Canadian Policy Becoming Clear
~ March 1999 No.67 ~
Canadians, like consumers world-wide, are looking for foods that are good for their health. Yes, a Canadian woman can expect to live 80 years (about 4 years longer than the average Canadian male), but everyone also wants to have quality of life so that this longevity can be enjoyed. Interest in functional foods, probiotics and nutraceutics is as high in Canada as elsewhere. As is pointed out in the recently released policy paper issued by Health Canada, the concept that diet and foods have a functional role to play in health is not new. The terminology has changed and so has the amount of scientific data to support the link between diet and health.
It is the mandate of Health Canada to protect the public. With the number of products appearing in the grocery, health stores and pharmacies, there is a growing concern in Canada that without some form of clearly defined regulatory structure, consumers will get swamped by products making false or deceptive claims. Producers of legitimate products will have no way of showing that their product has met well defined government standards.
Health Canada has clearly defined the differences between a nutraceutic and a functional food.
"A functional food is similar in appearance to, or may be, a conventional food, is consumed as part of a usual diet, and is demonstrated to have physiological benefits and /or reduce risk of chronic disease beyond basic nutritional functions."
Cranberries that may be good against urinary tract infections, dairy products rich in calcium and thought to be useful in preventing osteoporosis, and yogurt that has been show to reduce the severity of some forms of diarrhea would be classed as functional foods.
Vitamin E capsules taken as a source of antioxidants, zinc tablets thought to be good to fight colds, and concentrated extracts of garlic would fall in the nutraceutic category.
- The policy statement divides products into 4 categories:
- products that can carry structure /function claims,
- products that can carry product specific risk reduction claims,
- products that can carry generic risk reduction claims,
- and those products that can carry therapeutic claims.
If a manufacturer wishes to make therapeutic claims, the product will be treated as a drug and will be evaluated using existing tests and standards for drugs. In all cases evidence to support claims will be required and more data required for risk reduction claims.
All the standards of evidence have not been defined yet, but it is clear that Canadian health regulatory officials have made a big step towards providing guidelines for evaluation of future claims and for establishing a labelling system that consumers can trust.
The new policy being proposed by