Streamlined regulations means new products on shelves sooner

11/13/2012

Food and Consumer Products Canada (FCPC) is applauding Health Canada’s adoption of a streamlined approvals process for food additives that it said will result in new – and more innovative – products arriving on Canadian grocery shelves sooner.

Susan Abel, vice-president, safety and compliance with Toronto-based FCPC, says it is the first significant overhaul of the additives process in more than 50 years. “It’s been years, and possibly even decades, that people have been asking for change,” she said.

FCPC is an industry association representing members of Canada’s $92.9 billion food and beverage processing industry, the largest manufacturing sector in the country.

The regulatory changes mean that FCPC’s constituents will be able to get new and/or revamped products into market between 12 and 18 months faster, says Abel. “It’s really great news for the Canadian marketplace, because it’s really going to start giving consumers more choice in the grocery store sooner,” she said.

She likened Health Canada’s previous regulations to a recipe book instructing how food additives were to be used, in what quantities etc.

Any time a food manufacturer wanted to change a recipe, no matter how small, it was a laborious process because the book essentially needed to be rewritten.

Under the new process, whenever Health Canada scientists deem an additive safe – based on requisite safety assessments and consultation – it automatically updates a public list of accepted additives without having to go through Parliamentary proceedings.

“Health Canada has always been very careful with its safety assessments, and while that is a time-consuming part of the process, it certainly was not the part we were concerned about,” said Abel. “It was more the red tape part where it literally had to go to the House of Commons to make a decision about whether or not to use a food additive.

“The experts are at Health Canada, and I think we should be recognizing their expertise. Once they say it’s safe for use, let’s jump on it.”

Health Canada has created 15 lists of permitted food additives, which range from anti-caking agents and colouring agents to glazing or polishing agents and sweeteners. The lists are meant to replace the food additive tables traditionally housed under Division 16 of the Food and Drug Regulations, which Health Canada plans to repeal.

Each of the lists is incorporated by reference into what is called a Marketing Authorization (MA), which establishes the conditions and legal foundation for its use.

FCPC said that some food additives have been lingering in the Canadian approvals process for more than a decade, despite being approved for use in other countries several years ago.

As an example, Abel said it took additives such as plant sterols up to 10 years to wind their way through the former regulatory process before Health Canada approved their addition to a limited range of spreads, mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressing, yogurt/yogurt drinks and vegetable and fruit juices in 2010.

In announcing the decision two years ago, Health Canada concluded there was sufficient scientific evidence to support claims that plant sterols could reduce cholesterol, despite their inclusion in products found in countries like the United Kingdom several years earlier.

Similarly, the all-natural sweetener stevia is currently in the midst of the food additives regulatory process, despite being approved for use in products in the United States four years ago.

“What we’re hoping is that we may see it in the marketplace a little bit sooner than had we been under the old process,” said Abel.

Health Canada says the new processes for approving food additives – which are used to affect everything from the colour to the consistency of food products – are several steps shorter and “significantly faster.”

The result, said Health Canada in a press release issued earlier this month, is increased responsiveness to emerging science, food innovation and/or health and safety risks.

Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq called them “common sense changes” that will help safer foods arrive on store shelves quicker.

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