Questions and Answers - Food Labelling Modernization Initiative

About food labelling

Questions about food labelling and the CFIA Food Labelling Modernization initiative

Why is food labelling important?

Food labelling is one of the most important and direct ways for communication between consumers and industry.

For consumers

Food labelling and advertising provides consumers with important information that helps them to make informed decisions about the food they purchase for themselves and their families. This includes:

  • nutrition information, ingredient lists and allergen declarations
  • consumer value choices, such as organic

For industry

Food labelling is also important to industry. It allows them to

  • communicate and promote the content and characteristics of the food they are marketing and selling to consumers, and
  • show how their products are different from others on the market.

What is the CFIA's role in food labelling?

Government's role is to provide regulatory oversight on food labelling, including compliance promotion, inspection (including laboratory testing) and enforcement.

Responsibility for food labelling at the federal level is shared in Canada, between Health Canada and the CFIA.

  • Health Canada is responsible for establishing regulations, standards and policies related to the health, safety and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada.
  • The CFIA is responsible for enforcing regulations and policies that are developed by Health Canada.
  • The CFIA also administers and enforces non-health and safety related policies and regulations.

Why is the CFIA modernizing food labelling right now?

Over the last several years, the environment in which the CFIA operates has evolved and become more complex. We have also seen a number of changes in the area of food labelling.

For consumers

  • Consumers are looking for more diverse and innovative food choices.
  • Consumers are becoming more aware and knowledgeable about food labels, to ensure that the products they buy meet their needs (for example, health and safety but also consumer values and getting best value for money).
  • Heightened consumer expectations and increased media attention around labelling requires improved transparency and accountability.

For industry

  • Industry is seeking to remain competitive by developing new products and accessing new markets.
  • Changes in technology and increasingly open markets and global supply chains have led to an increased availability of new products and greater emphasis placed on marketing and competitiveness.
  • Manufacturers are finding more innovative and creative ways to communicate information about their products to consumers.

For government

  • Government cannot rely solely on historical approaches to address current and future needs and challenges.
  • To keep pace, regulators must develop a modern suite of legislative, regulatory, and inspection processes and tools, supported by clear roles and responsibilities, and effective information management and information technology (IM/IT) that support consumers, industry and government.

The CFIA is committed to strengthening Canada's world-class food safety system. This commitment was reinforced by the passage of the Safe Food for Canadians Act. The Act sets the stage for modernizing Canada's food safety system, which also promotes consumer protection and a fair and secure marketplace. This is a key focus for the CFIA as part of its transformation agenda.

Linkages

Questions about linkages to other initiatives

How is the Food Labelling Modernization initiative linked to other modernization initiatives?

The Food Labelling Modernization initiative is linked to other government department and CFIA modernization initiatives.

For example, Health Canada is modernizing its food regulatory framework as part of the Regulatory Roadmap for Health Products and Food.

  • It has modernized its food additives regulatory system, using new authorities under the Food and Drugs Act.
  • It has published in Canada Gazette, Part I proposed regulations to improve the format and content of the Nutrition Facts table and ingredient list, and information on sugars and colouring agents.
  • It will make regulations more efficient in other areas, such as food fortification, health/nutrition claims and labelling, and contaminants.

The CFIA's key transformation initiatives, all of which will contribute to modernizing food labelling, include the following.

The Food Regulatory Framework

This framework will create a single set of regulations and consistent requirements for all foods and, where possible, reduce the complexity and modernize our approach towards consumer protection. Where possible, this framework will use outcome-based regulation, placing more emphasis on specific and measurable outcomes and less emphasis on prescriptive requirements to achieve compliance aims. Other approaches, such as incorporation by reference, will also be explored.

Inspection Modernization

This initiative examines the CFIA's various food inspection programs, with the goal being a single and consistent inspection approach across commodities, while shifting to a more pro-active and preventive approach. This work will result in a single food program and an improved inspection delivery model.

Compliance Promotion

The new inspection model also facilitates consistent compliance and enforcement responses across all food commodities by providing stakeholders, particularly regulated parties, with the tools and information they need to comply with regulations.

Food Labelling Modernization

This initiative will develop a modern and innovative food labelling system within the context of the CFIA's priorities and vision, which aligns with the new Safe Food for Canadians Act and the CFIA's other modernization initiatives.
It focuses on four key areas:

  • roles, responsibilities and partnerships
  • regulation
  • policy and program development
  • service delivery and information management and information technology (IM/IT)

The successes in these modernization initiatives, including the Food Labelling Modernization initiative, will all contribute to modernizing food labelling.

What have other countries done in the area of food labelling modernization?

Similar food labelling projects have been done in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It is important that our food labelling system remains comparable and takes into account national and international best practices and lessons learned, to enhance confidence domestically and internationally.

Examples of recommendations from other countries include the following.

  • All labelling proposals should be tested against a number of simple criteria including safety, promotion of consumer choice and fair competition. These criteria could help determine roles and responsibilities, as well as how to prioritize issues.
  • Food labelling policy should be guided by an issues hierarchy that adjusts the level of consumer, industry and government involvement based on health and safety risks—the higher the risk, the more government involvement is needed. The continuum includes: food safety, preventive health, and non-health and safety consumer values.
  • Industry-initiated approaches should be recognized as valuable. Industry, in collaboration with other stakeholders, could develop and apply other approaches to deal with consumer values-based claims, i.e. non-health and safety claims.
  • Government should monitor industry-initiated approaches and if it finds that these do not work, should consider a more prescriptive regulatory approach.
  • Use of web-based systems to enhance compliance.

Stakeholders

Questions about the Food Labelling Modernization initiative and stakeholders

Who will be consulted?

To get a balanced understanding of views, consultations have included a wide range of stakeholders, including

  • consumers and consumer groups
  • industry and industry groups
  • academia
  • CFIA employees
  • other government departments
  • provincial and territorial governments
  • international partners

What is my role in this initiative?

Consumers, industry and government all have an important role to play in enhancing food labelling in Canada. Through participation in this initiative, we will work together to develop a more modern and innovative food labelling system that benefits us all.

Timeframe and participation

Consultations - Food Labelling Modernization Initiative

Day-to-day business

Questions about the Food Labelling Modernization and day-to-day business

Will the initiative affect day-to-day business related to food labels?

Our day-to-day food safety and consumer protection work is our top priority. This initiative will not affect regular business related to food labelling. While the modernization initiatives are being undertaken, we will continue to deliver on our day-to-day activities.

Can I continue to submit questions about food labelling while the initiative is on-going?

Yes, you can continue to submit questions about food labelling while the initiative is taking place. While the modernization initiatives are being undertaken, we will continue to deliver on our day-to-day activities.

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