CFIA to reorient around ‘centres of expertise’

Canada’s federal food inspection agency plans to set up a new model of "single-window" access for processors and agency inspectors to get needed information, through 16 sector-specific "centres of expertise" across the country.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, speaking Monday at Crop Production Week in Saskatoon, said the new centres "will pool expertise and make it available through a single window, making the CFIA more efficient and giving industry, CFIA inspectors and Canadians better, more consistent service."

The new centres, he said, would also be "near both academic and provincial experts in a particular field, to leverage expertise and collaboration among organizations."

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The home cities for the new centres have been chosen based on factors such as "proximity to industry organizations (and) provincial experts in that field (and) academic experts in that field."

Other factors included "current concentration of related industries" in the regions around the new centres, as well as "current concentration of staff involved in the related activity," the federal agriculture department said Monday.

Saskatoon, for example, would host one national CFIA centre of expertise, devoted to grains and oilseeds, seed, plants with novel traits, and fertilizer.

Calgary, meanwhile, would host two such centres: one devoted to red meat slaughter, the other to foreign animal disease and emergency management.

Guelph would host three centres: agrifoods and non-federally registered products, import/export of animals, and horticulture. Three others are to be based at St-Hyacinthe, Que.: poultry slaughter, processed meat and poultry, and domestic animal disease and animal welfare.

Charlottetown would host a centre devoted specifically to potatoes and soil; Moncton, two centres, for shellfish and for aquatic animal health; Burnaby, B.C., one each for forestry and for finfish; and the National Capital Region around Ottawa, one each for labelling/claims and for animal feed.

Streamlining

Paul Mayers, CFIA’s vice-president for policy and programs, said in an interview Monday that Ritz’s announcement is the start of a process, not the end of one.

The detailed model in which the 16 centres will operate is to be developed over the next year, with the goal of having the centres of expertise open "virtually" in 2014.

Past that, no hard deadlines have been set, he said. CFIA doesn’t want to lose any of its expertise through this move, so "we’re not going to do this on a really aggressive timetable."

The move is a consolidation of services, so "modest savings" and opportunities for streamlining could be anticipated — but all staff involved will be assured of continued employment, he said.

Granted, experts wouldn’t necessarily be available just across the street in a centre-of-expertise model, he said. However, through a single-window model, CFIA inspectors, processors and producers would be able to contact a centre directly and connect with experts, regardless of the caller’s time zone.

Also, he said, under the current "dispersed" model, it’s possible that a local-level inspector in one part of the country may get a different interpretation of CFIA regulations from one regional office than another working in a similar facility elsewhere.

A single-window centre-of-expertise model would instead mean "they can go and get that clarity directly."

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