CFIA accountability process strengthened

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is taking steps to become more accountable to farmers and food processors.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has released new CFIA policies on rights and services that outline its service standards and what the agri-food sector can expect when dealing with the agency.

“We know there is always room to improve,” he said. “We’re taking steps to strengthen communication and interaction between the agency, consumers, producers and the entire value chain so that we can all better work together to ensure safe food and a strong agriculture industry.”

There will also be a new process for businesses to lodge complaints about CFIA and appeal decisions of its inspectors.

Cutting red tape

The initiative appears to stem from the red tape cutting program of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, but many farm groups voiced support for it even though details remain sketchy.

The existing CFIA inspection and regulation policy has generated endless complaints over the years because of its arbitrariness and gotcha approach to enforcement rather than encouraging companies to do a better job and punishing repeat offenders.

Effective regulation, inspection and oversight are vital, said Ritz, but added farmers and processors “need to know for certain that their dealings with a public institution will be carried out predictably, fairly and consistently.”

He said relations between the two sides have been strained by “irregular service, different applications of the regulations and poor communication.”

Benefits

A more collaborative approach will benefit everyone, said Travis Toews, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

“The fact that there will now be a standard in place to ensure the CFIA is accountable for the service they provide will help to elevate stakeholder confidence in the process,” he said.

“We look forward to an enhanced working relationship with the CFIA that will strengthen ties throughout the sector and benefit the important inspection process as a whole.”

Dairy Farmers of Canada said new inspection guides for consumers, producers, processors, animal transporters, importers and exporters will help keep the food supply safe. However, it reminded the government the food industry has to remain competitive and shouldn’t be burdened with demands for more labelling.

While CFIA wants to deal with demands for all natural, natural flavour or homegrown designations, it also “needs to address consumer expectations on inspection and/or enforcement related to food labelling, misleading advertisements and claims made by the food industry.”

First step

The new policy “is a positive first step and we hope the CFIA ensures this culture of change is reflected in their daily interactions with producers and small businesses,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB’s vice-president for agribusiness.

“One of the biggest frustrations our members have is they feel they have no recourse if they experience bad customer service or do not agree with a regulatory decision. We hope all of these initiatives result in better working relationships between CFIA and those it regulates, and makes a tangible difference in the day-to-day life of business owners.”

Representatives of meat and poultry processors said in a joint statement that the new policy should “help businesses better understand their own role and responsibilities.”

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