On July 26, 2008, the Canadian federal government released proposed amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations. The proposed amendments will enhance the labelling for specific food allergens, glutens and added sulphites, mandating a declaration of the sources of common food allergens and gluten that are present in prepackaged food products.

Currently, the Food and Drug Regulations require that the ingredients of prepackaged products be listed on the label in descending order of proportion by weight. The regulations exempt certain components of ingredients or classes of ingredients from being stated in the list of ingredients and do not require the source of the specific ingredient to be stated on the packaging.

The proposed amendments would change these labelling requirements for prepackaged food products in two ways. First, if a common food allergen or gluten is used in producing the food, the label would be required to disclose the source of the allergen or gluten. The proposed amendments would apply to food allergens including those derived from any of the following foods: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, wheat, kamut, spelt, triticale, eggs, milk, soybeans, crustaceans, shellfish, fish or gluten from the grains of the following cereals: barley, oats, rye, triticale, wheat, kamut and spelt. The source of the food allergen or gluten would be required to be either included in the list of ingredients on the label, in parentheses immediately following the common name of the ingredient, or in a statement that begins, “Allergy and Intolerance Information – Contains:”

Second, the proposed amendments would require the label to contain a declaration of added sulphites when they are present in prepackaged products in amounts greater than 10 parts per million.

There are several exceptions to the proposed regulations. These include products packaged from bulk on retail premises (except prepackaged products that contain a mixture of nuts); individual portions of food served by a restaurant, other commercial enterprise, vending machine or mobile canteen; and meats, meat by-products, poultry, and poultry by-products that are prepared on retail premises. These exceptions do not apply if a list of ingredients is voluntarily provided on the product’s label.

Once the final regulations are published in the Canada Gazette, manufacturers and importers will have one year to adopt the new labelling requirements. However, if a manufacturer changes the label within the first year after the regulations are published to include the statement referred to above, the proposed regulations would apply immediately.

Stakeholders have been invited to submit comments on the proposed amendments before October 24, 2008.