ARCHIVED - Letter - Health Canada Proposal to Improve Food Colour Labelling Requirements [February 2010]

Bureau of Chemical Safety
251 Sir Frederick Banting Driveway
Tunney's Pasture, Postal Locator: 2203B
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0L2

February 18, 2010

Dear Stakeholder,

The purpose of this letter is to seek your comments on a proposal regarding food colour declaration on the ingredient list of pre-packaged foods sold in Canada.

As you may know, the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations currently require that food colours be declared in ingredient lists but for most foods, section B.01.010 (3)(b) of the Regulations permits the use of the general term "colour" to specify one or more food colours.1 Manufacturers may voluntarily declare individual colours by name at their own discretion.

Health Canada plans to propose regulatory amendments that would eliminate the option of simply using the word "colour" and require that individual colours be identified on food ingredient labels. Various considerations support the need for such amendment:

  • There is evidence that certain food colours can elicit an allergic response or allergic-type sensitivity in certain individuals (for example, tartrazine, a synthetic food colour; and cochineal, a natural food colour).
  • Health Canada has received many requests from Canadian citizens and national health associations to require that colours be clearly identified in ingredient lists to improve transparency and allow more informed consumer choice. Calls for such a requirement intensified after the publication of studies suggesting that behaviour in children could be influenced by the ingestion of certain food colours.
  • All other classes of food additives present in retail foods in Canada must be declared in the ingredient list by their common names or acceptable synonyms.

Requiring that food colours be identified on food labels would bring Canadian regulations closer to requirements in other jurisdictions and to international standards. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration requires the declaration of certified synthetic colours.2 Australia, New Zealand, and European Union member states require declaration of all food colours either by their common names or numerical identification numbers. The Codex Alimentarius General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods recommends labelling "colour" in brackets followed by the specific name of the additive or its recognized numerical identification number. Further details are provided in the supporting background information which is enclosed.

We therefore seek your opinion on a proposal to require that food colours be declared by their individual common name; in other words, the option to declare the presence of one or more colours using the general term "colour" would no longer be available. We also seek your opinion on the manner in which individual colours might be declared. Several possible options are suggested below and we would welcome other suggestions as well.

  • Require labelling of all food colours by their individual common name or a numerical identifier (e.g. a Colour Identification number);
  • Require labelling by the individual common name of all synthetic colours that do not occur in nature and have to undergo a certification process as well as the natural colours cochineal, carmine and annatto (each of which have been associated with allergic or sensitivity responses). All remaining natural colours could be permitted to be identified either by the generic term "colour" or by the common name.

After all comments have been considered, Health Canada will continue to engage stakeholders as it drafts proposed regulatory amendments in preparation for publication in Canada Gazette Part I and eventual legal adoption of the amendments.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for enforcement of food regulations and non-health based labelling while Health Canada is responsible for setting health-based standards. Both Health Canada and the CFIA understand that any changes to labelling requirements will have an impact on those members of the food industry who do not already declare colours by their common name. Any changes to the labelling requirements will therefore allow for a transition period to provide food manufacturers with the time to comply with the regulations once amended.

In the meantime, we would like to take this opportunity to encourage those food manufacturers who do not already do so, to voluntary declare food colours by their individual common names.

Comments may be submitted in writing, either electronically or by regular mail. If you are submitting your comments electronically, please use the word "Food Colour Labelling" in the subject box of your e-mail. Submissions must be received by May 3, 2010.

Mailing address:
Health Canada
Bureau of Chemical Safety
Tunney's Pasture, Postal Locator: 2203B
251 Sir Frederick Banting Driveway
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0L2

E-mail address:

Yours sincerely,

Bureau of Chemical Safety
Food Directorate

1 Colours permitted as food additives in Canada are listed in Table III of section B.16.100 of the Food and Drug Regulations. For most foods, food colours may be declared using the general term "colours" with the exception of tocino and longaniza sausage. Their ingredient lists must specifically identify the name of the colours contained therein; annatto in the case of tocino, and annatto, allura red, and/or sunset yellow FCF in longaniza, as per sections B.14.031 (i) and B.14.032 (d)(xvi) of the Regulations.

2 See the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, Sec. 721. Listing and Certification of Color Additives for Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics ( Chapter VII-General Authority Subchapter B - Colors).

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