Food advertising requirements
On this page
- Requirements specific to advertising
- Food advertising responsibilities
- Educational material versus advertising
- Claims that reference science or studies
Advertisements (definition) directly or indirectly promote the sale of foods through broadcast (e.g. television or radio), the internet, or in print. In general, mandatory information or claims that are acceptable on a food label may also be used to advertise that food. Unacceptable label information is generally also not acceptable in advertising. Advertisements must therefore comply with the general principles for labelling and advertising and any other applicable requirements.
This section addresses information specific to advertising; for all other information regarding mandatory information or claims, refer to the Industry Labelling Tool.
Advertising to the general public
Definition of "General public"
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd Ed.) defines "general public" as "the people of a community collectively, especially those not enjoying special privileges". The Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) include provisions that restrict advertising to the general public. In the context of these provisions, the persons enjoying "special privileges" as stated in the definition above would include physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals. Prohibitions on advertising to the general public would not include advertising to the persons with those specialized roles. As such, even if individuals with a specific condition (e.g. diabetes) are targeted, the advertisement is still considered to be for the general public if advice from a health care professional is not provided in conjunction with the advertisement.
Advertising related to Schedule A diseases
Subsection 3(1) of the FDA states that no person (definition) shall advertise any food, drug, cosmetic or device to the general public as a treatment, preventative or cure for any of the diseases, disorders or abnormal physical states referred to in Schedule A.
Advertising of formulated liquid diets
Section B.24.100 of the FDR prohibits the advertisement of formulated liquid diets to the general public.
The rationale behind this provision is that individuals should have the benefit of medical advice before considering using a formulated liquid diet in the dietary support or management of a specific condition that exists as a result of disease, disorder or injury. The advertisement of a formulated liquid diet to medical professionals such as physicians, dieticians or pharmacists would be acceptable.
Advertising to the general public – Examples
The following scenarios are considered advertising to the general public:
- print advertising (magazine, brochure, pamphlet, etc.) available to the general public, or targeted towards a specific group of lay persons (e.g. persons with diabetes)
- internet advertising available to the general public, even if targeted toward health care professionals
- broadcast advertising, such as radio and television
- brochures left on a counter or retail shelf for general distribution, without discussion with a health care professional
The following scenarios are not considered advertising to the general public:
- print advertising (magazine, brochure, pamphlet, professional journal, etc.) targeted towards health care professionals
- distribution of information or advertising materials by a health care professional to a patient or client (e.g. a pharmacist providing brochures to a customer during the course of a discussion)
Advertising of gluten-free foods
The advertising of gluten-free foods is prohibited as per section D.03.003 of the FDR. However, the context of the prohibition set out in this provision differs from those laid out in the above general principles.
Section D.03.003 exempts gluten-free foods from the prohibition on fortification, as long as there is no standard prescribed and the food is not advertised to the general public. As such, the intent of this section was to allow for fortification of gluten free foods for individuals with celiac disease to occur, without having to specify appropriate levels in regulation. Since individuals with celiac disease do not generally require medical assistance to determine which gluten-free foods are appropriate for them to consume, the advertisement of fortified gluten-free foods specifically to those individuals is not considered to be in violation of section D.03.003 (i.e., the advertisements would not be prohibited).
For more information on this topic, refer to the section on Advertising of gluten-free foods to the general public.
Internet advertising is covered by the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) advertisement definitions, and as such, it is subject to the same criteria as other advertising. Non-compliant internet advertisements may be subject to enforcement action by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA has jurisdiction over Canadian-based websites that advertise foods. If multiple countries have sections on a Canadian-based website, any non-compliances on the Canadian section of the site may be subject to enforcement action. Advertising on websites that are not based in Canada does not fall under CFIA jurisdiction.
Requirements specific to advertising
In advertisements, it is appropriate to describe a food by its common name. For example, in order to avoid misleading consumers, orange juice from concentrate should be described as "orange juice from concentrate" and not "orange juice". After referring to the product by its proper common name at least once in the advertisement, it may be acceptable to use the generic term "juice" or the brand name for subsequent or additional references. Ingredients mentioned in advertising should also be designated by their common names.
In some case, the words "imitation (naming the food imitated)", or "(naming the food) substitute" are required as part of the common name, including when used in advertising. Advertisements are expected to promote the imitation food (definition) or substitute food (definition) on their own merits and not highlight the qualities of the foods they replace, unless they, too, have these qualities.
Many foods that are imitation of another food or substitutes are described by coined names. For more information about common names and coined names, please refer to Common name.
There are no bilingual requirements under federal statutes concerning food advertising. Refer to Bilingual labelling for language requirements respecting mandatory food labelling information.
Nutrient content claims and health claims
Nutrient content claims and some health claims are subject to specific regulatory requirements related to the use of these claims in advertising. More information can be found in Nutrient content claims and Health claims.
Labels depicted in advertisements
Generally, labels depicted in advertisements should be current labels. Partial reproductions may be used in advertisements if the information shown is meaningful to consumers and is not misleading or deceptive. Mandatory statements that appear near the common name should not be removed in any partial reproductions of a label. For example, these label statements are important in conjunction with common names in advertising: "previously frozen" and "artificial smoke flavouring added" where applicable for meats and "carbonated" for carbonated mineral waters.
Advertisements for bulk beef, veal, pork and lamb
Advertising for the carcass of bulk beef, veal, pork or lamb is subject to advertising regulations requiring an indication of the grade. Refer to Meat and poultry products for more information.
Food advertising responsibilities
Print and internet advertising
There is no mandatory federal requirement for the review of print or internet advertising for food. Some provincial and territorial liquor boards may have criteria for print advertising.
Broadcast advertising (radio and television)
The Council is a national non-profit advertising self-regulatory body, which offers a fee-based service to provide advertising preclearance for the Canadian industry relating to advertising for alcoholic beverages, food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Council can review broadcast advertising scripts to promote compliance with applicable legislation. For example the Council reviews food and non-alcoholic broadcast advertising scripts using criteria in the FDA, FDR, and other reference materials and guidance.
The Council provides relevant information on the Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) web page, including:
- Guidelines for the Use of Comparative Advertising and Guidelines for the Use of Research and Survey Data to Support Comparative Advertising Claims
- The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards
- information on their preclearance services
Food and non-alcoholic beverages
The Code of Ethics of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters states no commercial message containing a claim or endorsement of a food or non-alcoholic beverage to which the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations apply may be broadcast unless the script for the commercial message or endorsement has been approved by the Food and Beverage Clearance Section of Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) and carries a current script clearance number. However, advertisements that do not make a "Food and Beverage Claim" are exempt from clearance.
For information about the advertising requirements and preclearance information related to alcoholic beverages, refer to Alcohol.
Educational material versus advertising
The difference between advertising material that promotes a product and material that is solely for educational purposes is important to understand when determining the legal requirements associated with the material.
All representations that directly or indirectly promote the consumption or sale of a food are considered to be advertising and thereby subject to: the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, the Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations, and other federal or provincial statutes and guidelines, including the Competition Act [subsections 52(1), 52.1 and 74.02], and the Trade-marks Act [Section 7]. The recipient of the representation is "anyone" as no exclusions are mentioned.
Print and broadcast material must be assessed on a case-by-case basis as to whether it is considered to be advertising subject to federal statutes, or whether it is uniquely for educational purposes.
In general, information or material produced or sponsored by the food industry may be considered "educational" rather than "advertising" when the following five criteria are satisfied:
- the material is obviously designed for the purpose of informing consumers in a factual manner rather than promoting the sale of a product. That is, the material is a statement or presentation of fact without commercialization. It gives relevant facts and points of view, not just those that favour the sponsor
- if the sponsor is identified, the content is still generic in nature and does not mention product brand names, other than in the sponsorship statement, which is not be given undue prominence
- if the material focuses on a class of foods (such as poultry), or a food group (such as vegetables and fruit), the class/group of foods is presented in the context of the recommended pattern of eating in Canada's Food Guide (see General health claims)
- educational material as described above will usually cease to be considered educational when linked to a product, (e.g., by being displayed with a specific product or shown in close proximity to it at point-of-sale). However, depending upon the circumstances, it may be acceptable for educational material to be displayed away from a food that is the generic subject of the educational material (e.g., in another area of a store or restaurant). (Note: Advertising material may be displayed with or in close proximity to a food at point-of-sale provided it is not misleading, does not refer to the prevention of disease, and meets the requirements of the FDA, FDR, SFCA and SFCR.)
- when educational material is produced solely by an organization that does not sell food (e.g., a health-related organization, producer group, marketing board, etc.), the retailer, restaurateur, etc. who has placed or displayed the material in close proximity to the food referenced may be determined to be responsible for its use as an advertisement.
This policy applies to printed and broadcast materials produced, sponsored or distributed by persons advertising or selling food, including manufacturers, retailers, restaurateurs, producer organizations and advertisers, with or without, the collaboration of health associations.
Example of an educational brochure
If a carrot grower wants to publish a brochure to inform consumers about the role of the diet in disease prevention, the brochure may focus on a food group or class of foods (vegetables and fruits), but must be presented in the context of Canada's Food Guide. Additionally, the grower may identify its corporate brand (Brand X) of carrots on the cover of the brochure without giving it undue prominence, but, the manufacturer cannot mention Brand X carrots, or its other products or brands, within the brochure. Lastly, the brochure may not be displayed at point-of-sale in close proximity to either Brand X carrots or to any other brand of carrots.
Claims that reference science or studies
References to scientific literature, media reports, general publications or surveys must be used with care to avoid misleading or deceiving the consumer.
The term "laboratory" suggests scientific personnel, scientific equipment and scientific research. It would be misleading to imply that a company maintains a laboratory unless actual laboratory functions are carried out by, or under, the direct supervision of, qualified scientific personnel.
Scientific and technical references and terms
Statistics and references from technical literature are usually unsuitable for commercial advertising. In cases where the subject is controversial or where there are differences of scientific opinion, it is misleading to choose only favourable opinions with no indication that an equally-competent authority has given an unfavourable opinion. Any scientific and/or technical references are subject to the provisions of all relevant acts and regulations.
Scientific and technical terms may not be properly understood by the public. Therefore, they should be avoided in labelling or advertising directed at the general public, unless fully explained.
Reference to media reports and publications
In food labelling and advertisements, it is not acceptable to quote from press reports, magazines or other publications if the quoted statement would not be permissible under federal food legislation. In general, the same applies to references from government publications. Even if the information is factual, the wording on food labels or in advertisements must be in compliance. In some cases, quotations taken out of context can be considered misleading.
Reference to surveys and questionnaire
Surveys and questionnaires are used to obtain opinions on foods from selected groups of consumers. Opinions on flavour, texture, taste and appearance of foods are usually not objectionable if the claims can be substantiated and are not derogatory. For example, claims such as "Canadians say that Super brand orange juice is the best tasting," must be supported by an adequate survey. On the other hand, claims such as, "Our product is the best tasting" could require substantiation or else be open to competitive challenge.
Under the Food and Drugs Act, advertisement includes any representation by any means whatever for the purpose of promoting directly or indirectly the sale or disposal of any food [2, FDA].
Under the Safe Food for Canadians Act, advertisement includes a representation by any means for the purpose of promoting directly or indirectly the sale of a food commodity [2, SFCA].
Means packaged in a container in the manner in which the food is ordinarily sold to or used or purchased by an individual – or in which the food may reasonably be expected to be obtained by an individual – without being repackaged, to be used for non-commercial purposes [1, SFCR].
An imitation food resembles the food imitated in flavor, texture, appearance and nutritional value.
Under the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), "person" means an individual or an organization as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code [2, SFCA; 2, FDA]. "Person" therefore may be an individual or an organization, and may include a consumer, a manufacturer, a retailer, an importer, a restaurant, any other commercial or industrial enterprise, an institution such as a school or hospital, and anyone else who sells, uses, or buys a food.
A substitute food does not have to physically resemble the food for which it substitutes but it should have the same nutritional qualities.
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