Uncertainty surrounds food safety legislation

The food industry wants meaningful consultations with the federal government while it’s preparing new food safety legislation, but so far is only being served promises of more advisory committee meetings.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz plans to introduce legislation in 2012 to overhaul the roles of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency in order to better detect and correct food safety problems. However, there’s been little communication on what it’s preparing to do.

A spokeswoman says CFIA “remains committed to engaging stakeholders on elements of any new proposed legislation.” However, there’s no indication of whether groups such as the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, Food Processors of Canada, Food and Consumer Products, or farm groups will have any input into the legislation.

CFIA “continues to engage industry on many topics including what could potentially be included in legislative proposals to modernize and streamline the food safety framework in Canada,” the spokeswoman said.

The federal departments and agencies all have advisory committees and round tables that touch on food safety-related issues, but industry spokesmen say they’ve had little success in generating meaningful discussions on how Canada needs to come to grips with food safety changes being undertaken by both major customers and other exporting countries.

A document from Canadian Food Inspection Agency president George Da Pont released in late December states the agency will undertake a review with the aim of strengthening federal “regulatory frameworks to reduce overlap and redundancy, address gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies while providing clarity and flexibility to assist regulated parties in fulfilling their obligations.”

What the food industry wants is recognition that it’s responsible for ensuring its products are safe while the government’s job is to check companies live up their commitments, according to food industry spokepersons. In his document, Da Pont notes the United States has “launched a review of all of its regulations with a view to avoiding excessive, redundant and inconsistent regulation.”

“Canada needs to adopt a similar approach within its legislative and regulatory framework to ensure that it provides the power and flexibility to respond appropriately to existing and emerging risks,” Da Pont stated.

“Internationally, there is also an evolution to outcomes-based approaches to regulation that include specification of expected performance and results rather than prescriptive standards. The United States, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union have begun to move in this direction.”

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