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Canada Adopts New Federal Food Safety Law

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has won the unanimous consent of the House of Commons for Canada’s new federal food safety law.  With its earlier passage by the Senate, that means the Safe Food for Canadians Act, Bill S-11, now becomes law with the routine “Royal Assent.”

Unanimous votes among the 308 Members of Parliament (MPs) in Commons are not seen often in Ottawa and Canada’s multiple parties rarely agree on anything but the crisis at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta helped bring unity for the food safety law sought by the Prime Minister’s government.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the new federal law:

  • makes food as safe as possible for Canadian families;
  • protects consumers by targeting unsafe practices;
  • implements tougher penalties for activities that put health and safety at risk;
  • provides better control over imports;
  • institutes a more consistent inspection regime across all food commodities; and strengthens food traceability.

Additionally, CFIA outlined the improved food safety oversight, better legislative authority, and improved access to international markets as advantages of the new law. Specifically the agency said the new law promises:

1. Improved food safety oversight to better protect consumers/New prohibitions against food commodity tampering, deceptive practices and hoaxes

“This legislation provides new authorities to address immediate food safety risks and builds additional safety into the system, from producer or importer to consumer. For example, the new prohibitions provide a stronger deterrent against deceptive practices, tampering and hoaxes. Related penalties and fines also increase to deter willful or reckless threats to health and safety.”

Strengthened food traceability

“Current legislation does not require food manufacturers and other regulated parties to have traceability systems. The legislation provides the CFIA with strengthened authorities to develop regulations related to tracing and recalling food, and the appropriate tools to take action on potentially unsafe food commodities. This includes a prohibition against selling food commodities that have been recalled.”

Improved import controls

“Imports are challenging to control because there is less information on or direct control over foreign manufacturing processes and products. The legislation strengthens import controls by including powers to register or license importers and prohibits the importation of unsafe food commodities. Holding importers accountable for the safety of imported products will also promote a level playing field between importers and domestic producers.”

2. Streamlined and strengthened legislative authorities/Modernization and simplification of existing food safety legislation

“Consolidating diverse food commodity provisions into one Act addresses commitments made in the 2007 Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan and responds to the 2009 recommendation of the Weatherill Report to “modernize and simplify federal legislation and regulations that significantly affect food safety” in Canada.

“The government concurred and later reconfirmed its commitment to update food safety legislation in the 2010 Speech from the Throne. Further, the report, “Action on Weatherill Recommendations to Strengthen the Food Safety System: Final Report to Canadians”, stated that this Government was developing a new food safety bill. With the adoption of the Safe Food for Canadians Act, the Government of Canada has met its commitment to enhance Canada’s food safety system.”

Aligned inspection and enforcement powers

“Existing CFIA food commodity statutes contain inconsistencies in inspection and enforcement authorities. Consolidating diverse provisions and authorities into one Act aligns inspection and enforcement powers, making them consistent across all food commodities, enabling inspectors to be more efficient, and fostering even higher rates of compliance for industry. As a result, consumers will enjoy a safer food supply.”

3. Enhanced international market opportunities for Canadian industry

Authority to certify food commodities for export

“In recent years, more countries have required that the foods they import be certified, reflecting an international effort to ensure food safety. The legislation provides the authority to certify all food commodities for export, allowing the CFIA to treat exported food commodities consistently.”

The new law consolidates food provisions of previously existing statutes, the Food and Drugs Act, the Fish Inspection Act, the Meat Inspection Act and the Canada Agricultural Products Act and the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act into the single Safe Food for Canadians Act.

The Food and Drugs Act will continue to exist separately, providing overarching protection for consumers from any foods that are unsuitable for consumption, including those marketed exclusively within provinces.

Canada’s update of federal food safety law comes two years after the U.S. Congress passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). It gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new powers for regulating food and beverages that fall under its jurisdiction. FDA is working on implementing the new law, but has so far not been able to get drafted regulations approved by the Executive Office of Management and Budget (OBM).

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