Massive CFIA regulatory overhaul back in gear

Mandate letters for ministers stress food safety, making move no surprise, say industry insiders

Redrafting the regulatory powers of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is back on the front burner after being set to simmer during the 2015 federal election.

Food industry insiders like Albert Chambers, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, say they’ve been told to expect to see movement soon. The former government was committed to modernizing the CFIA, and the Liberals seem to share a similar view, Chambers said during an interview.

“Mandate letters for the Liberal ministers also stress food safety improvements,” Chambers said. “There’s nothing surprising about the government moving ahead on this.”

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The current goal is to have the full package of regulatory amendments to implement the 2014 Safe Food for Canadians Act published in the Canada Gazette Part 1 in the fall, he said. All proposed Canadian legislation must appear in this federal government publication. That will likely translate into a minimum 75-day comment period, before the CFIA prepares the final version for publication, Chambers said.

Feedback

CFIA responded to questions on the issue by saying the government was currently assessing stakeholder feedback and revising its first draft, and that there would be further public consultations.

Chambers said in addition to convincing Health Minister Jane Philpott, who oversees the CFIA, the agency must also win cabinet backing, finish its review of the comments and then secure resources from the Justice Department to write up the changes. Both Health Canada and the CFIA are working on numerous regulatory initiatives relating to food, Chambers said.

“The agri-food industry is in for a busy period,” he said.

Last April, CFIA released its proposals for regulatory change under the legislation — without actually informing the agri-food industry. Tucked away in a statement about small business consultations was a new 165-page version of proposed regulations to implement CFIA’s sweeping modernization.

It was described later as a discussion document and subject to change based on feedback received during consultation. Industry had until June 30 to submit comments.

Modernization

At the end of January 2015, CFIA said it was calling a time out in the consultations on its modernization reforms to give it time to digest all the comments it has received from 10,000 industry and consumer groups during 2014. The review and additional consultations with industry hadn’t concluded by the time the Oct. 19 election was called. Then the agency had to wait for directions from the new government.

CFIA is proposing to replace 13 sets of commodity regulations it inherited in its creation in 1997 with a single set of regulations that would apply international food safety standards to all food imported or prepared for interprovincial trade or export.

In addition to inspecting Canadian food producers, the CFIA is also responsible for certification of food exports and monitoring the safety of imported foods.

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