While it’s too soon to tell for sure, the new U.S. food-safety law could become another big headache for Canadian food exporters.
The law, to be implemented over the next 18 months, gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration powers similar to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, namely the authority to proactively protect the food supply, rather than simply react to food-safety incidents. About the only commodities it won’t control are meat, chicken and eggs, which are inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Of most interest to Canadian firms are provisions allowing the FDA to inspect processing plants, order recalls, and set stricter standards for imported foods. Larger farms and food manufacturers will have to prepare detailed food-safety plans and tell the FDA how they will be implemented at different stages of production.
The law requires the FDA to gradually implement more frequent inspections domestically and overseas. Eventually, high-risk facilities will be inspected every three years. It will also be able to set national standards for growing and harvesting produce and require the establishment of a system to track the movement of food products from farm to consumer to identify the source of food-borne illness.
Some imported foods will need to be certified by a third party with food-safety expertise.
The new law needs to be on the radar of both Ottawa and food exporters, said Albert Chambers, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, which represents food companies and farm groups.
The federal government may have to pass legislation to bring Canadian requirements up to the level envisaged by the U.S. law, and it also needs to become far more active in making sure Canadian exporters are up to date on the U.S. requirements, he said.
“The industry needs to know what’s in this legislation and how we demonstrate we’re meeting their requirements,” said Chambers.
More than half of Canada’s food exports go to the U.S., and exporters want to know what Ottawa will do to ease the burden the law will impose on them, said Chris Kyte, president of Food Processors of Canada.
PARALLELS IN CANADA
Many of the law’s provisions have parallels in Canada, although mandatory traceability of food products and food company safety plans aren’t yet required north of the border, he noted.
“Our food-safety system works,” said Kyte. “Now we will have to conform to their rules.”
The food industry is looking to Ottawa to negotiate equivalency status for Canadian foods with the FDA.
The Canadian government and food companies will be able to intervene when the FDA launches the regulatory process, noted Mary Ann Green, senior adviser for food safety regulatory liaison at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“We will be waiting and watching for the regulations,” she said.
The U.S. will adhere to Codex standards, as Canada does, except when it can demonstrate scientifically that a higher one is required. Canadian officials have regular discussions with their American counterparts on food-safety issues and they’re well aware of Canada’s concerns and the overall state of food safety in this country, she said.
“They’re moving in the same direction as we are to prevent food-safety problems rather than react to them,” she said.
Ottawa has funded some analytical work by private consultants on the impact of the U.S. law, but it has only distributed those documents to industry groups as part of background briefings. As well, it has secured a legal opinion from a prominent Washington law firm on the impact of the new law, which confirms the food industry’s overall fears about its impact.
The law was passed in late December by the old Congress and signed by President Obama in early January. Republicans in the new Congress have promised to block some funding for the law, but Canadian food industry officials expect that will be just for provisions affecting small American farmers and processors. The Republicans will support additional controls on imported foods.
systemworks.Nowwe willhavetoconform totheirrules.”
– CHRIS KYTE, PRESIDENT OF FOOD PROCESSORS OF CANADA