On June 13, 2015, the Government of Canada published proposed amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) that, if adopted, would significantly change key elements of the nutrition labelling of food products. The most notable amendments include changes to standardize serving sizes, amend the nutrients listed in the nutrition facts table, modify the way sugars are listed, and allow for greater health claims for fruits and vegetables. The proposed amendments’ release follows consultations with stakeholders held by Health Canada in 2014. For more information about the prior consultations, see our August 2014 Blakes Bulletin: Coming to a Grocery Store near You: Proposed Changes to Canadian Nutrition Labelling Requirements

Health Canada’s stated objectives for the amendments include modernizing food labelling to reflect the latest science in order to enable Canadians to make more informed choices about their food, and to align, where possible, with international initiatives including potential amendments to nutritional labelling proposed in the United States.

KEY PROPOSED CHANGES

  • Standardize serving sizes by better aligning them with the amount of food that is typically consumed in one sitting, which will enable consumers to more easily compare the nutrient content of various products. The serving size is used to calculate the nutritional content of the nutrients listed on the nutrition facts table (NFT) of food labels and is currently calculated using guidelines rather than regulations.
  • Change the “core” nutrients required to be listed on the NFT. In particular, the new NFTs would require the declaration of potassium, since this is a nutrient some Canadians are not getting enough of, and vitamins A and C would no longer be required in the NFT.
  • Change the recommended daily values (DV) for the core nutrients as well as the voluntary non-core nutrients to reflect more recent dietary recommendations. Furthermore, the amendments would reflect the distinct nutritional needs of infants and toddlers by setting different daily values for infants (seven to 12 months old), toddlers (one to three years old) and adults (four years and older). In addition, a “rule of thumb” footnote would be added to the bottom of each NFT to educate consumers about the meaning of per cent DV in their dietary choices. The footnote would read: “5% or less is a little, 15% or more is a lot.”
  • Require a per cent DV for sugar to be declared on each NFT and require sugars-based ingredients to be grouped together in the ingredients list. A daily value of 100 grams is being proposed for sugar. The requirement to group all sugars-based ingredients in the ingredient list would mean that where a product has multiple sugars-based ingredients, such as honey, glucose-fructose and fancy molasses, such ingredients will appear closer to the top of the ingredients list, which will more clearly indicate the product’s relative proportion of sugars-based ingredients. Interestingly, Health Canada has chosen not to move forward with a declaration of the amount of “added sugars” as a line in the NFT separate from total sugars. The “added sugars” declaration has been proposed in the U.S., but was dropped from the Canadian amendments following the earlier consultation stage. The U.S. proposals do not, however, include a per cent DV for sugars.   
  • Standardize the formatting and contrast of the ingredients list to ensure consistency. The amendments would require the usage of both uppercase and lowercase letters, bullets to separate individual ingredients, a good contrast of colour (black text on white or other uniform, neutral colour background), and a border around the list or one or more lines above, below or at the sides of the list. The amendments would also require the title of “Ingredients” at the top of the list. The manner of indicating an ingredient’s components would also be standardized.
  • Change the requirements for labelling of allergens, including requiring the “Contains” statement, which declares mandatory allergens, to follow directly after the ingredients list and follow the same font formatting requirements. If manufacturers choose to make non-mandatory, precautionary declarations of potential allergens, these statements would also need to appear in the same font size as the ingredient list and directly below either the ingredient list or the mandatory allergen declaration, as applicable.
  • Allow for greater health claims for fruits and vegetables. The claim, “A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of heart disease” would be allowed on most fruits and vegetables. The proposed amendments would also allow nutrient content and health claims to be made for pre-packaged fresh fruits or vegetables without a nutrition facts table being required, as it is under the current regulations.
  • Require that all food colours be declared by their common name in the list of ingredients (e.g. “Citrus Red No. 2” rather than just “colours” as is currently permitted) and allow for the application of internationally recognized food-grade specifications for food colours.

COMING INTO FORCE

The federal government has proposed a five-year coming-into-force period, in order to allow sufficient time for industry to make all of the necessary changes to their labels, including determining new DV and whether the new values will change the claims that manufacturers can make about their food products, and to use any existing stocks of labels.

The proposed amendments are open for comments until August 27, 2015, during which period interested parties may make submissions concerning the proposed regulations. Parties interested in making submissions may find detailed information and the proposed regulatory text here.

These labelling changes are just one of a number of initiatives that the federal government is undertaking on the food regulatory front, including initiatives in relation to the new Safe Foods for Canadians Act.