Canada: Health Canada's Modernization Makeover: New Food Inspection And Safety Regulations On The Way

Last Updated: February 24 2014
Article by Sara Zborovski

Health Canada is in the midst of a "modernization makeover," with some changes already in force and many more to come. Advances in science and technology, globalization of the food industry, and changing consumer demands have rendered the current Canadian regulatory environment for food outdated, and mired in redundant and oftentimes inconsistent requirements.

As a result, change is on the way.

Health Canada's modernization efforts are focused on three primary areas: food inspection and safety, the regulations and food labelling. In this bulletin, we cover the status of reforms relating to food inspection and safety.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency ("CFIA") has announced that draft regulations relating to the new, modernized food inspection and safety regimes will be released sometime this spring. The release of these draft regulations will mark the next step in a modernization process that has been going on for a number of years.

In 2011, the federal government committed $100 million over five years to the "Improved Food Inspection Model" with the goal of imposing consistent, internationally-recognized requirements for all food products imported or traded inter-provincially. Key tenets of this model include a focus on prevention of food-borne illness, industry accountability for the safety of Canadian food, consistency across food commodities, and improved transparency for industry and consumers.

In November 2012, a cornerstone of the model, the Safe Food for Canadians Act ("SFCA"), received Royal Assent. The SFCA consolidates four Acts and thirteen federal food inspection regulations made under them. As a result, the SFCA and its regulations will apply to all food imported, exported and prepared for trade across provincial borders.

Throughout 2013, the CFIA consulted with industry and stakeholders on the requirements of the new regime introduced by the SFCA. Through these consultations, we learned about the key elements of the proposed regulatory framework under the SFCA:

  • Licensing. While licensing and registration requirements currently exist for certain food commodities, the proposed regulatory framework would extend licensing requirements to all regulated parties who import food commodities or prepare them for inter-provincial trade. Under the proposed framework, the CFIA will move away from the registration of establishments, and instead will require a license for the parties responsible for the preparation of food, including all food importers.
  • In addition, the SFCA gives the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food the authority to certify food commodities for export and to license food exporters. Additional considerations on the table include whether non-resident importers should be permitted, and if so, how they should be accommodated in the new licensing regime.

    Of course, the details of licensing remain to be determined, including the term of a license and grounds for its suspension or cancellation.

  • Preventive Control Plans ("PCPs"). A PCP sets out how food safety and other regulatory requirements are met. The development, implementation and maintenance of a PCP will be a requirement for obtaining a license under the SFCA. Accordingly, as the SFCA expands the scope of parties required to be licensed (i.e. to include all parties who import or prepare food for inter-provincial trade), so too does it expand the scope of parties required to develop and implement a PCP.
  • The CFIA has sought guidance from industry on the scope of the PCP, and we can expect further details on this requirement in the draft regulations.

  • Systems Equivalence. Under the proposed framework, importers will be required to demonstrate that the food commodities they import meet Canadian requirements. Questions that remain to be answered include what criteria will be used for foreign system recognition.
  • Traceability. The proposed framework mandates a traceability system which is at a minimum compliant with the Codex Alimentarius international standard for traceability: "one step forward, one step backwards".
  • Recall. The SFCA provides a new regulation-making authority respecting the recall of products. The proposed regulatory framework may include requirements to notify customers and suppliers of a recall. In addition, we could see expanded authority in connection with seizure and detention of goods by the CFIA.
  • Review Mechanism. The SFCA gives review officers the authority to change a decision of an inspector or other CFIA official. This is intended to balance the stronger rules imposed by the SFCA with stronger appeal and redress options for industry. The details of this new review mechanism remain to be determined, including what decisions will be reviewable and the timing and process for challenges.

CFIA to Seek Industry Input

Sometime in the next few months the CFIA will release a Notice of Intent that will contain a discussion draft of the proposed new regulations under the SFCA. The CFIA will then seek input from industry and stakeholders on the draft regulations, and may also release guidance documents on specific aspects of the proposed new framework.

The end of 2014 is the CFIA's target for final publication of the regulations, and they are slated to come into force in the beginning of 2015.

We are watching for the release of the draft regulations and will keep you posted on these and Health Canada's other modernization efforts by way of further Bulletins. If you are interested in receiving future Bulletins, please subscribe here.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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