The federal government of Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party is pushing for a tough new food safety law with greater penalties for violators and more unified enforcement powers.
Harper’s government Thursday introduced the Safe Foods for Canadians Act, Bill S-11, to overhaul Canada’s food inspection system.
Albert Chambers, executive director of the Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition, immediately hailed the government’s new initiative as a “major step forward.”
“The Coalition is a long-time supporter of modernizing food safety legislation and regulations as a key element in the development of a national, coordinated and integrated approach to food safety,” Chambers said.
“The proposals in Bill S-11 meet many of the food safety objectives of both industry and government; they complete initiatives identified by previous governments; and, they will position Canada’s food safety regime well in the rapidly changing global regulatory environment,” he added.
His coalition includes 29 national associations, three provincial associations, and six food companies as allied members. Together, the groups represent every link in the food supply chain from producers to distributors to retailers.
Chambers says the major elements of the bill are:
- Inclusion of a single act to replace Canada’s current series of food safety laws including the Fish Inspection Act, Meat Inspection Act, Consumer Protection Act, Labeling Act, and Agricultural Protection Act.
- Unified enforcement powers.
- Creation of new authorities for food safety regulation, including the authority to utilize incorporation by reference and considering tampering and hoaxes to be offenses
The Harper government wants to increase the maximum penalties for food safety violations to $5 million, up from present ceiling of $250,000.
Gerry Ritz, minister of Agriculture for the Ottawa-based federal government, says the new law will also strengthen the ability of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to track and recall food products and manage imports.
Canada wants a “farm to fork” traceability system, according to Ritz.
The proposed law would give industry new avenues to appeal some CFIA decisions, like those involving product seizures. A judicial review option would be available through Federal Court, much like the appeal system available to American food companies.
Canada’s Senate, which is taking up the bill first, is expected to begin debate on the measure as early as next Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Food and Consumer Products of Canada, representing food and consumer products industries, told CBC News the new law offers the prospect of less duplication.
Chambers says his member organizations have already begun reviewing the language contained in the new law, and hopes government officials will consult with them during the process of getting the new law adopted.
In their second year running the federal government, Harper and Ritz were criticized for their management of the deadly 2008 Listeria outbreak caused by contamination of luncheon meats made by Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto.
After 22 mostly elderly Canadians died in the outbreak, public opinion required the appointment of an independent investigator for the Listeria outbreak. Health expert Sheila Weatherill was given the job and came up with 57 recommendations for the Harper government to improve food safety.
Harper has implemented all 57 measures. The government has also steadily increased CFIA personnel levels since 2008, although critics say those gains might be threatened by future budget cuts.© Food Safety News