Industry applauds Canada-U.S. food safety deal but seeks details

The agreement covers existing programs, but both countries are in the process of developing new standards

Food that’s safe in Canada is now also considered safe in the U.S. and vice versa.

That’s the bottom line after Canada and the United States have signed a food safety recognition agreement. It formally states the existing food safety systems of the two nations provide similar levels of protection to consumers.

Farm and food industry groups are calling it a useful first step, although it doesn’t yet cover new programs being implemented by the two countries.

The agreement, signed by senior officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recognizes that the existing food safety systems of the two countries provide similar results.

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“Canada and the U.S. have confidence in each other’s regulatory systems,” said Paul Mayers CFIA’s vice-president of policy and programs. “Co-operation between our countries is fundamental to providing and contributing to a safe food supply.”

The agreement doesn’t say whether new food safety programs in the two countries will be covered by the agreement. The U.S. has begun to introduce its Food Safety Modernization program while CFIA is consulting with the domestic agri-food sector on the regulations to accompany its Safe Food for Canadians program.

Albert Chambers, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, said the agreement provides for periodic reviews of the comparability of the Canadian and American food safety regimes. While no time frames are specified, “it can be expected that at some point there will be a need to compare the new food safety regimes with each other. The coalition is monitoring the development of the new Canadian regulations with the objective of reducing any potential challenges to Canada’s new comparability standing.”

CFIA spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau said Canada and the FDA worked closely during the development of their new food safety programs to ensure that they continue to provide a similar level of protection to maintain food safety systems recognition.

“The arrangement will be reviewed as necessary as we move forward with regulatory modernization,” she added. “Both countries remain confident and committed to working together to ensure that recognition is maintained.”

The intention is for the two countries “to provide a similar although not necessarily identical system of protection, and that the food safety authorities provide similar oversight and monitoring.”

The agreement was negotiated under the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Co-operation Council (RCC). “This collaboration between Canada and the U.S. will result in better aligned food safety regulatory systems and allow us to better protect the health and safety of our citizens,” a statement from the group said.

The agreement should mean Canada and the U.S. accept that food exports from the other country come through an inspection pro­cess they have acknowledged as comparable to their own. Whether they do in practice remains to be seen, food industry insiders said.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture called the agreement “welcome and positive.”

“We are happy that such a comprehensive agreement has been made coming out of the RCC and we are looking forward to the reinvigorated relationship and focus on moving food safety, and many other issues, through the RCC over the next year,” the group said in a statement.

Chris Kyte, president of Food Processors of Canada, said his members want more details on the implications the agreement has for exports to the U.S.

“Will there will be fewer interruptions when shipping south?” Kyte said. “Will the USDA increase the frequency of inspection in American plants to Canadian levels? Will Canada and the U.S. harmonize MRLs? Will Canadian companies be allowed to use USFDA-approved ingredients, chemicals and pesticides? What exactly does this mean for Canadian business?”

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