The Fall 2013 Report of Canada's Auditor General5, released November 26, criticized several aspects of the way the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) handles food recalls.
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. Furthermore, over the course of the audit, 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 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.
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's investigation also 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 same day the Fall 2013 Report was released, the Minister of Health stated that work was "well underway" to address the concerns raised by the report. The Federal Government's official response primarily focused on aspects of the CFIA's performance unrelated to the criticisms included in the Auditor General's report, including the announcement of the intent to introduce stiffer penalties for businesses that fail to respect federal meat safety requirements, enhanced controls on E. Coli, new meat labelling requirements, additional inspectors, and "cracking down" on unsafe food imports.6 It is expected that additional initiatives will be investigated in order to address the remaining issues raised by the Auditor General – possibly linked to the food regulatory modernization efforts that have been underway within Canada since late 2007 when Canada announced the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan – a set of proposed measures directed at legislating stricter controls of consumer products, including foods in Canada.