Canada: CFIA Serves Up Next Course Of Consultations On Food Labelling Modernization

On June 22, 2019, the Government of Canada published another round of proposed changes to food labelling requirements under the Food and Drug Regulations and Safe Food for Canadians Regulations in Canada Gazette Part I. The proposed amendments are subject to a 75-day public consultation period, ending Sept. 4, 2019. 

As we previously reported, Canada's food laws are undergoing significant change. For consumers, understanding a food label is essential to making an informed decision when purchasing a product. These most recent proposed amendments to the FDR and SFCR are intended to provide consumers with additional information on the food product being purchased and consumed, and create more efficient food commodity-specific labelling requirements.

While detailed requirements are elaborated in the proposed amendments, the major changes being put forward are as follows:

Emphasized Ingredients

Through this proposed amendment to the FDR, food companies would be required to declare the exact percentage of an ingredient that is emphasized on product labels and advertisements, whether through words or images. Subject to certain exceptions, the amendments also formalize that requirement  to indicate that a food is "flavoured" if an emphasized ingredient is either not present at all or is added in flavouring amounts.

Expanded Contact Information

All food labels in Canada are currently required to state the identity and principal place of business of the person or company responsible for the product. While this requirement is not being removed under the proposed amendments, food companies would be required to include one additional form of contact information on their food labels, such as a telephone number, email address and/or website.

Foreign State of Origin of Wholly Imported Food

Currently, it is only mandatory to declare a country of origin on specific imported foods. Other wholly imported foods are only required to have a "Product of" or "imported by" statement on food labels when the address of the responsible company on the label is Canadian. Through the proposed changes, all wholly imported foods would be required to declare the country of origin on packaging. The "origin" location is proposed to be based on the place where the last substantial transformation of the food itself occurred (packaging only would not be a substantial transformation).

Legibility and Location of Information on Food Labels

Canada's current regulatory regime allows for varying legibility and location of information, resulting in inconsistencies and a risk of confusion to consumers. The proposed amendments, which would apply to all prepackaged food labels, establish more detailed requirements for the formatting and placement of mandatory label information, intended to ensure that this information is presented clearly and consistently.

Incorporation by Reference

As with other recent proposals and published legislation, the proposed amendments include moving certain information outside of the regulations themselves using incorporation by reference. Incorporation by reference can be a useful mechanism to increase efficiency and allow regulatory requirements to adapt to new developments, however, as we've previously discussed, it can also come with challenges for industry.  The proposed amendments include adopting incorporation by reference, for mandatory and optional common names for certain ingredients, and standard container sizes.

Date Marking and Storage Instructions

It is currently mandatory for prepackaged food products with a durable life of 90 days or less to include date marking and storage instructions on food labels. The proposed amendments would make this information mandatory for all prepackaged food products, unless they are exempt per the regulations. Any foods exempt from these declarations are proposed to be incorporated by reference.

Test Market Authorizations

This amendment was proposed in response to an increase in food businesses seeking test market authorizations (TMA's) as a way to get exemptions from prescriptive regulatory requirements.  Through the proposed amendments, a definition for "test market food" would be added to the SFCR. The issuance of TMAs would be limited to foods that differ substantially from others sold in Canada and that were not previously sold in Canada in a particular form.  The intent is to limit the number of applications and TMAs, and use incorporate by reference to more broadly permit certain exemptions that are widely accepted.

This new round of proposed labelling amendments has attempted to take into account concerns voiced by industry with changes already implemented by the CFIA and Health Canada on separate labelling initiatives, most pertinently the 2016 nutrition labelling changes which require full compliance by 2021. Unfortunately, while CFIA has proposed a phased-in transition period for these new labelling amendments (assuming full publication of the amendments in 2020), and has attempted to recognize the need to "coordinate labelling (timeline) changes to facilitate implementation", there remains a gap in implementation periods, with no change to the present 2021 compliance date for the nutrition labelling changes, and these new changes being proposed for implementation by 2022 and 2026 (depending on the change).   

We will continue to monitor these proposed changes going forward and encourage any industry participants and stakeholders to review the proposed amendments and submit comments to CFIA during this consultation period.

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