[co-author: Tiasha Bhuiyan, Articling Student]
On July 20, 2022, amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations came into effect, introducing a new nutrition symbol for prepackaged foods. Part of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy, these amendments will require the labels of most packaged foods containing certain levels of saturated fat, sugars or sodium to feature a magnifying glass symbol with accompanying text. Industry has until January 1, 2026, to comply.
THE CORE REQUIREMENT
Subject to certain exceptions, the new nutrition symbol (a magnifying glass, Health Canada attribution and a “High in” statement, all in black and white) will be required on the front of prepackaged foods that meet or exceed certain threshold daily values of saturated fat, sugars or sodium:
Most prepackaged foods will meet this threshold if they contain at least 15% of the daily value of saturated fat, sugars or sodium per reference amount or serving size (whichever is greater);
For prepackaged foods with a small reference amount (equal to or less than 30 grams or 30 millilitres), the threshold is 10% of the daily value of saturated fat, sugars or sodium per reference amount or serving size (whichever is greater); and
For most prepackaged main dishes with a reference amount of 200 grams or greater, the threshold is 30% of the daily value of saturated fat, sugars or sodium per reference amount or serving size (whichever is greater).
The new symbol must specifically identify whether the product meets the threshold for saturated fat, sugars and/or sodium. The text in the symbol will vary depending on which nutrients the product is “high in.” For example, if a product meets the set threshold for saturated fat and sodium only (not sugars), the symbol would read: “High in Sat fat, Sodium.”
Specific size and placement requirements also apply, depending on the size and shape of the packaged food. For instance, the symbol is typically placed in the upper half of the front label. If the label is wider than it is tall, the symbol should appear on the right half of the label. The symbol must be in both English and French, either as two separate symbols with one language each or one symbol with both languages. Examples of the symbol can be found on the Health Canada website.
In addition to the nutrition symbol requirement, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency also brought into force various other changes to the Food and Drug Regulations at the same time, such as: changes to permit new nutrient-content statements and claims to be incorporated into law more easily; changes to explicitly permit certain claims for alcoholic beverages containing 0–0.5% alcohol (such as “low in alcohol”); changes to increase the amount of vitamin D fortification in cow’s milk, margarine and goat’s milk; changes to clarify certain definitions in relation to the prohibition on hydrogenated oils; and changes to the labelling requirements for certain high-intensity sweeteners.
There are three main categories of exceptions to the nutrition symbol requirement: health-related, technical and practical.
Foods that have a recognized health benefit or that are important sources of “shortfall nutrients” are exempted if they are not made with added ingredients that contain saturated fat, sugars or sodium. Examples include whole, cut, canned or dried fruits and vegetables; 2% and whole milk; eggs; and certain yogurts and cheeses.
Foods that do not require a nutrition facts table (NFT) — such as raw, single-ingredient whole meats and poultry, foods sold at farmers’ markets and most alcoholic beverages — are exempt from the nutrition symbol requirement. These products can lose their exemption (e.g., if the label makes a caloric or nutrient content claim and the exemption from displaying an NFT is lost).
Products for which the nutrition symbol would be redundant are exempted. Examples include butter, other fats and oils, packages of sugar, honey and seasoning salt.
These changes have been in the works for some time. Originating in the 2013 Food Labelling Modernization Initiative and the 2016 Healthy Eating Strategy, the front-of-package draft regulations were first consulted on and published in 2018. Health Canada canvassed various models around the world and decided on a mandatory model (similar to jurisdictions such as Chile and Mexico). The United States has not adopted a mandatory front-of-package labelling system.
Going forward, manufacturers of packaged food products should review their product formulations and labelling to confirm whether or not their products are captured. Given the three-year transition period, there may still be time for companies to consider reformulation initiatives if they want to avoid being captured.