By Dr. John Harrison, PhD, MSc, BSc
Senior Government Relations Advisor
The Government of Canada introduced the Safe Food for Canadians Act in Parliament in early June 2012 to modernize, simplify and strengthen rules for food commodities imported into Canada and to provide increased export opportunities for Canadian producers.
This Senate Government Bill (S-11) is currently in second reading in the Senate of Canada. The full name of this Act is:
An Act respecting food commodities, including their inspection, their safety, their labelling and advertising, their import, export and interprovincial trade, the establishment of standards for them, the registration or licensing of persons who perform certain activities related to them, the establishment of standards governing establishments where those activities are performed and the registration of establishments where those activities are performed.
This bill, introduced in the Senate, consolidates four existing pieces of legislation — the Fish Inspection Act, the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
Overview of the Act
The Act will align inspection and enforcement powers across all food commodities, improving the safety of food as well as reducing overlap and helping industry better understand and comply with food safety law. The Act will also provide a new mechanism for regulated parties to look for a review of certain decisions made by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials.
This new, modernized Act should reduce regulatory duplication. By consolidating and modernizing these statutes, industry will benefit from greater consistency in rules and regulations, which, in turn, will provide consumers with a safer food supply. The Act will also create new export opportunities for Canadian producers, while improving safeguards for imported food products.
The proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act will improve food oversight by:
This Act will also implement tougher fines for activities that put the health and safety of Canadians at risk. Previously, anyone convicted of a serious offence could have been fined up to a maximum of $250,000. Under the new Act, penalties could be as high as $5,000,000, or in the case of the most serious offences, even higher at the court’s discretion. New penalties are also being added for recklessly endangering the lives of Canadians through tampering, deceptive practices or hoaxes.
Roles of Ministers
The Ministers of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Health both play a role in Canada’s food safety system. The Agriculture Minister, through responsibilities for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, will have the responsibility to administer and enforce the Safe Food for Canadians Act and related regulations, while the Minister of Health retains responsibility for developing policies and standards relating to food safety and nutritional quality.
Import and Export Trade
By further aligning Canada’s food safety system with those of our key trading partners, the Act will enhance international market opportunities for the Canadian food industry. A new authority in the Act would allow certification of any food commodity for export and increase global confidence in Canadian food. The Act will also strengthen controls over imported food commodities, introduce powers to register or license regulated parties, and prohibit the importation of unsafe foods.
By consolidating and modernizing the CFIA’s food commodity statutes, industry will benefit from greater consistency in industry requirements. A single set of rules will clarify expectations, make compliance easier to achieve and foster a level playing field for industry.
In recent years, more countries have required that the foods they import be certified, reflecting a growing international effort to ensure food safety. The proposed Act will create new export opportunities for Canadian producers by providing the CFIA the authority to certify all food commodities for export, allowing for a consistent approach to Canadian export certification. Official certification is increasingly being demanded by trading partners around the world.
Under the proposed Act, the Government of Canada will have new authorities that will result in clearer rules for Canadian food commodity exporters and for trading partners importing food commodities to Canada.
The new import control measures will build on Canada’s existing suite of import safety measures by clearly prohibiting the entry of potentially unsafe food commodities into Canada. In addition, the Act includes provisions to register or licence importers, holding them accountable for the safety of the food commodities they bring into the country.
As well, the proposed legislation will be an important step in aligning Canada’s food safety system with our trading partners, such as with the Food Safety Modernization Act in the United States. Flexible, modern authorities will allow for timely responses to new international trade requirements.
New Review mechanism
The proposed Safe Food for Canadians Act will create a legislated review mechanism for regulated parties to seek review of certain decisions made by CFIA officials. Established under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Act, this mechanism will provide an additional avenue of recourse for regulated parties.
The review mechanism will apply to all products falling under legislation administered by the CFIA. It will be faster and less costly than the judicial process, and regulated parties will still have the ability to apply for redress through the process of a judicial review by the Federal Court if they are unsatisfied with the final CFIA decision.
The proposed Act is the result of extensive consultation over a number of years with industry, consumer groups, provincial and territorial governments, and other stakeholders. The Act builds on the Federal Government’s commitment to address recommendations from the Weatherill Report and the commitments made in the 2010 Speech from the Throne.
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