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Archived - Discussion Paper for Food Labelling Modernization

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The purpose of this paper is to guide a discussion about modernizing food labelling that falls under the mandate of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The paper is intended to do the following:


We want Canadians to participate in the discussion about modernizing food labelling that falls under the CFIA mandate. In order to accomplish that, we've developed this discussion paper. It is divided into five sections that will set the context and will guide you in the key areas that the CFIA thinks need modernizing.

  1. The drivers for change: The food labelling environment is becoming more complex and government must keep pace and modernize.
  2. Shared roles and responsibilities at the federal level: We will describe the roles and responsibilities of the CFIA and Health Canada regarding food labelling.
  3. The change agenda: The Safe Food for Canadians Act and the CFIA change agenda, that the Food Labelling Modernization is a part of, has set the stage for strengthening and modernizing Canada's food safety system.
  4. What we learned: We did research on best practices and labelling studies conducted by the international community. We also assessed food labelling in Canada at the federal level, and
    we assessed the CFIA's role in food labelling. Our preliminary research revealed interim issues and gaps, as well as outcomes that we can work towards.
  5. Our engagement approach: We will outline the initiative's focus and desired outcomes. We will also describe our approach and timelines, and we include some questions for discussion.

1. The drivers for change

The environment in which the CFIA operates has evolved and become more complex. This is due to widespread changes in methods of production and processing, coupled with rapid increases in global food trade. Consumers are looking for more diverse and innovative food choices.

At the same time, industry is seeking to remain competitive by developing new products and accessing new markets. Changes in technology, increasingly open markets and global supply chains have led to an increase in new products and their marketing.

We cannot rely solely on historical approaches to address current and future realities. 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 IM/IT. The intent of modernization is to improve food safety and develop new strategies for consumer protection, while also enabling regulated parties to obtain timely information.

2. Shared roles and responsibilities at the federal level

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

Food labelling is a shared responsibility that requires continual, strong communication and information sharing. Food Labelling Modernization initiative provides opportunities to enhance communications and partnerships.

3. The change agenda

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

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 set the stage for modernizing Canada's food safety system, a key focus for the CFIA as part of its change agenda.

The Imported Food Sector Product Regulatory Proposal

The Food Regulatory Framework

Inspection Modernization

Food Labelling Modernization

While these initiatives are being undertaken, we will continue to deliver on our priority day-to-day activities.

4. What we learned

To inform our work for the Food Labelling Modernization initiative, we did some research into what other countries have done to evaluate and modernize their food labelling systems. We also assessed food labelling in Canada at the federal level, and at the CFIA level.

Best practices and labelling studies conducted by the international community

When we looked at what other countries have done, we saw that several had also embarked on modernization initiatives on food labelling. The countries were Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.Footnote 1

They all made recommendations to improve food labelling in their own countries. We are providing some of them here for consideration and to stimulate discussion. We refer to the four key areas we want to focus on in the Food Labelling Modernization initiative.

Roles and Responsibilities, Regulations

Policy and Program Development

Service Delivery

Our assessment of domestic food labelling

Previous consultations from change agenda initiatives such as Inspection Modernization and preliminary research on food labelling reveal some gaps in other areas of food labelling.

At the federal level

At the CFIA level

One best practice we identified is the Canada Organic Office. It uses an alternative model to enforce the Organic Products Regulations. The regulations form the basis for the Canada Organic Regime. The Canada Organic Regime is based on a third-party delivery model where the CFIA accredits Certification Bodies, which then verify that organic producers apply the Canadian Organic Standards. The CFIA, as the competent authority, provides oversight to the system and is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the Organic Products Regulations.

5. Our engagement approach

In this section, we will outline the focus and desired outcome of the Food Labelling Modernization initiative. We will also describe our approach and timelines, and we include some questions for discussion.

Focus and desired outcome

The focus of the Food Labelling Modernization initiative is all foods sold in Canada, as well the CFIA's food labelling frameworks and regulatory, program design and delivery systems.

The initiative will specifically focus on four key areas with respect to labelling. The outcomes of these areas are not specific to Food Labelling Modernization. They are outcomes associated with all of the CFIA's change agenda initiatives.

  1. Roles, Responsibilities and Partnerships
    • Outcome: Improve compliance by effectively balancing the roles and responsibilities between consumers, industry, and government
  2. Regulation
    • Outcome: Better protect consumers and support industry innovation by strengthening the regulatory framework, while considering global standards and approaches
  3. Policy and Program Development
    • Outcome: Improve compliance by developing effective policies and programs that are based on risk; facilitate partnerships and support consistency
  4. Service Delivery and IM/IT
    • Outcome: Improve service delivery by applying standardized inspection approaches based on risk and prevention, and supported by appropriate services and tools.

The initiative's focus:

Details of the focus, with examples, are in the annex.

While this initiative will concentrate only on the areas within its focus, we will direct any comments or issues that fall outside the focus to the appropriate government organization, as needed. We will work with Health Canada and others so that our modernization initiatives align to theirs.

How we will engage you

We will be taking a two-step approach to talking to you about modernizing food labelling.

This initiative will contain the following stages:

Stages Proposed Timelines
1. consult with stakeholders on issues Summer/Fall 2013
2. gather and analyze all results from consultations Fall/Winter 2013
3. draft recommendations and options Winter 2013/Spring 2014
4. engage stakeholders on the recommendations Summer/Fall 2014
5. post a report on our website Winter 2014/Spring 2015

We would like to hear from as many people as possible, so we will be collecting information in different ways. For example, we will use online consultation, and face-to-face listening sessions.

The CFIA will consult nationally with a wide range of stakeholders, including

We are aware that this may not be the first modernization discussion that you may have participated in, as the CFIA has already engaged you on other CFIA Change Agenda initiatives such as Inspection Modernization, Regulatory Modernization, and Importer Licensing. The Food Labelling Modernization initiative aims to build on what you have shared with us in these previous discussions and offer you an additional opportunity to provide feedback and issues.

By sharing your views with us, we will have a better understanding of the issues that are important to you, and where gaps exist. The input you share will be compiled with those of other stakeholders and will contribute to recommendations for a modern and innovative food labelling system.

It is important to keep in mind that this modernization will take time, and that improvements to the food labelling system will happen over time. It will also require your contribution if we are to achieve success.

For more information

We will share information on the CFIA web page at each stage of this process. Visit regularly for more information on when and how you can participate.

Additionally, you can contact us at:

Questions for Discussion

This paper includes several questions to initiate discussion with you on food labelling, and provides an overview of how we will engage you over the next several months. The questions have been designed to be broad, to obtain a range of issues and balanced stakeholder views.

In addition to the questions in this document, we will be distributing a questionnaire for you to complete. The information provided in this paper should help fill out the questionnaire and participate in the face-to-face listening sessions we have planned.

  1. What are the specific regulations within the CFIA mandate that require attention in order to modernize food labelling? Are there any gaps?
  2. With respect to policy/program development and service delivery, what are the key issues that affect you regarding inspection, guidance, tools and IM/IT?
  3. Considering the scope of the inspection and food labelling modernization initiatives (specifically those areas related to non-health and safety consumer values, for example, claims on: natural, local, method of production),
    • What primary challenges or gaps do you observe, as it relates to roles and responsibilities of consumers, industry and CFIA?
    • How can we collectively modernize these roles?

Annex 1: Focus of the Food Labelling Modernization initiative

In Focus

Overall Focus: Includes all foods, as well as CFIA food labelling frameworks and regulatory, program design and delivery systems.

Roles, Responsibilities and Partnerships


Labelling regulations under the CFIA's responsibility

Administering labelling requirements for imported and domestic products that fall under CFIA responsibility in the following legislation:

Policy and Program Development

Examining policies and guidelines, such as policy on "local" claims, that are within the mandate of the CFIA, and that:

Examining the CFIA's process for developing and delivering policies, programs and frameworks.

Service Delivery

Examining inspection activities and tools related to labelling and advertising of food under the responsibility of the CFIA

Enforcing labelling requirements for imported and domestic products as they pertain to:

Out of Focus

Does not include food labelling activities that fall under the mandate of other government departments

Out of Focus: food for export/ sale outside of Canada

Roles, Responsibilities and Partnerships


Examining labelling regulations under Health Canada's responsibility

Labelling regulations under other government department's responsibility

Examining recently developed or revised labelling regulations or guidelines under the CFIA's responsibility, for example

Examining labelling regulatory changes under CFIA responsibility that would be inconsistent with international standards such as the Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods

Examining regulations and policies under CFIA responsibility that are not related to labelling of food

Examining labelling regulations and policies under provincial and territorial responsibility, for example

Requirements for bilingual labelling

Metrication in relation to net quantity declaration

Policy and Program Development

Examining policies and guidelines that are outside the mandate of the CFIA

Service Delivery

Examining inspection activities and tools under CFIA responsibility that are not related to labelling of food, such as related to:

Labelling Recipe and Registration Unit

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