Flavour of the Week

Around the World in G8 Nutrition Labels


summer FotWWith Health Canada’s announcement last week highlighting the proposed changes to nutrition labels, there has been good press and criticisms aplenty. While a step in the right direction, many (including us!) are a bit disappointed “added sugars” didn’t make the cut for updates.

But how do Canada’s labelling regulations compare with other countries? Should we be advocating for more change on behalf of consumers or celebrating what we have already?

It’s surprising just how new-kid-on-the-block consistent nutrition labels are. In the US and Canada, labels are often deriding as unhelpful or simply taken for granted but of the 196 (or so) countries in the world, only 21 countries plus the European Union members have mandatory regulations in place (or in the process of becoming mandatory).

We’ve decided to focus on G8 countries in this post in keep things manageable, which means we are only comparing four sets of regulations – Canada, United States, European Union and Japan*. For more information on worldwide standards, check out the European Food Information Council’s Global Update on Nutrition Labelling, 2013.

Of the more contentious issues, here’s how the G8 countries stack up:

Year enacted

no. of mandatory nutrients

Content and Health Claims

Added sugars quantity?

GMOs disclosed?

Canada

2007

13

regulated

No

No

United States

1990

13

regulated

Proposed

No

EU

2016

6

regulated

No

Yes (as “nanos”)

Japan

2015

4

unregulated

No

if GMO DNA detectable

flag - canada
Canada

Though nutrition labelling was first introduced in Canada in the 1990s and standardized in 2003, it was not legally required for pre-packaged food until 2007. The proposed changes include:

  • Nutrition Facts Table:
    • add percent daily value (% DV) for sugars
    • potassium added as a core nutrient, vitamin C and vitamin A removed as mandatory
  • Serving size:
    • displayed using common household measurements
    • more consistent with amount typically eaten in one sitting
  • HC ingredient listIngredient list:
    • separated by bullets rather than as a running list
    • sugar-based ingredients grouped together as “sugars”
    • food colouring agents to be identified by common name
    • improved allergen identification

These changes are far from written in stone, however, as comments are being accepted until August 26, 2015. After this period closes, only time will tell how long until changes are implemented and how long the manufacturer grace period will be. According to Weighty Matters’, the inside scoop is five to seven years… so 2020?

flag - us
United States


Mandated by law in 1993, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US is responsible for nutrition labelling and has served as a model for countries worldwide. Aside from different standards for nutrient claims, the current US and Canadian labels look remarkably similar.

But the proposed changes made by the FDA last year would differentiate the two:

Similarities

Differences

  • Serving Size more consistent with amount eaten
  • Potassium mandatory
  • Vitamins A and C voluntary
  • Vitamin D mandatory
  • Added Sugars as distinct category and displayed in grams
  • Significant design changes including font size

fda added sugarA 90-day consultation and comment period ended on August 1, 2014 but so far no effective date has been set. Manufacturers would have a two year deadline from the effective date to enact new regulations and they are not happy about it


flag - eu
European Union

Since being “harmonized”, EU countries now have a consistent template for pre-packaged goods BUT nutrition labelling is not actually required by law! Manufacturers have until 2016 to get their labelling up to standards, with the exception of those making nutrition claims, whose deadline was 2014.

eu food labelUnder the new regulations, pre-packaged foods will have to display the following per 100 g serving: energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and salt content. Nope – fibre is not mandatory; it and other nutrients like vitamin C and calcium are only displayed if the food contains 15% or more of the RDA, or if a content claim is made like “good source of …”.

Like ingredient lists in the US and Canada, ingredients are listed in order by weight from most to least, but some EU labels provide the quantity of each ingredient as a percentage as well. In addition, “nanomaterials” (aka genetically modified ingredients) but be disclosed.

UK stoplight
There are also some country-specific label requirements, specifically for nutrient and health claims. For instance, the UK is rolling out the controversial “stoplight” red, amber and green colour-coding system for front-of-packaging in an effort help consumers identify foods that are low, medium or high in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.


japan-flag
Japan

The Consumer Affairs Agency in Japan has been working on existing voluntary labels and upgrading regulations based on consumer feedback since 2012, but the new Food Labeling Standard will not come into effect until later this month (June 2015).

Here are the highlights:

  • Mandatory content: energy, protein, fat, carbohydrate and salt
    • Recommended but voluntary: saturated fat, fibre
    • Voluntary: vitamins, minerals, cholesterol, sugars
  • Manufacturers set serving size themselves! Could be per 100 g or 100 ml, or based on a “portion” of food
  • Would now have to disclose and list ALL ingredients separately. Currently, manufacturers are allowed to exclude ingredients making up < 5% of total weight
  • Common allergens like egg, milk, buckwheat, wheat, peanuts, crab, shrimp/prawn must be disclosed

No Baloney’s advice? We were ready to roll out the troops and condemn our nutrition labels as archaic in comparison to the EU, which we naively assumed would be light-years ahead. Turns out, we were wrong… at least on a few things!

We still prefer some of the US’s proposed changes – particularly font size and added sugars, but our labels are not all bad. The Canadian and US labels are much more user friendly with respect to serving size. While “per 100 g” may be useful for comparing products, how on earth is a consumer supposed to know how big 100 grams is? We definitely agree the common household measurements are much easier to visualize.

Another big difference between US/Canadian labels and other countries is the number of core nutrients – 13 vs. six or less. Got us thinking a bit… is less the new more? Seems the trend is to pare down what’s on the labels – concise and clear vs. laying it all out.

less is more

Of the core content on US and Canadian nutrition labels, research shows most people only look at kcalories and serving size… and time spent on labels may not influence healthy food purchasing all that much (Nelson et al., 2014). Eye-tracking data suggests that front-of-packaging claims are most read and the vast majority of consumers barely glance at the Nutrition Facts table (Graham et al., 2015). Would getting rid of cholesterol, protein or iron content information really negatively impact nutrition choices? Food for thought!

Though still in roll out phase until the end of 2015, we are really interested in what the joined forces of Australia and New Zealand are proposing under the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ):

  • must display content for energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium
  • lumping together “added fats” and “added vegetable oils” on the ingredient list, as well as “added sugars” – they will certainly jump the queue in the list now!
  • display natural vs. added fiber content – functional foods are booming…
  • adding kcalorie content to all alcoholic beverages
  • mandatory labelling of all irradiated foods.

We would also like to point out that in addition to the EU members, Australia, New Zealand, China, India and Russia all require GMO identification on nutrition labels… but neither the US nor Canada have added this to their updating agendas.

 

*The European Union (EU) lumps France, UK, Italy and Germany together. Russia was suspended from the G8 in 2014.

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