New private member's bill could mean end of the Happy Meal in Canada
Posted on Dec 13, 2017 by Brad McCabe

The bill introduced by a Tory senator and adopted by the Liberal government seeks a nationwide ban on food and drink marketing aimed at children

It’s rare that a Liberal government adopts a private member’s bill introduced by a Conservative senator, but Nancy Greene Raine’s Child Health Protection legislation was given second reading in the House of Commons Tuesday and looks set to usher in a nationwide ban on food and drink marketing aimed at children.

The bill will amend Canada’s Food and Drinks Act with the goal of reducing the obesity rate among children and teens. Recent statistics suggest as many as one-third of Canadian kids are grappling with being overweight or obese.

Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson, who was formerly a doctor in Winnipeg, said he saw an increasing number of young people suffering from heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. “We need bold action now,” he said, as he introduced Greene Raine’s legislation into the House of Commons.

The former Olympic skier’s bill proposes to ban advertising and packaging aimed at youth under the age of 17.

But Eyolfson, who is sponsoring the bill in the House of Commons, said he is suggesting an amendment to limit its scope to children under 13, mirroring legislation that has existed in Quebec for years.

He said the original bill was at risk of being challenged as a limit on freedom of expression — a challenge the Quebec ban has already weathered at the Supreme Court.

The food industry is striking back, claiming the new legislation doesn’t even provide a definition of “unhealthy food” — a guideline will be supplied at a later date by Health Canada bureaucrats.

The industry is also appealing to the libertarian impulse of parents who believe they should be the arbiters of what their children watch and eat. It argues that the debate distracts from the real causes of childhood obesity — the lack of balance between diet, screen time and physical activity.

But the government is committed to the bill, despite the risk of unintended consequences for businesses that rely on sales of junk food, like convenience stores, or on advertising by packaged food companies, like broadcasters.

Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to new Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor calls on her to introduce restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children “similar to those now in place in Quebec,” where the upper age limit is 13.

Greene Raine said she was persuaded to raise the age limit from her original proposal after hearing expert testimony that suggested when children first leave home and have their own spending money, their tendency is to buy food their parents may not agree with.

But that seems a stretch. Children under 13 may not understand the persuasive intent of advertisement — to the extent that McDonald’s is obliged to append its website with a “Hey Kids, this is advertising” label.

But 16-year-olds can marry, enter military service and drive cars.

There is too much of the nanny state in the age limit.

Another concern raised in the House by Conservative MP Gord Brown is that the new legislation could block sponsorship of amateur sports teams, such as the 300,000 kids who benefit from the Timbits minor sports program.

Eyolfson said the government will take steps to ensure there are no adverse effects on sports sponsorship.

Conservative Marilyn Gladu said she was concerned that the ban in Quebec had not reduced child obesity levels there.
Clearly there are many factors at play, but common sense suggests that food companies spend billions on marketing to kids because it works in selling more of their products.

By introducing amendments that lower the age limit and protect sports sponsorships the government has got the balance right.

There will be no reprieve for the “pester power” of Happy Meal marketing.

Article as posted by John Ivison on

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