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Food industry wants say in new legislation

Food safety is a job for the companies that make food, and government should focus on setting nutrition and health standards and policing the industry.

That’s the pitch being made by large processors as the federal government prepares to revamp food-safety legislation.

“Let’s not lose perspective: We can’t regulate bugs out of our food,” said Chris Kyte, president of the Food Processors of Canada. “That takes good production and processing practices. Heavy-handed federal regulations don’t keep people safe.”

The overall food-safety record of Canadian food processors is good and the industry had lots of expertise that government should be drawing on as it prepares legislation, said Kyte.

While industry officials participate in regular consultations with federal departments and agencies, they’re still waiting for an opportunity to discuss what Ottawa is considering for the food-safety legislation, said Susan Abel, senior director of product safety and food regulation with Food & Consumer Products of Canada.

Because of the importance of agri-food exports, the legislation also has to keep up with reforms being implemented in the U.S. and other key markets, industry officials say.

“Many of Canada’s trading partners, in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and outside, have already revised their legislation to meet the needs of the 21st century,” said Albert Chambers, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, which has members ranging from farm groups to food retailers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has launched consultations on proposals to improve its regulation-making process, said Chambers, but that doesn’t mean industry will get to comment on the legislation.

Chambers recently wrote to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq asking for “government/stakeholder consultation.” In the letter, he states that industry has been actively improving its food-safety procedures and is eager to lend its expertise as Ottawa considers new food-safety rules.

The legislation was promised last month in the final response from Ottawa on 57 recommendations from special investigator Sheila Weatherill to prevent a repeat of the deadly 2008 listeria outbreak.

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