The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently announced its intention to establish a regulatory regime that will require certain food importers to obtain import licences. The CFIA’s notice does not replace the usual comment period that will follow publication of draft regulations.

If implemented as proposed, the new regime would subject importers of agricultural products (many for the first time) to import licensing requirements in the non-federally registered sector, thereby affecting thousands of food products sold in Canada. In 2010, the CFIA held consultations on the imported food sector regulatory proposal, and the most recent announcement by the CFIA marks the next step in its move to greater regulation in this sector. The regulatory proposal could, potentially, affect/apply to 85% of the foods that are imported into Canada.

The regulatory proposal has three goals: to strengthen the accountability of food importers for the safety of their products; to allow the CFIA to better identify and engage importers; and to improve importers' ability to quickly identify, respond to and advise the CFIA of potentially unsafe imported food.

Affected products and businesses

The contemplated regulatory regime would apply to imported food products that are not already subject to commodity-specific regulations pursuant to the Canada Agricultural Products Act. The new regime would subject importers of agricultural products to import licensing requirements for foods such as bakery products, beverages, yeast, coffee and tea, confectionery/chocolate, grains, breads, and cereals, infant formula, juices, meal replacements, snack foods, and spices and seasonings. Those affected by the new regime will likely include importers and food manufacturers, retailers, brokers, distributors, some domestic producers and food processors, and shipping services.

In addition to mandating licences, the proposed regime will also establish minimum food safety requirements as well as require record keeping and the development of a recall plan.

Licensing

To obtain a licence, importers will be required to develop, implement and maintain a written Preventive Food Safety Control Plan that outlines the actions and measures they take to keep their food safe and compliant with Canadian regulations.

It is expected that non-federally registered sector food importers would require only one licence that would cover all of their imported food products. (In the previous consultations held by the CFIA, the potential requirement for multiple import licences was a serious concern raised by the food industry.)

The CFIA advises that these proposed regulations are being developed in consultation with industry to minimize impacts on business operations and to streamline processes to ease the transition to the new requirements.

It is expected that the proposed regulations will be published for comment in the fall of 2012.