Ottawa Broadens Food Discussions

The federal government is broadening its consultations on food policy by launching a discussion with eight consumer organizations.

The consumer round table was proposed last year in Sheila Weatherill’s report on the deadly 2008 listeria outbreak. It also dovetails with the Connecting with Consumers theme of the annual meeting of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture here next month. The first version of CFA’s national food strategy will be public by then, says federation president Ron Bonnett.

The round table is intended to give consumers a role in food policy deliberations, said Brian Evans, round table chair and Canada’s chief food-safety officer. It held its first meeting in December and will meet again in early spring.

The round table is the latest addition to a large group of food-policy committees. Last year, Agriculture Canada set up an advisory committee on food safety and Health Canada launched one on food regulation. Both are composed of federal food regulators and representatives of farm, food processor, and retailer groups. As well, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz appointed his own seven-member minister ial advisory committee looking at how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency operates. It’s headed by Ottawa food lawyer Ron Doering, a former president of the CFIA.

The Agriculture and Health Canada committees have already held several meetings, at which government officials addressed participants. They’re expecting a more significant role in the coming year. Ritz’s advisory committee held its first session in December and has several more planned this year.

Doering says members of his group are interested in establishing links with the food-advisory committees. Members of the advisory groups and the consumer round table have expressed the same interest.

The round table will provide feedback on the government’s food-policy actions, said Evans.

“It’s important for us to know that our investments in food safety are the right ones. We want to keep Canadians at the forefront of what we’re doing.”

It will also help the CFIA make sure its messages are relevant to consumers and that the agency is responding to consumer complaints.

“We want to make sure we’re reaching the public with information on recalls and that our food allergen warnings are getting to the right people,” said Evans.

With all the different bodies in play, plus food-related various initiatives from farm and food industry organizations in the mix, the government will have to spell out its expectations on food policy within the next year if it expects to keep everyone’s interest, said Albert Chambers, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Committee and a member of the food-safety advisory committee.

“There’s a very real hope that something will happen,” said Chambers.

The government has said it will complete the implementation of the 57 recommendations of the Weatherill report by this summer. Rumours of a major legislative overhaul of CFIA surface periodically, but have yet to translate into action beyond a 2006 food-safety bill the government allowed to die wi thout ever being debated.

The groups at the consumer round table are Anaphylaxis Canada, Association Québécoise des allergies alimentaires, Canadian Association of Retired Persons, Consumers’ Association of Canada, Consumers Council of Canada, Dietictians of Canada, Option consommateurs, and People’s Food Policy Project.

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“It’simportantforustoknowthatourinvestmentsinfoodsafetyaretherightones.WewanttokeepCanadiansattheforefrontofwhatwe’redoing.”

– BRIAN EVANS, CANADA’S CHIEF FOOD-SAFETY OFFICER

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