Food marketing bill likely to die in the Senate

Bill S-228, which included new rules for marketing to kids, is unlikely to be passed now that the government has risen.
Senate Chamber - Canada

A piece of legislation dating back to 2016 that would place new restrictions on advertisers’ ability to market certain foods to children will likely not be passed into law, now that the Canadian House of Commons and Senate have risen for the summer.

The bill, known as S-228, was first introduced by now-retired senator Nancy Greene Raine in the fall of 2016. It passed in the House in September of last year, but has sat there ever since awaiting a final vote in the Senate before it can receive royal assent.

Since no vote was taken before the summer break, and since the Senate is not scheduled to sit again before the federal election in October – at which point the legislative slate is wiped clean – the bill is not expected to pass. However, the Senate could choose to take it up again during a special summer session called to ratify the new North American free trade agreement, should that law be passed by the U.S. government.

If passed, the new rules would restrict the marketing of food and drinks to children as part of a federal government-led effort to combat childhood obesity. Regulations proposed by Health Canada have already undergone several changes over the years (including switching the definition of children to be under 13 years of age) as industry groups and advertisers fight over their scope and potential impact.

On the one side, health groups have supported the legislative changes, saying it would serve as an important first step is reducing the influence of marketing on children for foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.

On the other, groups including the Association of Canadian Advertisers, as well as food and beverage manufacturers and media companies, have expressed concerns over Health Canada’s consultation process and the rules’ potential economic impact.

Health Canada conducted consultations on its proposed regulations back in 2017, to which members of the industry responded by calling them “unrealistic,” “punitive” and “commercially catastrophic,” according to documents previously obtained by the Globe and Mail. 

Patrick Fafard, a professor of public and international policy at the University of Ottawa, told strategy in January that Health Canada’s consultations would not be lost should the current or a new government re-introduce similar legislation after the October election.

“That said, if the bill dies and is a similar bill is introduced after the election, then the House and Senate Committees that study the legislation may well do their own hearings again,” he said in an email. “As for the regulatory framework, if the bill dies and if new legislation is introduced after the election [that] is broadly similar to the current proposal, the work on the regulatory framework remains very useful.”

A study conducted by the University of Calgary in April found that nearly 60% of supermarkets foods would not be allowed to be advertised to children across four different regulatory models. Meanwhile, other research has suggested that kids and teens aged 7 to 16 are exposed to food and beverage marketing on average 111 times a week (or 6,000 times per year) when accessing Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube on their smartphones and tablets.