I recently learned a few interesting things about nutrition labels on food that I think every grocery shopper should be aware of.
The first lesson was when I saw a new product on the shelf and took a look at the label. I noticed that there were a number of things wrong with it. The ingredient list and the quantities listed in the nutrition facts panel didn’t mesh. The most glaring problem was the sugar, which was exponentially less than the amount of sugar in a similar product despite the fact that this particular product contained added sugar! To me, this was particularly worrisome, as this could prove to be dangerous for people with diabetes besides misleading all consumers into believing that the product is healthier than it actually is. I had concerns about the fat and fibre content as well. In addition to these concerns, the label listed sugar and fibre in milligrams. In Canada, these nutrients must be listed in grams.
I contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regarding the incorrect label. I must say, they were very quick to respond and agreed that the label contained these errors. Now here’s where it gets interesting. The CFIA does not have to approve product labelling in order for a product to make it to market. They have an excellent step-by-step guide to food product labelling http://www.alimentheque.com/divers/GuideFoodLabellingAdvertising_CFIA_dec2011.pdf but it’s down to the manufacturer to ensure the guide is followed. Large grocery chains will usually veto labels when listing new products for sale but sometimes things are missed. In addition, many products are only sold at smaller shops (which I’m assuming wouldn’t usually have a stringent approval process).
The CFIA will follow-up on submitted labelling concerns by contacting the manufacturer and any other relevant parties. As they don’t have the man-power to check every new product on store shelves, they rely on consumers to share any concerns regarding inaccurate labelling with them. You can easily submit any concerns to them via their web form.
Unfortunately, while the CFIA conducts their business, any inaccurately labelled products will remain on store shelves.
I think that this is an important reminder that we should not just look at the nutrition facts panel but also the ingredient list when we’re grocery shopping. I often find that the ingredient list is more useful than the nutrition facts (even when the facts are truthful). It’s also a good reason for us to attempt to buy as few packaged foods (i.e. those requiring food labels) as possible.