Food For Thought: Changes Impacting the Content, Labelling and Marketing of Food Products in Canada Announced

Canada’s Minister of Health has announced the launch of a new Healthy Eating Strategy that will impact manufacturers, distributors and retailers of food products in Canada. This initiative proposes to implement changes to the way that foods are produced, labelled and marketed in an effort to address obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

The strategy includes the following elements:

  1. Restrictions on Advertising To Children–Although details were not included in the announcement, the strategy proposes to implement federal restrictions on advertising "unhealthy" foods and beverages to children. Marketing products to children is already subject to a number of in-force, voluntary or proposed restrictions. For example, Quebec restricts all advertising to children, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters has its own Code for Advertising to Children and a private bill was just introduced in the Senate at the end of September 2016 proposing to prohibit any food advertising directed at persons under 13 years of age. With respect to this new Health Canada announcement, there is much still to be determined, including important considerations such as: which marketing techniques are implicated, which foods are subject to the restriction and to what age range the restriction will apply.

    •     Note
    : Health Canada advised in an October 24th media briefing that it aims to have the legislative and regulatory framework to support its advertising restrictions in place by the end of 2019.  Expert round tables are being hosted in fall of 2016.  
  2. Sodium Reduction–Health Canada will be publishing an evaluation of industry’s efforts to meet voluntary sodium-reduction targets in processed and restaurant foods.  
  3. Trans Fat Elimination–The strategy included an announcement of a move to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat in foods. This follows an evaluation that, despite nutritional labelling requirements and voluntary limits, some foods remain high in industrially-produced trans fat.   
  4. Nutrition Facts–Health Canada is intending to make changes to the nutrition labelling requirements in respect of a number of elements including food colouring identification, regulating serving size and description of sugars. The changes are to be finalized by the end of 2016.  
  5. Front of Package Labelling–The strategy includes a proposal that would require certain information be displayed on the front of package (FOP) on food products to supplement the information already provided to consumers in the Nutrition Facts table. The proposal contemplates the use of nutrient-specific FOP symbols that would provide high level information about sodium, sugar and saturated fat content.  
  6. Changes to Canada’s Food Guide–Canada’s sometimes controversial Food Guide is being revised as part of the strategy.  The plan is to develop a series of tools for different audiences (consumers, healthcare professionals, policy-makers, institutional meal planners) that will reflect the latest scientific evidence on diet and health.  

    •    Note: An open consultation is being conducted over a 45 day-period ending on December 8, 2016. Learn more here

We will be monitoring the progress of the various aspects of the Healthy Eating Strategy as they are announced and implemented.