Processor and producer groups are hailing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s launch of a "statement of rights and service" and guides to inspection as a way to better understand their own roles in the process.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz on Monday said the move is meant to "strengthen communication and interaction between the agency, consumers, producers and the entire value chain."
The broader document, the Statement of Rights and Service for Producers, Consumers and Other Stakeholders, lays out the responsibilities and functions of the agency and its staff in general terms, such as
- protecting Canadians from preventable health risks;
- implementing food safety measures;
- managing risks and emergencies regarding food, animals and plants; and
- promoting food safety and systems.
Among other points, the statement noted agency staff are "dedicated to the consistent and impartial application of the legislation for which we are responsible" and that "our reputation and credibility are vital to our ability to deliver our mandate."
Monday’s release also includes six guides to the inspection process — including one for producers, laying out the CFIA inspector’s legal authority, types of inspections performed at farms and agribusinesses, and the producer’s legal obligations.
Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba’s general farm organization, said in a separate release that the guidelines for inspection for farmers "are very clear and will serve to assist producers" in the process.
The agency on Monday also announced plans for a new complaints and appeals mechanism, which Ritz said will "provide a more transparent and accessible way for businesses to register complaints and appeals on CFIA’s decisions and service quality."
The new mechanism, the agency said, is meant to complement the CFIA’s processes already in place by using a "single window" approach to register concerns or appeals dealing with "quality of service, administrative errors and regulatory decisions."
The single window, to be run through a new CFIA Office of Complaints and Appeals scheduled to be up and running by April 1, will allowing regulatory decisions and service quality issues to be "more thoroughly addressed," CFIA said.
Spokesmen for the Canadian Meat Council, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council and Further Poultry Processors Association of Canada said in a joint release Monday that the CFIA’s moves will "provide a strong foundation for future consultations on the development of a modernized food safety system."
"The CFIA is the competent authority in Canada for federal regulatory compliance," Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president Travis Toews said in a separate release. "The fact that there will now be a standard in place to ensure the CFIA is accountable for the service they provide will help to elevate stakeholder confidence in the process."
CCA vice-president Martin Unrau predicted in the same release that the planned complaints and appeals mechanism "will be well-received by industry and particularly producers who have experienced frustrations with the CFIA inspection process in the past."
"Taken together, the steps announced today help to address gaps in the process that needed to be improved," Unrau said.
"It is refreshing to see government to rectify some of the issues we faced during the 2009 anaplasmosis investigation that put our 15,000 cattle under quarantine unnecessarily," Joe Gardner, general manager of the Douglas Lake Ranch about 90 km south of Kamloops, said in a release Monday from the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association.
"I see these new guidelines as a way to avoid unnecessary quarantines that have a huge impact on ranch businesses."
Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president for agribusiness with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said in a separate release that the agency’s moves are "a positive first step and we hope the CFIA ensures this culture of change is reflected in their daily interactions with producers and small businesses."
CFIB, the federal government noted, played a leading role in "making sure these documents help businesses better understand their own role and responsibilities as well as what service standards they should expect from CFIA."
The CFIB said its 2007 report card on the CFIA found significant "room for improvement" and that "only one in five agribusinesses believed the CFIA provided good overall service."