No more cartoons on food packages: Update on marketing to kids

07 May 2018

Further to our previous article on the subject, the Government of Canada is pushing ahead with its plan to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids.

Bill S-228, "An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children)" was passed by the Senate on September 28, 2017. It has undergone a First and Second Reading in the House of Commons, and it was referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (the "Committee") on February 14, 2018.

In light of stakeholder concerns, and in consideration of the issues raised by Member of Parliament Dough Eyolfson during Second Reading, the Committee has completed its review.

On May 1, 2018, the Committee proposed that the following amendments be made to Bill S-228:

  1. Reduce the age of restriction to "under 13" (from "under 17"), in accordance with the first iteration of the Bill and consistent with Quebec's Consumer Protection Act; and
  2. Require that Parliament review the legislation within five years of its entry into force to determine whether there is a need to increase the age of restriction to "under 17", as persons 13-17 years of age are vulnerable to marketing strategies as well.

While the reduced age of restriction has been lauded as a victory for some, the amendments are not as comprehensive as many would like. In fact, one of the biggest sticking points for industry, the issue of sports sponsorships (e.g. Timbit hockey), was not addressed. Under the current version of the Bill, these types of activities could be prohibited, depending on how the regulations define "unhealthy food" and what the regulations set out as the factors to be considered in determining whether an unhealthy food is advertised in a manner that is primarily directed at children.

Health Canada is responsible for the regulations, and after consultation on its proposed approach last summer, Health Canada published a Consultation Report: Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Food and Beverages to Children in Canada on December 8, 2017. In this Report, Health Canada indicated that a number of stakeholders advocated for the exemption of sponsorship of sporting events/sports activities, fundraising and charity partnerships, from the marketing restrictions. We will have to wait and see whether this feedback is reflected in the regulations.

The Government of Canada is still aiming for Bill S-228 to receive Royal Assent by June 2018 with regulations to follow. As such, we encourage anyone affected by the Bill to monitor this issue closely and voice any concerns.

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