By John B. Andrews
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) understands that Canadians are keen to know more about the food they eat, what it contains and where it comes from.
“We are building on a legacy of safe food. Canada’s food safety system is already one of the most robust in the world,” notes CFIA President Dr. Bruce Archibald. “But we are always working towards finding ways to operate better and smarter, and to continuously improve. CFIA is therefore launching a number of significant food safety enhancements to implement the Safe Food for Canadians Act.”
The Safe Food for Canadians Act was passed by Canada’s Parliament on November 20, 2012, and received Royal Assent on November 22, 2012. Supporting this legislation, the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan was introduced by the Government of Canada on May 17, 2013. The CFIA is now rolling out this two-year plan, which will strengthen food safety rules, see food inspectors and laboratories develop new ways to operate more effectively and keep consumers regularly updated on food safety issues.
CFIA is a science-based agency that continues to strengthen Canada’s food safety system through stronger food safety rules, more effective inspection and a renewed commitment to service. On October 9, 2013, CFIA joined Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada under the Health portfolio. CFIA now reports to the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health for food safety issues.
In November 2013, Minister Ambrose announced the Healthy and Safe Food for Canadians Framework, which describes how the Health portfolio is working for consumers on food safety. The three pillars of the Framework are promotion, prevention and protection. Under the Framework, and guided by the Action Plan, CFIA verifies that industry is meeting federal food safety and regulatory requirements, and sets standards to detect and prevent risks to Canada’s food supply.
“Canada has a world-class food safety system and we’re taking real steps to keep it that way,” says Dr. Archibald. “This Action Plan provides the roadmap we need to make sure that our system continues to provide safe food for Canadians today and well into the future.”
The Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan calls for:
1) Stronger food safety rules: The CFIA can assign industry fines of up to $5 million or more for non-compliance with the Act, depending on the severity and levels of risk to consumers. New rules were put in place to strengthen the control of E. coli in federally inspected establishments that produce raw beef, for example; as well, federally registered meat facilities will be required to provide production and distribution information, on demand and in a useable format. Under the new regulations, importers will be required to have a licence to bring food into Canada for distribution, and to have documented procedures to manage food safety risks.
One of the key considerations of the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the Action Plan is that cereal, cookies, bottled water and other foods that were previously inspected under the Food and Drugs Act will now be included with meat, fish, dairy and eggs under the CFIA’s inspection regime. This change will help ensure that unsafe products are not found on store shelves.
2) More effective inspection: CFIA inspectors will be able to better verify that industry is meeting Canada’s stringent food safety requirements by having a single, consistent approach to risk-based inspection. The agency is working on implementing a new food inspection model to improve industry compliance with food safety legislation, is delivering better training to inspectors and is improving recruitment strategies.
3) A renewed commitment to service: CFIA has polled a large number of stakeholder groups that have provided, and continue to provide, invaluable advice regarding food safety. They include the Consumer Association Roundtable as well as the Value Chain Roundtables, which are specific to industry needs including beef, pork, grain, organics and seafood. The first round of stakeholder consultations on new regulations under the Act closed at the end of November 2013, and there is more consultation scheduled in 2014. All of this consultation will feed into new rules being rolled out in 2015. Through further engaging consumer groups, industry and other stakeholders during the planning and implementation of these new regulations, food safety will be improved in Canada.
4) More information for consumers: We have already improved food recall warnings by making important information easier for Canadians to understand and more accessible by tapping into the power of social media and mobile devices. CFIA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and other social media tools are helping us give Canadians essential, easy-to-understand information whenever and wherever they need it. CFIA also hosts the Consumer Association Roundtable, which meets at least twice a year and serves as a forum for dialogue between the federal government and Canadian consumers through an ongoing exchange with key consumer associations.
As part of CFIA’s continued outreach, we are planning our second Food Safety Regulatory Forum for the late spring of 2014. The Forum will engage a broad range of stakeholders on the next steps for important food safety modernization initiatives being undertaken by CFIA, and will complement CFIA’s ongoing engagement and consultation activities on these initiatives.
The Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan will offer Canadians continued confidence in what they eat by ensuring that stronger rules designed to improve the food safety system are managing the risks to food safety.
“Protecting Canada’s food, animals and plants is without question one of the most important tasks in government,” says Dr. Archibald. “It goes right to the heart of what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is all about — the health and safety of consumers.”
John Andrews is a Communications Advisor at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. CFIA is dedicated to safeguarding food, animals and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada’s people, environment and economy. The Agency’s Vision is to excel as a science-based regulator, trusted and respected by Canadians and the international community.
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