CFIA’s shift to Health Canada oversight begins

(Dave Bedard photo)

Canada’s government has kicked off a transition plan to shift the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s food safety work to the oversight of the federal health ministry.

The reorganization, the government announced Wednesday, “will strengthen Canada’s food safety system by bringing all three authorities responsible for food safety under one minister” — which today is federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

The “three authorities” now reporting to Ambrose will be Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and CFIA.

Wednesday’s announcement is expected to “serve to create a stronger system with better collaboration and communication.”

A “transition team” of staff from Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CFIA and PHAC has been set up “to ensure that the transition happens as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”

CFIA, in a separate statement Wednesday, said the new reporting structure and changeover “will be taking place immediately, but it will take some time to complete the transition.”

The agency, “in recognition of its unique regulatory mandate and federal separate employer status… will continue to operate as a distinct, separate organization.”

The federal agriculture minister, under this reorganization, “will continue to be responsible for the CFIA’s non-food safety agricultural activities, including economic and trade issues, as well as important animal health and plant protection work.”

CFIA, the government said, “will continue to support (the ag minister) in exercising these responsibilities and will ensure a continued focus on government policies, programs and services that will help drive the economic prosperity of Canada’s agricultural sector.”

The roles of the CFIA, Health Canada and PHAC “will not change” under the new structure, the government said. “Having all three federal authorities report to the same minister will ensure stronger co-ordination with federal authorities and communication with Canadians.”

Protocols

CFIA will continue to verify industry is meeting federal food safety and regulatory requirements, while PHAC will continue to conduct food-related illness outbreak surveillance and epidemiology advise Canadians on “how to protect themselves during an outbreak.”

Health Canada, meanwhile, will continue to develop food safety standards and policies and take part in public awareness campaigns on safe food practices.

In an outbreak, the government said, all three agencies will work with local public health officials and provincial ministries of health to confirm the source of food-related illnesses when an outbreak is suspected.

As per the federal/provincial foodborne illness outbreak response protocol (FIORP), if an outbreak is only in one province, it’s up to that province to inform Canadians. If there are illnesses in more than one province, however, PHAC informs Canadians about the number of people affected and how Canadians can protect themselves.

For example, while the recent E. coli-related recall of meat from a Toronto beef processor includes some products sold nationwide, the only cases of illness so far have been in Ontario, so information on the illnesses comes from the provincial health ministry.

In the recent E. coli-related gouda cheese recall from a B.C. processor, however, PHAC takes the lead on informing Canadians. As of Oct. 4, the recalled cheese was connected to 25 cases of illness: one each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec, 10 in Alberta and 12 in B.C., where one of the 12 people has died.

“When an unsafe food is identified, the CFIA works with the responsible company to remove the food from the marketplace and inform Canadians,” the government said. — AGCanada.com Network

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