To everyone's surprise, the government has announced its
intention to repeal the famous standard container size regulations
that are set out in the Processed Products Regulations
(PPR). These stipulate mandatory requirements for grades and
standards, including standard container sizes, for canned and
frozen fruits and vegetables that are imported, exported or that
are traded interprovincially. The regulations are voluminous
— there are 73 sections and 12 schedules with dozens of
pages of mind numbing detail. Most consumers don't even know
they exist. How many know, for example, that vegetable soup and
pork and beans can be in 10- and 14-fl oz cans, but it is an
offence to use 12-fl oz cans? Or that ketchup containers must be
375-, 575-, or 750-mL sizes?
Changes to the PPR have been a divisive issue for years because
they create winners and losers. For some, the PPR is a small but
helpful protectionist measure; for others, a barrier to the
importation of new or cheaper products. It did provide modest
consumer protection, but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
wasted resources and wrongly, in my view, even applied it to the
importation of wholesale bulk product to manufacturers who used it
for further processing.
The announcement in the 2012 federal budget was limited to the
repeal of "regulations related to container standards to
enable industry to take advantage of new packaging formats and
technologies, while removing an unnecessary barrier for the
importation of new products from international markets." Other
changes to the PPR will be done as part of the broader legislative
consolidation of CFIA regulations that is coming very soon.
A new CFIA Complaints and Appeals Office
Kudos to Agriculture Minister Ritz and CFIA president George da
Pont for bringing into force an important new administrative
redress mechanism for the CFIA. Readers of this column will know
that I have argued for over a decade that the scope of discretion
and the range of CFIA authorities required a step-wise process to
have regulatory decisions reviewed in an independent and timely
way. If industry is not satisfied with CFIA staff actions in the
enforcement of rules, if there has been undue delay in decisions or
if the regulated party disagrees with decisions made by CFIA
employees related to licensing, registration, permits, orders,
inspection results, seizure, labelling or other regulatory action,
then the CFIA now has a clear process to address the complaint in a
timely way and provide redress if warranted.
After trying to resolve the matter directly with the employee,
the regulated party now has automatic access to a formal written
complaint procedure with a new Complaints and Appeal Office. The
new Office will be guided by the recently released CFIA
Statement of Rights and Service for Producers, Consumers and
Other Stakeholders. Done right, this modest regulatory
innovation could significantly improve the quality of agriculture
and food law enforcement in Canada and could provide a useful
precedent for other areas of regulation.
More changes coming
By the time this is published, we'll have details on
legislative consolidation at the CFIA and, from Health Canada, some
decisions on food-like Natural Health Products. And following the
budget commitment to "streamline and accelerate the process
for how foods are regulated," the introduction of modest
amendments to the Food and Drugs Act to expedite,
inter alia, the process for additive changes.
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