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“The world in which the CFIA operates is changing and the CFIA needs to change with it.”

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), August 9, 2012

On June 7, 2012 the Canadian government introduced the Safe Food For Canadians Act. This legislation, once passed into law, will ensure that the same food safety criteria apply to both domestic and imported food commodities, and will consolidate several different food inspection regimes into a single, unified approach.

Some elements of the proposed law include:

  • Licensing of all food commodity importers, exporters and domestic producers;
  • Puts the onus on importers to ensure that their off-shore suppliers produce foods under conditions that meet Canadian domestic production requirements;
  • Provides inspectors with full authority to examine any documents – including those stored on computers – during the course of an inspection;
  • Prohibits anyone from selling a food commodity that is the subject of a recall order;
  • Reaffirms CFIA’s mandatory recall authority;
  • Allows the Government to recover costs incurred during “…the inspection, moving, seizure and detention, forfeiture, disposal, return or release…” of any item; and
  • Protects those exercising their functions from liability for their good faith actions while performing their duties.

Under Canada’s parliamentary system, with a strong majority government in place, the Safe Food for Canadians Act will almost certainly become law with very few amendments.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) – charged with enforcing food safety laws in Canada – already is preparing for the new mandates. On August 9th, CFIA released for comment a draft of an Improved Food Inspection Model.

I find a lot to like in this draft document, such as:

  • Mandatory licensing of food production facilities, importers, and exporters, providing for annual renewals, and for suspension or cancellation of licenses, where certain criteria are met.
  • Places the onus on an importer to verify that its supplier complies with the same criteria as domestic food producers/processors.
  • Applies a risk-based set of criteria to determine the intensity and frequency of oversight.
  • Clearly describes the inspection process.
  • Enunciates the mandatory components of a licensed facility’s preventative control plan.
  • Establishes that it is the responsibility of industry to comply with food safety laws, and it is the responsibility of CFIA to police/enforce that compliance.

What’s not to like?

Lip service to transparency: suspensions and cancellations of licenses “may” be posted on the CFIA’s external website.

Wiggle room for old or sub-standard facilities to be “grandfathered”: Although the draft policy clearly requires that the “design and layout of food establishments prevents cross-contamination…” there is a provision allowing for procedures to “mitigate the risk” in cases where plant design does not meet standards for reducing contamination.

What would I like to see?

1. CFIA should commit to the following transparency initiatives:

  • timely posting of basic information on all licensed facilities, including name, contact information, activities, product and process information and compliance status;
  • timely posting of all license suspensions and cancellations, including the reason(s) for suspension or cancellation of a license;
  • regular updates to the current compliance status / inspection outcome for all licensed facilities;
  • recall notices should explain whether the recall was triggered as a result of a company’s own food safety verification, actions carried out by a government agency (e.g, routine surveillance program), customer complaints, or third-party testing;
  • recall notices should state whether a pathogen was found in a sample of the specific product under recall, whether it was found in a different production batch, or whether it was present in the production environment, instead of reporting that the recalled product “may be contaminated with…” a pathogen; and
  • retail-level distribution information should be provided for all Class I recalls and Allergy Alerts.

2. CFIA should phase out the grandfathering of old, outdated, or non-compliant facilities by making full compliance a condition of license renewals.

I have long been an advocate for a single food safety agency system in the USA – one that would consolidate the food enforcement arms of FDA, USDA, and the several other federal agencies that also dabble in this arena. The Safe Food for Canadians Act, coupled with CFIA’s Improved Food Inspection Model proposal represents a major advance in the right direction.

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