Single CFIA safety model proposed for all food groups

A proposed new food safety model that would "standardize" Canada’s approach to federal food inspection across all commodities and products has been laid out for stakeholder comment.

The federal government on Friday released a discussion document proposing a "more effective and efficient food inspection system" that would "standardize requirements and procedures across all food, based on science and risk."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, when set up in 1997, brought together and currently operates eight separate inspection programs previously handled through different federal departments with "diverse" approaches: meat, dairy, eggs, seafood, fresh fruits/vegetables, imported/manufactured foods, maple, and "processed products" such as honey.

The multiple inspection regimes, the government said, have led to situations in which "foods of similar risks may be inspected at different frequencies or in different ways."

Also, the eight food programs leave food industries "having to meet multiple and different requirements that are challenging to address."

"Industry will benefit from a more consistent inspection approach across commodities that is adaptable to the size and complexity of their operations," the government said Friday.

"Standardized processes will reduce the duplication and financial burden associated with overlapping requirements."

"Simply put, we want Canadians to have the safest food in the world," Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in CFIA’s release. "That is why we are seeking input from consumers, inspectors, food safety experts, industry and everyone who has a role to play in food safety."

The discussion document follows up on "engagement sessions" the CFIA held with its staff, unions, consumer associations and "industry stakeholders" starting in December last year, the government said.

"For (CFIA) employees, there is clearly an appetite for change and an identified need for a common suite of inspection activities with standardized processes," the document says. "For the industry, the model should be flexible, clarifying roles and setting outcome-based requirements."

"Residual risk"

The new model proposes that industries which import or export food, or operate as manufacturers or processors of food products for trade between provinces, would be required to obtain licenses and registrations to operate.

A given industry would then be held responsible for "designing and implementing preventative control plans for (its) unique operations" and CFIA would then verify that the industry’s plans "appropriately prevent, eliminate or reduce hazards to acceptable levels."

"Residual risk," meaning the risk that remains once preventive controls are in place, and considering an industry’s compliance history, would determine the level of inspection oversight required from CFIA — that is, "normal, enhanced or reduced."

The frequency and scope of CFIA inspection activities would also be "adaptable, as required, to the size and complexity of the regulated parties’ operation."

The new single compliance and enforcement strategy would be "based on the principle that industry is responsible for producing safe food that complies with regulatory requirements."

Under that model, industry would be held responsible to take action correcting the situation. Compliance and enforcement activities would be "transparent, predictable and appropriate to the level of non-compliance."

In cases of "critical or repeated" non-compliance, an industry’s licenses to operate could then be suspended or revoked.
Stakeholders will be able to submit feedback on the discussion document to CFIA until July 31, the government said.

From that feedback, CFIA would then draft an "improved" inspection approach which would then be refined by way of "continued stakeholder consultation throughout the year."

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