The Government of Canada recently published proposed amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) that if adopted, would significantly change key elements of the labelling of food products. The most notable amendments include new front-of-package (FOP) labelling requirements for products that contain threshold levels of certain nutrients the federal government has flagged as being of public health concern, specifically sodium, saturated fats and sugars. The proposed amendments will also change food labelling regulations related to nutrient content claims and high-intensity sweeteners, increase levels of vitamin D fortification in milk and margarine, and harmonize the FDR with the upcoming prohibition against using partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) in foods.
The proposed amendments are open for comments until April 26, 2018. Parties interested in making submissions on the proposed amendments may find detailed information and the proposed regulatory text here.
The amendments are the result of a consultation process with consumers and industry participants, and are part of the federal government’s broader Healthy Eating Strategy initiative, which aims to help Canadians make healthier food choices.
FOP LABELLING REQUIREMENTS
Health Canada has identified sodium, saturated fats and sugars as nutrients of public health concern. In order to increase public awareness and help reduce consumption of these nutrients, if adopted, the amendments will require that all prepackaged foods that contain sodium, sugar and/or saturated fat at, or above, certain threshold levels must have a FOP label on the package’s principal display panel (PDP) indicating that such foods are high in the applicable nutrients. For most prepackaged products, the new FOP label will be required whenever the product contains sodium, sugar and/or saturated fat in an amount equal to, or greater than, 15 per cent of the Recommended Daily Value (RDV). The threshold is increased to 30 per cent for prepackaged meals and main dishes with serving sizes of at least 200 g, to recognize the fact that these products account for a larger proportion of an individual’s daily nutrition.
The amendments will provide conditional and full exemptions for certain food categories. Packaged food products that are otherwise exempt from displaying a nutritional facts table (NFT) on their label are conditionally exempt from the new FOP requirement, such as small packages (products with a display surface of less than 100 cm2). The conditional exception for a product will be lost if the product makes claims that require it to have an NFT under the FDR.
Following significant debate, certain food categories will be fully and unconditionally exempt from the FOP labelling requirement because they are part of a healthy diet, have naturally elevated levels of fat, or because it would be redundant to require a nutrition symbol. Such food categories include:
- Fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits that do not contain any additional ingredients other than approved food additives
- Whole and partly skimmed milk from any animal, in liquid or powder form, that is non-flavoured
- Whole eggs
- Sweetening agents such as sugar, honey and syrups
- Table salt
The new FOP rules will require that the FOP label be placed in the upper 25 per cent of the PDP or the right-most 25 per cent of the PDP in the case of horizontal packaging. The basic attributes of the FOP label, including dimensions and other formatting requirements, will be described in the Directory of Nutrition Symbol Formats and incorporated by reference into the FDR.
The overall appearance of the nutrition symbol is open for a separate consultation, and Health Canada is soliciting input from stakeholders until April 26, 2018. The four proposed designs can be viewed at Health Canada’s Consultation on proposed front-of-package labelling website.
NUTRIENT CONTENT CLAIMS AND HIGH-INTENSITY SWEETENERS LABELLING
In order to streamline the process for updating the list of permitted nutrient content claims in the FDR, the proposed amendments will repeal the prescribed list of permitted claims from the FDR and incorporate the list by reference as a Table of Permitted Nutrient Content Statements and Claims. As part of the FOP labelling consultation process, Health Canada also consulted stakeholders in relation to proposed changes to certain nutrient content claims, such as “no added sugars” and “free of sugars”, and the addition of the claim “low in sugars”. The proposed changes can be viewed in Health Canada’s Notice of Proposal. The proposed amendments will also allow beverages containing 0.5 per cent or less alcohol to be labelled with statements such as “alcohol-free” and “low in alcohol”. According to Health Canada, the existing prohibition against such statements does not serve a public health or safety purpose, and allowing the statements will create a consistent approach to labelling across all alcoholic products.
The FDR amendments would also repeal labelling requirements related to high-intensity sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-potassium and neotame. Food products containing these sweeteners will no longer require a statement on the PDP that the food contains the substance, whether alone or in conjunction with other sweeteners, and will no longer require a declaration of the amount of high-intensity sweetener in the list of ingredients. However, where a food product contains aspartame, it will remain mandatory for there to be a declaration that phenylalanine is present.
OTHER PROPOSED CHANGES — VITAMIN D AND PHOs
The proposed amendments would increase the level of vitamin D fortification in cow and goat’s milk, and margarine. Fortified foods are the primary dietary source of vitamin D for Canadians and the regulatory changes aim to help prevent the risk of vitamin D inadequacy and deficiency.
As previously announced by Health Canada, effective September 15, 2018, the government will prohibit the sale of foods containing PHOs by including PHOs in the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods. In order to give full effect to the prohibition, the proposed amendments will define “partially hydrogenated” and “fully hydrogenated” oils.
COMING INTO FORCE
Most of the proposed amendments will come into force upon finalization. However, those amendments provide for a five-year transition period ending on December 14, 2022 for regulated parties to make the necessary changes to their labels and use any existing stock of labels. The transition period for the 2016 food labelling regulations, which we discussed in our December 2016 Blakes Bulletin: Government of Canada Finalizes Food Labelling Changes, was initially scheduled to end on December 14, 2021, but may be extended to December 14, 2022 in order to align with the transition period for the latest amendments. Aligning the transition periods is intended to give food manufacturers more flexibility to efficiently manage the changes to their labelling.
PROHIBITING ADVERTISEMENTS DIRECTED AT CHILDREN
In addition to making changes to food labelling rules under the FDR, the federal government is also taking steps to restrict food manufacturers from advertising unhealthy foods directly to children. Bill S-228, the Child Health Protection Act, which was passed by the Senate in September 2017, would amend the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children. Bill S-228 would define “children” to be any person under 17 years of age, and would allow the governor-in-council to make regulations that define what constitutes an “unhealthy food” and when an advertisement is primarily directed at children. Bill S-228 had its second reading in the House of Commons on February 12, 2018. While Bill S-228 was being considered by the Senate, Health Canada conducted public consultation between June and August 2017, which included soliciting feedback about how to define “unhealthy food” and “child-directed” advertising. The results of the consultation can be reviewed in the Consultation Report. Health Canada has stated that additional consultations are expected.