Can you tell if a food is healthy just by looking the front of its packaging? Do you know if your favourite Canadian pre-packaged foods are high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat?
Due to pending regulatory changes, this may be easier to do in the near future! Health Canada is proposing to implement new front-of-package (FOP) labelling which will make identifying key nutrition information on pre-packaged foods easier to do.
Stemming from Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy, Health Canada’s proposed FOP labelling would focus on three specific nutrients of public health concern: sodium, sugar and saturated fat. These nutrients have been associated with increased risk of various chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The proposed FOP labelling is being considered to help consumers better identify foods which contain high amounts of these nutrients when making retail point-of-sale decisions. The goal of the FOP labelling is to help encourage consumer choices in support of a healthy lifestyle.
Health Canada is considering 9 different versions of a FOP logo
for use on Canadian food labels, as follows:
Various design parameters are being considered, including:
- The use of colour versus black and white FOP symbols.
- Colour coding may help the symbol stand out; however, this may impact design and cost considerations;
- If the symbol using “stoplight” colours (i.e. red, orange and green) is selected, there may be confusion when comparing two foods side-by-side. For example, is one product with one red and two green symbols “nutritionally superior” to a product with 3 yellow symbols? Or vice versa?
- How will consumers differentiate between nutrient dense vs. nutrient poor foods?
- Using a symbol to declare a product simply as “high in” one of the nutrients of health concern may not paint the full picture of the nutritional profile of the food. For example, FOP symbols for chocolate milk packaging and soft drinks may similarly bear a “high in sugar” alert; however, milk is a nutrient dense food, while soft drinks are generally nutrient poor. This may create confusion at point of sale for many consumers.
- Interpretive versus detailed symbol.
- Some of the proposed symbols are designed to be interpretive (i.e. simplistic in design), only showing basic information in the simplest possible terms. However, other proposed symbols would provide an array of information to the consumer, including declared amounts and percentages of nutrient, as well as the colour ranking. There is the potential for consumers to find the more detailed symbols alarming, and/or misunderstand the intended messaging.
The pros and cons of the suggested FOP labelling options were discussed at a Health Canada-hosted industry stakeholder meeting in Ottawa on September 18, 2017. Source’s Regulatory Affairs Team participated in the stakeholder meeting via webcast. The event featured presentations by key industry trade organizations, including FCPC (Food & Consumer Products Canada), RCC (Retail Council of Canada), and CBA (Canadian Beverage Association).
An engaging panel discussion was led by experts on consumer research from the Universities of Toronto, Alberta, and Waterloo. Overall, the meeting achieved its goal of discussing the strategy, benefits and risks associated with suggested design of the FOP labelling proposal.
If the proposed labelling is approved, Canadians can expect to see implementation of the FOP labelling on pre-packaged foods within the next 3-4 years. This anticipated timeline will nicely align with the pending industry changes to Canadian Nutrition Labelling, which are required to be completed by 2021. The FOP proposal been met with much debate amongst industry, with concern being voiced from suppliers, and support coming from dieticians and health care practitioners.