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Food processors spy shortcomings in CFIA regulatory plan

There are five key shortcomings that need to be fixed, food industry reps say

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency thinks it’s on the home stretch of its overhaul of food safety regulations but the food industry says there’s still work to be done.

CFIA says the revamp will finally compete the implementation of the Safe Food for Canadians Act passed by the Harper government in 2012 and it’s planning on making the final version of the rules public this spring. At that time, CFIA will spell out when various provisions are to come into force.

Food Processors of Canada (FPC) says there are five holes in the current regulatory proposals. They are:

  • Increasing border inspection of imported food products,
  • Putting federal and provincial food plants on an equal footing,
  • Reducing the scope of its Administrative Monetary Penalties for a more collaborative approach with processors on reaching food safety standards,
  • Establish a more realistic basis for a Product of Canada label,
  • Increase the number of food-testing labs across the country.

Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) also wants to see improvements made to the proposed regulations.

The package of regulations is intended to consolidate 14 sets of commodity-based regulations that CFIA inherited from various federal departments when it was created 20 years ago. Following passage of the Safe Food Act, CFIA began consulting industry, agriculture and consumer groups about what the new regulatory framework should contain

A year ago, CFIA published its proposed final version of the regulations, which started a 90-day public comment period on them. It received more than 1,700 comments that helped frame the final package.

Denise Allen, president of the FPC, said getting the rules right will be an important ingredient in helping the food industry meet the government’s goal of $75 billion in agri-food exports by 2025, which now stand in the $56-billion-a-year range.

Susan Abel, FCPC’s vice-president of safety and compliance, said CFIA recognizes the need for more and better definitions in its proposed regulations. There is a need, she said, “to better support for smaller enterprises that will have new and significant written food safety program requirements.”

CFIA is also adopting a new system for sharing food safety information and documents that they say will balance safety and a changing food production landscape.

While waiting for the release of the final package of regulations, FCPC “… will continue to work with CFIA to ensure certain important elements, such as vendor qualification requirements, which are missing in this phase of development, will be addressed quickly in future regulatory activities,” Abel said.

CFIA said the goal of its regulatory reform is “to strengthen Canada’s international reputation as a leader in food safety by establishing consistent, prevention-focused requirements for all foods that are imported or prepared for export or interprovincial trade.”

It wants to achieve a system that balances enforcing the rules and allowing industry to innovate, CFIA’s statement outlined.

CFIA categorized the 1,700 comments into technical issues, small-business concerns, treatment of organic products, implementation and trade and competitiveness matters.

Since 2013, the CFIA has participated in more than 300 external stakeholder events and reached thousands of individuals through face-to-face sessions, webinars, and two major food safety forums. Discussion documents were released in 2013, 2014, and 2015 and included initial drafts of regulatory text.

The 2015 consultation specifically targeted micro- and small businesses to better understand their unique needs and to explore options for reducing costs that would be imposed by the proposed regulations.

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