On July 16, 2014 the federal government finalized a regulatory
amendment extending the system of Administrative Monetary Penalties
(AMPs) to the Meat inspection Act and Regulations (MIA).
With this little-noticed, mid-summer announcement the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency (CFIA) acquired another significant tool to
manage non-compliance, this time for its largest food program. This
extension of the CFIA's enforcement powers will have
significant implications for the meat industry and for the food
industry more generally.
An agricultural administrative monetary penalties system
(essentially a ticketing regime) was phased into operation after
the passage of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative
Monetary Penalties Act in 1997, the same year the CFIA was
created. So far the system only applies to the Health of
Animals Act and the Plant Protection Act, though we
always intended that it would eventually extend to all of the Acts
enforced by the CFIA. The system gives the CFIA the power to issue
notices of violation and provides that an affected party can have
the decision reviewed by a Tribunal, now called the Canadian
Agricultural Review Tribunal (CART).
An AMP can be either a notice of violation with a warning, or a
notice of violation with a penalty. The amount of the penalty for
an offence that is committed in the course of business, or in order
to obtain a financial benefit (a Commercial AMP), can be between
$1,300 and $15,000 depending on the nature and gravity of the
offence and the history of the offender.
Even though only two of its acts are under AMPs, the CFIA has
made extensive use of the regime. During the latest fiscal
reporting period (April 2013 to March 2014), the CFIA issued 490
notices of violation that resulted in a total of $1,940,440 in
fines levied. In the previous year, there were 723 notices
resulting in fines of $3,229,600. The extension of AMPs to the much
more detailed and important food safety meat inspection legislation
is a major expansion of the system. There are, for example, no less
than 84 specific provisions in the highly prescriptive MIA that
will be subject to AMPs, including many important food safety and
trade requirements and non-food safety requirements such as
labelling and other consumer protection provisions.
CFIA inspectors already have very wide powers to enforce the
MIA. They have full authority to enter any place or stop and enter
any vehicle and may open any package that contains a meat product
that the inspector believes does not comply with the statute or its
regulations. The inspector may take samples and require full
production of all administrative material. It is a criminal offence
to obstruct inspectors in their work, including making false
statements. Inspectors may seize and detain any product they
believe on reasonable grounds may contravene any regulation. In
addition, the agency can and does suspend or cancel a meat
plant's registration, effectively putting it out of business.
The CFIA prosecutes offenders in the criminal courts, resulting in
large fines and criminal records. High-handedness and
disproportionate use of these enforcement tools is not unknown.
So it is not surprising that the meat industry is somewhat
apprehensive. The CFIA's rationale for introducing AMPs for
only meat and before the Safe Food for Canadians Act is in
force is not clear and certainly not consistent with all the
"modernization" talk about common approaches across all
commodities. The industry doesn't see the need to arm
overzealous inspectors with yet another enforcement tool. But, if
used sensitively for cases in which corrective action requests and
warnings are not enough, and if it avoids the overuse of criminal
prosecution, product seizure and license suspension or revocation,
then this may prove to be a positive development for the meat
industry. Implementation and the CART process for administrative
review will be key factors, two matters to which we will return
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