Health Canada cracks down on foods marketed under Natural Health Product rules

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Health Canada cracks down on foods marketed under Natural Health Product rules

Related tags: Nutrition

The Canadian government has said it will no longer allow functional foods and drinks to be marketed under Natural Health Products regulations, requiring manufacturers to revise labels and/or reformulate to keep products on the market.

Health Canada said that from last week it has stopped accepting applications for food products to access the market under Natural Health Products (NHP) regulations, meaning they will need to be regulated as foods instead, including the relevant labeling requirements for nutrition, allergen and ingredient information. The agency said that about 2% of the approximately 50,000 products regulated under Natural Health Products (NHP) regulations is likely to be affected – a total of about 1,000 products.

“Health Canada has always intended to resolve the confusion around foods that are marketed as natural health products,”​ a spokesperson for the agency said via email.

“The Department is already addressing caffeinated energy drinks. We have now published draft decisions on the other kinds of food products that are marketed as natural health products (NHPs). These include products like other drinks, cereals and dairy products.
“Health Canada has identified specific types of products that should be considered as foods, based on the way they are viewed by Canadians and how they are likely to be consumed.”

Affected products include pre-packaged, ready to consume drinks; granulated and powdered products that are added to foods or drinks, such as drink mixes and some protein powders; and any food that is in a 'conventional food format', such as bars, confectionery, dairy products, spreads, purees, or baked goods.

Timelines for reformulation, relabeling, withdrawal

Companies with products that don’t need to be reformulated under the new rules will have until March 2014 to revise labeling. For companies whose products do need to be reformulated, Health Canada has said that they should expect to be informed of the need to reformulate by July 2012, and the deadline for reformulating and relabeling these products or removing them from the market will be December 31, 2012.

PepsiCo is one of the many companies to have launched products under NHP regulations, releasing its Aquafina Plus Vitamins 10 Cal drink there in 2009​. The NHP rules meant that PepsiCo could get around stevia approval requirements at the time. Instead of approving the sweetener as a food additive under Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations, PepsiCo took advantage of the drink’s vitamin content to launch it as a natural health product.

No one from PepsiCo responded to a request for comment prior to publication on whether the company intended to reformulate, relabel or withdraw the drink.

Until now, drinks could also be considered as natural health products in Canada if they contained minerals, herbal remedies, probiotics, amino acids or essential fatty acids, among others, that are used for treating or preventing disease or for maintaining or promoting health.

In a letter to affected companies, Health Canada said the decision to tighten the NHP regulations was based on three main principles:

  • A risk-based approach to protect the health and safety of Canadians
  • Procedural fairness and transparency
  • Minimal disruption to the stream of commerce

Health Canada has issued a guidance document on the changes, available online here​.

Click here​ to read more about Health Canada’s proposed regulations for energy drinks.

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