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Canada Proposes Changes to Nutrition Information on Food Labels

Author: George G. Misko
First Published in: Packaging Digest

Health Canada has proposed several modifications to the substance and manner in which information on food ingredients is presented on product labels. The proposal includes changes to the format of the Nutrition Facts Table, the list of nutrients that must appear in the table, the Daily Values (DV) requirements, and the List of Ingredients on food labels. Health Canada also proposed guidelines to increase the consistency of serving size information on the Nutrition Facts Table among similar products.

Some of the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Table include:

  • Format modifications to make it easier to read and to emphasize certain elements, such as calories
  • Changes to the order of nutrients so that those listed first are ones that Canadians may want less of, and those listed in the lower part of the table are ones that Canadians may want more of
  • Information on "added sugars" and/or the percent DV for "total sugars"
  • Requiring declaration of potassium and vitamin D (listing vitamins A and C would be voluntary)
  • Requiring the following explanatory message at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts Table: "5% DV or less is a little, 15% DV or more is a lot"

The proposed changes to the List of Ingredients include formatting requirements to provide a consistent look between different food products. These include requiring the list to appear in a box with a title, a minimum font size, bullets to separate ingredients, and listing the ingredients in black type on a white or neutral background. More significantly, the proposed changes include requirements on how the ingredients are listed, such as grouping sugars together.

Currently, all added sugar-based ingredients are listed separately in descending order based on their proportion by weight in the food. Under the proposal, all sugar-based ingredients would be grouped in parentheses after the common name "Sugars" (for example, "Sugars (molasses, brown sugar, sugar)"), and be placed on the list based on the amount of all sugar-based ingredients in the food. Health Canada has proposed a DV for total sugar consumption of 100 grams. Thus, the explanatory message as to a little or a lot that appears at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts Table, would suggest to consumers that foods containing 15g or more are high in sugar.

The proposed guidelines for serving sizes would reflect what Canadians typically eat at one sitting. For most foods that come in pieces—such as crackers, cookies, muffins and bagels—the proposed serving size would be the number of pieces closest to the reference amount, shown together with the corresponding weight (in grams). For foods that are divided before eaten—such as a wheel of cheese or frozen pizza—the serving size would be the fraction of food closest to the reference amount, followed by the corresponding weight (in grams). The serving size of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, sliced bread, gum and multi-serving meat—such as a whole chicken—would reflect the amount that is typically consumed. For example, the serving size for bread, which is currently either one or two slices, would be two slices of bread.

Consumers can comment on the current proposed changes until September 11, 2014. Graphics of the proposed Nutrition Facts Table and List of Ingredients format can be found on Health Canada's website.

This article is reprinted with permission of Packaging Digest magazine.