoring of the Canadian food supply, an effective collaboration was formed between government and the food industry with one common objective: to remove trans fat from the diet, increase consumer understanding of good and bad fats, and encourage the food industry to make changes. Although the issue prompted many heated discussions about the ability to make these changes, in the end a reduction in trans fat in the food supply was achieved. This was done without regulation. It was the collaboration between government and the food industry to make this change, and that was clearly obvious.
We will agree that the process was not perfect or painless, but it was able to achieve a considerable outcome. At the same time that the trans fat debate was taking place, there was also consumer awareness about the negative health implications of consuming trans fats. In a 2010 consumer study conducted by Nielsen, the majority of those surveyed stated they were trying to avoid or reduce the amount of trans fat they were consuming. This type of mass consumer awareness and education about one particular food ingredient should be seen as a positive example of the consumer's behaviour when provided the right information.
The other aspect about the trans fat issue that I would to address is innovation--not your typical food science innovation, but innovation in agriculture. When we were faced with the need to remove hydrogenated oils from the food supply, it was actually the development of new canola seed varieties and the interest of farmers to plant these varieties that provided the solution. One of the biggest opportunities to eliminate trans fat from the food supply was the ability of the food industry to source healthier oil profiles that performed as well at the processing point, such as high-oleic canola oil. High-oleic canola oil is more stable than classic canola oil, allowing for greater heat tolerance and a longer shelf life for processed products. Today, major food companies like Frito-Lay, McDonald's, and Boston Pizza are able to offer their customers healthier products because they are using innovative products like high-oleic canola oil, and it is only through the commitment of Canadian farmers that food companies have an ample supply from which to source.
What this example highlights is that the agriculture industry has a vital role to play in improving the health of this country and in providing healthier food options to consumers. I often look at the average western Canadian farm and see the wide variety of healthy food crops a single farmer is growing: wheat, oats, canola, flax, pulses. That is one very healthy granola bar growing off of one family farm.
Often we forget the role that agriculture plays in providing the fundamentals of our healthy food supply. The example of high-oleic canola oil shows that when given the challenge, farmers will respond to the health needs of the consumer and the functional needs of the food industry. That is why it is critical for the agriculture industry to continue to play an active role in the discussion of the future of healthy living in Canada. This commitment to a healthier world is definitely alive in the canola industry. Every farmer knows their canola is making consumers healthier, one tablespoon at a time. In fact, an Alberta canola grower once said that the success of the canola industry would be measured by the number of heart attacks reduced per acre, a very powerful statement that directly links our industry's commitment to the health of Canadians.
In summary, I'd like to highlight the key points that I'd like to leave the committee with. First of all, we believe that healthy living is a combination of consuming the right food, living an active lifestyle, and having access to good information about health and nutrition. Second, the trans fat issue is a good Canadian case study on how collaboration between key stakeholders such as government, the food industry, and health professionals can make a big change. Finally, innovation to find solutions to living a healthier lifestyle can come directly from a farmer's field. From big skies and big fields of yellow canola can come some pretty big ideas for a healthier tomorrow.
Thank you very much for your time and attention.
Good afternoon, everyone. I am Paul-Guy Duhamel, the Public Affairs Manager for Dietitians of Canada. I want to thank the members of this committee for inviting us to share our vision of food labelling with them.
Dietitians of Canada is the national professional association representing over 6,000 dietitians across the country. Dietitians are a regulated health profession in all provinces of Canada. We are university trained and recognized as a credible and reliable source of food and nutrition information. The Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition's survey, “Tracking Nutrition Trends”, confirms this. We serve the public as educators, public policy-makers, researchers, and managers. We work in a variety of sectors, including health care, industry, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations. We support and advance ethical, evidence-based best practices in dietetics and the profession's unique body of knowledge of food and nutrition. Promotion and support for the healthy lives of all Canadians through positive eating habits is one of DC's priorities.
The nutrition label is one of the key tools consumers use to make informed food choices, including the nutrition fact table, the list of ingredients, health claims, and allergy warnings. In fact, over two-thirds of Canadians read food labels to help them decide which food to buy and eat. Helping consumers choose healthier foods using the food label is important to dietitians. Labelling information must be highly visible, clear, consistent, and easy to find by consumers. The key concerns we present to you today are about consistency: consistency in using criteria used for point-of-purchase nutrition programs, consistency in portion size used in nutrition fact tables, and consistency in the way foods are regulated in Canada.
There has been a proliferation of point-of-purchase nutrition programs, including front-of-package programs and those in supermarkets, restaurants, and school cafeterias. Although the intent of many programs is to make the job of consumers a little easier when choosing healthier foods, for many it has added to the confusion and could lead to mistrust among consumers. Unlike the nutrition fact table, ingredient lists, and the nutrition claims on food products, these programs are not regulated; furthermore, unpackaged food products such as fresh fruits and vegetables, which we are encouraging Canadians to eat more of, are generally not included.
If we look at these programs more closely, we can see that there's a lack of consistency. Some standards emphasize nutrients such as vitamins and minerals whereas other standards are focused on the absence of nutrients such as fats, sugar or salt. The symbols and logos used by agrifood companies vary a great deal, from simple checkmarks to a rainbow of colours.
Dietitians of Canada's opinion on point-of-purchase nutrition programs is very similar to the recommendation this committee made in 2007. All point-of-purchase private nutrition programs would be even more beneficial to Canadian consumers if it was mandatory for them to use the same criteria and claims. Dietitians have a unique skill set to inform this process and are interested in working with other key stakeholders, with federal government leadership, to develop these criteria.
The nutrition facts table on pre-packaged food products is regulated and is a tool that is valued and used by many Canadians, but it is a challenge to use this information effectively, especially for those with lower reading levels or education. The recent joint Health Canada and Food and Consumer Products of Canada initiative to help Canadians understand the percentage of daily value information on the label may help, and we support this effort. However, it remains a challenge for consumers to compare products based on the percentage DV--daily value--when the portion size for similar food products varies.
I prepared three examples for you. Here are three cereals that my children eat. A serving of the first cereal is one cup or 58 grams, the second cereal is three-quarters of a cup or 29 grams and a serving of the third cereal is 20 biscuits or 54 grams. This is inconsistent to say the least and it makes things more difficult for Canadians.
To compare products with others, we need to have a calculator, to be familiar with the famous rule of three and to repeat the operation for each of the 13 nutrients included in the chart of nutritional values. You can understand that, both for professionals who are called upon to teach the use of food labels and for the Canadians who refer to them on a daily basis to be able to make educated choices, it would be good to have standard servings. Then it would be possible to compare products.
The percentage DV is calculated using recommended nutrient daily intake recommendations issued 20 years ago. Nutrition knowledge has advanced and recommendations for nutrient intakes have evolved. Percentage DV needs to reflect this evolution.
Let's move on to another category of foods: natural health products in food format. I have a few examples here.
These products look like other foods and beverages on the market that are regulated as foods. They look like foods and beverages that are regulated under the current law, but they're not. They're regulated as natural health products, and standards for the product formulation and labelling are very different. You can recognize these foods on the shelf or in vending machines as they are without nutrition fact tables and sometimes carry an NHP, natural health product, number. There are hundreds of these products available alongside similar foods and beverages that are regulated as foods under the Food and Drugs Act. The consumer cannot compare calories, saturated fat, trans fat or sodium content of these foods. The inconsistency in labelling is but one of our concerns with natural health products. Our view on this has been outlined in our paper called “Position on Discretionary Fortification of Foods with Vitamins and Minerals and the Natural Health Products/Food Interface”, which is available on our website. It has been supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Public Health Association.
Thank you all for being here and making your presentations.
I have a couple of questions. Then, if there is time left, my colleague can share it.
My question is specifically addressed to Mr. Sherwood, but you can all answer it if you so choose.
During my elected political life, which is somewhat long, I have come to understand that when people make presentations, they want to put their best foot forward in terms of whatever they're presenting on. Sometimes it is not the best-informed foot or best-informing foot. I'm not accusing you, sir, of anything; I just want to tell you where I'm coming from.
In the paragraph of your presentation that begins, “Sweetened beverages are not uniquely linked to obesity”, I sense a bit of that, because what we have heard before this committee is that sugar is one of the serious issues linked to obesity. There's no question there are others, but this paragraph causes me confusion. I want you to tell me how you can say that no single food or beverage has been causally linked to obesity. How can you say that sugar per se--excessive amounts of sugar, or continued consumption of excessive amounts of sugar--is not linked to obesity? It's pretty hard to prove a negative.
Allow me to shed some light on that comment and hopefully answer your question.
Obesity is a matter of calories. Calories come from many sources—fat, sugar, and energy-dense products or ingredients. It involves the overconsumption of calories over time. Some people who are obese consume no soft drinks. Some people who are obese consume some soft drinks. Some very thin people—from a BMI perspective—consume a lot of soft drinks.
The challenge in working through obesity is that it's a complex issue. It is multifaceted. It is possible to say that overconsumption of calories over a period of time leads to obesity, but it is not possible to identify any one food or beverage. Diets are different, physical activities are different, and sources of calories are different. It is possible to become obese by drinking nothing but milk, which most folks would consider one of the healthful beverages out there.
I hope I've answered your question. As to the science behind causally linking one food or beverage to obesity, I think I've been fairly transparent. I've said that you will find some studies that will suggest that there is a link. You will also find a wide variety of studies that suggest there is no link. What I'm saying is that no causal link has yet been established. To establish that link, further scientific work is required to make this link clear from a preponderance of the evidence.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses for being here today. My background is that I am very much into healthy living. I'm one of these guys who also reads labels, tries to get exercise, and looks at a balanced lifestyle. We've seen from our testimony that people are trying to label foods as healthy versus non-healthy. I think Véronique just said that we have to get away from the good and the bad and look more at informed choices. It seems that some people like to look at diets just in silos.
Mr. Hunter, you represent canola, which is a fat. In other words, we've heard a lot of people saying fat is bad, but every cell of your body needs fat. Fat is necessary. Fat is something that every human being needs to survive.
Could you comment on the role that research and education needs to play in encouraging nutrition, instead of having these silos of good and bad type of thing? Could you comment on the work that you're doing with research and education?
First of all, let me start and address the “Clear on Calories” initiative. I know Food and Consumer Products will be appearing before you later this week. Obviously, we think that's a great initiative. Any information you can put in the hands of consumers, quite frankly, is the tool most often used for making informed decisions.
Clear on Calories is really threefold, and it addresses a number of the points that were brought up by the dieticians, the first of which was standardized serving sizes. As I indicated--and there is pamphlet in the document I circulated, which says this--we are treating the whole bottle as a serving size. That is a market departure from the industry's previous position, which was that larger bottles, like some of those being consumed just down the road, were typically considered by our sector to have multiple servings and were labelled on a 250-millilitre basis. If the consumer actually consumed the whole thing, they would be getting two or three times the caloric content, so, number one, we're changing how we position our serving sizes.
Second, the nutrition facts panel on the back will be modified to reflect that, and then the icon will be put clearly on the front. It won't show a pronouncement of healthy versus unhealthy, but simply the caloric information for that container. We believe that will provide Canadians with the ability to make informed choices relative to caloric content when they are going down the line in the beverage aisle without even having to actually turn bottles around.
I have another question, which is about technology. Around here you see everybody playing with their BlackBerrys and things like that.
I've heard a lot about healthy foods. I believe in healthy diets, because you have to have a balance, and there is a lot of room in an individual's diet to have a lot of different things. I was wondering if you had heard of technology to provide additional in-store information on nutritional labelling.
For example, if I had a smart phone, could I scan the bar code of a product, or if I had it in a cupboard, could I scan it and say, “Colin wants to take in this many calories and this amount of fat and everything into the diet”? Are you aware of technologies that will allow the consumer to look at these things?
I see two people who want to comment on that.
Thank you, Chairman. We have interesting comments on this topic.
We had a discussion on caffeine levels about a year ago, but it's good to have an opportunity to discuss this issue again. One comment I heard was about lots of young people having energy drinks. I don't think there are a lot of young people having energy drinks. I think everything in moderation is okay.
Ice caps are very popular among high school students. In Barrie, as I drove to some of the recreation centres in the spring, I saw advertisements for ice caps. I don't think Tim Hortons is doing anything wrong in trying to build their market share and I think caffeine in moderation is okay, but I think it would be misrepresentation to suggest more kids are having energy drinks than are having ice caps. I think ice caps are dominating the marketplace, if you look at caffeine intake. I think Parliament needs to be working on much more important things than declaring a war on Tim Hortons or caffeine. I think Canadians enjoy their caffeine and I think there's nothing wrong with having caffeine in moderation.
Justin, how does Canada compare to other countries when it comes to the regulation of soft drinks and caffeine? Does there tend to be more regulation in Canada?
Absolutely. Let's focus on soft drinks first, and then I'll come back to energy drinks and caffeine in general.
The amount of caffeine that can be used in a soft drink in Canada is regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and regulations and should not exceed 60 milligrams, I believe, which is the equivalent of a third of what you'd find in an average cup of coffee. Interestingly enough, Health Canada will tell you--and you can look it up on their website--that if you take a look at Canadians' sources of caffeine, 60% comes from coffee, 30% comes from tea, and 10% from all other sources. That's in adults. When you get down into the younger categories, I believe it's 30% from cola and cola-type beverages. It might be slightly higher than that. The point is that you can get those statistics, and caffeine comes from a wide variety of sources.
Again, it's fairly regulated. The Food and Drugs Act and regulations are fairly specific in the application, and recently it was expanded to allow for the use of caffeine in non-cola beverages. To my knowledge, I don't think a non-cola soft drink that is using caffeine has come onto the market in the year since the change. I'm not aware of it.
Energy drinks in Canada are the most highly regulated market for energy drinks. In 160 countries worldwide, they are regulated as food. I think we and the dietitians can agree on one point: we'd like them to be regulated as food too. However, the route to market in Canada has been the Natural Health Products Regulations. The caffeine content is declared on the can in terms of the total quantitative declaration of caffeine from all sources. The formulation, the safety, the efficacy, and all of the other requirements are very onerous in Canada, much more so than in any other country.
You will forgive me if I respond in English.
It is not simply a question of putting a little logo on a bottle. If it were that easy, I think we would have probably done it a long time ago. There's reformulation that is required so that no- and low-calorie products, or specifically no-calorie products, can remain no-calorie products under rounding rules. There are nutritional facts panels. There are thousands of products, and both the primary package and the secondary package would have to be changed. Then we're talking about, I would estimate, approximately 100,000 vending machines in the country on which we have to physically change the buttons, as well as God knows how many pieces of fountain equipment we have to get to.
We're taking a tiered approach. You'll start seeing it on packaged products first. Hopefully we'll get to the packaged product, and then once that's done, we'll go out to fountain equipment, etc. Implementation is a significant undertaking that is costing many tens of millions of dollars.
That having been said, arriving at common serving sizes is a relatively short discussion in my sector, because we're a very homogeneous group. You asked me how quickly we could agree on a common serving size; that was a short conversation. It's all the other things that take the time.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair, and thanks very much to each of you for being here this afternoon.
I gather that you've determined that we've heard a lot of witnesses on this subject and related subjects and that there are still a lot of things causing confusion. One of the questions I get asked most often by people in my riding, because they know I sit on the health committee, is about labelling and the fact that there never seems to be anything that's consistent. Many of you have referred to this today.
I will put my question out, and then anyone who wants to can answer. If you all want to comment on it, that would be fine.
We've been told over and over again that we need to look at the entire picture. We need to look at a balanced diet, we need to look at exercise, we need to look at everything, but how does the average Canadian know what to choose for the overall healthy diet? If you're diabetic, you choose low sugar, so you read the label for that. If you're on a fat-free diet, you choose the low-fat foods. If you're on low sodium, you choose the lower sodium. However, if you choose the low-fat one, you're often getting a high sodium choice or a high caloric choice. How does the average Canadian ever get through that, and how do we change the labelling process to promote healthy living?
Second, are any of you aware of any research on potential health hazards caused by poor comprehension of these nutrition labels?
I'll throw that out. Ms. Provencher, do you want to start?
The conversation we're having right now is quite symptomatic of what you're explaining. People talk a lot about nutrients and not exactly about nutrition. Talking about nutrients is one thing; talking about nutrition is another. When we're focusing very much on sodium, on fat, and on specific nutrients, as I said earlier, we're forgetting the ballpark figure.
When we look at the Canadian diet, there are a few things we need to address. Canadians are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. They are not being labelled right now. This is an issue. Canadians are not getting enough milk and milk product substitutes. That's another big issue. It's not the sugar. It's not a fat issue. There are just basic categories of food they are not having enough of.
There are a number of issues like these. When we're focusing on nutrients, we're forgetting that ballpark figure, and as my colleague Madame Provencher said, we need to come back to tools that enable Canadians to learn how to eat food from a larger perspective.
There are some initiatives. I like to refer to what has come out of Quebec, La Vision de la saine alimentation, the vision of healthy eating, which the Government of Quebec came out with last year. It actually has a nice focus on resetting food in terms of perspective, on looking at food from a food perspective and not a nutrient perspective. People eat food, not nutrients. This actually has been recognized by the recent USDA guidelines, which were made public at the end of January.
We really need to stop putting the focus on nutrients and put more focus on the food itself and label accordingly. Right now, labelling is oriented towards nutrients, and that confuses everyone.
I want to pick up on what Mr. Duhamel and Mr. Sherwood were referring to in regard to sugar and pop. Whether the issues are related to obesity, diabetes, or heart disease, issues of that nature are becoming a greater portion of health care budgets across Canada.
One of the issues in Manitoba, for example, particularly in northern Manitoba, is that it's considerably cheaper to buy a two-litre pop than it is to buy milk, sadly. There is a great deal of concern in terms of the sugar content, and you seem to be of the opinion that it's something we don't necessarily need to be concerned about.
I look to you, as the industry, to give me an indication of this. Do you believe there is a recommended number of cans of pop--I think 255 millitres is how much there is in a can of pop—for a 10-year-old to be drinking per week?
I think that is a very personal question. Parents have to address that as they're looking at providing guidance to their children in terms of proper nutrition.
If you're asking me, I have two boys; one of them is four, and he doesn't drink pop at all. The other is seven, and he gets a half can a week.
I think there is a broad recognition from a number of stakeholders that there's a challenge in northern communities. I would argue that in every jurisdiction in the world, soft drinks are less expensive than milk. The general reason is that with milk there is an animal involved, which has to be cared for. Additionally, in Canada there are pricing schemas that dictate how milk is priced. That is compounded by the complication of getting fresh produce into remote and northern communities. I don't think anyone disputes that it's an issue that needs to be looked at.
Do I have a recommended amount for a parent to consider for how much pop or soda their children should have? No, I don't, but I think it behooves parents to understand. Canada's Food Guide is a great example; it has a number of limit statements within it. There are alternatives out there in terms of no-calorie and low-calorie alternatives that have no sugar in them whatsoever.
The objective is that parents need to be equipped in order to make informed purchasing choices.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd like to thank you all for being here this afternoon. Your presentations certainly are all very worthwhile to all of us.
As we know, the labelling on food helps consumers to make informed choices about the foods they buy and what they eat. We need to become, as I think we'd all say, more and more educated about the healthy facts. We are probably doing this by reading the labels a lot more now. I know I am myself. There is also the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which has their check logo to designate heart-friendly foods.
Is this a technique that you would recommend for similar groups to employ as well? Do you know of any other groups that are going to start doing that? We just know that the Heart and Stroke Foundation has its logo on certain foods. Are there going to be other means that are going to have other things?
Also, back home we have a restaurant that has the mango symbol on it, which gives us an idea that the meal is healthy. Do you know of any other means that are coming along the way that will be promoting such ideas?