Labelling Legislative Framework

Purpose of Food Labelling

Food labels represent an important, direct means of promoting a product and communicating information about that product from seller to buyer. It is one of the primary means by which consumers differentiate between individual foods and brands to make informed purchasing choices.

A label serves three primary functions:

  1. It provides basic product information including:
    • common name;
    • list of ingredients;
    • net quantity;
    • durable life date;
    • name and address of manufacturer, dealer or importer; and
    • in some cases, grade/quality and country of origin.
  2. It provides health, safety, and nutrition information including:
    • allergen information;
    • nutrition information such as the quantity of fats, proteins, carbohydrates; vitamins and minerals present per serving of stated size of the food (in the Nutrition Facts table);
    • specific information on products for special dietary use; and
    • instructions for safe storage and handling.
  3. It acts as a vehicle for food marketing, promotion and advertising via:
    • label vignettes, promotional information and label claims such as low fat, cholesterol-free, high source of fibre, product of Canada, natural, organic, no preservatives added, and so on.

An interactive food label is available image which depicts the mandatory information as well as requirements related to certain voluntary information such as claims and brand names

Detailed information on all labelling requirements is also available on CFIA's Industry Labelling Tool.

Key Acts and Regulations

The Food and Drugs Act and the Food and Drug Regulations

The intent of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) is to:

  • Protect Canadians against health hazards and fraud in the sale of foods, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices, whether these items are domestic or imported products.

Subsection 5.(1) of the FDA prohibits the labelling, packaging, treating, processing, selling or advertising of any food (at all levels of trade) in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive to consumers or is likely to create an erroneous message regarding the character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety of the product. Subsections 3(1) and (2) prohibit health claims that might suggest that a food is a treatment, preventative or cure for specified diseases or health conditions, unless provided for in the regulations.

A food that does not meet the requirements of the Regulations is in violation of the Act:

An article of food that is not labelled or packaged as required by, or is labelled or packaged contrary to, the regulations shall be deemed to be labelled or packaged contrary to subsection (1) [5(2), FDA].

The Food and Drug Regulations (FDR), as they apply to food, prescribe, among other things, the labelling of all prepackaged foods, including requirements for ingredient list, nutrition labelling, durable life dates, nutrient content claims, health claims and foods for special dietary use. It also sets out bilingual labelling requirements.

The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations

The purpose of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA) is to:

  • provide a uniform method of labelling and packaging consumer goods, overcoming the confusion of different requirements under other legislation;
  • require full and factual label information from which consumers can make an informed choice in the marketplace;
  • prevent misrepresentation and deception in packaging and labelling; and
  • require the use of metric units of measurement and bilingual labelling.

No dealer shall apply to any prepackaged product or sell, import into Canada or advertise any prepackaged product that has applied to it a label that contains any false or misleading representation relating to or that may reasonably be regarded as relating to that product [7(1), CPLA].

No dealer shall, in advertising any prepackaged product, make any representation as to net quantity except in accordance with this Act and the Regulations [5, CPLA].

The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations (CPLR) prescribes requirements for bilingual requirements, type size (height) of information, the manner of declaring the net quantity, pictorial representations and standardization of container sizes. They also list the different exemptions from the labelling requirements set out in the CPLA. Another important section of the regulations relates to the tolerances permitted on the net quantity declaration.

Relevant Legislation Administered by the CFIA

Other legislation has requirements on the advertising and labelling of food in addition to those set out in by FDA and FDR and the CPLA and CPLR. There are many federal and provincial acts and regulations that pertain to agricultural practices and to the production, manufacture, composition, packaging, labelling, grading, marketing, storage, advertising, importation and exportation of food products.

At the federal level, these include:

  • the Canada Agricultural Products Act (CAPA) and its regulations
  • the Meat Inspection Act (MIA) and Regulations, 1990 (MIR, 1990)
  • the Fish Inspection Act (FIA) and Regulations (FIR)

The above legislation applies to federally registered or licensed plants. The Canadian Agricultural Products Act (CAPA) is a trade and commerce act with regulations pertaining to dairy products, eggs, processed eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, livestock and poultry carcass grading, maple products, processed products (processed fruit and vegetables) and organic products. The Fish Inspection Act and the Meat Inspection Act apply to fish and fish products and meat and meat products respectively, that are marketed through import, export and interprovincial trade.

More information about Acts and Regulations is available on the CFIA website.

Other Relevant Federal Legislation

Other federal legislation that could be relevant to labelling and advertising includes:

  • the Competition Act
  • the Trade-marks Act
  • the Radio and Television Broadcasting Regulations under the Broadcasting Act
  • the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations

The Competition Act and the Trade-marks Act are both administered by Industry Canada. A Guide to Trade-marks is available through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office's (CIPO) website.

The Radio and Television Broadcasting Regulations under the Broadcasting Act are administered by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). For more information, refer to Advertising Requirements.

Other legislation, such as the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations that is administered by Measurement Canada, can be relevant in some instances. For a reference to the Weights and Measures Act and Regulations, see the Net Quantity section.

These above mentioned Acts and Regulations are available on the Department of Justice Website.

Office consolidations are available from Canadian Government Publishing online or at the following address:

Canadian Government Publishing
Communication Canada
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0S9
Telephone: 613-941-5995 or 1-800-635-7943
Facsimile: 613-954-5779 or 1-800-565-7757

Federal Responsibility for Canada's Labelling Requirements

Federal responsibility for development of Canadian food labelling requirements is shared among two federal departments, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Health Canada

Health Canada is responsible, under the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), for the establishment of policies, regulations and standards relating to the health, safety, and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada. Some examples of Health Canada's activities in the area of labelling include the establishment of requirements related to:

  • List of ingredients for food allergen labelling
  • Nutrition Facts table to support healthy eating and for self-management of health
  • Instructions for safe use/consumption, storage, and handling

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for the administration of non-health and safety food labelling regulations related to misrepresentation, labelling, advertising, composition, grade and packaging. The CFIA is also responsible for the enforcement of the food safety and non-food safety regulations.

Enforcement of Acts and Regulations

It is the responsibility of regulated parties to comply with all relevant Agency Acts and regulations. The CFIA takes a risk-based approach to compliance management. Where compliance with the legislation administered and enforced by the CFIA is not achieved, there is a progression of tools in place to respond to non-compliance. While regulated parties are expected to comply with the legislative requirements, if non-compliance is identified the likely consequences for the regulated parties are clearly identified, predictable and consistently applied. Regulated parties can expect that any non-compliance will be treated seriously by the CFIA and will be dealt with in a professional manner.

The CFIA Compliance and Enforcement Operational Policy guides the CFIA's compliance and enforcement activities which are based on:

  • the principles of fairness, impartiality and transparency;
  • the powers and authorities set out in the relevant legislation; and
  • risk management principles.

Instances of non-compliance may result in compliance and enforcement activities by the CFIA. These take into consideration the gravity of the violation, a company's past history, and its willingness to comply with the requirements.