In June 2012, the federal government tabled Bill S-11, the Safe Food For Canadians Act (the SFCA), in the Senate. It is expected that the bill will be referred to the House of Commons for review and debate in the fall of this year. If passed, the SFCA will overhaul the existing food safety and inspection regime in Canada.
Following the listeriosis outbreak in August 2008, the federal government ordered an independent investigation of Canada's food safety regime. In 2009, the Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak (the Weatherill Report) made 57 recommendations to strengthen the food safety regime in Canada. Specifically, the Weatherill Report recommended that the federal government "simplify and modernize federal legislation and regulations that significantly affect food safety." The SFCA was introduced in response to that recommendation as well as earlier government commitments regarding food safety, including the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan.
Currently, many of Canada's food safety and inspection rules and regulations are contained in four different federal statues:
- the Fish Inspection Act;
- the Canada Agricultural Products Act;
- the Meat Inspection Act; and
- the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
The SFCA aims to consolidate and strengthen these rules and regulations administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) under one overarching governing statute. The Food and Drugs Act (Canada) will continue to exist separately, and the SFCA will not alter the food regulatory and inspection regime or penalties under the Food and Drugs Act (Canada).
Licensing and Registration
The SFCA will allow for a new licensing and registration regime to be established under future regulations. The regime will be applicable where a food moves between provinces or is imported or exported.
Currently, the CFIA can license persons or register establishments for activities that relate to certain food commodities, such as meat and fish products. The new SFCA will enable the CFIA to require licensing and registration in respect of all food commodities, and for all persons and establishments involved in the food chain. Furthermore, the SFCA will allow issuance of such licences and registrations under a single statute rather than requiring multiple licences for multi-commodity operations under the current regime.
The new licensing regime also includes provisions to licence all importers, thereby holding them accountable for the safety of the food commodities brought into Canada. While this is an aspect of the SFCA that has received significant attention, the details of any new licensing requirements still need to be flushed out in future regulations.
Inspector Powers and Penalties
By consolidating and enhancing the inspection powers that are currently derived from the four food-related statutes noted above into one consistent set of food inspection rules, the SFCA aims to simplify the work of inspectors who currently conduct inspection of various food commodities. A uniform inspection regime is intended to improve consistency of multi-commodity inspections, and inspectors will be given enhanced powers under the SCFA. Unlike its predecessor statutes, the inspection regime under the SFCA will not distinguish between different food commodities and it will apply to all food commodities rather than the specific types of foods to which its predecessor statutes currently apply.
Also proposed in the SFCA are tougher fines and penalties for offences under the SFCA, including a new maximum fine of C$5-million and/or imprisonment for a term of no more than two years for most offences. Further, for the most serious offences, such as tampering with food, failing to comply with an order or knowingly or recklessly causing a risk of injury to human health, there is no maximum fine and parties may also be subject to five years' imprisonment. The administrative monetary penalty regime already established under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act will continue to exist and will provide an alternative enforcement option where the CFIA determines it is appropriate.
Benefits for Canadian Food Industry
According to the CFIA, the SFCA will benefit the Canadian food industry by reducing regulatory red tape for Canadian food producers by providing a clear, consistent set of licensing, inspection and enforcement rules. This will, in turn, facilitate confidence in the safety of Canadian food both domestically and in international markets. The SFCA is also intended to align the Canadian rules more closely with trade requirements of Canada's largest trading partners, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act in the United States. In particular, the CFIA will gain the ability to certify all foods for export. Given that export certification is a requirement of many trading partners, this new authority may create new export opportunities for Canadian products and producers.
While there has been no direct request for comments on the SFCA itself, participants in the Canadian food industry have been invited to comment on the CFIA's related inspection modernization model by forwarding comments, no later than July 31, 2012, to Inspection Modernization, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 59 Camelot Drive, Ottawa, ON K1A 0Y9 or via email to email@example.com. The CFIA has indicated that further opportunities for input on inspection modernization initiatives will be available over the next year.
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