In Canada the Food and Drugs Act (R.S. 1985, c. F27) is the principal federal statute governing the labeling of food. The Act applies to all food sold in Canada at all levels of commerce. Regulations made under the Act cover ingredient listing, nutrition labeling, and all types of claims.
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) oversee the regulatory process of food labeling in Canada. Health Canada is responsible for setting health and safety standards and for developing food labeling policies related to health and nutrition under the Food and Drugs Act. CFIA is responsible for administering other food labeling policies and enforcing all food labeling regulations.
The new regulations require a Nutrition Facts table that is modeled after the Nutrition Facts box used in the United States (see Box 2-4). Similar to the United States, the Canadian Nutrition Facts table will be a requirement on most packaged food, but some food products are exempted (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables; raw, single-ingredient meat and poultry, except when ground; fish and seafood; food prepared in retail establishments and individual portions prepared for immediate consumption; and alcoholic beverages).
The Canadian Nutrition Facts table includes calories and 13 nutrients in a specified order (see Box 2-4). Recommendations from and discussions with Canadian consumers, scientists, and health professionals led to the selection of the 13 nutrients (Canada, 2003). The required nutrients in the Nutrition Facts table are identical to those required in the United States, including a statement on trans fat, with the exception that the new Canadian table does not require a listing for “calories from fat.” Other nutrients from a permitted list may be included in the table at the discretion of the manufacturer, but the specified order of the nutrients must be maintained. Nutrient information with the exception of that for cholesterol must be expressed in terms of % DV, and, in the case of macronutrients, sodium, and potassium, in grams and milligrams based on a serving of stated size. The % DVs for fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, fiber, sodium, and potassium are based on Reference Standards that are identical to the DRVs used in the United States. Since the RDIs for vitamins and minerals used in the United States are based largely on the 1968 RDAs, it was decided to retain the Canadian Recommended Daily Intakes, which are based on the 1983 RNIs, until further guidance is received from the Institute of Medicine on the establishment of reference values for nutrition labeling.
The Canadian regulations require trans fat to be incorporated with saturated fat in the same % DV, with the % DV for the sum of saturated and trans fats being 20 g based on 10 percent of energy with a 2,000-calorie dietary energy reference value. Expression of a % DV was considered important to assist consumers in understanding the relative significance of the amount of these nutrients in a food. The % DV for cholesterol is optional. There is no % DV for protein because protein intakes in Canada were not considered to be a public health concern. Explanatory footnotes related to the DV are similar to those used in the United States and may be included in the Nutrition Facts table. The graphic elements of the Nutrition Facts table are tightly regulated to ensure the use of a consistent and legible format. The Canadian regulations, unlike those of the United States, do not include specific regulations to define the serving size except in the case of single-serving containers. Guidelines for establishing serving sizes are provided in CFIA’s Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising (CFIA, 2001). Reference Amounts, a specific quantity of a type of food usually eaten by an individual at one sitting, serve as the basis for composition criteria for claims and are regulated.
Only nutrition labeling that complies with the regulations may appear on food labels in Canada, and the information must be presented in both English and French like other mandatory labeling information. Because other countries’ nutrition labeling does not meet the Canadian requirements, they cannot be used on food sold in Canada.
The new regulations permit specifically defined nutrient content claims that are similar to, but have slightly different definitions than, those allowed in the United States. Prior to passage of the new regulations, health claims were not permitted on food labels in Canada. Now claims associated with four diet and health relationships are permitted: sodium and potassium and their association with blood pressure, calcium and vitamin D and their association with osteoporosis, saturated fat and trans fat and their association with heart disease, and vegetables and fruit and their association with some types of cancer. The regulations stipulate the prescribed wording for the permitted claims. One criterion for health claims is based on another reference value, the Weighted Recommended Nutrient Intake (WRNI). WRNI became part of the regulations in 1996 (Canada, 1996). A food must contain at least 10 percent of the WRNI for one vitamin or mineral per reference amount and per serving of stated size in order to be eligible for claims related to blood pressure and heart disease. The WRNIs are the demographic averages of RNIs published in 1990 (Canada, 1990) and are considered to represent the nutritional needs of the total population because they are weighted according to the age and gender distribution of the Canadian population.