The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (“CFIA”) modernizes the food label once again to align with consumer demands and international standards.
On June 22, 2019, the CFIA pre-published proposed changes to the Food and Drug Regulations (“FDR”) and the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations as a part of its Food Labelling Modernization initiative. In this round of proposed changes, the CFIA is targeting, among other things, country of origin, dealer contact information, the best before date and emphasized ingredient claims. It is also removing standard container sizes, incorporating a list of class names used in ingredient lists and defining “test market foods”. This revamp is meant to keep the Canadian food framework in tune with the increasingly well-informed consumer. We summarize the most impactful labelling amendments in the draft regulations below.
Best before date
The proposed changes will require all labels of pre-packaged foods to feature a best before date, unless the food is specifically exempted from date marking, like vinegar and chewing gum. The amendments also remove the current notion of “durable life” and define the best before date in the FDR as the date by which an unopened and properly stored, pre-packaged food remains marketable without any appreciable deterioration. Manufacturers will still need to provide storage instructions where necessary. The food must also maintain any of its express or implied quality representations until the best before date.
Country of origin
Currently, manufacturers of imported foods have the option of stating “Imported by”, followed by the name and address of the Canadian importer. In such instances, consumers may not be able to determine the food’s country of origin. In light of this, the CFIA’s proposed amendments require manufacturers to feature the country of origin on the labels of all wholly imported foods, whether commodity-specific or not.
Up until now, the CFIA and the FDR have not set out the level of detail required in the dealer declaration. Particularly, how detailed the address needs to be. At times, this lack of detail could leave consumers unable to get in touch with food companies. However, the draft regulations propose to include the dealer’s contact details (e.g. telephone, email, website or full mailing address) on the label as of 2022. This information would facilitate communication between manufacturers and consumers and allow food producers to deal with consumer complaints more efficiently, as well as minimize government intervention.
Consumer purchasing decisions can be highly influenced by representations that highlight authentic, health-focused or premium ingredients. An example of this would be “Made with Italian olive oil”. Typically, industry showcases these ingredients by using claims, illustrations or other representations on their labels. Often, these emphasis claims do not specify the amount of the ingredient in the product.
To address this, the CFIA is proposing a percentage declaration of the emphasized ingredient on the label either in the list of ingredients, next to the claim or as part of the common name. Further, industry would be required to use the term “flavoured” when an ingredient is referred to on a label (via a picture or words) but is only present in flavouring amounts. For example, pistachio ice cream that does not contain any real pistachios and only flavouring would have to be called “pistachio flavoured ice cream”. The current prohibitions on making false or misleading representations arguably already prohibit this conduct, but these proposals would codify the prohibition of this type of deceptive representation.
To give industry some time to adapt, the CFIA is offering three transition phases. The standard container sizes would be removed by the summer of 2020. The changes to date marking, contact information, country of origin, and similar issues would be in force as of December 2022, and the emphasized ingredients requirements would be in force by December 2026.
Industry should note that there is an intention to align the December 2022 transition period with Health Canada’s Nutrition Facts table and list of ingredients amendments, which was initially planned for December 2021. In essence, industry will get an extra year to iron out all the combined labelling changes that Health Canada and the CFIA have in store. As of now, the proposed amendments are undergoing a public consultation ending on September 4, 2019.
If you have any questions on how these changes could affect your food products or wish to participate and give feedback regarding these changes, contact our Advertising, Marketing and Consumer Product Regulatory group before your label reaches its expiry date in 2022 [5% emphasis added].