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Product labelling

Although some products, such as food and cosmetics, contain ingredient labels to tell us what’s in them, many of the products that we buy in Canada don’t. This means we can’t make informed choices on whether to use them.

Currently in Canada, manufacturers of consumer products such as household cleaning products or electronics do not have to list ingredients but they may list this information on their products voluntarily. They should also offer this information if you ask for it.

  • Our perspective

    The Canadian Cancer Society believes that Canadians have the right to know:

    • what’s in the products we use – through ingredient disclosure, which is a listing of what’s in the product 
    • if a product contains a potentially cancer-causing substance – by a warning symbol 
  • What is product labelling?

    There are 2 key aspects to consumer product labelling in Canada:

    • Ingredient disclosure – the ingredients in food and in cosmetic products must be listed on the product packaging in descending order (from highest to lowest), according to the amount of each ingredient. 
    • Warning symbols – warning symbols appear on products that pose acute, or short-term, health risks or hazards. 

    Consumers are made aware of acute health risks and hazards associated with the products they buy through a visual warning label system using symbols such as:

    • the skull and crossbones that warn that a product is possibly poisonous 
    • the skeletal hand that warns that a product can cause a chemical burn 
  • Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

    The Globally Harmonized System, an internationally agreed-upon system created by the United Nations, has a goal that the same set of rules for classifying the hazards of chemical products will be adopted and used around the world, to be communicated through product labels.

    The GHS does not call for full ingredient disclosure but does include a hazard symbol system for products that pose chronic health risks. Canada committed to the implementation of the GHS almost 10 years ago but this process hasn’t been completed.

  • Suggested links for more information

    More information about chemical ingredients
    Check the ingredients in your products against regularly updated lists of chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer.

    International Agency for Research on Cancer – Evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans
    National Toxicology Program (US) – 12th report on carcinogens
    State of California’s list of chemicals

    International initiatives in product labelling
    Learn more about efforts in Canada and around the world to improve communication regarding chemicals in consumer products.

    Health Canada – Globally Harmonized System
    United Nations Economic Commission for Europe – Globally Harmonized System
    European Commission – Ecolabel system

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