May 23, 2018

Recently, my tireless eight-year-old did a two kilometre race. When she crossed the finish line, I gave her cheese and chocolate milk.

Since then, I have been joking that the next time she crosses a finish line, I may need to give her a pop and a bag of chips so that she avoids foods with health warning labels. While this is obviously a joke, it illustrates what could come from Health Canada’s current proposal for front-of-package labels.

The dairy sector has been working hard to understand the rationale behind Health Canada’s proposal.

We all believe in the government’s objective of improving the health of Canadians. However, we cannot understand how a proposal, which would see warning labels on dairy products, is going to help Canadians make informed choices for themselves and their families.

I’m a parent and like all other parents I want to feed my children food that will provide them with the nutrients they need, not “empty” discretionary foods.

That’s why my kids go to school with products like yogurt and cheese in their lunchboxes and drink milk with their meals. I know that dairy products are high in nutrients, which Health Canada itself has said that Canadians aren’t getting enough of, such as vitamins A and D, calcium, zinc, and potassium.

But, I have the benefit of working in the dairy industry and I understand that science backs the fact that dairy products play an important role in a balanced diet.

I worry about parents who do not have the same exposure to dairy nutrition and may have to rely on an overly simplistic labelling scheme. Parents who, when they see a warning label on dairy products, but not on chips and diet pop, may be driven to buy less-nutritious product.

At best, the confusion the inconsistency in these regulations will create will cause Canadians to use common sense and ignore labels on nutritious dairy products.

At worst, the new proposed new regulations have the very real potential to encourage Canadians to simply avoid the dairy case and go straight to the snack food aisle, reducing consumption of dairy products and further decreasing their intake of important nutrients.

I’m fearful that we will face the latter scenario. Earlier this year, my colleagues at the Dairy Farmers of Canada conducted a poll that indicated one-third of Canadians would simply avoid products carrying a warning label. It may not be the government’s intent to tell parents that they shouldn’t put wholesome and nutritious dairy products in their children’s lunch bags, but it could be the reality.

Mathieu Frigon is interim president and chief executive officer of the Dairy Processors Association of Canada.

Originally published June 7, 2018 in the Western Producer.