Introduction
Action plan
New rules for meat plants
Comment


Introduction

Canada's new food safety legislation, the Safe Food for Canadians Act,(1)was passed in November 2012 but has not yet come into force. As one of the steps leading towards the eventual implementation of the act, on May 17 2013 the government announced the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan and changes to the rules governing federally inspected meat plants.(2)

Action plan

The action plan "focuses on continuous improvement in food safety based on science, global trends, and best practices".(3) The action plan sets out specific steps that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will take in four key areas:

  • stronger food safety rules;
  • more effective inspection;
  • a commitment to service: and
  • more information for consumers.(4)

Food safety
In the area of food safety rules, the action plan explains that the CFIA plans to:

  • improve the safety of imported food by requiring food importers to put in place clear controls to ensure that the food they sell is compliant with Canadian regulations; and
  • develop new rules to reduce the risks posed by pathogens.

Inspection
In the area of inspection, the action plan sets out nine key action items to improve the Canadian food safety system:

  • Design a new food inspection model to improve industry compliance with food safety legislation;
  • Deliver better training to inspectors and improving recruitment strategies;
  • Enhance science capacity;
  • Empower inspectors to request that an individual start or stop an activity to adhere to the law and to prevent obstruction or interference with inspectors as they carry out their duties;
  • Establish 16 centres of expertise to bring together knowledge in specific programmes or food commodities;
  • Increase testing capacity;
  • Modernise science facilities and equipment;
  • Develop an integrated food laboratory network with other partners involved in food safety, such as provinces and municipalities; and
  • Seek new and effective ways to partner with industry.

Service
In the area of service, the CFIA will:

  • build a secure electronic interface so that the CFIA can share information and conduct transactions more effectively with industry and international partners; and
  • introduce a clear, consistent set of inspection and enforcement rules that will significantly reduce red tape for Canadian food producers.

Consumer information
In the area of consumer information, the CFIA will:

  • maintain its food recall and public alert system;
  • find new ways of sharing its work with Canadians;
  • explore other types of information that will have value to Canadians and explore the best means of sharing this information; and
  • launch a comprehensive and public review of its requirements and enforcement for food labelling.

Beyond listing these intended steps, the action plan contains little detail on how and when the CFIA will accomplish these goals. In general, it provides an indication of what the CFIA plans to do, but offers little information that will impact on businesses operating in the sector or permit businesses to plan for new changes in key areas of safety, record keeping and inspections by food safety authorities. The action plan notes the greater possibility of sharing information (potentially sensitive commercial information) with third parties, but without an indication of the circumstances under which such information would or could be shared. The action plan refers to only one legal change to the food safety regime in Canada – the introduction of new food safety rules to strengthen the control of E coli in federally registered plants producing raw beef.

New rules for meat plants

In Canada, meat processing plants must be federally registered in order to export meat from Canada or ship meat across provincial borders. On May 17 2013 the government introduced new rules for federally inspected meat plants.(5) The new rules set out the following requirements for federally registered meat plant operators:

  • Plants that make beef trim, ground beef and beef patties must develop a protocol outlining how they will review and respond to trends in their E coli O157:H7 test results, and must take immediate action (including to inform the CFIA) and adjust protocols when a trend indicates unusual patterns or higher than usual numbers of positive test results.
  • Plants that make ground beef or beef patties must conduct additional testing and, when the testing indicates that bacteria are above acceptable levels, must take action to ensure the continued safety of the product.
  • Plants that mechanically tenderise beef cuts intended for retail sale (eg, steaks and roasts) must label those products as being tenderised and provide cooking instructions (this new requirement is a direct response to a recent meat contamination incident in Canada).
  • During food safety investigations, plants must provide production and distribution information to the CFIA by a specific deadline and in a useable format (this change also arose from concerns expressed by the CFIA that it was not receiving information that it requested in a timely manner).
  • When the CFIA identifies a positive test result in any sample of ground beef and beef patties, plants must conduct follow-up testing to verify the effectiveness of plant controls.

In addition, the CFIA itself will:

  • increase its sampling and testing frequency for E. coli O157:H7 in plants that make beef trim;
  • from April to October, intensify its testing frequency for E. coli O157:H7; and
  • increase the number of overall samples taken per year, per plant.

These new rules came into effect on July 2 2013.

Timed to coincide with the release of the action plan, the new rules for meat processors were made under the existing legal framework under the Meat Inspection Act(6) and the Meat Inspection Regulations 1990,(7) and not under any consolidated or new legal regime contemplated under the Safe Food for Canadians Act. Eventually, the new rules for meat plants will likely be rolled into new regulations under the Safe Food for Canadians Act when the act comes into force.

Comment

Although lacking in detail and concrete action items and deliverables, the action plan provides a roadmap for the development of future food safety regulations, policies and procedures. Equally important is that while Canadian regulators work to develop a revamped food safety system, they continue to use the existing tools at their disposal to adjust Canada's food safety system and react to the demands of Canadians. Whether through major planning activities or standard regulatory updates, the CFIA and the government want the world to know that it is actively engaged in strengthening Canada's food safety system.

For further information on this topic please contact Martha A Healey at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP's Ottawa office by telephone (+1 613 780 8638), fax (+1 613 230 5459) or email (martha.healey@nortonrosefulbright.com). Alternatively, contact Lucas Thacker at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP's Toronto office by telephone (+1 416 216 4046), fax (+1 416 216 3930) or email (lucas.thacker@nortonrosefulbright.com).

Endnotes

(1) SC 2012, c 24.

(2) CFIA, "Harper Government Announces Safe Food For Canadians Action Plan", May 17, 2013, available online at www.inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/newsroom/news-releases/2013-05-17/eng/1368764477955/1368764485220.

(3) CFIA, "Overview: Safe Food For Canadians Action Plan", May 17 2013, available at www.inspection.gc.ca/food/action-plan/overview/eng/1366942606753/1366942771883.

(4) CFIA, "Overview: Safe Food For Canadians Action Plan", May 17 2013, available at www.inspection.gc.ca/food/action-plan/overview/eng/1366942606753/1366942771883.

(5) CFIA, "New Testing and Labelling Safeguards at Federal Meat Plants", May 17 2013, available at www.inspection.gc.ca/food/action-plan/initiatives/testing-and-labelling-safeguards/eng/1368749756218/1368749850595.

(6) RSC, 1985, c 25 (1st Supp).

(7) SOR/90-288.

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