Canada ponders junk food fortification

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Health canada

Health Canada is considering granting food makers discretionary powers to fortify “junk foods” to improve their nutritional profile and the diets of Canadians.

Amendments to Canadian Food and Drugs Regulations were set for publication in March, but were postponed when Canadian Health Minister, Leona Aglukark, said the mooted rule change required further review.

Canada mandates fortification of some foods such as vitamin D in milk and folic acid in flour, but the amendment would be the first time companies could fortify and market the presence of healthy ingredients in fundamentally unhealthy foods.

Bad foods versus bad diets

But the move has been criticized by health professionals who fear boosting ‘bad foods’ with ‘good ingredients’ will encourage increased consumption of foods that remain calorie-dense and nutrition-sparse regardless of any tokenistic fortification.

A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal​ noted that Aglukark had pulled the amendment for fear of being seen as “the Fortified Junk Food Queen,"​ as one Health Canada spokesperson referred to her.

Proponents argue people are going to eat junk foods anyway, so those food may as well have their nutrient profiles improved with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Encouraging food companies to do so would also provide food manufacturer momentum for healthier foods.

CMAJ ​said the issue had polarized Health Canada with some philosophically opposed to the idea while others took the view that existing regulations placed unfair restrictions on the food industry.

Dietitic opposition

The CMAJ ​article noted there is little momentum for junk food fortification within the nutrition community and that Dietitians of Canada (DOC) opposed leaving such fortification in the hands of the food industry.

"There is a potential – if high-fat, high-energy foods are fortified with vitamins (or) minerals at the discretion of the industry – for Canadians to choose these foods in place of healthier whole food options, which may add to the obesity problem in Canada,”​ said Lynda Corby, a registered dietitian and public affairs director at DOC.

“We feel that children and youth are particularly vulnerable to this practice."

The owner of one Ontario-based weight management center called said the move was “misguided and panders to the food industry."

But in a document on the proposal, Health Canada noted:“…we know from our American colleagues, where there is a mature market and more relaxed control of food fortification, that not all foods are fortified even when manufacturers are permitted to do so.”

It added fortification would, “allow for a wider range of fortified products which would provide for more food sources of nutrients without increased risk to health.”

That document can be found here.

Junk food consumption patterns

Health Canada focus group testing revealed fortification would not encourage increased consumption of junk foods.

"Those who already consume ice cream or carbonated beverages indicated that they might choose the fortified counterpart if there was no difference in any other aspect of the food including taste and price, but they did not indicate they would consume more."

Those in favor of the amendment argue it would promote trade, especially across the border in the US.

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