Breaking down Canadian health claims… as change awaits

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

The use of health claims on food products in Canada could be set for a significant revamp, as the nation’s regulatory body reviews its approach. examines areas of potential amendment and breaks down the current system in anticipation of change.

Foods carrying health claims in Canada currently 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.

However, this system has attracted much criticism from the research community, the food industry and some consumer groups for being confusing and restrictive.

Preparing for change

In 2007, Health Canada agreed that the current framework could result in “inconsistent regulatory outcomes” ​and may “trigger confusion among consumers and enforcement agencies”.

In light of a changes in the global food industry, the scientific environment and consumer expectations, the Canadian regulatory body said it plans to “review and modernize”​ its current approach for governing health claims.

The agency pledged to: Develop a “comprehensive framework” ​for the management of health claims; develop and implement a policy on the discretionary fortification of foods; and increase its science and research capacity for health claims and food innovation by setting up partnerships with academia, research centers and other government groups.

For more information, see the Health Canada discussion document of April 2007, Towards a Regulatory Modernization Strategy for Food and Nutrition, ​available here​.

In the mean-time…

Currently, the type of claims that can be made on a product are determined by whether it is categorized as a food or a NHP.

For NHPs, a health claim is “a statement that indicates the intended beneficial effect of an NHP when used in accordance with the recommended conditions of use”.

NHPs require pre-market approval, which includes an assessment of evidence supporting the claims made. Products in this category can carry one of three types of claims: therapeutic claims, risk reduction claims and structure-function claims. For more information, click here.

Health claims on food products in Canada are considered to be “any representation in labeling and advertising that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between the consumption of foods or food constituents and health”.

Claims used on foods can be disease risk reduction claims, function claims or general claims. The regulation of disease risk reduction claims is the most rigorous. These claims have only been permitted since 2002, when an amendment to the Food and Drug Regulations allowed for five generic disease risk reduction claims.

These are:

  • sodium, potassium and hypertension
  • calcium, vitamin D and osteoporosis
  • saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol and coronary heart disease
  • fruit and vegetable intake and certain cancers
  • sugar and dental caries

To make a new disease risk reduction claim not already included in the list of permitted claims, a regulatory amendment to the list is required, following review of a submission and approval of the claim by Health Canada.

For more information from a Health Canada discussion paper published at the end of 2007 – Managing Health Claims for Foods in Canada: Towards a Modernized Framework​ – click here​.

Related topics: Regulation, Product claims

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