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Report Says Food Packaging Needs Improvement, Eh?

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iStock/Gabriel Shakour

Oh, Canada. Our nice neighbor to the north often is a source of mild envy simply for seeming like a less-crowded United States without all the baggage.

The country even ranks No. 1 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report “Best Countries” report. And every four years, how often do you hear some of your fellow Americans mutter, “If so-and-so is elected, we’re moving to Canada?” That is, if Canada will have us.

“Generally, they are strong on just about every dimension, which is pretty amazing because most countries are strong on some and weak on some others,” Wharton marketing professor David Reibstein noted this week. “There’s very, very little controversy that happens [in Canada], so it’s a country that people feel very positive about.”

It took a little digging, but it looks like someone finally found some controversy. “Why American Food Wrappers Are Less Toxic Than Canadian,” screamed a headline this week in Canada’s National Observer. Well, “screamed” by Canadian standards.

The publication was describing a new Environmental Defence Canada report that revealed that “nearly 70% of North America’s largest retailers evaluated have improved their toxic chemical safety policies to help protect customers from harmful chemicals and plastics in products and packaging. Unfortunately, Canadian-based retailers continue to fall behind U.S. companies when it comes to their chemical policies.”

The group’s fifth annual “Who’s Minding the Store” report looked at retailers and restaurant chains, and alleged some Canadian companies come up short compared to their U.S. counterparts in protecting consumers from harmful chemicals such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are used to make packaging grease-resistant.

“Evidence tells us that chemicals like PFAS in food packaging and bisphenols on receipts are dangerous,” said Tim Gray, executive director at Environmental Defence. “Fortunately, many retailers are rising to the challenge by taking steps to make products safer. [However,] market-leading Canadian retailers like Couche-Tard, Metro, Sobeys and Tim Hortons have no excuse for their inaction to protect customers, workers and the environment from toxics.”

Restaurant Brands International (RBI), owner of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes, was one of several Canadian companies to which Environmental Defence assigned a “failing grade for their inaction to properly manage chemical risks.” But on the other hand, the report acknowledged that RBI “does receive credit for restricting various chemicals of high concern in promotional toys, for restricting bisphenol A in food-contact materials and for setting a goal to eliminate expanded polystyrene foam in all food packaging globally by 2021.”

“When it comes to ethics, there is no compromise. This philosophy extends to our supply chain and the people, land and animals that may be impacted by our business.”

RBI released a statement noting it has “very specific guidelines around the approved products that are used in our restaurants in order to ensure food safety. In the United States, this means ensuring our product and packaging specifications are compliant with FDA standards.

The company’s website explains that it is “committed to doing what’s right. Our philosophy is simple: Integrity, honesty and compliance with the law are not optional. And when it comes to ethics, there is no compromise. This philosophy extends to our supply chain and the people, land and animals that may be impacted by our business.”

Environmental Defence’s Gray told the National Observer that some Canadian companies’ weak performance in controlling certain chemicals relative to their U.S. competitors was due to Canadian environmental regulations. “Having a low regulatory bar encourages companies not to go much beyond it,” he said. “I think what that points out is that … government isn’t keeping up with the science — we need regulatory reform.”

In fact, the National Observer reported that reform efforts are underway in Canada to allow the government to more closely study and monitor these types of chemicals. Regulatory reform moves slowly, but this could mean that by the time of the 2024 election season in the United States — when you’re again threatening to drive the family north — you probably won’t have to worry anymore about the safety of hamburger packaging in Quebec or Alberta. And Canada will have become truly perfect.

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