Launched in June 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)’s Food Labelling Modernization (FLM) initiative has been an ongoing project to overhaul food labelling in Canada. The foundation of these changes is the 2012 Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and its upcoming regulations, which will consolidate the overlapping Food and Drug Regulations, Meat Inspection Regulations, Fish Inspection Regulations, Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations and regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act. The FLM also seeks to modernize approaches to food additives and fortification as well as representations made about food on labels and in advertising (including the Nutrition Facts Table and ingredient disclosures requirements).

A large part of the FLM has been to engage with stakeholders to inform the content of these expansive changes. For those not familiar with this ongoing regulatory overhaul, the first phase started in 2013, with the purpose of identifying the key issues at play in the food labelling system. In the second phase starting in 2014, the CFIA sought comment on potential options to modernize the system. We are currently in the last planned stage of consultation, the administration of an online survey seeking input into the concrete proposals for modernizing labelling that have come out of the prior stages of consultation.

The phase three survey addresses a wide variety of topics, including changes to date marking, legibility of font in required disclosures (common name, dealer information, and date marking), dealer declaration for imported foods, highlighted ingredients and flavourings declarations, ingredient class names, compositional standards (for foods with a standard of identity), commodity-specific labelling and packaging requirements (e.g. for honey, fruits and vegetables), and re-focusing access to test market authorization. The survey also seeks feedback on a shift in approach to regulating misleading claims in food labelling. A risk-based approach has been proposed, with government taking a larger role in managing high-risk claims (such as those affecting food safety, including allergens and adulteration), and industry and consumers taking a larger role in managing lower-risk claims (including consumer value claims such as “natural”, “free range” and “local”). Under this revised framework, industry would still be required to substantiate product claims as well as provide further information to consumers, for example on a website. Industry would also be required to keep records of consumer complaints and corresponding responses as part of a preventive control plan. The CFIA would ostensibly only take action in cases of fraud or misrepresentation.

Many of these proposed changes would harmonize Canadian requirements with analogous rules in the United States and those set out in the international Codex standards (as created by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an intergovernmental body within the framework of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization Food Standards Programme).

If any of these proposals would impact your business, it is not too late to provide input into this consultation, which is open until March 14, 2017. After that point, the CFIA will consolidate the survey feedback and prepare a report on its findings. Any changes that require a regulatory change will have to go through the Canada Gazette process, which will provide the opportunity for further consultation through Canada Gazette Part I.