Bilingual food labelling
On this page
- Manner of declaring
- Further information on bilingual labelling
Consumer prepackaged food
Mandatory information on consumer prepackaged food must be shown in both official languages, that is, French and English. This includes core labelling requirements, such as common name, and prescribed words or expressions for specific foods [206, Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR); B.01.012(2), Food and Drug Regulations (FDR)].
The following are exceptions and can be labelled in one official language:
- the name and principal place of business of the person by or for whom the food was manufactured, prepared, produced, stored, packaged or labelled, may be in either English or French [206(1), SFCR; B.01.012(9), FDR]
- the common name of certain alcoholic beverages, if they appear on the principal display panel exactly as shown in B.01.012(10), FDR
Shipping containers destined to a commercial or industrial enterprise or an institution are generally exempt from bilingual labelling provided they are not resold to consumers at retail and all mandatory information for shipping containers is provided in one official language [B.01.012(11), FDR; 205(1), SFCR]. However, if the same shipping container is offered for sale to consumers at retail (for example, at a warehouse outlet), bilingual labelling requirements apply.
Specific words or expressions on the label of certain foods prepackaged in shipping containers are however required to be shown in both English and French, except for specialty foods, local foods or test market foods [205(2), SFCR]. These words or expressions include:
- "Keep Refrigerated" and "Garder réfrigéré", or "Keep Frozen" and "Garder congelé" on the principal display panel, in the case of a low-acid food in a hermetically sealed package to which a scheduled process is not applied [48(2), 399, SFCR; B.27.002(2), FDR]
- other specific information, words or expressions on the label of certain prepackaged commodities. For additional information, refer to the Food-specific labelling requirements of the Industry Labelling Tool
As a general rule, information on the labels of the following foods may be in one official language only, when they meet the definitions and specific conditions outlined in the text that follows:
- specialty foods
- local foods
- test market foods
A food that meets the definition of specialty food may be labelled in either official language [B.01.012(7), FDR; 205(2), 206(1), SFCR].
A specialty food [B.01.012(1), FDR; 207(c), SFCR] is defined as:
- a food or beverage that has special religious significance and is used in religious ceremonies, or
- an imported food that
- is not widely used by the population as a whole in Canada, and
- for which there is no readily available substitute that is manufactured, processed, produced or packagedFootnote 1 in Canada and that is generally accepted as being a comparable substitute
For example, Kosher foods for Passover and sacramental wines and host wafers, when sold to religious institutions, are considered to be examples of specialty foods that have special religious significance and are used in religious ceremonies. In these situations, they are exempt from bilingual labelling requirements.
Kosher foods, in general, are not considered to be specialty foods. However, Kosher foods for Passover sold at retail 40 days before and 20 days after Passover are intended to be used in religious ceremonies and may be labelled in one official language. Outside this time frame, these foods must be labelled bilingually when sold at retail.
Likewise, host wafers and halal foods are not considered to be specialty foods when sold at retail because they are not necessarily sold for use in religious ceremonies. In these situations, these foods must be fully labelled in both official languages.
Note: Foods must meet all the applicable conditions in the regulatory definition for specialty foods for the bilingual labelling exemption to apply. The majority of imported foods are not considered to meet the definition of "specialty food" outlined above and are therefore not eligible for the bilingual labelling exemption. This is due to the widespread availability and consumption of a variety of foods imported into Canada from various countries.
A local food for the purposes of the bilingual labelling exemption is defined as a food that is sold only in the local government unit in which it is manufactured, processed or packagedFootnote 1 and/or 1 or more local government units that are immediately adjacent to the one in which it is manufactured, processed, produced or packagedFootnote 1 [B.01.012(1), FDR; 207(c), SFCR].
For a local food to be exempt from bilingual labelling requirements [B.01.012(3), FDR; 205(2), 206(1), SFCR], it must meet the above definition and the following conditions:
- one official language is the mother tongue of less than 10% of the total number of residents of the local government unit in which it is sold [B.01.012(3)(a), FDR], and
- all mandatory information is presented in the official language that is the mother tongue of at least 10% of the residents of the local government unit in which it is sold [B.01.012(3)(b), FDR]
Local foods are not exempt from the bilingual requirements when both official languages are the mother tongue of less than 10% of the population residing in a local government unit. For example, if the mother tongue of a local government unit consists of only 9% French and 9% English, along with several different languages totalling 82% of the population, the food would be required to be labelled in both official languages, that is, French and English [B.01.012(4), FDR]. The exemption also does not apply where each official language is the mother tongue for more than 10% of its residents.
Note: Local foods for the purposes of the bilingual labelling exemption are defined by regulations and are not to be confused with "local" origin claims.
An example of a local food for the purposes of the bilingual labelling exemption is a product manufactured in Burnaby (BC) and sold only in Burnaby and the local government units which are immediately adjacent to Burnaby, that is, in Vancouver, North Vancouver, Richmond, New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody. However, as soon as this food is sold beyond the local government units adjacent to Burnaby such as West Vancouver, Delta, Surrey, and Port Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra in British Columbia or Kamsack (SK) and Barrie (ON), it ceases to be a local food for the purposes of a bilingual labelling exemption and must be labelled bilingually wherever sold.
Test market foods
Foods which are approved for a test market may be exempt from bilingual labelling requirements. For detailed information on foods that may be considered for a test market, conditions that must be met and applying for a test market, refer to Test marketing and other authorizations.
Manner of declaring
Legibility and location
Labelling information must meet applicable legibility prescribed type height requirements. The English and French information must meet minimum type height requirements but it is not required to be in equal type height. For example, the French common name could appear in 6.4 mm type height on the principal display panel while the English common name appears in 1.6 mm, regardless of whether it appears on the same principal display panel or on a separate English-only principal display panel. However, for consistency in legibility and to help ensure information can be easily read, it is encouraged that information be presented in the same type height.
Bilingual information required to be on the principal display panel may be presented in one of the following ways:
- the English and French information may appear on a single principal display panel. In such cases, it is recommended that either all of the information in English appears grouped together and all of the information in French appears grouped together or, the information in English and French may alternate on the panel
- when there are 1 or more surfaces on the label of a food that are of at least the same size and prominence as the principal display panel, separate English and French principal display panels may be used [B.01.012(8), FDR; 207(a) and (b), SFCR]
For information that may appear on parts of the label other than the principal display panel, bilingual information may be presented in several ways:
- the information in French and the information in English may appear on 2 separate panels
- all the information in French and all the information in English may appear grouped together on the same panel, or
- the French and English information may alternate on the same panel
When requirements specify "with no intervening material" (for example, a claim such as "Reduced in trans fatty acids" which must be accompanied by a supporting statement of the amount of energy or the nutrient per serving of stated size with no intervening material and in the same size type and prominence), information in the other language is considered intervening material.
Some provinces may have additional language requirements for products marketed within their jurisdiction. For example, the province of Quebec has additional requirements concerning the use of the French language on all products marketed in Quebec.
Sous-ministériat à la santé animale et à l'inspection des aliments
200 Chemin Sainte-Foy
Québec, Quebec G1R 4X6
Telephone: 418-380-2120 and 1-800-463-5023
Quebec French language labelling information can be found at the l'Office de la langue française - (French only).
Further information on bilingual labelling
Bilingual labelling of voluntary information
In general information on labels and in advertisements that is not part of mandatory information (such as recipes on a can of soup or games on a box of cereal) is not subject to bilingual requirements at the federal level, although manufacturers and importers are encouraged to present such information bilingually. Some examples exist and are outlined below. It is recommended that provincial language requirements also be consulted, see Other jurisdictions for more information.
Certain voluntary information, when added to labels or advertisements, is subject to additional regulatory requirements and must be presented bilingually. These are:
- Organic claims [355(1), SFCR] (for example, if a product subject to Part 13 of the SFCR is labelled as "organic", the same claim such as "biologique" must appear in French on the product label)
- Nutrient content claims [B.01.301(3)(a), B.01.305(4)(a), B.01.311(5)(a), B.01.501(a), FDR] (for example, a product that carries a nutrient content claim "9 g de lipides pour 1 bol (283 g)" in French must make the same claim "9 g Fat per 1 bowl (283 g)" in English)
- Additional nutritional information included in the Nutrition Facts table [B.01.402(9)(a), FDR] (for example, when the Nutrition Facts table declares the optional nutrient "Sugar Alcohols" in English, the same declaration "Polyalcools" must be made in French), and
- Health claims found in the table following B.01.603 [B.01.600(a), FDR] (for example, when the health claim "Does not promote tooth decay" is used in English, the same claim "Ne favorise pas la carie dentaire" must be made in French)
Languages other than English and French
Other languages, in addition to English and French, may be used in labels and advertisements provided the mandatory information is shown in English and French on the label and the information in another language does not violate the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and regulations, the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and regulations, or any other federal legislation. Labelling and advertising information must be truthful and not misleading regardless of the language in which it is presented.
The format and presentation of the Nutrition Facts table are specifically prescribed and there is no provision for the use of other languages within the table. Although other languages are not permitted within the Nutrition Facts table, these could appear outside the Nutrition Facts table provided the Nutrition Facts table is shown in English and French on the label and the information in another language does not violate the FDA and regulations, the SFCA and regulations, or any other federal legislation. Refer to Language in Presentation of the Nutrition Facts table for more information.
Net quantity symbols
Net quantity declarations are mandatory information and, therefore, must be bilingual; refer to Language and symbols for more information. The list of SI (that is International System of Units) used in the net quantity statement are considered bilingual. When words rather than SI symbols are used as net quantity declarations, they must appear in both official languages. For example, the English word "gram" in the declaration "50 grams" should appear as "gramme" in the French net quantity declaration "50 grammes".
Words such as "net weight" that may precede or follow the net quantity declaration are encouraged to be in both French and English when used.
- Local government unit
Local government unit means a city, metropolitan government area, town, village, municipality or other area of local government but does not include any local government unit situated within a bilingual district established under the Official Languages Act [B.01.012(1), FDR].
- Mother tongue
Mother tongueFootnote 2 means the language first learned in childhood by persons in any area of Canada and still understood by them as ascertained by the decennial census taken immediately preceding the date on which the food is sold to the consumer [B.01.012(1), FDR].
- Official languages
Official languages means the English language and the French language [B.01.012(1), FDR].
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