Labelling of genetically engineered foods in Canada
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) carry joint responsibility for federal food labelling policies in Canada under the Food and Drugs Act. Health Canada is responsible for setting food labelling policies with respect to health and safety matters (for example, nutritional content, special dietary needs, allergens, etc.). This applies to all foods, including foods that have been derived through genetic engineering. CFIA is responsible for the development of non-health and safety food labelling regulations and policies and enforcement of all food labelling legislation. The CFIA sets standards for Canadian food labels so that they will be truthful and not misleading. These standards help consumers to make informed choices about the foods they eat.
There have been consultations since 1993 in Canada on the labelling of novel foods derived from genetic engineering. Based on these consultations, a set of guidelines was developed.
Mandatory labelling for foods, including genetically engineered foods, can be required by Health Canada where there are health or safety concerns that could be mitigated through labelling, or to highlight a significant nutritional or compositional change.
Voluntary labelling is permitted in order to provide consumers with information that is not related to the safety of the product. To facilitate the use of such voluntary labelling, the Canadian government supported the development of a national standard to provide guidance on the voluntary labelling of products of genetic engineering.
The Standards Council of Canada officially adopted the standard for Voluntary labelling and advertising of foods that are and are not products of genetic engineering (CAN/CGSB-32.315-2004, Reaffirmed 2021), as a national standard of Canada in 2004. The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), an accredited standards development organization within Public Works and Government Services Canada, is responsible for the administration of the standard-development process.
In 1999, the CGSB established a multi-stakeholder committee to undertake the development of the standard. Committee members included participants from federal departments and agencies (including the CFIA and Health Canada), consumer groups, food manufacturers, grocery distributors, provincial representatives and farm organizations. The development of standards is a consensus-driven process, and is reviewed by the Standards Council of Canada, the body that administers Canada's National Standards System.
The standard was reaffirmed in 2021 following the re-establishment of a multi-stakeholder committee who determined that the standard was still technically valid.
The national standard provides guidelines for:
- model voluntary label declarations that are understandable and not misleading
- positive and negative claims (for example, "products of genetic engineering" or "not products of genetic engineering"), and
- labelling for single and multi-ingredient foods
The topic of labelling products of biotechnology has received significant international consideration in the context of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international standards setting body for food, of which Canada is a member. Codex texts provide guidance for the labelling of foods derived from modern biotechnology. Canada's current approach is consistent with this guidance.
- CFIA: Method of production claims – Novel foods, including novel foods that are products of genetic modification
- CGSB: Frequently asked questions on the standards development process
- Health Canada: About novel and genetically-modified (GM) foods
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