CANADA – The Canadian government has introduced a new guideline on labelling of halal food products which require that halal claims on food labels, packaging or advertising materials must include the entire name of the certifying body or person, to be enforced in April 2016.
On the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Canadian government has added a new section “B.01.050” to its Food and Drug Regulations, which stresses that “A person must not use, in labelling, packaging, advertising or selling a food, the word “halal” — or any letters of the Arabic alphabet or any other word, expression, depiction, sign, symbol, mark, device or other representation that indicates or that is likely to create an impression that the food is halal — unless the name of the person or body that certified the food as halal is indicated on the label or package or in the advertisement or sale.”
In Canada, prepackaged food product labels are strictly regulated to ensure consumers receive accurate product information that would allow them to make informed purchasing decisions.
Subsection 5(1) of Canada’s FDA prohibits the labelling, packaging, treating, processing, selling or advertising of any food (at all levels of trade) in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive to consumers. In addition, Section 7 of the country’s Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act (CPLA) contains provisions regarding the prevention of fraud and provides for mandatory label information with which consumers can make informed choices.
Halal food labelling
For halal food, the Canadian government noted that it is difficult for consumers of halal food to make informed purchase decisions without knowing the standard used in certifying the food product as halal.
“While the halal label on a food item would suggest that the food item is permitted under Islamic law, there are various interpretations of Islamic law which makes reaching a consensus amongst Canadian Muslims as to what constitutes halal difficult to achieve,” the government explained in its notice about the regulation amendment.
“This regulatory amendment will assist in properly informing Canadians when choosing halal labelled foods by requiring that halal claims on food labels, packaging or advertising material are accompanied by an indication of the body that certified it as such.”
It added, “This regulatory amendment will not modify food safety requirements for foods labelled as halal. However, letting consumers know who certified the food as halal will enhance the information available to them in order to make informed choices. It will be up to the consumer to determine whether or not the certification requirements meet their expectations with regard to halal. The CFIA will not establish standards or requirements for what can be labelled as halal, nor will it establish requirements for becoming a certifying body.”
The new regulations will be enforced through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)’s current system of label verification and in response to complaints, while the control of imported products will be done at the registered establishment level and importer level through the label verification process
CFIA says that it will verify that halal claims are accompanied by the name of the certifying body or person, or any supporting documentation to indicate as such, but will not assess or determine the suitability of the criteria used to certify the food product as halal.
The agency says that having a two-year implementation delay will allow businesses time to adjust to this new requirement and clear existing non-compliant labels and packaging material.
Halal food market in Canada
The market for halal food products in Canada is estimated at US$1 billion, catering to a consumer base dominated by the country’s Muslim community - estimated at 1 million in 2006.
At an annual growth rate of 13%, this population is expected to triple by 2031, accounting for 6.6% of Canada’s population. This is expected to increase consumer demand for halal food products in the country.
The Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE)’s Trade Commissioner in Toronto, Norzihan Mohd Zain, commented, “With the implementation of the new guideline, consumers are able to rest assured that the food meets a certifying body's standard and allow them to obtain specific information about the standards the food has met. This change will also provide consistency for industry and help prevent mislabelling practices and claims regarding halal food products.
“Canada offers US$1 billion worth of market for halal products. Therefore, Malaysia’s exporters of halal products should tap into this market and leverage on Canada’s recognition of Malaysia as a reliable producer of halal products as well as the Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) halal certification,” she added.