Pictures, vignettes, logos and trade-marks on food labels
On this page
- Pictures, vignettes and logos
- Third party endorsements
- Awards, seals and certificates of approval
Pictures, vignettes, logos, endorsements, and trade-marks (definition) contribute to the overall impression created in food labelling and advertising and as such, are subject to the General principles for labelling and advertising and any other specific requirements.
Pictures, vignettes and logos
Pictures, vignettes and logos are any types of pictorial representations that appear on food labels and in advertising.
Accuracy in illustrations
Pictures and charts are common types of aids that manufacturers or producers use on labels and in advertising. When they are used, they must not be deceptive, misleading or misrepresent the composition, qualities or value of a product.
In addition, where a picture professes to represent the food offered for sale, the actual marketplace product should be shown. For example, if the product must be prepared, then the product prepared according to directions should be shown in the picture.
Consider a juice blend that is made of "apple juice, orange juice, sugar and flavour", but is labelled with the brand name "tropical juice" and images of coconuts, mangos, pineapples, and papaya. The brand name and images on this package give the impression that the product is made wholly out of coconut, mango, pineapple and papaya juices, which is not the case. This label representation is therefore contrary to subsection 6(1) of the SFCA and 5(1) of the FDA. For more information on this matter, refer to Highlighted ingredients claims.
Vignettes and artificial flavours
If a vignette or other pictorial representation on a food label shows a natural substance (e.g. a picture of an apple), and an artificial flavour that simulates that substance is an ingredient in the food (e.g., artificial apple flavour), whether alone or with natural flavouring agents, a statement that the added flavouring ingredient is imitation, artificial or simulated is mandatory [224(1), SFCR].
The statement must be in both English and French in at least the same type height for the net quantity declaration as required for numerals [206(1), 229(1)(b), SFCR]. The location of the statement must be:
- on or in close proximity to the vignette or portion of the vignette, on the principal display panel (PDP) if
- the pictorial representation is on the PDP [224(2)(a), SFCR], or
- the pictorial representation is both on the PDP and another part of the label [224(2)(c), SFCR], or
- on the PDP, in close proximity to the common name, if the vignette is on another part of the label [224(2)(b), SFCR]
This provision applies to consumer prepackaged foods. The words "serving suggestion" do not eliminate the need for an "artificial flavour" statement.
This regulation does not apply when:
- a vignette shows a pictorial representation of a natural substance and an artificial flavour that does not simulate this substance is an ingredient
- Example: a blueberry/apple cookie, made with blueberries and artificial apple flavour, that has a picture of a blueberry but no picture of an apple
- a vignette shows a pictorial representation of a natural substance, and a natural flavour that simulates this substance is an ingredient
- Example: a picture of a cherry when natural almond flavour has been added to simulate cherry flavour. The ingredient list should state either "natural flavour" or "natural almond flavour" but not "natural cherry flavour"
Illustrations of people
Several principles govern the use of illustrations of people in advertisements:
- where pictures purport to represent a known person, the actual person should be portrayed in the advertisement
- representations of professional people, such as illustrations of laboratories or scientific apparatus, should not be used to create "atmosphere" if they have no direct connection with the product
- "before and after" pictures should be avoided
Heart symbols and heart health claims
It is generally not acceptable to use heart symbols and heart healthy claims to describe a food or food choice, whether on labels, menus or in advertising. The combined use may create an erroneous impression that consuming a single food or menu selection will provide heart health or prevent heart disease.
Specifically, it is considered misleading to use heart symbols or the word "heart" to:
- suggest or imply that a particular food is nutritionally superior to or healthier than other foods
- suggest that the consumption of a specific food or menu selection will, by itself, provide health benefits relating to the heart and cardiovascular system
Nutrition information programs that incorporate heart health in restaurants cannot identify menu items with hearts. Menu items may instead be identified using a check mark () to draw attention to good or healthy choices, provided that the information provided satisfies the requirements stated above and the reason for the program is made clear.
Health authorities do agree that a single pattern of healthy eating should be recommended to the public. However, even though a healthy diet may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is only one factor in the multiple etiology of the disease.
Exceptions – Acceptable uses of heart symbols or heart health claims
Symbols of affection
No objection will be taken to heart symbols used in a manner traditionally recognized as indicating affection or endearment, such as heart-shaped cinnamon candies, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, or heart illustrations on food products sold for Valentine's Day.
Health organization logo, name or program
Heart symbols may also be acceptable on food labels or advertisement when they appear in the logo or name of a health organization, or are used in conjunction with that organization's health information program, provided that:
- no impression is given that the food may help prevent, treat or cure heart disease, and
- the appearance of the health organization's name or logo itself satisfies the Third party endorsement policy
Additionally, terms that employ the word "heart" may be acceptable as part of the name of an information program of a health organization provided the program is identified as such.
Heart symbols with acceptable health claims
No objection will be taken to the use of heart symbols in conjunction with the health claim "A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may help reduce the risk of heart disease. (Naming the food) is low in saturated and trans fats". However, the use of these symbols must not give the impression that the food itself may have a positive effect on health, or that there is a role beyond the disease risk reduction claim. See Health claims for additional information.
A trade-mark (definition) is a word (or words), design, or a combination of these, to identify the goods or services of one person or organization. A trade-mark could include any brand name, trade name (definition), logo, slogan, third party proprietary mark, etc. that is used to brand or advertise a product, as described in the Trade-marks Act.
Trade-marks may or may not be registered; this process is not mandatory. However, when trade-marks, corporate names or labels are registered, the registration does not prevent the CFIA from enforcing legislation under its jurisdiction when the trade-mark violates any relevant provisions.
For more information on trade-marks or other types of intellectual property, refer to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
Use of trade-marks in food labelling or advertising
The use of trade-marks in labelling and advertising food sold in Canada must comply with applicable federal food legislation, including the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA).
Trade-marks are often used on food products as claims relating to:
- the character, quality, quantity or composition of the food
- the method of production of the food
- the geographical origin of the food, or
- the relationship between consumption of the food or an ingredient in the food and health
These claims, expressed or implied, must not be applied in a manner that is false, misleading, or likely to create an erroneous impression with consumers.
For example, depending on the product, the word "fresh" in a product's brand name might be determined to be misleading to consumers if it implies that food itself is fresh when it is not. Generally, the word "fresh" implies that food is not canned, cured, dehydrated, frozen or otherwise processed or preserved.
Trade-marks used to make a claim may also trigger additional labelling requirements. For example, in some situations, when a trade-mark implies a nutrition content claim, the product may be required to declare nutrition information, even though previously exempted. In addition, if a trade mark includes or implies a health-related claim, it is subject to specific requirements. For more information, refer to Reasons for losing the exemption and Health claims.
Government of Canada trade-marks
Official symbols of the government, such as the Canadian flag, national emblem or crest, Health Canada or CFIA logo, etc., are ordinary trade-marks that are protected against unauthorized use in Canada under paragraph 9(1)(n) of Canada's Trade-marks Act, and protected internationally under article 6ter of the Paris Convention. For more information, refer to National symbols.
Inspection marks are prescribed marks, stamps, seals, product legends, words or designs, or any combination of those. These include inspection legends and product legends (referred to as the Canada organic logo) which are set out in Schedules 2 and 9 of the SFCR and are prescribed for the purposes of the definition of inspection mark in section 2 of SFCA. It is prohibited for a person to apply or use these inspection marks, unless specifically authorized by the SFCR [2, 14, SFCA; 179, 358, SFCR].
Inspection legends are used for fish, meat products and processed egg products.
Third party endorsements
For the purposes of food labelling and advertising, a third party endorsement means the approval or sanction of a food by any professional or organization, or any individual or group. The use of a name, logo, symbol, seal of approval or other certification mark of a third party-organization, whether on a food label or in an advertisement, may lead consumers to believe that the food is endorsed by this third party.
Third-party endorsements may be considered misleading or deceptive when a food bearing an endorsement is represented as being superior to foods not bearing the endorsement. They may also be considered misleading if they are used in such a way as to suggest that consuming the food may, in and of itself, confer health benefits or prevent, treat or cure a disease.
Third-party endorsement policy
Third party endorsements or logos should be used with caution. Consumers must not be misled or deceived about the merits of a food, and they should be able to judge the merit of the endorsing organization. Third-party endorsements must:
- avoid giving the impression that a single food or brand of food is "healthier" than, or nutritionally superior to, other foods not bearing the third party's name, statement, logo, symbol, seal of approval or other proprietary mark. Health is imparted by the total diet rather than by individual foods
- avoid giving the impression that the food is a treatment, preventative or cure for disease. A third-party's name, statement, logo, etc. must not suggest that a food may prevent a Schedule A disease. Such a suggestion is false and specifically prohibited by the Food and Drugs Act
To do so, at least one of the following must appear on the label:
- a statement that clearly explains the reason for the appearance of the third party's name, statement, logo, etc. (For example, is this a joint education program of Company X and Organization Y? Has Company X provided financial support, or is it a sponsor of a campaign such as a Nutrition Week Campaign of Organization Y? Is the symbol present because a certain amount of the proceeds from the sale of the product will go towards an organizational charity?)
- the name of the third party (with or without its logo, symbol, or other proprietary mark) clearly shown, in conjunction with its nutrition recommendations or dietary guidelines or those it endorses. The nutrition recommendations of this third-party must be consistent with the recommended pattern of eating presented in Eating well with Canada's food guide and Eating well with Canada's food guide: A resource for educators and communicators
- a clear indication that the name, statement, logo, etc. of the third party does not constitute an endorsement of the food
It is not acceptable to use the logo of the Canadian Dental Association on the label of sugar-free gum nor is it acceptable to state "Recognized by the Canadian Dental Association to be safe for teeth". The logo and statement imply that the gum is superior health-wise to others.
However, the statement "Sugar-free gums are recognized by the Canadian Dental Association to be safe for teeth", which refers to all gum of that type, is acceptable if the use of the endorsement follows the above criteria.
This policy applies to third-party endorsements from organizations providing health and nutrition information for a single food or single brand of food. This is the case whether the endorsement appears on food labels or in food advertisements, and whether the food is displayed in retail outlets, restaurants or food service establishments.
This policy however does not apply to third-party endorsements by organizations providing health and nutrition information for groups or classes of foods. For example, it does not apply to:
- associations providing nutrition information to promote consumption of that type of foods (e.g. a dairy association promoting the consumption of dairy products)
- the gluten-free symbol of the Canadian Celiac Association. This symbol is recognized by consumers with celiac disease and is unlikely to be perceived by the general public as an endorsement by a health organization
- additional exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis
Awards, seals and certificates of approval
When awards, seals and certificates of approval are cited, the consumer should be made fully aware of the reasons for which they were granted. Awards should be mentioned only if the praise worthy qualities for which the award was won are also outlined and are still valid for the product. The date of the award should also be mentioned. Any suggestion that the food product is nutritionally superior to others or that the award was won for reasons other than those for which it was actually won, may be misleading, false, and deceptive.
- A mark that is used by a person for the purpose of distinguishing or so as to distinguish wares or services manufactured, sold, leased, hired or performed by him from those manufactured, sold, leased, hired or performed by others
- A certification mark
- A distinguishing guise, or
- A proposed trade-mark
[2, Trade Marks Act]
The name under which any business is carried on, whether or not it is the name of a corporation, a partnership or an individual [2, Trade Marks Act].
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