The PACA Law Perspective
CANADA PROPOSES NEW FOOD INSPECTION MODEL
by Steven E. Nurenberg
On June 7, 2012, the Safe Foods for Canadians Act (Bill S-11) was introduced in the Canadian Senate by the Harper Administration. By consolidating the authorities of five separate legislative Acts, Safe Foods has the stated goal of protecting Canadian families from potentially unsafe food. Among other things, Safe Foods willstandardize the food inspection process, promote consistent oversight of regulated commodities, provide the Canadian government with better control over imports and increase the export opportunities for Canadian growers.
Currently, food inspection programs fall under the purview of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which was created in 1997. The CFIA operates eight inspection programs covering dairy, egg, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, imported and manufactured foods, maple, meat and processed products. Each of the programs has developed different methods of inspection and enforcement, leading to inconsistencies that are often confusing for the food industry and consumers alike. Safe Foods is designed to streamline the rules for inspectors and provide greater information about food safety and quality to consumers.
Of particular note is the emphasis placed on modification of import control measures. Ostensibly, the measures will be put into place to prohibit the importation of unsafe food into Canada. To achieve this goal, importers may be required to register or obtain a license, which will assist the CFIA in holding them accountable for products they import. The initial overviews of Safe Foods even suggest that such importers would be required to develop and implement a preventative control plan satisfactory to the CFIA.
Supporters of Safe Foods argue that the rules are necessary, because Canada has less direct control over manufacturing processes for imported foods. By requiring importers to be licensed or registered and making inspections and enforcement consistent for all commodities, the government will be in a position to act quickly and efficiently to address potential food safety concerns.
Food inspectors will have some new powers under Safe Foods. The Bill appears to give inspectors explicit authority to enter or pass through private property to effectuate an inspection or take photographs. Further, the power to request the production of documents and prevent obstruction or interference with the inspector's activities will apply uniformly to all inspections. Penalties for violations of food safety will increase significantly, with the maximum fine limit raised from $250,000.00 (Canadian) to $5 million (Canadian).
Safe Foods is also touted as a step toward aligning food safety in Canada with that of the United States and other international trading partners. According to the CFIA, certain components of Safe Foods will bring Canada's food safety program in line with the Food Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. These changes will make it easier for American and Canadian companies to conduct agricultural trade, which was estimated to amount to $33 billion in 2010.
Currently, the Bill is under review by the Senate and requires Royal Assent for implementation. Until such assent is given, existing legislation and food safety programs remain in force. We will provide an update on the status of the Bill as appropriate.
Should you have any questions regarding this or any other issue, please feel free to contact our office.