Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and Safe Food for Canadians Act establish one of the most stringent regulatory regimes for food and beverage products in the world. The twofold objectives of this legislation are to ensure that all food sold in Canada is safe for human consumption and that Canadian consumers have a good understanding of the composition of food they choose to buy with the goal of supporting healthier choices.
Recently, Bill C-252 passed second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill proposes to amend the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit all advertising of “foods and beverages that contribute to excess sugar, saturated fats or sodium in children’s diets” to children. If passed, Health Canada would follow in the footsteps of the Province of Québec, which has longstanding bans on advertising directed at children in the province of Québec (including with respect to all food).
Bill C-252 comes on the heels of Health Canada’s revised publication of its Consultation Report: Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Food and Beverages in Canada in August 2022. This report, together with the legislation in force in Québec, shed light on how food advertising directed at children affects consumption behaviour in children and the measures that could be implemented to mitigate the perceived harmful effects of such advertising, including through:
- Defining “unhealthy food and beverages”;
- Delineating “child-directed” advertising as opposed to content that is directed to the general public; and
- Identifying marketing techniques and communication channels to be included or exempted from restrictions, with a particular focus on digital advertising platforms.
The changes to the Food and Drugs Act proposed in Bill C-252 are aligned with a suite of new regulatory initiatives that the Government of Canada has undertaken under the health promotion banner, which include Health Canada’s July 2022 announcement of front-of package nutrition labelling requirements on foods that are high in sodium, sugars and/or saturated fat. Unless exempted, a prescribed front-of-package nutrition symbol is mandatory for prepackaged foods that meet or exceed set levels for sodium, sugars, or saturated fat. Examples of compliant symbols and the list of exempted food are provided here. The industry will have until January 1, 2026, to comply.
We expect that since the proposed children’s advertising ban targets foods with “excess sugar, saturated fats or sodium,” similar categories of foods that must comply with front-of-package labelling requirements would also be subject to the proposed ban.
Businesses that manufacture and/or sell processed foods in Canada should be on high alert for legislative changes that may apply to attractive but possibly “unhealthy” products when developing marketing strategies in the near term. Failure to comply with labelling and advertising requirements can lead to substantial financial consequences for companies.
For inquiries regarding food labelling and advertisement requirements, please contact Yulia Konarski.