Food Allergen Labeling in Canada: Inside the Issue
When you have food allergies, reading packaged goods labels becomes a way of life. But recognizing if your allergen is in the product isn’t always easy. Sometimes allergens can be hidden (e.g. as “natural flavours” or “spices” or “hydrolized protein”) or referred to in consumer-unfriendly scientific names.
In Canada, the allergy and celiac communities have been frustrated by long delays in getting regulations that would make reading food labels easier.
In July 2008, Canada’s former health minister announced that the federal government was moving to make it law that food manufacturers list priority allergens in plain language on packaging, not just in scientific terminology (e.g.: “milk” would be shown as an ingredient, not just “casein”). Ingredients of ingredients that are priority allergens would also have to be listed. For example, manufacturers couldn’t simply list “flavouring” if the source of that flavouring included a priority allergen, such as sesame.
Health Canada then published proposed new labeling regulations for priority allergens, gluten and sulphites in Canada Gazette Part 1. That was followed by several months in which the public and stakeholders (food manufacturers, allergy groups, etc.) were allowed to comment on the proposed regulations.
Health Canada reviewed all the comments received. In late 2009, it announced some significant changes to the proposed regulations (including making mustard a priority allergen). When the full consultation and review period was completed in early 2010, the regulations were expected to be published in Canada Gazette Part 2, at which point they would be final.
Unfortunately, in November 2010, the regulations still sat in limbo, finalized but still not passed. Allergic Living and fellow allergy and celiac advocates launched the write-in campaign to the Prime Minister. Following much community pressure, the government finally passed the regulations into law in February 2011, with the new regulations in effect as of August, 2012.
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