Dangers of Over-emphasizing: CFIA Releases Interim Highlighted Ingredients Guidelines
December 13, 2012
Authors: Jennifer McKenzie and Tamarah Luk
It is common for manufacturers to “highlight” ingredients or flavours in food using words, pictures, or graphics, such as “made with real fruit” and/or a picture of berries. However, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has said that over-emphasizing the importance, presence, or absence of an ingredient on packaging or advertising may mislead consumers and run afoul of the Food and Drugs Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
After almost 10 years of stakeholder consultations and drafting, CFIA has confirmed that it will apply the rules set out in the Interim Guidelines for highlighting ingredients, until it releases final guidelines.
The Interim Guidelines address the following scenarios:
- an ingredient is substituted with an imitation (e.g., cocoa flavoured palm oil chips for chocolate chips) but labeling suggests the presence of the genuine ingredient
- an ingredient is emphasized but similar ingredients are also present (e.g., berries are emphasized and non-berry fruit are present) but labeling suggests the genuine ingredient is present in a greater quantity
- a flavour or very small amount of an ingredient is added for the purpose of flavouring but labeling suggests either the actual ingredient, rather than flavouring, was added or the ingredient is present in a greater quantity
The Interim Guidelines set out how to present information on the attributes of food products without misleading about composition, including by:
- prominently displaying descriptive common names,
- adding information such as percentage declarations of the highlighted ingredients,
- adding statements indicating the presence of similar ingredients or additions for the purpose of flavouring, and
- setting proportionate thresholds as guidance for fairly representing highlighted ingredients.
Most significantly, when an imitation ingredient is used, the imitation ingredient’s common name must be part of the claim or the food’s common name.
The Interim Guidelines also include detailed instructions on percentage calculation for ingredients, including calculating percentages for concentrated or reconstituted ingredients, to ensure consistency across the industry.
Stay tuned for when the finalized guidelines are published, or check back with the CFIA’s labeling homepage.
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