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 image of a food label which depicts the mandatory information as well as the requirements related to certain voluntary information such as claims and brand names is available on the interactive food label page.

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 Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations

The Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) improves our food safety system and helps manage risk to protect Canadian families. The legislation draws together food inspection regulations previously administered under four different Acts into one overarching law. This enables the CFIA to apply consistent regulatory requirements and inspection approaches across all regulated food commodities.

Similar to the FDA, under the SFCA it is prohibited for a person to manufacture, prepare, package, label, sell, import or advertise a food commodity in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, quality, value, quantity, composition, merit, safety or origin or the method of its manufacture or preparation [6(1), SFCA].

The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR)  generally apply to all food for human consumption (including ingredients) that is imported, exported, and interprovincially traded (food that crosses a provincial border). Some of the traceability, labelling and advertising provisions also apply to intraprovincially traded foods (food that does not cross a provincial border).

The SFCR prescribes requirements for bilingual labelling, type size (height) of information, the manner of declaring the net quantity, the common name, the name and principal place of business, the pictorial representations, standardization of container sizes, and information that must appear on the labels of specific foods.  Requirements on standards of identity and grades have been included in documents incorporated by reference.

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 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has published an online Guide to Trade-marks.  

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.

Copies of government publications are available from the Government of Canada publications website.

General enquiries related to Government of Canada publications can be made to the following address:

Publishing and Depository Services Directorate
Ottawa ON K1A 0S5
Telephone: 1-800-635-7943 or 613-941-5995
TTY: 1-800-465-7735
Fax: 1-800-565-7757 or 613-954-5779

Federal Responsibility for Canada's Labelling Requirements

In Canada, the responsibility for food labelling is shared between Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Health Canada

Health Canada administers regulations and standards relating to the health, safety, and nutritional quality of food sold in Canada, under the Food and Drugs Act. This includes labelling requirements about the nutrients in food (i.e. the Nutrition Facts table), claims about nutrients, the presence of food allergens, and safety-related expiration dates. 

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The CFIA administers non-health and safety food labelling regulations related to misrepresentation, labelling, advertising and standards of identity under the Food and Drugs Act (i.e. the Food and Drug Regulations). This includes the company contact information, ingredient labelling, and quality-related best before dates.

The CFIA also establishes and administers regulations under the Safe Food for Canadians Act (i.e. the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations). This includes regulations for the misrepresentation, labelling, standards of identity, grade, and packaging of food. The amount in the package (i.e. net quantity), the origin of the food, labelling requirements for ready-to-eat products, and prescribed weights and container sizes are examples of these provisions.

The CFIA is responsible for the enforcement of all of the above regulations.

Enforcement of Acts and Regulations

It is the responsibility of regulated parties to comply with all relevant Federal 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.

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