Canada rolls out new front-of-pack ‘magnifying glass’ label for high salt, sugar and fat foods

26 Jul 2022

Canadian authorities have launched a new front-of-package nutrition label designed to help shoppers make more informed product selections as they purchase groceries by highlighting foods high in specific ‘unhealthy’ nutrients.

Front-of-pack labelling is widely recognized by scientists and health organizations, including the World Health Organization, as an effective tool to help individuals make informed choices. Research has shown that a simple, clear symbol on the front of food packages can help consumers choose foods lower in saturated fat, sugars, and salt.

Canada rolls out new front-of-pack ‘magnifying glass’ label for high salt, sugar and fat foods
Food packages of different shapes and sizes showing the size, location and presentation of the nutrition symbol. Image courtesy: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-labelling-changes/front-package.html

The new labelling system includes a magnifying glass symbol and text to draw attention to information relating to specific nutrients, and will complement the Nutrition Facts table displayed on the back of food packages.

"We want all Canadians to have the information they need to make healthy food choices,” said Canadian Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, noting that the symbol will make it easier for individuals and families to make informed choices.

“This simple, yet effective nutrition symbol will promote healthy eating for all Canadians."

The regulations require the new symbol to be displayed on the front of packaged foods that are high in saturated fat, sugars and/or sodium. Manufacturers have until January 1, 2026, to change their labels and comply with the new requirement, said Canadian authorities.

The nutrition symbol will appear in the upper half of the label for most package shapes and should appear on the right half of the package label, if the label is wider than it is tall.

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food added that the new front-of-pack labelling regulations also recognizes the nutritional value of certain foods that are either unprocessed or barely processed, such as calcium in dairy products – noting that manufacturers “have a few years to review their processes and, in some cases, improve their recipes."

How does Canada’s new labelling system work?

Health Canada noted that front-of-pack nutrition labelling is a key part of its healthy eating strategy, which aims to improve the food environment, make it easier for Canadians to make informed food choices, and lower the risk of diet-related chronic diseases.

According to the new system, foods that contribute 15% or more of the daily value of sodium, sugar or saturated fat will need to display the new front-of-package nutrition label with the magnifying glass symbol.

For main meals with a serving size greater than 200g, the threshold will be 30% or more of daily value for sodium, sugars or saturated fat, while for foods consumed in small quantities of less than 30g – such as jam – the threshold will be set at 10% or more of daily value for sodium, sugar or saturated fat.

"Mandatory, front-of-package nutrition labelling is a policy tool that can provide the whole population with prominent, reliable and easy to understand nutrition information to help identify healthier," commented Doug Roth, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

“Canadians get nearly half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods and this figure is even higher for our children and youth who are unfortunately the biggest consumers of these foods. Adding a clearly visible and easy to understand symbol on the front of these products will help people quickly spot foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat,” he said.

Roth noted that this is ‘especially true’ for groups of consumers who have difficulty understanding the existing nutrition facts table found on the back of food packages: “which can include seniors, people with low literacy, people with poor eyesight and those who speak languages other than English or French.”

Fresh fruit & vegetables, whole meat & some dairy exempt from the regulations

Health Canada noted that fresh foods including vegetables, fruit, meat and fish, as well as some milk products, won’t need to carry the magnifying glass symbol.

Other foods exempt for technical reasons, include: milk and cream sold in refillable glass containers; raw, single ingredient whole cuts of meat, poultry and fish that do not carry a nutrition facts table; raw, single ingredient ground meats and poultry to avoid giving the impression that they are nutritionally inferior to whole cuts that do not carry a nutrition symbol.

Also on the exempt list is butter, sugar, salt and ‘other products’ that can be for the same purpose as butter, sugar or salt. These products include honey, celery salt, maple syrup, vegetable oils and seasoning salt.

However, Health Canada added that foods will lose their exempt status if they are formulated with an ingredient that contains saturated fat, sugars and/or sodium.

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