Supporting Canadians with improved labelling for natural health products
June 25, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Health Canada
Many Canadians use a wide variety of natural health products (NHPs) daily such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, homeopathic and traditional products. The demand for these products has increased during the pandemic, as more Canadians rely on them to support their own health and that of their families. Clear and legible labels on NHPs are critical for consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and to use these products safely.
Today, in an effort to better support Canadians in their use of these products, Health Canada announced proposed changes to the Natural Health Products Regulations to make NHP labels more clear, legible and easier to understand.
Health Canada’s proposal includes four key elements, which will help Canadians make informed decisions when selecting and using NHPs:
- A Product Facts table: Important product information, such as warnings and directions for use, would be presented in a standardized table;
- Clearly and prominently displayed label text: Rules would be introduced to improve NHP label legibility and readability (e.g., improved colour contrast and minimum font size requirements);
- Labelling of food allergens, gluten and aspartame: Priority food allergens, gluten, and aspartame would be identified in the warning section of the label;
- Modernized contact information: A manufacturer may display either an email address, telephone number or website instead of a postal address, as currently required.
This regulatory proposal to improve labelling for NHPs is a key component of the Self-Care Framework, initiated in 2016. Throughout the development of the Framework, there has been extensive consultation with more than 4,500 consumers, academics and health professionals on this proposal. Health Canada also consulted directly with the NHP industry to develop a proposal that balances cost to industry with the Department’s goal of providing Canadians with better labels.
This proposal also addresses a key recommendation from the recent audit on Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Program. It will improve product labels to help consumers understand key product information provided to protect their health.
We recognize that clear labelling is one aspect of improving Canadians’ access to safe, effective and high quality NHPs among a broader suite of improvements envisioned as part of the Self-Care Framework and in response to findings of the recent audit. Health Canada will continue working, in parallel, with industry and other key stakeholders to advance work in other priority areas such as extending risk-based oversight, introducing cost recovery and strengthening compliance and enforcement powers through Vanessa’s Law.
Health Canada welcomes all feedback through the formal consultation process in Canada Gazette, Part I, which will be open for 70 days.
Health Canada is also consulting on draft guidance that will outline the various flexibilities available to industry in implementing the labelling changes. This consultation can be accessed via the Consulting with Canadians web page over the same time period. All interested parties are encouraged to review the proposed regulations and guidance and provide feedback.
Evidence supports that the proposed labelling changes will improve Canadians’ ability to safely use NHPs and make informed decisions about their health, including:
- Increased font and contrast will improve Canadians’ ability to read and understand NHP labels, supporting safe use and resulting in fewer harms; and,
- Standardized formatting, with more prominent warnings (including for allergens and aspartame), will better support Canadians when choosing products, reducing risks associated with inappropriate product selection.
Taking into account the benefits to Canadians and the costs to industry, the expected net benefit of the proposal is $161.7 million present value (PV) over a 15-year period.
Canadians rely on NHPs for their health. More than 50% of Canadians say the pandemic increased their interest in finding information, products and services to care for their own health.
Even low-risk products, like hand sanitizers, can lead to harmful outcomes. During the pandemic, data from Canadian Poison Centres showed hand sanitizer exposure incidents, such as ingestions, were up to 4.5 fold higher from March to September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, including an 8-fold increase in youth aged 13 to 19 and 5 fold in seniors over 60.
An online poll published by the Office of the Auditor General identified that the product label was the second most important factor that influences consumer decisions to purchase natural health products.
Informed by feedback from extensive pre-consultations with industry, the proposal incorporates a range of flexibilities, such as moving certain information to a digital space. These flexibilities, along with a multi-year transition period, are intended to minimize the environmental impact as well as the implementation burden, particularly for small and medium-sized companies.
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health
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