Health Canada is seeking input (until September 11, 2014) about new nutrition labelling requirements for Canada.  The proposals will mean big changes for food manufacturers and importers who will have to develop new labels to comply with these new obligations.  And, considering the proposed changes in how to declare sugars, and changes to serving sizes, changes in marketing and advertising for some products may also follow.

The proposed amendments primarily revolve around amendments to the nutrition facts table (NFT) and include:

  1. Establishing consistent serving sizes among similar foods.  This includes aligning the serving sizes with what Canadians actually eat in single sittings (i.e., the reference amounts, which are also under review);
  2. Sugars.  Declaring sugar content together in the ingredient list and the NFT, and setting a Recommended Daily Value for sugar;  and
  3. Changes to the appearance and content of the NFT and ingredient list.

To unpack each of these a bit:

1. Serving sizes

  1. For most foods that can be measured, the serving size would be the reference amount (in milliliters or grams), which would be declared along with the applicable household measurement.  This would apply to products like milk, cream cheese, yogurt, flour and rice.  The goal is to have the same serving sizes across similar products to allow consumers to compare.
  2. Foods that come in pieces (cookies, chips, etc.) would be declared by number of pieces, shown together with weight.  For foods that are divided (e.g. pizza), the serving size declared would be the fraction of food closest to the reference amount shown together with the weight in grams.  This would apply to foods like crackers, cookies, muffins, bagels, cakes and lasagna.
  3. For other foods, a consumer-friendly household measurement could be used (e.g. slices of bread), along with the weight per serving. Foods in this category include: ready-to eat cereals, sliced bread, gum, and multi-serving meat.

2.  Sugars

  1. All ingredients that are a type of sugar would be grouped together in the ingredient list after the common name "sugars".  This will result in all sugars being higher up the list, since ingredients must be listed in descending order according to their proportion by weight in the foods.  So, instead of separating added sugars across the ingredient list, they would now all be combined. For example: "Sugars (fancy molasses, brown sugar, sugar)".
  2. The NFT would disclose "total sugars” and “added sugars" as separate line items.
  3. Health Canada is proposing to establish a Daily Value for sugar of 100 g, meaning that % Daily Value (or %DV) statements would show when a food is high in sugar.  This, combined with the on-label explanations about 5DV (discussed below), would show foods containing 15 g or more as high in sugars.   

3.  Format and Content of NFT

  1. Several changes are being proposed to make the NFT more easily legible for consumers, including right justification of serving size.  Notably, the declaration of Calories would be made more prominent, by increasing the font size, putting it in bold, and separating it with a thick line from the rest of the table.
  2. In addition to %DV (already disclosed) the absolute amounts of vitamins and minerals would have to be disclosed.
  3. Changes are also proposed as to which vitamins and minerals would be disclosed in the table, removing declarations for Vitamins A and C, and adding declarations for Vitamin D and Potassium.
  4. A footnote would also be added to the bottom of the NFT, explaining the DV, and that 5% DV is a little, but 15% DV is a lot.

More information, including the consultation documents, are available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/consultation/index-eng.php.