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Canada Takes instrumental Step to Standardize Labelling Compliance Dates

In a unique and noteworthy show of national and international regulatory coordination, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada have published a joint policy statement that will standardize compliance dates for regulated food label changes. The joint statement not only provides for predictable two-year compliance date options, but syncs the dates with those of the United States.

In response to industry requests for improved coordination and understanding between CFIA and Health Canada, due to the multiple, sequential label changes from the two which caused industry unnecessary costs, the Departments and Agency committed to developing a strategy for coordinating future changes to food labelling requirements. From that commitment came the 2019 Agri-food and aquaculture sector regulatory review roadmap supported by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

In working to then develop coordination focused specifically on label changes, the departments didn’t stop with national coordination, but conducted an international scan to determine possible global coordination. The United States was the only country with a predictable labelling cycle for food products, with the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) typically issuing final rules (i.e. regulations) every two years that specify uniform compliance dates for any food labelling requirements finalized in a fixed two-year window. The two-year interval allows industry to make orderly adjustments to new labelling requirements without exposing consumers to outdated labels and allows manufacturers to plan for the use of label inventories and develop labelling materials that meet the new requirements.

From all this, the 2021 Joint Policy Statement on Food Labelling Coordination was born. The joint policy applies to all amendments made after August 5, 2021, to the Food and Drug Regulations and Safe Food for Canadians Regulations that mandate a food label change, and:

  • Introduces a process for the CFIA and Health Canada to coordinate food label changes. While the intent to provide industry with greater predictability for food labelling change compliance dates, the policy also aims to maintain CFIA and Health Canada's ability quickly address serious consumer deception and acute health or safety risks while respecting CFIA and Health Canada's existing regulatory development processes and mandates.
  • Provides for predictable compliance date options every two years beginning January 1, 2026, which align with the intervals and dates of the United States. This does not necessarily mean that labelling changes will be required every two years, and food labelling change requirements will not automatically fall to the next available compliance date; rather regulatory amendments will have a minimum transition period of two years – with the following exception.
  • Exempts changes that address serious consumer deception or acute risks to health and safety from alignment with the predictable compliance dates. Additionally, transition periods for revisions to applicable documents incorporated by reference will continue to be proposed through departmental and agency notification processes.
  • Continues CFIA’s risk-based compliance monitoring and enforcement which could prioritize inspections at manufacture and import, as well as for food packaged and labelled at retail, over inspections of other food on retail shelves.

TAG Canada sees this as a very positive action by the CFIA and Health Canada. Not only does it simplify labelling for the Canadian food industry, it aligns with U.S. policy to make compliance easier for those exporting into Canada.

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