With all the media hype about XL Foods, it's easy to lose
sight of the fact that we still have a food regulatory system as
good as any. And it's getting better. The Harper
government's quick adoption and speedy implementation of all 54
recommendations of the Weatherill Report on the 2008 listeriosis
outbreak is now being followed by two significant legislative
initiatives to help modernize the legal bases of our system,
something we promised years ago when the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency (CFIA) was created. We've had more progress in the
reform of our food regulatory regime in the last six months than
we've had in the last nine years.
The Safe Food For Canadians Act (S-11) will repeal and
replace three of our oldest food statutes. The legislative process
is being managed well by the CFIA and the bill enjoys strong
political support for early enactment. The government wisely stayed
away from tampering with the accountability and authorities of the
two ministers who would have been involved with some big new
"Food Act," a bad idea promoted by many who didn't
understand our legal system.
Already passed into law is a major amendment to the Food and
Drugs Act, thanks to the infamous Bill C-38. This is not just
some proposal for future change; the new legislation came into
force on Oct. 25, 2012. Recognizing how much the old sclerotic
system undermined regulatory responsiveness, the amendments to the
Act now provide for a significant expansion of two existing tools:
Ministerial Authorizations (MAs) and Incorporation by Reference
(IbR). MAs can establish classes, set conditions, and exempt from
the Act and its Regulations various matters relating to claims and
substances by simple ministerial regulations. Moreover MAs can
incorporate documents by reference, allowing substances and claims
to be added or removed from existing classes and lists. So, for
example, in the case of additives, after the health risk assessment
is complete, new additives or new uses can be added to the list by
departmental action alone.
The Tables to Division 16 will not be revoked until later, but
will no longer be updated as the authoritative provisions will be
contained in the new administrative Lists of Permitted Food
Additives. Service standards after the scientific assessment
is completed are set out as six months for a new additive and only
two to three months for extensions of use. This is a remarkable
reform considering that it used to take two to three years or more
for the same result. At last, our additive tables will be able to
keep up with the fast pace of changing science and technology. This
is a long overdue reduction in red tape. Due process remains with
the same level of scientific assessment and public
There's more. Subsection 30.2 provides the opportunity,
through the combined power of the MA/IbR tool, to expedite the
provision of a modern administrative framework for new health
claims — kudos to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq for
exceeding what many of us thought possible. Subsection 30.3 makes
it clear that the MA/IbR technique can be used to change the
maximum residue level of contaminants such as agricultural
chemicals, set the maximum residue limit of a veterinary drug and
the minimum or maximum level, or both, of a vitamin, a mineral
nutrient, or an amino acid in or on food. The last is potentially
the most significant as it could provide, by mainly administrative
means, a more modern food fortification regime, something that has
been promised for over 10 years and a change that is recognized as
a practical necessity if the food-Natural Health Product mess is
ever to be resolved in a more comprehensive way.
Readers of this column over the past 10 years will know that I
have been a frequent critic of Health Canada's Food
Directorate, so it gives me great pleasure to publicly compliment
Dr. Sam Godefroy and other officials for their leadership in
securing these significant reforms, the importance of which will
become even clearer in the coming years if they are implemented
well. A more responsive food regulatory system will enhance
innovation, investment and competitiveness.
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