On October 6, 2021, the Quebec National Assembly finally sanctioned Bill 99 introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This Bill came into force on the same date and seeks to update and modify several dispositions in the Food Products Act (the "Act") in order to facilitate compliance and to minimize the administrative burden imposed on operators, including producers, retailers, dairy distributors, or restaurateurs.
As a reminder, the Act sets a legal and regulatory framework for food safety in Quebec, namely regulating the preparation, transport or service of food for human consumption. Before the advent of this Bill, the Act had not been reformed since 1974.
Below is a list of the most notable changes to the Act:
- Voluntary engagement on the part of operators:
- This new regime will allow the Ministry and a contravening operator to enter into discussions and an engagement through which the operator will be bound to adopt certain measures to ensure compliance with the Act, subject to administrative sanctions such as suspension of the operator's licence. The goal of these engagements is to individualize the application of the Act's general rules to the operator's situation.
- The Ministry will be allowed to require an operator to
comply with certain proposed measures prior to applying
administrative sanctions to a licensee:
- This is a last resort mechanism where the Ministry will impose on the operator certain measures to implement in order to secure compliance with the Act. Such measures may include for instance repairing a refrigerator or replacing a defaulting or outdated unit of equipment. Failure to comply with these measures will lead to sanction, namely suspension, cancellation, or refusal to renew the license.
- Modification to inspection powers:
- The Bill grants a new power to inspectors that will allow them
to order the interruption of slaughtering operations if:
- Animal well-being is compromised;
- If the state of the slaughtering infrastructures or the operations being conducted jeopardize the safety of the food products or the sanitary conditions that must be maintained within the slaughtering infrastructures.
- When inspecting a location where livestock destined for human consumption are being kept, the Bill now authorizes inspectors to take audio, photo and video footage of the location and the activities conducted within, and they may also interrupt any activities going on for the duration of their inspection.
- The Bill grants a new power to inspectors that will allow them to order the interruption of slaughtering operations if:
- Larger fine amount:
- Minimum fine amounts rose from 250$ to 500$, and all the other maximum amounts will increase;
- Both the minimum and maximum fine amounts will be doubled for repeated offence and tripled for any subsequent offence.
- A number of modifications to the Regulation respecting food:
- Streamlined the categories of licence, going from 49 to five difference licenses;
- Prolonged the period of validity of these licences to three years;
- Removed the obligation to obtain a licence for certain operators, namely sellers of dairy product substitutes;
- More flexibility in the applicable rules to control slaughtering hazards and other hazardous processes such as meat charcuterie, crude milk cheese, and canning.
Finally, the updated Act will allow the Ministry and stakeholders to put together pilot project in response to potential or in preparation of legal or administrative developments. These projects will specifically target some stakeholders in the industry and will assess whether innovation in this sector is required as well as consider the long-term effects of such proposed changes. Findings and conclusions will be made public during the year following the termination of the project.
In short, the new updates may make compliance with the Act easier for operators of the food industry, counterbalanced by increasing the supervisory powers of the Ministry's inspectors. It remains nonetheless that food operators must comply with stringent regulatory standards. As always, Fasken is available to help you navigate these new standards.
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.