Regulatory Affairs: On the Label
By Gary GnirssBusiness Operations Exporting & Importing Food Trends Packaging Health & Wellness consumer perception health labelling
Front of packaging labelling (FOP) is a voluntary practice of essentially highlighting the nutritional characteristics of a food product, and includes the use of logos and symbols. It’s like a modern day heads up display on food packages and point of purchase information.
Such information can have a powerful influence on a consumer’s purchasing decision. Because of this, labelling practices have been receiving much attention by governments around the world, including in the EU, U.S. and Canada. In a paradoxical sense, regulators want consumers to make informed decisions about the foods they purchase and consume, but they are also aware that such information could confuse consumers. In fact, research shows that consumers who rely on FOP nutrition information often do not read the full nutrition facts elsewhere on the package.
Nutrient content and health claims, including the manner in which they are presented on labelling and in advertising, are strictly governed in Canada. The federal Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) as administered by Health Canada and enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, speaks to this. The advantage of uniformity in Canada is that the FDR applies to all foods sold, whereas in the U.S. different jurisdictions and legislation cover poultry, meat and other food products. However, the advantage in the U.S. is that foods regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that include nutrient content claims must also include a disclosure statement (for example, “See nutrition information for fat content”) where the food exceeds the threshold levels for fat (13 g), saturated fat (four grams), cholesterol (60 mg) and sodium (480 mg), based on a serving size and reference amount. A similar requirement does not exist in Canada. In addition, the U.S. has nutrient criteria based on threshold levels of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and has requirements for a food to be a source of a nutrient where it is claimed to be healthy. Criteria such as this do not exist in Canada. This is a definite advantage for U.S. consumers.
In general, and unless the FDR provides for representations regarding amounts of nutrients, such claims would be prohibited. The manner, including type height and prominence, in which most claims must or must not be presented on labelling or advertising is also strictly governed. There are however some claims, such as those related to vitamin or mineral representations (for example, “source of vitamin C”), and straightforward statements regarding the content of nutrients (such as “three grams of fat per serving”), that are not subject to the constraints as other claims such as “light – reduced in fat.” The flexibility in presenting such claims lends to FOP creativity, and thus a lack of uniformity. In 2005 Health Canada had introduced proposed regulations in Canada Gazette I that would have removed the flexibility in presenting these claims as well. These regulations were never finalized. If Health Canada intends to pursue actual amendments, they will need to reintroduce these again as proposed regulations.
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