Consultation Summary – Food and Nutrition Stakeholder Engagement Session November 2017

On November 7, 2017, Health Canada's Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) welcomed food and nutrition stakeholders to its third annual engagement session titled “A Better Food Environment”. The objective of the session was to engage food and nutrition stakeholders on federal food safety and healthy eating initiatives, and explore areas for future action. Representatives from over 50 organizations participated in the meeting, including industry associations, non-governmental organizations, and representatives from the patient/consumer, healthcare professional, government and academic communities.

Table of Contents

Opening Remarks

Pierre Sabourin, the Assistant Deputy Minister of HPFB spoke about the Branch’s regulatory work, and the significant burden of chronic disease which represents the largest preventable cost to the Canadian health care system. Mr. Sabourin emphasized three fundamental elements of HPFB’s food and nutrition work. First, as a science-based organization, scientific evidence and expert advice is at the core of HPFB’s policy making. Second, early and meaningful dialogue with stakeholders is essential to creating good policies. Third, HPFB strives to be open and transparent around how decisions are made, and what factors are considered.

Mr. Sabourin was followed by Christine Donohue, the Associate Deputy Minister of Health Canada, who spoke about the importance of ensuring that Canadians have safe, nutritious foods to choose from, as well as information to support them in making healthy choices. She also mentioned the renewed commitment to the Healthy Eating Strategy in the new Minister of Health’s mandate letter. Ms. Donoghue discussed some of the expected benefits of the Strategy, including better information on healthy eating, strengthened labelling requirements, enhanced nutritional quality of foods, protecting vulnerable populations and supporting improved access to and availability of healthy foods.

Ms. Donohue then answered questions from the audience on topics including improvements to the Access to Information process to support openness and transparency, as well as opportunities for Health Canada to obtain enhanced statistical data to support its policy work. 

Panel Discussion: The Crisis of Chronic Disease and the Impact of Unhealthy Eating

Dr. Margaret de Groh, Manager of the Science Integration Division at the Public Health Agency of Canada, moderated a panel discussion on the significant burden of chronic disease in Canada and the impact of unhealthy eating. Three panelists provided perspectives on the topic: Dr. Tom Warshawski of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, Dr. Seema Nagpal of Diabetes Canada, and Dr. Norman Campbell of the University of Calgary. The panelists shared evidence on the impact of chronic disease on the lives of Canadians and the role that diet and obesity play in this crisis. They also discussed policy interventions that could lower the incidence of chronic diseases, and responded to questions posed by the moderator and audience.

Several key themes arose during the discussion:

Opportunities and Considerations for Action  

  • Health stakeholders highlighted the need to change the food environment to support healthy eating, and noted the importance of a united approach. The market for companies growing and producing healthy foods is promising. There are opportunities for innovation.
  • There is a need to be sensitive to disparities among different populations. Not all Canadians can afford or access healthy foods, particularly fresh produce.

Economic Impacts of Chronic Diseases

  • The inability to work is a frequent impact of non-communicable diseases and therefore impacts the economy. It is less expensive to prevent chronic disease than to treat it.

Breakout Session A: Food Safety: Protecting and Informing Canadians

This session provided participants with an overview of the Government of Canada’s assessment of food safety risks and sought to obtain stakeholder feedback on how to better manage and/or communicate food safety issues in today’s environment. The session was jointly facilitated by representatives from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and HPFB’s Food Directorate who presented an overview of their respective risk analysis activities and priorities before engaging in rounds of discussion.

The following are some of the key themes that were discussed:

Managing Risks in Foods

  • The benefits of appropriate and consistent education in schools related to food safety and nutrition starting from a very young age.
  • There are new and innovative ways to provide food safety information to consumers such as messaging through online recipe websites, banners on television programming, and posters at food retail outlets.
  • Symbols should be developed for packaging and retail displays that highlight products where additional consumer care may be warranted.

Food Safety Education

  • Government food safety campaigns should focus not only on vulnerable populations but also attempt to reach a broader audience.
  • Stakeholders play a role in re-communicating government messages. 

Government-industry partnership initiatives need to be improved and expanded as these are effective venues within which food safety messaging can be developed and shared.

Breakout Session B:  Healthy Eating Strategy: Reaching Canadians

This session provided participants with an overview of the different initiatives encompassed under the Healthy Eating Strategy, progress made to date, and challenges and opportunities for various stakeholders. The session incorporated a panel discussion titled “Making it Work for Canadians: Implementation of the Healthy Eating Strategy”, which included panelists Michelle Amero (Government of Nova Scotia), Alison Baxter (Retail Council of Canada) and Pat Vanderkooy (Dietitians of Canada).

Participants were consulted on two themes: front of package labelling and stakeholder considerations for the implementation of the Healthy Eating Strategy. Specific to food labelling, stakeholders reinforced the need for consistent labelling practices and the adoption of practices that encourage industries to reformulate their products to become nutritious.

Below are some of the key considerations identified by stakeholders on implementing the Healthy Eating Strategy:

Support Stakeholders can Provide

  • Provincial governments play a key role in translating Healthy Eating Strategy initiatives into community programs and noted the benefits of consistent healthy eating policies across the country.
  • Many stores offer services such a dietitian consultations, cooking classes, and nutrition literacy. There are opportunities to leverage these programs to promote the Strategy.
  • Registered dietitians can support the promotion of any new tools. They can also play a role in monitoring and evaluating the results of the Strategy.
  • Collaboration between groups targeting the same audiences can make education campaigns more effective.

Stakeholder Needs

  • The Government of Canada has a role in educating the public by developing resources and tools to clearly communicate healthy eating information.
  • It would be helpful to have access to a comprehensive data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, including data on consumption patterns and food insecurity.
  • The Strategy should be aligned with municipal, provincial, and other federal initiatives like food tax programs, school food policies, or long-term farm to fork strategies.

Panel Discussion: A Food Policy for Canada

The final portion of the day included a panel discussion on the Government’s Food Policy for Canada, with a specific focus on the health pillar. The panelists included Beth MacNeil, Director General of Policy Development and Analysis, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada and Dr. Hasan Hutchinson, Director General of the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Health Canada.

Ms. MacNeil spoke about Agriculture and Agri-Food’s extensive consultation process, through which close to 34,000 Canadians have provided input on the development of the Food Policy. The initial results indicated several areas where Canadians value government intervention, including around food security, literacy, waste, and fraud. Food Secure Canada participated in the government’s consultation efforts, connecting with close to 900 people living in hard to reach areas, and developing a toolkit to guide community discussions.

Ms. Bronson echoed other panelists on the need to develop a system of governance, such as a national food policy council, to provide input on the long-term outlook of Canada’s food system. Mr. Hutchinson emphasized the importance of developing relationships across the government to develop a whole-of-government approach, and spoke about the importance of gathering data for all groups invested in this area.  
The panel lists concluded the session by answering questions from participants on a variety of themes, including balancing diverse interests during policy development, integration with provincial / territorial and municipal government activities, and how to achieve and measure results.

Closing Remarks and Next Steps

Kendal Weber, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of HPFB thanked participants for attending the session, and reinforced the importance of integrating a variety of voices into our regulatory work.

Participants indicated an overall level of satisfaction with the various elements of the program, and provided important feedback to help shape future engagement activities, such as structuring the sessions to maximize time for dialogue and interaction. Several participants noted that it can be challenging for organizations from other regions to attend these events in person and encouraged HPFB to look at ways to make these sessions more accessible. 

Stakeholders are encouraged to register for Health Canada’s online Consultation and Stakeholder Information Management System (CSIMS) to stay up to date on future consultations and engagement. Further details on the system can be found here:

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