Health Canada Issues Long-Awaited Regulations for Front-of-Package Nutrition Labelling
Earlier this year, after years of consultation and consumer research, Health Canada published Regulations amending the Food and Drug Regulations to introduce new front-of-package nutrition labelling (FOPNL) for packaged foods high in sodium, sugar or saturated fat. Health Canada has indicated that the intended purpose of FOPNL is to help Canadian consumers make health-conscious decisions when purchasing prepackaged foods, on the basis that sodium, sugar and saturated fat have each been scientifically linked to various chronic diseases.
Scope of the FOPNL: “Prepackaged” Foods
The new labelling requirements imposed by the FOPNL apply specifically to “prepackaged” foods. This terminology refers to food products that are packaged in a container in the manner in which they would ordinarily be sold to, used or purchased by, a consumer. Prepackaged foods include those foods that are packaged in a way that may reasonably be expected to be obtained by consumers, without being subject to repackaging.
Food products that do not satisfy the definition of “prepackaged” foods are not presently affected by the new FOPNL requirements.
Key Compliance Requirements
The FOPNL Regulations mandate that prepackaged foods with a reference amount of 30 milliliters/grams or greater require a FOPNL symbol if the saturated fat, sugar or sodium content meets or exceeds 15% of the prescribed daily value. Further, foods with a small reference amount (30 milliliters/grams or less) require a symbol if the saturated fat, sugar or sodium content equals or exceeds 10% of the prescribed daily value, and main dishes with a reference amount of 200 grams or more require a symbol if the saturated fat, sugar, or sodium content equals or exceeds 30% of the daily value. “Main dishes” are defined in the FDR, and generally include prepared meals to which no ingredients must be added (aside from water), and that contain foods from at least two of several food groups (dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, etc.).
The newly required FOPNL symbols consist of a black and white magnifying glass that highlights whether the consumable item contains a high concentration of sodium, sugar, saturated fat, or a combination of any of those three nutrients. For most packages, the symbol must appear in both English and French, appear on the principal display panel of the package, and be of a size that is proportionate to the package’s principal display surface.
Exemptions to the FOPNL Requirements
Health Canada has also outlined several exemptions to FOPNL requirements. These exemptions can be categorized into three groups: (1) nutrient-specific exemptions, (2) technical exemptions, and (3) practical exemptions, as follows.
- Nutrient-specific exemptions apply to foods that have health-related benefits and should not be discouraged. Examples of goods falling under this exemption include fresh, frozen, canned or dried vegetables and fruits (other than coconut), plain milk, whole eggs, and foods considered to have healthy fat profiles like nuts and seeds.
- Technical exemptions apply to foods that are otherwise exempt from the requirement to display a Nutrition Facts table. These foods include raw or single-ingredient items, foods sold at roadside stands and farmers markets, and foods intended for further manufacturing or institutional use.
- Practical exemptions are intended to apply to foods where the use of FOPNL would be redundant. This includes consumable items such as sweetening agents, salts, and butters or other fats.
The FOPNL Compliance Timeline
Health Canada’s new regulations came into force as of July 20, 2022, but manufacturers have until December 31, 2025 to update the labels on their prepackaged food products to meet the new FOPNL requirements. This grace period is intended to provide businesses the opportunity to spread costs associated with the necessary packaging updates over multiple years, while also providing an opportunity to re-formulate products such that a food’s sodium, sugar or saturated fat levels do not meet the threshold amounts that trigger FOPNL compliance.
Preparing for FOPNL Implementation
The first step for manufacturers is to identify which of their prepackaged products will require FOPNL. From there, labels may need to be updated or re-designed to include the applicable symbols. To help label designers and the food and packaging industry meet the format specifications, Health Canada has created the Compendium of Nutrition Symbol Formats which provides detailed information regarding how the symbols should appear on product labels.
McCarthy Tétrault’s Retail and Consumer Markets group regularly advises clients on the packaging and labelling of food products for sale in Canada, and can help your business adapt to these changes.