The federal government's plan to modernize food safety legislation is moving forward. There have been several recent developments on this front, including the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan (the Action Plan) and the Food Safety Regulatory Forum (the Forum). These developments suggest that the new Safe Food for Canadians Act (the Act) will come into force in early 2015 and provide insight into the approach the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (the CFIA) is taking with respect to modernizing Canada's food safety legislation.The Forum also launched a consultation process on several elements of the Action Plan.

Background

The federal government tabled the Act in June 2012 and it received Royal Assent in November 2012. The majority of the Act is set to come into force on a day to be fixed in the future. Before the Act can be brought into force, new supporting regulations need to be made. All current legislation and regulations will remain in effect until the Act comes into force.

For further information on the Act, please see our July 2012 Blakes Bulletin: Federal Government Tables the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

Safe Food for Canadians Action PlanThe Action Plan indicates that the Act will come into force at the beginning of 2015. Over the next two years, the CFIA will consult with consumer groups and industry to develop new regulations that will support the Act, as discussed below. In the meantime, the CFIA will launch a number of "significant food safety enhancements". The Action Plan outlines five main goals:

  1. Stronger Food Safety Rules. The Act will allow the CFIA to improve food traceability throughout the production chain and to enhance industry requirements for record-keeping and documentation. As discussed in our July 2012 Blakes Bulletin, the Act also includes provisions to license all importers.

Through the Action Plan, the CFIA intends to:

  • Improve the safety of imported food by requiring food importers to put in place clear controls to ensure the food they sell is compliant with Canadian regulations
  • Develop new rules to reduce the risks posed by pathogens such as E. coli.  

The Action Plan indicates that the CFIA will be implementing some changes before the Act comes into force by using existing authorities and administrative guidelines. For example, there are new mandatory requirements relating to the control of E. coli in federally registered plants producing raw beef.

  1. More Effective Inspection. As discussed in our July 2012 Blakes Bulletin, the Act will consolidate four food-related statutes (and related regulations) into one to create a single uniform approach to inspection that applies to all regulated food commodities.

The Action Plan indicates that the CFIA is designing a new food inspection model. Inspectors will have increased powers in some areas, including the ability to request an individual to start or stop an activity to adhere to the law and to prevent obstruction or interference with inspectors as they carry out their duties.

There will also be a new set of compliance education documents published in plain language to assist with the interpretation of regulatory requirements. This will replace the many commodity-based manuals that currently exist. Further, the CFIA will establish 16 centres of expertise that will provide guidance and expert advice to industry and inspectors in relation to specific programs or food commodities.

In addition, as part of its strategy to modernize the Canadian food inspection regime, the CFIA plans to:

  • Increase testing capacity
  • Modernize science facilities and equipment
  • Develop an integrated food laboratory network in collaboration with provincial and municipal partners. 
  1. A Commitment to Service. The Action Plan states that the CFIA is committed to efficient and effective service and, as part of this, has published a Statement of Rights and Service and has initiated a review of service standards and service user fees.

The CFIA has also established a review mechanism for regulated parties seeking review of certain decisions made by CFIA officials. The Action Plan indicates that regulations made under the Act will make this an enduring commitment to stakeholders.

In addition, the Action Plan states that the CFIA will introduce a clear, consistent set of inspection and enforcement rules with a goal of significantly reducing red tape for Canadian food producers.

  1. More Information for Consumers. The CFIA will explore what types of information will have value to Canadians and how to share this information. Further, there is currently a consultation underway in regards to a proposal to modernize the food labelling system. As part of the first stage of the consultation, stakeholders can provide initial feedback in a short online questionnaire before August 30, 2013. There will be other opportunities to provide comments going forward.

In addition, under the Act, the Minister will have the right to disclose personal and confidential business information if disclosure is deemed necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians, as in the case of a recall ordered by the Minister. However, this will need to be done within the parameters of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.

  1. A Focus on Prevention. Another goal of the Action Plan and the Act is the prevention of food safety issues. To further this goal, the CFIA plans to require all food manufacturers, including processed food manufacturers, to be licensed and have preventive control systems like HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) or equivalent, and intends to work with small and medium enterprises to explore approaches tailored to their operational needs to assist them in achieving compliance. The CFIA also plans to develop a risk-based approach to focus its inspection activities on foods and establishments that pose the greatest risk for consumers.

Food Safety Regulatory ForumIn June 2013, the CFIA held the Food Safety Regulatory Forum, where stakeholders and consumer groups were able to participate in a number of presentations relating to the Act. The Forum marked the launch of consultations into the following three elements of the Action Plan:

  1. CFIA's Compliance Promotion Initiative. The purpose of the consultation on compliance promotion is to determine how enhanced compliance promotion efforts by government, industry and interested third parties could improve industry's ability to meet regulatory requirements.  
  2. Planned Outcome-Based Approach to Regulation and Inspection. The purpose of the discussion paper on outcome-based regulations is to gather stakeholder views on the adoption of this approach in food regulation and inspection.

Participants in the Canadian food industry are invited to provide feedback on these two elements of the Action Plan by reviewing the relevant documents in the Consultations section of the CFIA's website and forwarding comments to the Strategic Partnerships Division.

  1. Proposed New Regulatory Framework. The purpose of the consultation on the proposed regulatory framework is to gather feedback on the regulations that are being developed to support the Act.

The CFIA published a discussion document titled A New Regulatory Framework for Federal Food Inspection, which outlines the major components of the proposed regulatory framework and seeks feedback on specific questions. The document indicates that the proposed regulations will have a number of requirements that will apply to all federally regulated food commodities traded inter-provincially and internationally, such as licensing, preventive controls, traceability, record-keeping, and a review mechanism. In addition, certain current commodity-specific food safety and consumer protection requirements will be maintained (e.g., standards of identity, grades, inspection marks, slaughter requirements, labelling and packaging). It is expected that exemptions authorized by the Minister to address shortages and for market testing of new food commodities will be maintained in the proposed regulations.

Additionally, consideration is being given to amending the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations to make it possible for the CFIA to use this enforcement tool in relation to food commodities.

The CFIA indicates that over the coming months, a series of consultation opportunities between the CFIA and stakeholders will be organized. Associations are urged to take this document and gather feedback from their members.

Further, the CFIA indicates that work on the proposed regulations will continue to progress, taking all the comments and feedback into account. In spring 2014, a Notice of intent will be released that will contain a discussion draft of the proposed new regulations. Further consultations will be undertaken at that time. Final publication of the regulations in Canada Gazette Part II is expected at the end of 2014 with a target for coming into force at the beginning of 2015.