Regulatory Issues: Nutrition labeling moves north of the border
Canada now joins the U.S. in a small fraternity of countries that require labels to disclose the nutritional content of foods
On January 1, 2003, Canada published extensive new regulations addressing three concerns: nutrition labeling, health claims, and nutrient content claims. American food manufacturers that market food in Canada will need to bring their labels into compliance with the new requirements, which generally take effect December 12, 2005.
Notably, Canada has established mandatory nutrition labeling. We've had this in the U.S. in the form of the nutrition facts panel since 1993, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Canada now joins the U.S. in a very small fraternity of countries that generally require label to disclose the nutritional content of a given food. In Europe and in many other countries, food labels must bear nutrition labeling only if they bear a nutrition claim, such as fat free or low calorie.
Health Canada has not yet issued a summary of the nutrition labeling requirements or other forms of guidance. For now, food manufacturers looking to understand the requirements must resort to the 249 pages of regulatory text published in the Canada Gazette on January 1, along with the existing Food and Drug Regulations that are amended by this text.
In the area of nutrition labeling, the basic requirement is that all prepackaged foods include on their labels a nutrition facts table that provides the following information: serving size; energy value (calories per serving); fat content (grams per serving and percent daily value per serving); saturated fatty acid content (grams per serving); trans-fatty acid content (grams per serving); the sum of saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids (percent daily value per serving); cholesterol content (milligrams per serving and optional additional statement of percent daily value per serving); sodium content (milligrams per serving and percent daily value per serving); carbohydrate content (grams per serving and percent daily value per serving); fiber content (grams per serving and percent daily value per serving); sugar content (grams per serving and percent daily value per serving); protein content (grams per serving); and the content of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron (percent daily value per serving).
The regulations also provide for the sometimes-voluntary inclusion of additional information in the nutrition facts table. For example, the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids may be stated in grams per serving. This declaration becomes mandatory if a claim is made regarding the polyunsaturated fat content of the food, either on the label or in advertising. Twenty-one vitamins and minerals are included among the nutrients that may be included somewhat voluntarily in the nutrition facts table. If they are added to the food, they must be declared. If they occur naturally in the food, declaration is voluntary.
As with FDA's nutrition labeling regulations, Canada specifies in great detail a standard format that must be followed in preparing the nutrition facts table. There is also a simplified standard format, a bilingual simplified standard format, a bilingual simplified horizontal format. You get the picture.
The question on many minds is whether a nutrition facts panel designed to comply with FDA's regulations will be acceptable in Canada. The immediate answer seems to be "not really." There are several minor differences between the Canadian and U.S. requirements. For example, Canada has established "recommended daily intake" values (RDIs) for vitamins and minerals that differ from those included in FDA's regulations. Also, Canada's handling of saturated fat and trans fat differs from FDA's current proposed regulation for trans fat labeling. Considering the nature of these differences, though they are minor, it is difficult to conceive of a label that could satisfy both sets of rules simultaneously. But these differences may be ironed out at some point in the future.
Nutrient content claims
Canada's new regulations update -- rather than inaugurate -- the criteria for making nutrient content claims such as low fat. Forty-seven nutrient content claims are authorized. The regulations specify the basic conditions that must be satisfied for each specific claim. For example, if a food is claimed to be low in sodium, it must contain less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, with certain exceptions. The regulations also establish the exact wording that is acceptable for each claim (e.g., low sodium, low in sodium, little sodium, low salt, etc.)