Gaps in Canadian regulations restrict functional foods, say researchers

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Natural health products Nutrition

A review of Canada’s regulations governing food and natural health products has again highlighted the “confusion and uncertainty” generated by the system, which it says could be restricting the market potential of foods with health benefits.

Published in this month’s issue of the Elsevier journal Food Policy​, the review calls for regulatory amendments and clear guidance to industry in order to reduce confusion about how products are categorized.

In Canada, foods carrying health claims may fall under one of two regulatory frameworks and policies, depending on how they are represented: Those for natural health products (NHPs) and those for foods. These govern the allowable health claims, product safety assessment, and labeling requirements.

Regulatory divide

However, regulatory dividing lines between functional foods, nutraceuticals and NHPs are unclear, according to the new paper, Foods and natural health products: Gaps and ambiguities in the Canadian regulatory regime.


“Existing Canadian legislation fails to provide clear guidance for regulation of products at the food–NHP interface. Legal categorization of these products is significant to stakeholders, including researchers, as it determines rules governing clinical trials, product development and health claims that may be made once the product is on the market,”​ write the researchers from the University of Ottawa, University of Alberta and University of Toronto.

This lack of clarity, they claim, could delay or decrease investigation into potential health benefits of foods by discouraging research projects.

Industry ‘uncertain’, says Health Canada

In a discussion paper published at the end of 2007 – Managing Health Claims for Foods in Canada: Towards a Modernized Framework​ – Health Canada agreed that industry is uncertain about which regulatory framework it should be seeking approvals under for functional foods.

“As a result, there is a risk of inconsistent regulatory outcomes for similar products processed through the two different frameworks. Similar products (e.g., fortified juices) may be required to be labeled in a different manner.”


“For example, those regulated as foods require Nutrition Facts table, ingredients and allergen labeling, which is not required for the same products marketed as NHPs, which carry directions for use and caution statements. This difference may trigger confusion among consumers and enforcement agencies,”​ writes Health Canada in the discussion paper, available here​.

Regulatory amendments

The current review paper says closer collaboration between the Food Directorate and the Natural Health Product Directorate would be key to reducing confusion about product categorization.

It also calls for the Canadian government to “resolve the ambiguities” ​in current regulations to ensure a coherent and even regulatory playing field as interest in the functional food category grows.

“Interim agreements between the NHP and Foods Directorate regarding product reviews provide a temporary response but regulatory amendments, accompanied by clear guidance to stakeholders, are needed,”​ they write.

To read the article on the use of health claims in Canada and potential changing regulations, click here​.

Food Policy​, Volume 34, Issue 4, August 2009, Pages 388-392
Foods and natural health products: Gaps and ambiguities in the Canadian regulatory regime.
Authors: Jennifer Farrell, Nola M. Ries, Natasha Kachan and Heather Boon.

Related topics Regulation Product claims

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