Food Labeling Rules
How to Read Your Food Label: What is (and isn’t) included
Food labels have been mandatory in Canada since 2007. Regulations were most recently updated in 2014 to reflect consumers’ desire for transparency and accuracy.
Each label contains an incredible amount of information; you probably aren’t aware of just how much information you’re receiving each time you pick up a packaged food product. If you’re confused about how to read your food label, below is a list of the mandatory standards that the Canadian Government requires of each food product label (with a few notable exceptions).
- Bilingual labelling: labels must contain both English and French.
- Common name: foods must be labelled with a name commonly understood by the general population. No names that are misleading to the consumer (e.g. “a strawberry rhubarb pie that contains no strawberries” or “fat-loss donuts” that suggest results “not likely to be obtained”.)
- Country of Origin: All prepackaged food products sold in Canada are required to be labelled with the name and principal place of business of the company responsible for the product, such as the importer or manufacturer.
- Date markings: date of manufacturing, “Best Before” date, and storage instructions
- Name and Principal Place of Business: All prepackaged foods that require a label must declare the name and principal place of business of the person who has manufactured, prepared, produced, stored, packaged or labelled the food, or the person for whom the food has been manufactured, prepared, produced, stored, packaged or labelled
- Irradiation: some foods are exposed to a certain amount of radiation to prevent unwanted cell or bacterial growth and these foods must be labelled accordingly. Irradiated foods include potatoes (to prevent sprouting during storage) and ground beef (to reduce microbial load, including pathogens).
- Ingredients and allergens: perhaps the most significant component of a food label, all packaged foods must list all ingredients contained and common allergens (which include tree nuts, milk, soy, seafood, wheat, mustard seeds or any protein derived therein).
- Net quantity: means the weight of food (or volume in the case of liquids), less the weight of the packaging. The indication must be given in kilograms or grams for solids, and in litres, centilitres or millilitres for liquids (metric indication).
- Sweeteners: besides being present in the mandatory list of ingredients, some sweeteners are subjected to other labelling requirements. Aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-potassium, neotame, polydextrose, and sugar alcohols require additional labelling.
- Additives: Labelling for food additives is a complex process, but to give a brief and somewhat-insufficient overview, food additives are defined by the Government of Canada as any substance that when added to a food, becomes a part of that food or affects its characteristics. Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are some of the more commonly-found additives.
- Fortification: Did you know that for some food, fortification is mandatory? All dairy milks must contain vitamin D (vitamin A must be added to skim milk) and all fruit juices, whether in condensed or liquid form, must contain vitamin C.
- Grades: Again, this is a complex topic, but, basically, the government grades some foods’ on their ‘quality’, which may include parameters such as flavor, aroma, texture, colour, moisture, size, maturity, firmness, shape, cleanliness, density, clarity, fat content, condition of the food, as well as different types of defects. One commonly-known Grade is the “Triple AAA” standard for beef, which covers everything from the colouring of the flank meat to the fat content.
Notably, what is not required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to be included on labels is the presence of Genetically-Modified Organism (GMOs) or the method of production. As their website states, “They are labelled like any other food because our safety assessments have found them to be as safe and nutritious as non-GM foods”. The topic of genetically-modified food is contentious, perhaps because a clear-cut, universal definition for GMOs is lacking. Some foods that have been around for decades and that are generally considered to be nutritious and ‘clean’ by health experts, such as some tomatoes and broccoli, exist as a result of genetic interventions.
Some argue that the absence of organic status and GMOs on Canada’s food labels points to a seedy (pun intended) relationship between the government and the agriculture industry. The government doesn’t do any of their own testing on food products, but instead relies on reviews and analyses proffered by the producer or manufacturer. In comparison, most countries in Europe have their own government-protected regulatory standards and require the labelling of food products containing GMOs and, sometimes, non-organic materials. Those skeptical of Canada’s reticence on this matter point to the fact that Canada is one of the largest producers of genetically-modified organisms in the world (including maize, soybean, and beet); they argue that governing bodies in Canada aren’t willing to jeopardize one of the nation’s most lucrative and well-established industries by enforcing stricter GM regulations. Another study compared Canada to twenty-nine European countries and found that a conspicuously small amount of reporting is done by Canadian media on organic and GM food.
Many experts are hopeful for the inclusion of a GMO standard on Canada’s food labels in the near future. Numerous manufacturers and producers nowadays are choosing to include a sticker or label on their food stuffs that indicates their “non-GMO” or organic status, but this is entirely voluntary and not mandated by any governing body.
Are you like most Canadians who wish for more transparency on food labels? Now more than ever, we are faced with an overwhelming variety of food choices and a similarly overwhelming amount of information. If you’re interested in learning more about GMO and organic food standards and labelling, you can check out our article or visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website. The experts at Infofit always do their best to provide you with the most up-to-date, accurate, and responsible information when it comes to your nutrition and fitness.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.