Front-of-package nutrition symbols for food products high in saturated fat, sugars or sodium are to become mandatory in Canada.

Manufacturers will have more than three years to prepare for the changes, with the rules set to come into force at the start of 2026.

The Canadian government unveiled a long-mooted plan to help improve the nation’s health yesterday (20 June). New regulations will require manufacturers to include the new symbol on products that fall into the unhealthy category.

The symbol includes a magnifying glass and text to “draw attention to important information Canadians should consider as they are buying groceries”.

It is intended to complement the Nutrition Facts table displayed on the back of food packages.

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By GlobalData

The government’s Health Canada department said it is targeting saturated fat, sugars and sodium with its new labelling regulations because of strong evidence linking their excess consumption to increased risks of chronic disease.

Two in five adults in the country have chronic diseases such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes with the economic burden estimated to be CAD28.2bn (US$21.9bn) a year. Canadian proposals to put such labels on unhealthy food to help deal with this issue date back to 2014 and it started consulting on an unhealthy ingredients symbol in 2018.

Health Canada said yesterday the front-of-package labels for unhealthy food is a key part of its Healthy Eating Strategy, which “aims to improve the food environment in Canada, make it easier for Canadians to make informed food choices, and lower the risk of diet-related chronic diseases”.

Announcing the launch of the labelling initiative, Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, said: “We want all Canadians to have the information they need to make healthy food choices. In the coming years, the symbol will make it easier for you and your family to make informed choices. This simple, yet effective nutrition symbol will promote healthy eating for all Canadians.”

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, said the move “recognises the nutritional value of certain foods that are either unprocessed or barely processed, such as calcium in dairy products.”

She added: “Processors who wish to do so have a few years to review their processes and, in some cases, improve their recipes.”

The policy will not apply to certain foods, such as plain milk and eggs, due to their health value. It will also exclude raw fish and meat, whether whole cut or minced.

At one stage it was suggested minced meat packs would need to include the labels, a proposal that faced strong opposition from Canada’s meat industry.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, argued manufacturers are likely to reformulate their products rather than see them labelled as unhealthy.

“The last thing a food company wants is to see a label on packages telling consumers their product has too much fat, sugar and/or sodium. In five years from now, I seriously doubt we’ll see many of these labels in a grocery store. Products will get healthier,” he said.

Trade group Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada said the 2026 deadline to introduce the labels was “unrealistic”.

The organisation tweeted: “Food and beverage manufacturers are already reeling from unprecedented challenges tied to inflation, labour shortages, and Covid-related supply chain disruptions.”