On December 14, 2016, the Government of Canada announced amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) by publishing the Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Nutrition Labelling, Other Labelling Provisions and Food Colours). The amendments will bring significant changes to the labelling of food products, including changes to standardize serving sizes, amend the nutrients listed in the nutrition facts table (NFT), modify the way sugars are listed, improve legibility of the ingredients list and allergen information, and allow for greater health claims for fruits and vegetables.
These amendments have been finalized after two years of consultations with consumers and stakeholders. For more information about the previous consultations, please see our August 2014 Blakes Bulletin: Coming to a Grocery Store near You: Proposed Changes to Canadian Nutrition Labelling Requirements and our June 2015 Blakes Bulletin: Health Canada Pushes Forward with Nutrition Labelling Changes.
Key changes to the FDR include:
- Standardizing serving sizes by better aligning them with the amount of food typically consumed in one sitting. Serving sizes are used to calculate the nutrient content information within the NFT on food labels. Previously, serving sizes were not mandated in regulation and their determination was at the discretion of manufacturers, so values could vary for similar foods. Now, serving sizes will be based on regulated reference amounts, which have been updated to reflect current consumption patterns and marketing trends. This change is also meant to enable consumers to more easily compare the nutrient content information of various products.
- Changing the “core” nutrients required to be listed in the NFT. The list of nutrients that must be declared in the NFT has been revised to remove the requirements for vitamins A and C, and to add a new requirement for potassium.
- Changing the recommended daily values (DVs) for core nutrients as well as voluntary non-core nutrients to reflect more current dietary recommendations. The amendments also take into account the distinct nutritional needs of infants and children by setting different DVs for infants (older than six months but younger than one year of age) and children (one year or older but younger than four years of age) for foods sold specifically for these age groups. In addition, a “rule of thumb” footnote will be required to be added to the bottom of each NFT to educate consumers about the meaning of the per cent DV in their dietary choices. The footnote will read: “5% or less is a little, 15% or more is a lot.”
- Requiring a declaration of vitamins and minerals in absolute amounts as well as per cent DV to allow consumers to compare with levels found in supplements.
- Requiring a per cent DV for sugars and requiring sugars-based ingredients to be grouped together. A DV of 100 grams has been set for total sugars and the per cent DV for sugars is to be declared in each NFT. Furthermore, the requirement to group all sugars-based ingredients on the ingredients list under the name “Sugars” means 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. This new grouping approach is also intended to help consumers identify sources of sugars in their foods that they may not recognize, such as barley malt syrup and isomaltulose.
Recent changes to labelling requirements in the United States also included a requirement to declare the amount of “added sugars”. However, Health Canada chose to proceed with the per cent DV approach and the grouping of sugars on the ingredients list, as feedback indicated that this is less confusing and more useful for consumers.
- Standardizing the formatting and contrast of the ingredients list to ensure consistency and improve legibility. The amendments require the use of both uppercase and lowercase letters, good contrast of colour (black text or equivalent dark shade of another colour on a white or other uniform, neutral colour background) with a border around the list or one or more lines above, below or at the sides of the list, and titles such as “Ingredients”, “Contains” and “May Contain” to be bolded. Furthermore, the amendments include minimum type height requirements and prohibit horizontal scaling of text. Specific measures have also been introduced for smaller packages where there is less space to display information.
While the proposed amendments included a requirement for the use of bullets to separate ingredients, this was removed after considering stakeholders’ concerns that it would be difficult and costly to implement, particularly for small businesses. Going forward, ingredients may be separated using either bullets or commas.
Additionally, the font size of serving sizes and calories in the NFT has been increased, and a bold line will be added under the calories in order to make this information easier to read.
- Changing the requirements for the labelling of allergens, including requiring the “Contains” statement, which declares food allergens, gluten sources and added sulphites, to follow directly after the ingredients list and follow the same legibility requirements. In addition, if the ingredients list is bound by a border or lines, the “Contains” statement must also be inside the border or lines. If manufacturers choose to make non-mandatory, precautionary declarations of potential allergens or sources of gluten, these statements need to appear in the same font size as the ingredients list and immediately after either the ingredients list or the mandatory allergen declaration, as applicable.
- Allowing 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” will now be allowed on most fruits and vegetables in order to promote their health benefits to consumers. The amendments also allow nutrient content and health claims to be made for all fresh fruits and vegetables without triggering accompanying nutrition information.
- Requiring that all food colours be declared by their common names on the list of ingredients (e.g. “Citrus Red No. 2” rather than just “colours”, as is currently permitted). The amendments also replace the current standards for food colours with internationally recognized food-grade quality specifications, and eliminate the current lot-by-lot certification of synthetic colours.
In addition to the above substantive changes, the amendments also move some information that was previously found in the FDR into external documents that are incorporated by reference, namely: the Table of Reference Amounts for Food; the Table of Daily Values; and the Directory of Nutrition Facts Table Formats. This change is intended to allow these documents to be updated administratively rather than requiring regulatory amendment.
COMING INTO FORCE
Though the federal government initially proposed a five-year coming-into-force period, the amendments instead came into force on December 14, 2016. However, the amendments provide for a five-year transition period for regulated parties to make the necessary changes to their labels and use any existing stock of labels. At the same time, if any labelling changes are made in accordance with the new requirements within the transition period, this will trigger the immediate application of all of the new labelling requirements. Manufacturers are not permitted to partially comply with either the old or new labelling requirements. Furthermore, the limited amendments dealing with food colour specifications and synthetic colour certification are effective immediately without any transition period.
MORE CHANGES COMING
These labelling changes are just one of a number of initiatives that Health Canada is undertaking on the food regulatory front as part of its new healthy eating strategy, the objective of which is to make healthy food choices the easy choice for all Canadians. Going forward, the federal government is also considering changes to introduce front-of-package labelling on foods that are high in sugars, sodium and saturated fat, reduce sodium in prepackaged foods, ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils in foods, update Canada’s Food Guide, and introduce restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children. The government has started consultations on a number of these proposals and has stated that the timeline for implementation of any further labelling changes will align with the current amendments.