MPs reject food labelling bill

Canadian restaurants won't have to begin listing calorie counts after the Commons voted to reject mandatory food labelling on Wednesday night.

Canadian restaurants won't have to begin listing calorie counts after the Commons votedto reject mandatory food labelling on Wednesday night.

Introduced by Liberal MP Tom Wappel,who represents the Ontarioriding ofScarborough Southwest, Bill C-283 also proposed requiring full nutrition information on packages of fresh meat, poultry and fish.

The bill also recommended changing ingredient lists that are shown in descending order by weight so that they would give precise percentage declarations.

Under Canada's current food labelling system, pre-packaged foods and drinks must list information on calories, fat (saturated and trans fats), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fibre, sugar, protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A and C in a nutrition box. Food producers such as restaurants and bakeries do not have to disclose any nutritional information.

Amendments to the Food and Drugs Act with respect to food labelling have been debated in six times in the past three years. Timing of federal elections has halted MPs from voting on the proposed bills.

Restaurant industry opposed bill: supporter

Bill Jeffery, the national co-ordinatorfor the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, told earlier in the day that the bill would correct an inequality of information between consumers and suppliers.He wasoptimistic that public and political support would push the bill through but said that restaurant industry has expressed vocal opposition to the proposals.

"Quite frankly, they've had the long knives out for this bill since it was first introduced three-and-a-half years ago and their arguments are becoming less and less credible as time goes on," he said.

"They still continue to insist that the information required by the bill would clutter up their menus so much they'd be impossible to read but in most cases all they'd be required to do is report the number of calories.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that what they're really opposed to is making this information widely available to consumers at the point of purchase where they can make the best use of it."

Restaurant food detailed on web, pamphlets

However, 26 major restaurant chains have voluntarily committed to providing nutrition information to consumers in pamphlets, tray liners and websites under guidelines established by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

In June 2006, Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada chaired a joint task force on the issue of trans fat. The task force noted that 22 per cent of the average trans-fat intake is provided by foods consumed away from home, usually in fast-food restaurants.

However, the task force advised that restaurants would have a difficult time providing nutritional information given limited space on menus and menu boards.

In late October, New York City's Board of Health began public hearings on a proposal to make New York the first U.S. city to ban restaurants from serving food containing artificial trans fats.

Restaurant industry representatives, who said they would need time to put the ban into practice, questioned whether there would be an adequate supply of alternative oils available.