With $100 million in funding over five years, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has undertaken a number of initiatives to modernize food regulation and inspection with the aim of further strengthening Canada’s food safety system. Among the announced changes are the elimination of standard container sizes from the Processed Products Regulations and the establishment of a CFIA Complaints and Appeals Office. On June 1, 2012, the CFIA released a discussion document describing the current food inspection context and outlining the proposed new inspection model. It can be accessed at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/accountability/inspection-modernization/case-for-change/eng/1337194116466/1337194257540 The proposed changes will have a very significant impact on industry stakeholders, and as such, the government is seeking input. Comments and feedback can be submitted until July 31, 2012 by email to modele-inspection-model@inspection.gc.ca or fax (613-773-7569), or by completing the online survey at http://inspection.sondages-surveys.ca/surveys/CFIA-ACIA/copy-inspection-modernization-the-case-for-chan-3/?l=eng.

The new model proposed by CFIA would create a systems-based approach that puts the onus on food producers, processors and importers to develop and implement programs that ensure food safety and controls risks, with oversight by the CFIA. This approach is expected to result in “consistent and appropriate oversight across all regulated food commodities . . . based on risk and focused on prevention of non-compliance, using science and technology.” To achieve this, the CFIA has identified the following significant changes to Canada’s food safety model.

Licensing/Registration: All industries that import or export food, or operate as manufacturers or processors of food products for trade between provinces will be required to obtain a licence/registration to operate. This will ensure that the CFIA knows the identity of regulated parties, what they produce and how they produce it. To become licensed/registered, a party will need to demonstrate a commitment to providing safe and compliant food, and to developing and implementing a suitable preventative control plan based on the product(s), operations and risk profile. The CFIA will have the power to suspend or revoke licences in cases of critical or repeated non-compliance. The discussion paper does not propose an ability to modify or place conditions on a licence as an alternative to suspension or revocation for non-compliance.

Food Safety Systems: Globalization and innovation have lead to new food safety risks and the development of mass distribution networks that can result in the quick spread of food incidents beyond national borders. To manage this risk, the CFIA is moving towards a more preventative and systems-based approach and is looking to the best practices of international food inspection partners and at the recommendations of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. As an example, the CFIA suggests that the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, which is currently mandatory in two of the CFIA’s food programs (meat and poultry, fish and seafood) can be incorporated into preventative controls across all commodities.

CFIA Oversight: The CFIA’s new role will be to verify that industry plans “appropriately prevent, eliminate or reduce hazards to acceptable levels.”. The extent of oversight the CFIA exerts over an industry (normal, enhanced or reduced) will depend on a CFIA determination of the residual risk in the industry. The CFIA will consider the effectiveness of the preventative plan developed and implemented by the industry and the industry’s compliance history to determine residual risk. CFIA also plans to modernize user fees and service standards.

Inspection: The frequency and scope of inspections will be based on residual risk and a consideration of the size and complexity of a party’s operations. The actual inspection and verification approach will be standardized for all food commodities, with new resources being developed to improve service delivery (e.g., new training and tools for inspectors).The CFIA will be modernizing its science facilities and equipment, most notably increasing its testing capacity. The new model potentially allows for third-party verification on behalf of the retail sector to complement CFIA inspections; however, this possibility has not yet been considered in detail. A system to recognize third-party verifiers and to incorporate their inspection activities with those of the government has yet to be proposed.

Compliance and Enforcement: The new model will aim to ensure that compliance and enforcement will be transparent, predictable, graduated according to risk and appropriate to the level of non-compliance. The onus will be on industry to take appropriate action to correct any non-compliance found by CFIA. The discussion paper does not expand on the mechanisms (e.g. standardized protocols) that will be used to achieve the consistency promised by the new model.

Legislative Reforms: In addition to the new food inspection model, the government tabled the Food Safety for Canadians Act (the Act)on June 7, 2012, , which brings together various pieces of legislation related to food safety. Included in the Act are provisions increasing penalties for offences to as high as $5 million versus the current maximum of $250,000. The CFIA’s legislative modernization also aims to address food safety concerns such as tampering, traceability and import controls not covered by current legislation.

The new food inspection model represents a major shift in Canada’s approach to food safety. The benefits of a consistent and flexible system focused on prevention and science must be considered against the backdrop of increased responsibility for producers, processors and importers. Input and feedback from industry early in this process will be important to help shape the new food inspection model.

Article prepared with assistance from Laura Gomez and Katrina Coughlin.