Food labelling modernization in Canada has many fronts. Nutrition and ingredient labelling have received much of the attention thus far. Less well known are the many other label features – like common name, dealer name and address, best before dates, net quantity and country of origin – that are also subject to modernization. All combined, Canada’s federal food labelling modernization is an enormous undertaking by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada. The scale is unprecedented. It’s happening now and will evolve over the next few years.
For most foods, country of origin labelling is governed principally by federal legislation. Provincial origin labelling requirements tends to be more commodity specific. The most well recognized of these provincial origin labelling rules are those governing fresh produce. Some provinces, like Quebec and Ontario, have more unique rules related to specific commodities like maple products. Then there are those one-off rules, like that in Quebec related to alcoholic beverages made with beer.
Foods are not captured under Canada’s Marking of Imported Goods Regulations (Customs Tariff). Federal country of origin rules cover a wider spectrum of food, under a patchwork legislation. The result is a lack of uniformity in how foods are labelled. In fact, not all foods are captured by country of origin labelling regulations. Consumer packaged foods are subject to the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations (CPLA and CPLAR). Only those products that are wholly manufactured or produced in a country other than Canada, and which include a Canadian domicile statement on its label, are required to disclose either the country of origin by name or as an alternative by a statement such as “Imported by” or “Imported for,” adjacent to the Canadian domicile statement.
The CPLA does not apply to non-consumer packaged foods, such as those destined for further manufacture or foodservice. The CPLR also yields to other federal legislation that may require specific country of origin labelling. The Meat Inspection Act and Meat Inspection Regulations 1990 (MIR) trump the CPLR in this matter. The MIR requires an imported meat product to be labelled with a prominent country of origin statement such as “Product of U.S.A.” in close proximity of the common name on the main panel. In contrast, the Processed Products Regulations (PPR), which are subordinate regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act, require a country of origin declaration on a label of an imported food it governs that includes a Canadian domicile on the label. For a product with a domicile statement other than that of a Canadian dealer, the origin of the dealer would be assumed, unless otherwise stated, to be the origin of the food.
With the introduction of proposed Safe Food for Canadian Regulations (SFCR) drawing near, so too does the retirement date of the legislation mentioned above. When it comes into force the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) will repeal the CAPA, MIR and FIA, and of course all subordinate regulations thereunder. The Act will also withdraw food from the CPLA. The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations (FDA, FDR), will not be repealed. It is not conceivable that the CFIA will forgo more robust regulations on country of origin labelling. We therefore expect that the SFCR will include, with few exceptions, uniform mandatory country of origin labelling for all imported foods.
The discussions to date on the matter are aimed at a unified statement such as “Product of (naming the country)” to be shown either on the main panel or adjacent to the domicile statement (dealer name and address). Seems simple enough. And for many foods that would likely be the case. Where complications can arise is in figuring out what the origin of the food might actually be. Under the current country of origin labelling rules for food, unlike products subject to the Marking of Imported Goods Regulations, the mechanism by which a country of origin is determined are not well defined. What does “wholly manufactured in a country other than Canada” mean in the case of the CPLR? Can such general criteria be relied on, or does the CFIA have other things in mind? Will a reconstituted apple juice made in Canada with concentrated apple juice from China be a product of China? Under current Product of Canada guidelines, which is a separate subject matter, such a product could not be a product of Canada. It could be “Made in Canada with imported ingredients.” Will the CFIA require more than we expect now? For that we will need to wait and see the next draft of the agency’s labelling modernization, which like everything else, is a bit overdue.
Gary Gnirss is a partner and president of Legal Suites Inc., specializing in regulatory software and services. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org