As you may have heard, Health Canada is currently proposing changes to how foods are labeled. Although the changes won’t happen overnight, it is important to understand what is driving the need for change and how that affects us as consumers and business owners.
The process started in 2014 with the consultation of industry concerning the proposed changes. After the consultation period, all of the data was analyzed, presented and approved by the Treasury Board, and eventually appeared in the Canada Gazette Part 1. Another 75-day consultation period followed, and recommendations were again presented to the Treasury Board. This brings us to the present: we are currently in the “pre-finalized” stage. Once the Treasury Board approves the changes and they are published to Gazette II, the new changes come into effect.
Now that we know the process, let’s examine why the changes are happening.
According to Health Canada, the purpose of the proposed changes is to modernize and improve labelling so that Canadians can easier maintain and improve their health. In other words, the system currently in place is outdated and needs an overhaul to provide the consumer with useful and relevant nutritional details in line with modern scientific evidence.
What are the implications for consumers and suppliers?
The changes aren’t going to be that drastic visually; the average consumer may not even notice the difference at first glance. The idea is that the Nutritional Facts table (NFt) is still recognizable to consumers, but with improvements in layout and content.
The ingredient listing will be in an easier-to-read fashion (bullet points with increased font size and prominence). Another important change to be made to the ingredient listing will require that all sugars are grouped together in parentheses after the name “sugar”. In the NFt, you will now see a percent daily value attributed to sugar. The current system only permits the amount in grams to be listed in the NFt. These changes will make it easy to discern if the product contains a lot of sugar. Speaking of “a lot”, consumers are going to also see a new foot note at the bottom of the Nutritional Facts panel that reminds us that “a lot” is 15% or more of the daily value, and 5% or less is “a little”. These simple terms are being adopted by Health Canada for food labelling.
Consumers with allergies will find it easier to read labels since priority allergens (wheat, nuts, egg, etc) and food colours (listed now by common name) will be directly declared in the Ingredient Listing.
Another important change is concerning Serving sizes: They will be changed to reflect current consumption patterns, and will also be standardized. I for one, won’t miss standing in the middle of the grocery aisle trying to calculate which brand of chips is more “healthy” as this standardized labelling will allow for direct comparison of similar type products. For example, 20 grams would be the standard serving size of crackers. Across different brands, the number of crackers might change, but the serving size will all be 20 g. Or weighing a piece of bread to see if it equals 50 grams.
As a consumer, I’m sure you can agree that the changes proposed will make it much easier to shop and compare products.
However, for industry, the changes to food labelling are likely to be received with a little less enthusiasm. Not only is the Nutritional Facts panel undergoing a facelift, so too is the font sizing and leading. From a graphic/visual perspective, these changes may impact the design and marketing of products.
Rearranging nutrients, highlighting “a little” and “a lot”, grouping sugars together, changing Daily Value reference quantities, and updated serving sizes are all examples that may really change the presentation and declared nutritional profile of the product.
This is not to say that these changes shouldn’t be welcomed. The proposal is such that the Regulations will be implemented in the form of a “government directory”. Industry would use ‘reference documents’ and have access to the most up-to-date requirements. As noted, changing Regulations is a long process, and so the “government directories” will make it easier to implement revisions in the future and keep industry well informed. To me, this is one of the most exciting changes: having no access to the Government’s insider information often led many of us industry turning circles trying to access the “latest” details. This new “directory” system is sure to streamline matters significantly.
As part of the proposal, synthetic colours no longer need certification and must just meet FCC/JECFA specs. This is a significant change and brings this class of additives into alignment with international standards.
Overall, Health Canada feels that the proposed changes are likely to have a minor impact on the vast majority of products, and I tend to agree.
It’s important to remember that as the changes themselves didn’t happen overnight, neither will the implementation: Health Canada has proposed a 5 year compliance plan allowing a significant grace period for industry to comply with the new requirements.
NHP Consulting can develop a proactive compliance plan by reviewing your current product labels and formulas against the proposed changes. Our company also has partnered with ESHA and uses their Genesis software, which allows us to create Nutrition Facts tables for Canada, USA, EU and Mexico – all at the same time. Contact us to learn more.