FOPs: In-your-face nutrition symbols
The anticipated proposed regulations on front of packaging (FOP) nutrition symbols were published in Canada Gazette I on Feb. 10, 2018 (Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Food and Drugs Act – Nutrition Symbols, Other Labelling Provisions, Partially Hydrogenated Oils and Vitamin D).
The chief focus is on the mandatory display of FOP nutrition symbols where a food is high in the FOP nutrients sodium, sugars and saturated fat. High is generally considered 15 per cent or more of the daily value (DV) of the FOP nutrients, per serving of stated size or per reference amounts, whichever is greater. The requirement for food with serving sizes and reference amounts less than 50 g would be based on a 50-g amount of food, where the per cent DV of the FOP nutrients are five per cent or more per serving of stated size and per reference amount. In the case of prepackaged meals and main dishes with a serving of stated size of 200 g or more, the criteria are based on 30 per cent or more of the DV for the FOP nutrients.
As the name of the proposed regulations suggests, certain foods like many dairy products and margarine that are already required to contain vitamin D, will see the amounts increased to help bring intakes closer to current dietary recommendations. The Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) will also undergo some housekeeping with regard to Health Canada’s initiative to ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which is targeted for Sept. 15, 2018. At that time Health Canada plans on adding PHOs to the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods, which is incorporated by reference under the FDR, effectively banning their use in food. The housekeeping part relates to the use of “fully hydrogenated” terminology in the FDR to distinguish these from PHOs which will soon be prohibited.
The proposed regulations include the repeal of the new FDR regulations which require the identity of specific allergens and gluten sources when a precautionary allergen statement would be used. If these regulations are finalized as proposed a precautionary allergen statement could still use more generic terms (for example, “May contain tree nuts, fish, gluten.”). Health Canada will also be repealing the FOP and quantitative declarations for certain high-intensity sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, neotame and ace-K. A requirement to identify that aspartame contains phenylalanine will remain.
The current table of nutrient content claims codified in the FDR is to be repealed and incorporated by reference as the Table of Permitted Nutrient Content Statements and Claims. A new claim related to “low in sugar” will also be added. The claim “sugar-fee” will be based on the criteria of the food being low in calories as opposed to being calorie free, permitting a broader range of foods to be claimed as “free of sugars.” Unsweetened and “no added sugars” claims will be tied to the definition of “sugars-based ingredients” and criteria related to high-in-sugar FOP considerations.
At the core of these new proposed regulations is a requirement for foods with high amounts of saturated fat, sugars and sodium to include a nutrition symbol on the front of package, or the principal display panel (PDP). The nutrition symbols are not finalized, but Health Canada has proposed four versions.
The size of the nutrition symbols will be governed by the Directory of Nutrition Symbol Formats, which is to be incorporated by reference under the FDR. There are six size categories depending of the area of the principal display surface (PDS) of the package, and placement of the symbols on the PDP is carefully governed. As with most rules, there will be exceptions. These include, among others not mentioned here: infant formula; formulated liquid diets; fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables with no other ingredients other than water; packages for food with an available display surface less than 15 cm2; certain milk products; and prepackaged individual portions of food that are solely intended to be served by a restaurant or other commercial enterprise with meals or snacks.
Canada has had mandatory nutrition labelling for about 15 years now. The idea was that consumers would gravitate to this information in making dietary choices, but a nutrition facts table (NFt) is not required to appear on a main panel. This novel approach of in-your-face nutrition information related to foods high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar will certainly not go unnoticed. As such, it is expected to have a more direct and immediate effect on food choices. The proof will be in the pudding.