Food In Canada

Regulatory Affairs: Greening the Label

By Gary Gnirss   

Business Operations Packaging Regulation Sustainability environmental government regulations labelling Sustainable

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that green, for lack of a better word, is good. Green is right, green works. Green clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Green, in all of its forms; green for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.” Not exactly what Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko said, but it works here.

Of course we’re speaking of consumer products, including foods, that are a bit kinder to the environment. Labelling and advertising promoting green products is huge these days and does put a rosy complexion on many bottom lines. Lately however, media and consumers have developed a bit more skepticism over “eco-green” type claims. While food labelling and advertising is generally scrutinized more so than other types of consumer products, any weakening of the value of green claims will certainly affect food.

How then are “green” foods regulated? The answer depends on the nature of the green claim. For example, foods that are labelled as “organic” would be subject to Canada’s national organic standards, Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards. The actual regulations that will make organic certification mandatory – Organic Products Regulations, under the Canada Agricultural Products Act – come into force at the end of June, and only apply to products for import, export and inter-provincial trade. Products sold within provinces/territories would be expected to observe the national standard, but would not be required to be certified organic, unless provincial or territorial regulations require this. Currently only Quebec has such regulations, Manitoba is working on it, and British Columbia’s system is voluntary. This lack of uniformity is hard to explain to Canadian consumers, who just want “organic.”

Labels and advertising for food that is not “organic,” can also promote other “green” aspects, such as packaging or method of production (for example, meats that are “natural,” or products that are non-genetically modified). In many cases there are guidelines governing how such claims can be made or substantiated. In others, claims can be prohibited where they misrepresent the character or value of the product. In the case of packaging-type claims the common examples are those related to the package being recyclable, redeemable or made from recycled content. In this case there are both federal and provincial considerations: recycled/recyclable are split between federal and provincial authorities, while redemption of containers is under provincial authority and the food packaging material is under federal authority.


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