Food labelling coordination: Summary of comments received on the draft joint policy statement

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada consulted Canadians on the draft Joint Policy Statement on Food Labelling Coordination. The consultation was open for comment for 60 days, between February 2 and April 3, 2021.

A total of 32 stakeholders provided comments on the draft policy. The majority were from industry (25), with the rest from health organizations (3), provincial governments (3) and a consumer advocacy organization (1).

Summarized comments and responses are provided below, organized by topic. The following qualitative rankings were used, in this order, to roughly convey the number of comments received on major themes: “most”, “many”, “some”, and “a few”.

Overall approach
Summarized comments Summarized responses

Many of the industry stakeholders, a few health stakeholders and a few provincial government partners expressed support for CFIA and Health Canada’s proposal to introduce predictable compliance dates for food labelling initiatives and formalize coordination of food labelling changes between departments.

Noted.

A few industry stakeholders asked for clarification about the following aspects of the proposal for formal coordination:

  • Role of the Committee on Food Safety (CFS) and directorate leads; and
  • How the CFS would consider industry’s regulatory and economic burden.

The final joint policy statement describes the roles of both the CFS and the directorate leads. The CFS, which includes members from CFIA, Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, will provide oversight of the joint list of regulatory amendments. The directorate leads are responsible for identifying regulatory amendments that require food labelling changes, ensuring communication between CFIA and Health Canada, and raising emerging issues as they become apparent.

Economic burden to industry is thoroughly assessed in the cost-benefit analyses of regulatory proposals. We acknowledge that the scope of the regulatory proposal and the complexity of implementing the changes are key aspects to consider. To help ensure the CFS considers these factors, in the final policy statement CFIA and Health Canada have added implementation considerations, including scope and complexity of the proposed changes, to the list of elements to be considered.

One industry stakeholder and one provincial partner suggested ongoing communication related to the policy with existing industry roundtables, and with provincial and territorial partners, respectively.

CFIA and Health Canada will continue to look for opportunities to engage meaningfully with stakeholders and partners, including through existing roundtables and other fora.

Compliance date enforcement
Summarized comments Summarized responses

Some industry stakeholders felt that the policy should explicitly state that the compliance date is based on the date of production (manufacture) of the product, for the following reasons:

  • Manufacturers have no control over product at retail, in warehouses or in transit; and
  • To minimize product and label/packaging waste.

CFIA and Health Canada are not able to explicitly state that the compliance date only applies to the date of production (manufacture) of food products. The Food and Drug Regulations and Safe Food for Canadians Regulations generally impose requirements relating to sale at all points along the food supply continuum.

CFIA and Health Canada have revised the policy statement to include text that clarifies that CFIA will continue to  monitor compliance with applicable regulations using a risk-based enforcement approach that could prioritize inspections at manufacture and import, as well as for food packaged and labelled at retail. These could be prioritized over inspections of other food on retail shelves.

One health stakeholder recommended that CFIA ensure imported food products meet labelling requirements.

Exceptions
Summarized comments Summarized responses

Some industry stakeholders and one provincial partner asked for more information on the proposed exceptions, to:

  • Provide greater transparency and predictability;
  • Enable a better understanding of why these exceptions were chosen; and
  • Reduce the likelihood that exceptions are inconsistently interpreted or applied.

A few industry stakeholders recommended assigning a level of risk to potential exceptions, similar to the risk classes assigned to food recalls.

To improve transparency and predictability, CFIA and Health Canada have added more precision to the joint policy statement to explain what is meant by acute risk to health and safety and serious consumer deception. Acute risks to human health and safety refer to emerging risks resulting from newly identified harms to human health. The health effects are typically observed in the short term but they could occur over a longer period of time.

With respect to the level of risk, CFIA and Health Canada agree it is important to consider the impact to human health when deciding if a food labelling change qualifies for an exception from this policy. The precision that has been added to the policy statement helps ensure that the potential impact to health is considered.

A few industry stakeholders and one health stakeholder supported the proposed exceptions as stated.

Noted.

One industry stakeholder asked that CFIA and Health Canada monitor the use of exceptions to ensure they are used in serious circumstances.

CFIA and Health Canada agree that use of the exceptions should be limited to instances of acute human health and safety risks and serious consumer deception. The policy statement has been revised to include a statement that CFIA and Health Canada will monitor the use of the exceptions to ensure they are used appropriately. When proposing a regulatory amendment that involves a food labelling change, CFIA and Health Canada will take into consideration the joint policy statement on Food Labelling Coordination to identify a suitable transition period that aligns with the predictable compliance dates. Should CFIA or Health Canada determine that an exception for the proposal to align with the predictable compliance dates is warranted, this decision and a rationale will be included in the proposal’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement.

One industry stakeholder recognized the need for the proposed exceptions but asked that CFIA and Health Canada consider the context (i.e., regulations underway with predictable compliance dates) when proposing an exception.

Noted.

List of anticipated food labelling initiatives
Summarized comments Summarized responses

A few industry stakeholders asked CFIA and Health Canada to publish a list of anticipated food labelling initiatives to support predictability for industry, including targeted transition periods or compliance dates.

The policy has been revised to note that effort will be made to publish target compliance dates for food labelling initiatives in the Forward Regulatory Plans (FRPs).

Planned and anticipated regulatory initiatives, including those that mandate food labelling changes, are published in CFIA’s FRP and Health Canada’s FRP. FRPs are evergreen repositories of corporate-level regulatory plans that are updated at minimum annually, and are published online, external to this policy.

Interval between compliance dates
Summarized comments Summarized responses

Some industry stakeholders and a few provincial partners expressed support for alignment with the US two-year interval as it could:

  • Make label changes more streamlined for industry and reduce costs; and
  • Make it easier for businesses that ship in both countries.

Noted.

Some industry stakeholders expressed concerns that the proposed two-year interval was too short, noting several reasons:

  • CFIA and Health Canada could require changes at consecutive compliance dates frequently;
  • Complexity of manufacturing processes (e.g. many steps);
  • Increased costs (that could be passed on to consumers) and human resources; and
  • Increased financial burden for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

A few industry stakeholders recommended a four- or five-year interval instead of the two-year interval proposed in the policy, to help ensure bundling of label changes.

CFIA and Health Canada analyzed different compliance date intervals using six hypothetical future registration dates. A review of transition periods for food labelling regulations over the last 20 years in Canada has shown that transition periods usually vary between two and five years.

The analysis showed that shorter intervals between compliance dates provide greater flexibility for industry, CFIA, and Health Canada to select a compliance date that results in an appropriate transition period.

CFIA and Health Canada ruled out the five-year interval because it failed to provide transition periods of between two and six years in half of the scenarios. They also ruled out three and four-year intervals because they did not provide as many transition period options as the two-year interval.

Therefore, the final policy has provided two years between compliance dates to ensure flexibility for future food labelling changes.

The final policy clarifies that the compliance date for any label change is not necessarily the next available compliance date, as shown in the Appendix to the policy.

Transition periods
Summarized comments Summarized responses

Some industry stakeholders and one provincial partner supported the flexibility of Canada’s proposed approach for determining transition periods, including the tailoring of the transition period in consultation with stakeholders and specific considerations for particularly complex proposals and impacts on SMEs.

Noted.

Some industry associations expressed concerns regarding the potential for short transition periods and recommended a minimum transition period that ranges from two to seven years to minimize costs and burden to industry, especially on SMEs.

CFIA and Health Canada analyzed the effect of different minimum transition periods and found that a minimum transition period of two years would not compromise CFIA and Health Canada’s ability to implement timely label changes that would benefit and/or protect the health of consumers.

A review of transition periods for food labelling regulations over the past 20 years shows that almost all changes to food labelling requirements provided transition periods longer than two years, except when the change addressed an acute risk to health and safety.

To address industry stakeholders’ concerns regarding shorter transition periods, and to provide greater certainty, CFIA and Health Canada adjusted the policy statement to include a commitment to provide a minimum two-year transition period for changes to food labelling requirements.

A few health stakeholders expressed concerns regarding long transition periods for food labelling changes as this can result in increased risk to Canadians’ health and safety.

Two health stakeholders suggested the policy could be used to implement shorter standard transition periods, due to the:

  • Potential harm to consumers posed by implementation delays; and
  • Public health benefits of two-year transition periods.

Transition periods will continue to be determined in consultation with stakeholders, taking into account various factors such as public health benefits, and scope and complexity of the changes.

When there is a risk of serious consumer deception or an acute risk to health and safety, the use of an exception, as outlined in the policy, will be considered.

A few industry stakeholders recommended fixed transition periods based on type of label change rather than through consultation. Specifically, one requested three years for changes that address safety concerns, five years for changes that enhance the health of Canadians and seven years for format requirements. Another industry stakeholder requested assigning transition periods based on whether food products were high- versus low- health risk.

In their view, fixed transition periods would provide additional predictability. In the case of imported foods, these durations would help mitigate logistical challenges associated with transport times.

Fixed transition periods based on health risk or type of change would restrict CFIA and Health Canada’s flexibility and ability to determine transition periods in consultation with stakeholders.

A minimum transition period of three years for changes that address safety concerns would be inappropriate given the rationale for the changes. CFIA and Health Canada can consider longer transition periods for other types of changes without fixing the transition period in the policy.

CFIA and Health Canada have instead introduced in the policy a minimum transition period of two years to address industry concerns and provide greater predictability.

A few industry stakeholders asked CFIA and Health Canada to minimize overlap in transition periods for labelling changes with different compliance dates. These stakeholders suggested CFIA and Health Canada synchronize implementation of multiple labelling changes rather than implementing them in a staggered manner.

CFIA and Health Canada will continue to collaborate when developing food labelling regulatory proposals to support alignment of compliance dates with this joint policy, as appropriate. This collaboration will be supported by a formalized interdepartmental coordination process, including oversight by the CFS, as described in the policy.

An expected outcome of this policy is that by formalizing coordination and establishing predictable compliance dates, overlapping transition periods and sequential labelling changes will be minimized, except in cases of acute health or safety risks or serious consumer deception.

Scope
Summarized comments Summarized responses

One industry stakeholder requested clarification about the application of the policy if a regulation involves both a mandatory and voluntary labelling change.

If a regulatory package includes amendments that mandate a label change and amendments that permit change (i.e. a voluntary change), the compliance date, and this policy, only applies to the mandatory change. There is no requirement to comply with a voluntary change and companies can choose to make these changes at their convenience.

One provincial partner recommended that the scope section clarify whether or not all aspects of the proposal apply to other consumer-packaged foods, including shipping containers.

Food shipping containers are subject to labelling requirements as applicable. It is likely that industry concerns around predictability and coordination of changes to labelling requirements included shipping containers. Therefore, CFIA and Health Canada adjusted the policy statement to clarify that shipping containers are within its scope.

Other
Summarized comments Summarized responses

One industry stakeholder requested more acknowledgement of the resource impacts on industry.

The resource impact to industry is thoroughly assessed in the cost-benefit analysis of regulatory proposals.

One industry stakeholder suggested that the final policy explicitly note that a given mandatory labelling change requirement can use one of several potential compliance dates (i.e., it will not necessarily use the next compliance date).

The final policy clarifies that the compliance date for any label change is not necessarily the next available compliance date, as shown in the Appendix to the policy.

One industry stakeholder supported using the coming into force date of the final regulations as the compliance date because it is more specific than the date of registration.

The glossary section of the final policy clarifies that the compliance date is not necessarily the coming into force date.

One industry stakeholder requested clarification around the types of changes where SMEs would have a different transition period.

The final policy provides more detail about considerations for SMEs. Note that economic burden to industry, including SMEs, is thoroughly assessed in the cost-benefit analysis of regulatory proposals.

Most stakeholders requested changes that were out of scope of the policy. These include:

  1. Changes to information included in the forward regulatory plan and related communications
  2. Inclusion of all food regulations in the scope of the joint policy
  3. Suggestions for compliance and enforcement of adherence to the policy
  4. Changes to regulatory development processes and suggestions for future engagement
  5. Changing the membership and the work of the CFS
  6. Considering Canadians’ health literacy in the coordination process
  7. Greater emphasis on achieving reductions in diet-related chronic disease

Stakeholders also included questions about other regulatory initiatives that mandate food labelling changes, that are under development or that are in their transition periods.

As these comments were out of scope of the policy, they have been shared with the responsible areas of CFIA and Health Canada for further consideration.

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