Federal regulations that govern food handling and transport are in the process of being revamped to meet the more stringent demands of the Safe Food for Canadians Act which received Royal Assent in late 2012.
The approach regulators are taking to modernize Canada’s food system was the subject of deep discussion during the Conference Board of Canada’s 3rd Canadian Food Summit this spring.
“We’re looking for a more preventive system that strengthens risk assessment. The biggest complaint we get is about having an inconsistent approach so we aim to have clearer approaches and clearer decision making,” said Neil Jan Daniel Bouwer, senior vice-president, Agency Transformation, Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Changing regulatory requirements has more to do with industry than governments, he added, noting that government is just the “overseer” but needs to be flexible.
CFIA is working with CBSA on import single window systems.
The Safe Food for Canadians Act has received Royal Assent and will be enforced once the regulatory framework has been established, he added.
Based on the consultation process, Bouwer said the key messages from stakeholders were the requirement for clarity, for well-trained inspectors, and strong support that imported food should meet the same regulatory requirements as domestic food, said Bouwer.
Submissions are under review and there will be major consultation this June, then release of a draft regulatory text in late summer, with regulations expected to be in force by summer of 2015.
Anatole Papadopoulos, Director, Policy, Regulatory and Governmental Affairs, Food Directorate, Health Canada, noted the Food and Drugs Act regulatory framework “presumes most food products are considered safe and can go directly to market.”
In terms of regulatory challenges, the structure has been developed over the last 50 years and the scope of regulations is broad.
The objective is “a framework that is more responsive and flexible to emerging safety and/or nutrition challenges. We could also be making better use of collective international observations, eliminating duplications and inconsistencies in defining terms across Acts,” said Papadopoulos.
“The Safe Food for Canadians Act allows us to look at more technologies that produce safe food,” said Bouwer.
In terms of Canada being able to maintain autonomy in its food system in case there are disagreements around science in agriculture, “at the end of the day the decision making is always sovereign but we’re seeking more collaboration, and sharing of information,” he said.
The same regulatory standards will apply on imported goods but the question is whether the oversight will be as robust, he added.
“In our new inspectorate the scientists will be more quantitative. The CFIA of the future will benefit from more comprehensive training, and we’ll have to be more deliberate with tools like AMPS,” said Bouwer.
In terms of the rollout on the Food and Drugs Act side, the CFIA is “moving in aggregate mode, while at Health Canada we’re modernizing as we go,” Papadoupoulos noted.
Would we want imports to meet a certain certification model, such as GFSI?
“A number of countries are looking at adopting private certification schemes into the public systems. We will assign risk to every importer. We want to able to take private schemes into account and adjust the risk accordingly. That’s a pretty novel approach but it doesn’t go as far as we would like in terms of accepting private schemes. That’s the proposal we’re advancing and we will put out a discussion paper (in late spring),” said Bouwer.
Looking at the status of non-resident importers, Bouwer said CFIA “recognizes the challenge and we’re exploring approaches that would simplify the requirement for those importers.”
When considering the issue of interprovincial harmonization in food regulation, the Food and Drug Act applies to all of Canada, and applies to all non-federally registered and imported sectors.
CFIA’s focus really lies on intraprovincial and international trade, “but at some point we’re going to really want to ask ourselves how can they (the provinces) bring their systems into alignment with where the Feds are? Some already have,” Bouwer said.