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CFIA applies new rules to food importers

Two years after admitting that it didn’t have a registry of food importers, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is finally proposing to introduce a licensing regime for the estimated 25,000 businesses, which bring foreign-made food or beverages into Canada.

The government announced a Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan in 2007, which was to include measures to improve the food safety system for imported food products.

In 2010, the agency launched a consultation on licensed importers. At the time, it said it intended to strengthen the accountability of importers for the safety of imported alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, confectionery, fats and oils, infant formula, coffee and tea, cereals, spices and seasonings, juices and bakery products.

“The total value of food imported into Canada has increased by approximately 45 per cent in the past nine years, growing from $20.9 billion in 2001 to $30.5 billion in 2010. Raw ingredients and food products are imported from an estimated 190 countries, which have varying levels of food safety controls,” the agency said in early April.

The proposed regulations would require licences and prescribe food safety requirements for food importers. Previously, CFIA said that given the growing complexity of “global marketing and mass distribution networks means that the scope and impact of failures in food safety systems can be widespread.” Among the best-known problems with imports in recent years have been E. coli in American spinach, melamine in Chinese milk products and salmonella in peanut butter and hydrolyzed vegetable protein.

Under the proposed system, imports would all have to comply with the same requirements and be held to the same standard as domestic products. CFIA plans to impose cost recovery on the importers following WTO rules. Importers account for about 70 per cent of the food products and beverages sold in Canada. The rules wouldn’t apply to non-commercial shipments or for meals on planes, trains or ships.

Importers that don’t register are at risk of having their products seized by the Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for the initial import inspection service at all Canadian ports of entry for the majority of commodities that the CFIA regulates.

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