Canada: New Nutrition Labelling Requirements Proposed

Ontario Proposes Posting Calories on Menus

On February 24, 2014, Deborah Matthews, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, introduced Bill 162, the Making Healthier Choices Act, 2014. This proposed legislation is intended to increase awareness of calorie content at the point of sale, and as such, encourage Ontarians to make healthier meal choices.

Scope of the Proposed Legislation

The proposed legislation would apply to any food service establishment that prepares or serves meals or meal portions in a form that can be consumed immediately and operates 20 or more establishments in Ontario under the same or substantially the same name. Together, these requirements would capture a diverse spectrum of food service establishments, including chain restaurants, fast-food outlets, grocery stores, and convenience stores.1

Labelling Requirements

Establishments that meet the above criteria would be required to post the calorie content of:

  • each standardized portion of food or drink directly on the menu; 
  • any food item on display on an identifying tag or label; and 
  • any standardized combination of food or drink items directly on the menu.2

Penalties

Under the proposed legislation, failure to comply with the labelling requirements would be a provincial offence punishable by fines of up to $1,000 per day for individuals, and up to $10,000 per day for corporations.3

Alternative Proposal

There is also a private member's bill that would require similar labelling of calorie content on the menus of certain establishments. Notable differences from the Ontario Government proposal include:

  • changing the requirement for food service establishments from 20 to 5 locations in Ontario; 
  • adding a minimum of $5 million in gross annual revenue before the posting of calorie content is required; and 
  • adding a requirement to indicate items that have high or very high sodium content.

It remains to be seen whether these alternative proposals will be incorporated into Bill 162. As Bill 162 has yet to pass second reading or be referred to a committee, addressing this alternative proposal may be necessary to gain sufficient support in legislature.

New Food Nutrition Labels, Canada Begins Consulting Process

Health Canada Begins Consultation

On the heels of the proposed changes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the "Nutrition Facts Label" found on most food packages in the U.S., on January 28, 2014, Health Canada launched a public consultation on ways to improve nutrition labelling in Canada.4 It remains to be seen whether the thrust of the consultation will result in changes that resemble those proposed in the U.S.—adjusting serving size to more closely match real-world behavior, updating the "daily values" for certain nutrients, and drawing consumer attention to "added sugars" in addition to total sugar content. The information from the consultation on changes to nutrition labels will be used to develop recommendations which will then be subject to a further round of consultation. As yet, there is no published timeline on when changes to nutrition labels will be proposed or adopted.

* With assistance from Albert Chan, Articling Student.

Footnotes

1. The proposed legislation would also impose liability on franchisors, licensors, and managers of individual establishments, as well as on directors and officers of corporations which operate qualifying establishments.

2. The proposed legislation also allows for the creation of regulations which may require additional nutritional information to be posted; for example, fat or sodium content.

3. Public health inspectors would be empowered to enforce the proposed legislation.

4. The public comment form, available online at the Health Canada website, does not mention specific proposals, but rather invites consumers to comment on what features they find helpful or confusing on current nutrition labels.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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