Consumers in Canada will soon start to see more information about the nutritional value of most pre-packaged food under new labelling requirements that were published on 1 January 2003.

The new regulations require most food labels to carry a mandatory “Nutrition Facts” table listing the amount of calories and 13 key nutrients contained in the product.

“Nutritional information is essential to helping Canadians make informed choices for healthy living,” said Anne McLellan, Canadian Minister of Health. “The Nutrition Facts table will allow Canadians to compare products more easily, assess the nutritional value of more foods and better manage special diets.”

Under the new regulations, producers of pre-packaged foods will have to declare the number of calories and the amount of fat, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, fibre, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron in a specified amount of food.

Some foods and beverages are exempted from the new labelling requirements, for example, fresh fruit and vegetables and raw single ingredient meat and poultry that are not ground. While some manufacturers may choose to start placing the Nutrition Facts table on labels almost immediately, companies have up to three years to comply with the new regulations. Small businesses have five years.

The Nutrition Facts table will usually appear in a standard format so it looks the same from one product to another, in a bid to make it easier to find and use. The tables will be printed in clear type, aimed at making the information easy to read. Previously, nutrition labelling in Canada was voluntary and the information was not always presented in the same way.

Criteria for nutrient content claims have been updated to better meet consumer health needs. Diet-related health claims pertaining to reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and high blood pressure will be allowed for the first time in Canada.