Honey exempted from front-of-package labelling

From the Canada Gazette with relevant section highlighted:

  1. Front-of-package nutrition labelling

The proposed Regulations would amend the FDR to add a new front-of-package (FOP) labelling requirement for foods containing nutrients of public health concern (sodium, saturated fats and/or sugars) at or above a certain threshold to enable Canadians to more easily identify foods high in these nutrients and help reduce potential health risks.

General rules

Nutrition symbol requirement: The label of prepackaged products that meet or exceed prescribed thresholds for sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat would be required to carry a nutrition symbol on the PDP of the label to indicate that the food is high in one or more of the nutrients. The size of the symbol would be proportionate to the size of the principal display surface (PDS), similar to the current requirement for the net quantity declaration.

Nutrition symbol and its attributes: The nutrition symbol and its attributes would be described in the Directory of Nutrition Symbol Formats, which would be incorporated by reference into the FDR. A definition for this Directory is proposed, as well as a hierarchy of formats for both a standard format (with an English and a French version) and a bilingual standard format. Additional research and a separate and parallel consultation process will be undertaken over the coming months to finalize the design of the nutrition symbol. Further information is available on the Government of Canada’s website. (see footnote 5)

Thresholds for prepackaged products for the general population: The proposed thresholds for prepackaged products would align with 15% of the Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient of concern, based on the reference amount for the food or the serving of stated size that appears in the NFt, whichever is greater, or per 50 g for foods that have a serving of stated size and reference amount less than 50 g and that contain at least 5% of the DV of the nutrient of concern per reference amount or serving of stated size, whichever is greater. If a food exceeds the threshold for sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat, then the FOP nutrition symbol for that nutrient (or nutrients) would have to appear on the label.

The proposed 15% DV threshold is based on analyses that took into account intake recommendations, dietary survey data [Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Cycle 2.2, Nutrition (2004)], and food composition data. Based on this CCHS data, daily consumption of foods exceeding the 15% DV threshold would lead to excess intakes of sugars, sodium and saturated fats; hence, increase the risk of adverse health outcomes associated with these nutrients. Based on food composition data, the proposed thresholds are consistent with a recommended overall healthy eating pattern. Foods to choose more often, such as fruits and vegetables, would not be required to display a nutrition symbol, whereas many foods whose consumption should be limited, such as cookies, ice cream, sausages and sugar-sweetened beverages would likely display the symbol. It is noteworthy that the proposed 15% DV threshold is aligned with well-established Canadian food and nutrition policies, including Canada’s Food Guide, nutrition labelling, and the conditions for making “high in” claims for positive nutrients, such as calcium.

Reference amounts are standardized amounts of foods, set out in Health Canada’s Table of Reference Amounts for Food, that are typically consumed at an eating occasion. In general, the serving of stated size must be set as close as possible to the reference amount following the criteria set out in the Table of Reference Amounts for Food, but may also differ from these amounts, in the case of foods represented as “single servings” or foods sold in pre-portioned units.

The requirement to adjust to 50 g would apply only to foods that contain at least 5% of the DV of the nutrient of concern per reference amount or serving of stated size, which is consistent with the threshold for the “source of” nutrient content claim. According to dietary intake data, excess intakes of nutrients of concern are the consequence of consuming two types of foods. The first type is foods that are high in the nutrient of concern due to the large amount typically consumed. The per serving of stated size and per reference amount bases for calculating the amount of the nutrient are intended to identify these foods. The second type is foods that are typically consumed in smaller amounts but that are concentrated sources of these nutrients. For example, in the case of sugars, categories with smaller reference amounts (less than 50 g), such as jams and preserves, confectionery, breakfast cereals and sweet baked goods, make up approximately 25% of total sugars intake. The per-50 g basis for calculating the amount of the nutrient is needed to ensure that foods that make a significant contribution to excess intakes display the FOP nutrition symbol.

The 50 g basis is also consistent with the approach taken for nutrient content claims to ensure they are not used in a misleading manner. The 50 g basis is applied to prevent claims such as “low in sodium” and “low in saturated fat” from being displayed on foods that are high in the nutrient of concern on a per weight basis but that are consumed in such small amounts at a single eating occasion that the disqualifying thresholds are not met. Similarly, displaying the FOP nutrition symbol on foods with smaller reference amounts would ensure that consumers are not misled to believe that such foods are not high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat and that they do not contribute to excess intakes of these nutrients.

Some exceptions are proposed to the above-mentioned approach. There is evidence for the dietary replacement of saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in reducing the risk of chronic disease. Therefore, Health Canada is proposing to make an exemption from this small reference amount adjustment for saturated fat, provided that the product meets the criterion for a cardio-protective fatty acid profile (no more than 30% of total fat content of the food is composed of saturated fat and/or trans fatty acids).

Thresholds for prepackaged products intended solely for children one year of age or older but less than four years of age: To account for differences in the nutritional needs of young children, proposed thresholds for foods intended solely for children one year of age or older but less than four years of age would be linked to 15% of the DV for that age category, following the approach described above for the general population.

Thresholds for prepackaged meals and main dishes: The thresholds proposed for prepackaged meals and main dishes that have a serving of stated size of at least 200 g would be based on 30% of the DV rather than 15%. This higher threshold is necessary because these products contribute more nutrients to the diet than do individual foods.

Exemptions

For technical, nutritional or practical reasons, the following food categories would be exempt from the requirement to display a nutrition symbol. The conditional and full exemptions align with those for the Nutrition Facts table. The full exemptions have been expanded to include foods for which there is scientific evidence for a protective effect on health. These are foods which Health Canada does not want to discourage consumption.

Conditional exemptions: In line with the exemptions from displaying a Nutrition Facts table, the following prepackaged products would be conditionally exempt from the nutrition symbol requirements:

  • Alcoholic beverages with more than 0.5% alcohol (these products are conditionally exempt from nutrition labelling requirements in order to avoid giving the impression that they may have positive nutritional value);
  • Raw single ingredient meats, meat by-products, poultry meats or poultry meat by-products that are not ground, or raw single ingredient marine and freshwater animal products (since these products are considered less standardized than ground meats, which make deriving accurate nutrient values challenging);
  • Products prepared and processed from ingredients at retail, including from a pre-mix if an ingredient other than water is added to the pre-mix during preparation and processing (given the difficulties associated with labelling foods prepared with limited standardization and measures of control and to assist small businesses);
  • Products sold only at a roadside stand, craft show, flea market, fair, farmers’ market or sugar bush by the person who prepared and processed the product (to alleviate the impact of the nutrition symbol on small businesses);
  • Individual servings of food sold for immediate consumption and that have not been subjected to a process to extend the durable life, including special packaging (to alleviate the impact of the regulations on small businesses);
  • Products sold only in the retail establishment where packaged, if labelled by means of a sticker and the available display surface is less than 200 cm2 (due to space constraints and technical limitations of retail scale labels for printing, and to help alleviate the impact of the regulations on small businesses); and
  • Products with an available display surface of less than 100 cm2 (due to space constraints).

Loss of conditional exemption: The products listed above would lose their exemption from carrying a nutrition symbol if their label is required to carry an NFt. These products lose their exemption from carrying an NFt if any of the triggers listed in paragraph B.01.401(2)(b), subsection B.01.401(3) or section B.01.467 of the FDR are present. For example, this exemption would be lost if the label refers to calories or a specific nutrient, the food contains added vitamins or mineral nutrients, or the label or advertisement for a food contains a nutrient content claim.

Full exemptions: Exemptions that always apply to the NFt would also apply in the case of the nutrition symbol.

The following prepackaged products would be fully exempt from the nutrition symbol requirements:

  • Fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits or any combination of these foods without any added ingredients except water and approved food additives (adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy diet and may help reduce the risks of developing chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease);
  • Products with an available display surface of less than 15 cm2 [since the packages are too small to fit a nutrition symbol that contains enough information to make it meaningful (symbol and text)];
  • Individual portions of food that are solely intended to be served by a restaurant or other commercial enterprise with meals or snacks [since the packages are generally too small to fit a nutrition symbol that contains enough information to make it meaningful (symbol and text)];
  • Cow and goat’s milk products sold in refillable glass containers (since the available labelling space is limited to the lid, and to help alleviate the impact on small businesses);
  • Non-flavoured whole and partly skimmed milk, obtained from any animal, in liquid or powder form (whole milk because it is recommended as the main milk source if an older infant is no longer breastfed, and 2% milk because it is recommended in Canadian dietary guidance; it is not necessary to exempt skim and 1% milk as they would not meet the threshold for a “high in saturated fat” symbol);
  • Whole eggs, in fresh, liquid, frozen or powdered forms (meet the criterion for a cardio-protective fatty acid profile and sits right at the 15% DV threshold);
  • Sweetening agents, as defined in subsection B.01.001(1), which include sugar, honey, syrups and molasses (these products are all or mostly all sugars and are used by consumers for sweetening purposes in different amounts depending on application, such as coffee/tea, baked goods, toppings, etc. Having a nutrition symbol for “high in sugars” on these products would be redundant);
  • Salt for table use or general household use and salts listed in Division 7 of the FDR, specifically celery salt, garlic salt, and onion salt (similar to the situation for sugar, it would be redundant to require a “high in sodium” nutrition symbol on a package of salt); and
  • Individual operational rations for military use (since a nutrition symbol could discourage this population from consuming rations formulated to meet their specific needs).

In addition, the use of the nutrition symbol would be prohibited on the following categories of foods for special dietary use in divisions 24 and 25 of the FDR: formulated liquid diets, foods represented for use in a very low energy diet, human milk substitutes, and foods represented as containing a human milk substitute. The composition and labelling of these products are regulated in the FDR in order to fulfil the nutritional needs of specific vulnerable groups. In most cases, these foods are the primary or sole source of nutrition for these groups. There is the potential for serious health consequences if the consumption of these foods was discouraged as a result of an FOP nutrition symbol.

Since there are no DVs for sodium, sugars and saturated fat applicable to infants six months of age to less than one year of age, foods targeted to this age group would also be prohibited from carrying a nutrition symbol. This would be consistent with the NFt for such foods, which is prohibited from carrying the % DV information for macronutrients including sugars and the sum of saturated and trans fatty acids, as well as sodium.

Format and location

Building on Health Canada’s experience with the NFt — where consultations with literacy experts revealed that consumers have difficulty finding and understanding information when different designs or formats are used —, the proposed amendments prescribe requirements to ensure that a standardized format for the nutrition symbol is used and that it is in a consistent location on the front of the package.

Format of the nutrition symbol: The following proposed formatting requirements for the nutrition symbol would be included to ensure legibility:

  • The size of the symbol would be proportional to the size of the principal display surface (PDS) of the package (including small options for small packages) and is listed as part of a hierarchy in a manner similar to the existing hierarchies for the Nutrition Facts table formats;
  • A minimum buffer zone would be specified for each symbol in the Directory of Nutrition Symbol Formats, which creates a safe area around the nutrition symbol and ensures it is distinct from the background. The size of the minimum buffer zone is relative to the size of the symbol. While background textures or patterns in the label design may appear within the buffer zone, no text could appear within the buffer zone;
  • The symbol would be oriented in such a manner that its text is readable from left to right and is parallel with the base of the package; and
  • The symbol would have a minimum distance from the edge of the PDS in the case of cylindrical containers.

Location of the nutrition symbol: The nutrition symbol would be required to be placed on the upper 25% of the PDP on most packages. Placing the nutrition symbol in a consistent location across products would facilitate consumers’ ability to quickly and easily notice the symbol. This is consistent with feedback from consumers during consultation and focus group testing. To accommodate package design of foods that are packaged in horizontal packages where the height of the PDS is less than its width, the nutrition symbol must be displayed on the right-most 25% of the PDP.

Use of other voluntary nutrition and health-related statements, claims or symbols on the PDP: Any quantitative statement as described in section B.01.301 of the FDR and nutrition or health-related statement, claim or symbol described in sections B.01.311, B.01.503 to B.01.513 and subsection B.01.601(1) would not be permitted to appear on the top area of the PDP (either the top or right-most 35%) of a product that carries a nutrition symbol. If these messages are used in close proximity to the nutrition symbol, they could reduce consumers’ ability to quickly identify and interpret the nutrition symbol. This would undermine the effectiveness of the nutrition symbol, which is there to provide quick and easy guidance to help consumers make informed choices, and its message. In the case of any nutrition or health-related statements, claims or symbols that appear on the remaining 65% of the PDP, it is proposed to require that the height of the text used in the statement or claim (either in upper case letters or the tallest ascender of lower case letters in the text) not exceed two times the height of its equivalent on the nutrition symbol.

Imitation symbols: A provision would protect the integrity of the nutrition symbol by prohibiting the use of any other symbol on food packages that so closely resembles the nutrition symbol that it is likely to be mistaken for it.