Changes ahead for Canadian food labels, and you can have your say

Food manufacturers are getting ready to make changes to the way their products are labelled, and Canadians can have their say in how those labels should appear on packages.

Foods exceeding recommended daily intake of sodium, sugar or saturated fats will receive label

Foods that might exceed Health Canada's recommended daily intake of saturated fat, sugar or sodium will be bearing new labels in the coming years. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

Food manufacturers are getting ready to make changes to the way their products are labelled, and Canadians can have their say in how those labels should appear on packages.

Jennifer Moore, a dietetic intern at Public Health Sudbury and Districts, told CBC's Morning North the changes were sparked by Health Canada findings that chronic disease is linked to a diet filled with high-sodium, high saturated fat, and high-sugar foods.

"Health Canada wanted to reduce the amount of [sugar, salt and saturated fat] in Canadians' diet," she said. "One of the ways they can do that is through the front of package labelling.'

"Canadians will then be able to choose a healthier option."

Salt, sugar, honey and maple syrup — products with naturally high levels of sugar or sodium — will be exempt from labelling to avoid redundancy. Raw fruits, vegetables and meat will also be exempt.

Moore said the government is in the consultation phase of picking new labels, a process people can add their input to by visiting this website

"The labels all look pretty similar," Moore said. "One has a magnifying glass, one's an exclamation mark, the other two just say 'high in,' and have a list of sodium, sugar or saturated fat."

Health Canada has released four proposed designs for a new font-of-package label for food and beverage packaging. The department is seeking public and industry feedback to choose one. (Health Canada/CBC)

15 per cent threshold for unhealthy ingredients, says Health Canada

If the packaged food doesn't reach Health Canada's threshold of 15 per cent of recommended daily intake of saturated fat, sodium or sugar, producers won't be forced to label the food.

And healthier ingredients won't necessarily be labelled, even if they exceed the recommended daily amount.

"If we're looking at calcium, fibre, or vitamin d, or iron, over 15 per cent is a lot, but in a good way," Moore said.

As for the manufacturers, Moore said they've been compliant with Health Canada's new regulations, and even proposed their own labels.

Moore said Health Canada balked at their suggestions, though.

"It didn't meet health industry standards," she said. "They wanted something that didn't necessarily say that a food was high, it just told you to look at the back."

With files from Markus Schwabe