Substitution (Information)


Luxus consumption must be reduced, for reasons of population health and food waste reduction (see Goal 5, Reducing Food Waste). Many ads depict excessive portion sizes and eating, binging and addictive reactions to foods,  dreaming about eating, and disparaging home cooking and moderation. Food advertisements do increase consumption (Harris, Bargh, & Brownell, 2009). Chou, Rashad, and Grossman (2008) estimated a ban on fast food ads would reduce the number of overweight children between 3 and 11 by 18% and overweight adolescents between 12 and 18 by 14%.

There is evidence that the voluntary self-regulation approach is not reducing children's exposure to food advertising in  Canada (see Shelley and McPhail, 2019), and is therefore similarly weak for the rest of the population. Television and print ads outside of Québec are weakly regulated in Canada. There is no longer a mandatory requirement for pre-market screening of print and internet ads. At this stage, authority over advertising should be returned to government, in this case the CFIA, with pre-authorization.  Rules for approval of television and print advertising should conform to the pre-1990s configuration (see discussion under Efficiency).  Many types of food ads will legitimately be banned as a result.

Internet and social media and product placement in film and TV are more difficult to regulate at this stage, although still covered by the general requirements of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and the Safe Food for Canadians regulations. Other than the general fraud provisions of federal legislation and certain specified requirements (CFIA, undated), guidance is voluntary, through the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics  and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.  But many food firms use product placement, social media influencers and advergames to promote brands and unhealthy products, particularly candy, gum, cereals, soft drinks and salty snacks (Shelley and McPhail, 2019).  There's also some evidence that social media use visual displays of high calorie foods to increase social engagement (Pancer et al., 2021), which could then influence consumption patterns  (Spence et al., 2016; Taylor et al., 2019). The Tobacco Act prevents tobacco companies from product placement, and with better FOP labels (see below), this might also be possible for foods with overall scores below a threshold or with red symbols associated with nutrients of concern.  It might also be possible to pass legislation requiring that companies place pictures of their FOP labels on their web sites which could have some dampening effects on internet advertising.  Since internet content is not generally regulated, and for issues like this one, cannot be considered "broadcasting" for which the federal government does have authority, it is not clear how this might be done.  However, the failure to provide information on one's website that is available on a product itself could be considered an omission and potential regulated under general fraud provisions.

We also propose that food ads no longer show people eating, or looking distressed about having to cook, that only the product be shown. Use of cartoon characters in ads, in internet videos and on stickers would also be forbidden, as the food industry has commodified children's food play to advance sales of usually unhealthy options (cf. Elliot, 2021). The extensive use of glazes and other materials to create cosmetically perfect food should be banned (see Goal 4 Food Additives). Use of slow motion should also be forbidden.  Preventing digital enhancement to convey perfection is more challenging to regulate.  Consequently, new regulations in the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Act will be required to prevent depictions of food being consumed. This should be undertaken as part of a broader initiative to bring many voluntary measures in the two codes into regulation. Clause 14 of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards provides a framework for removing such depictions but additional language is required.

Enhance Front of Pack labeling

Although still in their infancy, the nutrition rating schemes that have emerged in recent years establish the possibility of linking a rating process to Front of Pack labelling. An overarching symbol based on an integrating algorithm (see Jeffery, 2019a,b) is required and it can be combined with the stoplight system proposed for nutrients of concern (see Goal 4). Once established for FOP, the algorithm can then be used to restrict advertising. as discussed above.  Proposed in the Senate,  bill S-228 made it through the Senate and House but died on the order paper when the 2019 federal election was called.  It focused on the regulation of unhealthy foods but raised questions about whether it could survive a "free speech" Charter challenge in part because unhealthy foods were difficult to define (Shelley and McPhail, 2019).  But with an agreed upon algorithm for FOP labeling, this obstacle might be removed.

See Goal 4, Nutrients of Concern for additional proposals on extending FOP (and the Nutrition Facts Table) to food service and meals prepared in-house at retail.

Sports Sponsorship

Many food companies sponsor sporting events, particularly ones focused on youth. The value of physical activity is sometimes compromised by the poor quality of the food being promoted and the attraction it has for the participants (including freebies).  The development of nutrition algorithms and better FOP labeling creates the possibility of legislation, similar to what has been implemented in tobacco through the Tobacco Act and Tobacco Products Information Regulations (see Shelley and McPhail, 2019), to be put in place to restrict brands with red labels on front - of - pack and allow sponsorship for brands that meat the healthy food threshold. And if FOP style labelling is required in restaurants and food service, then it might be possible to similarly restrict sponsorship of fast food firms that do not meet thresholds and targets (see Goal 4, Reducing consumption of nutrients of concern). The intent here is not to eliminate sponsorship, but rather to link sponsorship more closely to healthy food options to align recreational and nutritional goals.  Such an approach, based on the tobacco case, would likely be more acceptable to the courts (see Shelley and McPhail, 2019).

Sustainability labeling

At this stage, use of all sustainability terms must be linked to production and processing protocols (see Goal 5, Sustainable food and aquaculture; and Sustainable Fisheries Management).  The term must be supported by an environmental protocol that is approved by the federal and / or provincial government. CFIA's Guide to food labeling for industry would have entries for each supported term similar to what currently exists for organic production and processing.