Questions and answers - Food Labelling Modernization initiative

Questions about food labelling and the Food Labelling Modernization initiative

Why is food labelling important?

Food labelling is one of the most important and direct ways for communication between consumers and industry.

For consumers

Food labelling and advertising provides consumers with important information that helps them to make informed decisions about the food they purchase for themselves and their families. This includes:

  • basic product information, such as common name, net quantity and ingredients
  • health, safety and nutrition information, such as the Nutrition Facts table and allergen declarations
  • information in line with consumer values or preferences, such as organic

For industry

Food labelling is also important to industry. It allows them to:

  • communicate and promote the content and characteristics of the food they are marketing and selling to consumers
  • show how their products are different from others on the market

What is CFIA's role in food labelling?

Government's role is to provide regulatory oversight on food labelling, including compliance promotion, inspection (including laboratory testing) and enforcement.

Responsibility for food labelling in Canada at the federal level is shared, between Health Canada and CFIA.

  • Health Canada is responsible for establishing regulations, standards and policies related to the health, safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada
  • CFIA is responsible for enforcing regulations and policies that are developed by Health Canada
  • CFIA also administers and enforces non-health and safety related policies and regulations

Why is CFIA modernizing food labelling right now?

Over the last several years, the overall environment and marketplace for food in Canada has evolved and become more complex. We have also seen a number of changes in the area of food labelling.

For consumers

  • Consumers are looking for more diverse and innovative food choices
  • Consumers are becoming more aware and knowledgeable about food labels, to ensure that the products they buy meet their needs (for example, health and safety but also consumer values and getting best value for money)
  • Heightened consumer expectations and increased media attention around labelling requires improved transparency and accountability

For industry

  • Industry is seeking to remain competitive by developing new products and accessing new markets
  • Changes in technology and increasingly open markets and global supply chains have led to an increased availability of new products and greater emphasis placed on marketing and competitiveness
  • Manufacturers are finding more innovative and creative ways to communicate information about their products to consumers

For government

  • Government cannot rely solely on historical approaches to address current and future needs and challenges
  • To keep pace, regulators must develop a modern suite of legislative, regulatory, and inspection processes and tools, supported by clear roles and responsibilities, and effective information management and information technology (IM/IT) that support consumers, industry and government

CFIA is committed to strengthening Canada's world-class food safety system. This commitment was reinforced by the passage of the Safe Food for Canadians Act. The Act sets the stage for modernizing Canada's food safety system, which also promotes consumer protection and a fair and secure marketplace. This is a key focus for CFIA as part of its transformation agenda.

Proposed regulatory changes for Food Labelling Modernization initiative

What are the proposed regulatory changes under the Food Labelling Modernization initiative?

On June 22, 2019, proposed food labelling changes in the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) and the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I.

The changes fall under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Food Labelling Modernization initiative and relate to:

  • date marking (such as best before date)
  • food company contact information
  • origin of imported foods
  • legibility and location of label information
  • percentage declaration of characterizing ingredients
  • test market foods
  • standard container sizes
  • class names
  • modernizing and streamlining food commodity specific labelling requirements

To learn more, check out an overview of the changes.

How would the proposed changes benefit consumers?

Consumers have become increasingly aware and knowledgeable about food labels. The proposed changes would provide consumers with more useful product information and improve their ability to compare products and read and understand the information on labels.

The following elements under the Food Labelling Modernization initiative would help consumers make better informed purchasing decisions:

  • date marking: provide clear and consistent information on how long the quality of food products can be maintained under certain conditions
  • food company information: allow consumers to more easily contact companies directly to seek product information
  • origin of imported food: require all wholly imported foods (foods fully manufactured, processed or produced outside of Canada) to declare a country or state of origin
  • legibility and location: allow consumers to better see and read label information
  • characterizing ingredients: provide clear information to allow products to be compared by declaring the percentage of an emphasized ingredient on the label

How would the proposed changes benefit industry?

Canada's food industry would be given some flexibility in how they apply certain requirements. This is necessary in an evolving food environment and helps promote innovation and facilitate market access for Canadian food businesses. The changes better align Canada's labelling requirements with international standards, as well as the requirements of key trading partners, facilitating trade for industry.

More specifically, industry would benefit as the proposed regulatory changes would:

  • promote innovation and create flexibility: prescriptive labelling requirements for certain commodities would be replaced by an outcome-based approach that would provide food businesses with more flexibility
  • facilitate trade and increase market access: Canadian food products would be seen as more acceptable in foreign markets as the changes would increasealignment with the labelling requirements of major trading partners (such as the U.S, European Union and Australia) and international standards (Codex Alimentarius)
  • improve market fairness: the introduction of a definition for "test market food" would ensure all businesses would have to follow the same requirement when seeking a test market authorization (an exemption from certain regulatory requirements in order for a company to test a product on the Canadian market)
  • incorporation by reference of multiple documents: Incorporation by reference is a drafting technique that allows CFIA to be more responsive to concerns of industry and consumers by quickly responding to modern science and new innovation which may require regulatory change

What are the timeframes for the implementation of the Food Labelling Modernization initiative labelling changes?

It is proposed that the regulatory changes would be implemented in 3 phases:

  • Summer 2020 (TBC): Upon registration of CFIA's FLM regulatory changes in the Canada Gazette, Part II – elements that do not require a label change:
    • Standard container sizes
    • Class names (incorporation by reference)
    • Streamline commodity specific labelling (where no label change is required)
    • Define "Test market food"
  • December 2022: 2 years after registration – elements that require less significant label changes
    • Date marking
    • Food company information
    • Foreign country or state of origin of imported food
    • Streamline commodity specific labelling (where label change may be required)
  • December 2026: 6 years after registration– elements that require more significant label changes
    • Legibility and location
    • Percentage declaration of characterizing ingredients

How do the Food Labelling Modernization transition periods align with those for other food labelling changes, such as Health Canada's proposed labelling changes, and other CFIA food regulatory amendments?

The Government of Canada is proposing to align various labelling changes to come into effect on December 14, 2022.

This date would see changes to the Nutrition Facts table, list of ingredients, as well as labelling changes for beer and vodka.

The FLM regulatory package also proposes a revised transition period for changes to the Inspection Legend in the SFCR, so it would also align with that date.

What does Incorporation by Reference mean and what elements of the Food Labelling Modernization initiative are proposed to use this regulatory tool?

Incorporation by Reference is a drafting technique that brings the content of the incorporated document, or the referenced part of the document, into a regulation without the need to reproduce the incorporated document (or part of the document) into the regulation itself. Even though the words of the incorporated document are not specifically in the regulation, it is as if those words have been reproduced in the regulation and have the same force (legislative power) as the regulation.

Under the proposed regulatory changes, the following documents would be incorporated by reference in the FDR or SFCR:

  • Foods Which Do Not Require A Best Before Date Mark (FDR)
  • Common Names for Ingredients and Components (FDR)
  • Standard Container Sizes (SFCR)
  • Descriptive Terms and Identification Names for Specific Foods (SFCR)

Linkages to other initiatives

How is the Food Labelling Modernization initiative linked to other modernization initiatives?

The Food Labelling Modernization initiative is linked to other government department and CFIA modernization initiatives.

For example, Health Canada is modernizing its food regulatory framework as part of the Regulatory Roadmap for Health Products and Food.

  • It has modernized its food additives regulatory system, using new authorities under the Food and Drugs Act
  • It has published in Canada Gazette, Part II, regulatory amendments to improve the format and content of the Nutrition Facts table and ingredient list, and information on sugars and colouring agents
  • It will make regulations more efficient in other areas, such as food fortification, health/nutrition claims and labelling, and contaminants

CFIA's key strategic priorities, all of which will contribute to modernizing food labelling, include the following.

The Food Regulatory Framework

This framework will create a single set of regulations and consistent requirements for all foods and, where possible, reduce the complexity and modernize our approach towards consumer protection. Where possible, this framework will use outcome-based regulation, placing more emphasis on specific and measurable outcomes and less emphasis on prescriptive requirements to achieve compliance aims. Other approaches, such as incorporation by reference, will also be explored.

Consistent and Efficient Inspections

This aims to implement a single inspection approach carried out nationally in a fair, consistent, and predictable manner that is focused on regulatory outcomes and supported by mobile tools and guidance. CFIA will have greater efficiency and agility to respond to emerging risks through consistent and efficient inspections.

Compliance Promotion

The new inspection model also facilitates consistent compliance and enforcement responses across all food commodities by providing stakeholders, particularly regulated parties, with the tools and information they need to comply with regulations.

Food Labelling Modernization

This initiative will develop a modern and innovative food labelling system within the context of CFIA's priorities and vision, which aligns with the new Safe Food for Canadians Act and CFIA's other modernization initiatives.

It focuses on four key areas:

  • roles, responsibilities and partnerships
  • regulation
  • policy and program development
  • service delivery and information management and information technology (IM/IT)

The successes in these modernization initiatives, including the Food Labelling Modernization initiative, will all contribute to modernizing food labelling.

What have other countries done in the area of food labelling modernization?

Similar food labelling projects have been done in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It is important that our food labelling system remains comparable and takes into account national and international best practices and lessons learned, to enhance confidence domestically and internationally.

Examples of recommendations from other countries include the following.

  • All labelling proposals should be tested against a number of simple criteria including safety, promotion of consumer choice and fair competition. These criteria could help determine roles and responsibilities, as well as how to prioritize issues.
  • Food labelling policy should be guided by an issues hierarchy that adjusts the level of consumer, industry and government involvement based on health and safety risks–the higher the risk, the more government involvement is needed. The continuum includes: food safety, preventive health, and non-health and safety consumer values.
  • Industry-initiated approaches should be recognized as valuable. Industry, in collaboration with other stakeholders, could develop and apply other approaches to deal with consumer values-based claims, i.e. non-health and safety claims.
  • Government should monitor industry-initiated approaches and if it finds that these do not work, should consider a more prescriptive regulatory approach.
  • Use of web-based systems to enhance compliance.

Stakeholders and the Food Labelling Modernization initiative

Who has been consulted?

To get a balanced understanding of views, consultations have included a wide range of stakeholders, including

  • consumers and consumer groups
  • industry and industry groups
  • academia
  • CFIA employees
  • other government departments
  • provincial and territorial governments
  • international partners

What is my role in this initiative?

Consumers, industry and government all have an important role to play in enhancing food labelling in Canada. Through participation in this initiative, we are working together to develop a more modern and innovative food labelling system that benefits us all.

Will the initiative affect day-to-day business related to food labels?

Information will be provided to industry in order to implement changes resulting from the Food Labelling Modernization initiative, when regulatory amendments have been completed.

Additional information

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