The Auditor General’s Fall 2013 Report (Report)1, released November 26, criticized two aspects of Canada’s food management system. The Report identified shortfalls in both Canada’s food recall system and the disaster relief provided to food producers.

CFIA communications to stakeholders inadequate

According to the Report, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) did not adequately document the considerations, analysis and rationale for important food safety decisions, or communicate this information to key stakeholders when dealing with high-profile recalls in 2012 managed under emergency procedures. The Report concluded that the CFIA did not adequately manage the food recall system and that significant improvements to the food recall system were necessary.

The Auditor General’s investigation found that the CFIA’s emergency response plan for food safety issues was inadequate. The plan, in draft form since 2004, created new governance structures when emergency measures were activated. These governance structures were not well understood by some officials, which contributed to confusion among both staff and stakeholders.

The Report also found the CFIA did not adequately document the considerations, analysis and rationale for important food safety decisions, or communicate this information to key stakeholders, when dealing with high-profile recalls managed under emergency procedures. The Auditor General found “many” examples of incomplete documentation of important decisions and key steps in the recall process, with the result that the CFIA could not confirm whether recalls were carried out across Canada and in accordance with the CFIA’s own requirements.

In the Auditor General’s review of one high-profile beef recall, CFIA officials instructed one food distribution company to recall products from a date that was not subject to the recall. The Auditor General also found that the rationale for selecting the five production dates recalled and excluding other dates was not adequately documented, and could not find adequate evidence demonstrating the CFIA’s analysis and considerations of this and other important decisions.

The Auditor General stated that although the CFIA acted promptly to investigate food safety concerns and verified that recalled products were removed from the marketplace, the CFIA’s follow-up activities after a product had been removed from the marketplace were deficient.

Disaster relief program for producers not meeting targets

In another part of the Report, the Auditor General concluded that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) does not adequately manage the federal role in providing disaster relief to producers through AgriRecovery, a joint federal and provincial/territorial program aimed at quickly providing producers with assistance when disasters occur.

Two deficiencies noted were that the AAFC does not streamline processing for smaller initiatives or track whether initiatives are meeting timeliness targets. Furthermore, AgriRecovery seldom meets its 45-day target for assessments and consequently has not delivered timely assistance for many disease- and drought-related disasters.

The CFIA and the AAFC each agreed with the Auditor General’s recommendations relating to their respective operations and advised what steps were being implemented to address the issues identified in the Report.